Solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven

Aug 15th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Today, August 15, is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven. On this day, the universal Church celebrates what took place at the end of our Blessed Mother’s earthly life. “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This dogma is the great antidote to materialism and the moral corruption that follows despair, because in Mary’s Assumption into heaven we see our own glorious destiny as fellow creatures like her, united to her Son. In her Assumption we see the eschatological finale awaiting the Church, of which she is the icon.


The Assumption
Fra Angelico (c. 1430)

This doctrine was not formally defined as a dogma until 1950, when Pope Pius XII did so in an Apostolic Constitution titled Munificentissimus Deus. Although the Orthodox have not formally defined the doctrine as a dogma, this doctrine is not a point of dispute between Catholics and Orthodox, because the Feast of the Assumption has been celebrated in the universal Church (both East and West) on this same date (August 15) since the sixth and seventh centuries. However, this doctrine is not accepted by most Protestants, and is therefore an occasion of difficulty with respect to the reconciliation of Protestants and the Catholic Church.

Recently Peter Leithart responded to Christian Smith’s claim that sola Scriptura is the belief that Christians have “the Bible alone and no other human tradition as authority.” Leithart protested against this definition, claiming that the Reformed do acknowledge the authority of tradition, but hold Scripture to have final authority. My response to Leithart can be found here, where I argue (briefly) that to subject tradition to the test of one’s own interpretation of Scripture is to deny the authority of tradition, and thus to vindicate Smith’s claim. The problems with biblicism, which Keith Mathison refers to as “solo scriptura,” are well-addressed both by Mathison (see “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura and the Question of Interpretive Authority“) and Smith in The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture.

How does that relate to the doctrine of the Assumption? The two most common Protestant objections to the doctrine of the Assumption are (1) that it is not in Scripture, and (2) that because it is not in Scripture, the Church has no right to declare it a dogma. Both objections presuppose that Scripture is not only the final authority, but is the only authority, such that if a doctrine cannot be found explicitly in Scripture then either it was not taught by the Apostles, or we have no way of knowing whether it was taught by the Apostles. However, if the doctrine of the Assumption comes to us through the Tradition, and if Tradition is authoritative, then both objections fall flat.

The primary Protestant objection is that the doctrine of the Assumption is not part of Tradition, but is an accretion, or, even if true, is uncertain. And the basis for this claim is that the doctrine is not apparent in the first three centuries of the Church, given the manuscripts we have containing writings from that time. St. Epiphanius hints at it in the fourth century, and we have evidence that there was an empty tomb of Mary in Jerusalem in the fourth century. But there is no solid historical evidence prior to this that Mary was known to have been assumed into heaven.

There are two different paradigms at work here. From the Protestant point of view, whatever is not in Scripture is suspect, and that is even more so when we have no independent evidence that the doctrine in question was known by the Church in her first three centuries. So from the Protestant point of view, the spread of the celebration of the Feast of the Assumption in the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries is presumably the spread of a novelty, myth or legend.

From the Catholic point of view, by contrast, the universal acceptance of the Feast by the sixth and seventh centuries, indicates that this doctrine was present all along, at least in seed form, otherwise it would not have been accepted by the whole Church. As St. Augustine points out, for example:

But, regarding those other observances which we keep and all the world keeps, and which do not derive from Scripture but from tradition, we are given to understand that they have been ordained or recommended to be kept by the Apostles themselves, or by plenary councils, whose authority is well founded in the Church ….” (< href="http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1102054.htm" target="_blank">Letter 54, to Januarius, AD 400)

So underlying these two paradigms is the question of ecclesial deism, whether or not the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church into all truth. For the Protestant who does not believe that the Spirit is guiding the Church into all truth, the universal acceptance of the doctrine of the Assumption is no more evidence of its truth or Apostolicity than not. If one does not believe that the Church is being guided by the Spirit, then there is nothing more imaginable than that the whole Church be drawn away into gross error. And this is especially so insofar as Protestantism’s justification for its existence depends on it being true that the whole Church fell into hundreds of years of heresy regarding justification, the article, from Luther’s point of view, on which the Church stands or falls. For the Catholic, however, it is inconceievable that the whole Church would be drawn away into doctrinal error. The Church is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim. 3:15), and so if the whole Church embraces a doctrine, we can know that this doctrine is both true and apostolic.1

And that is how Catholics understand the development of the doctrine of the Assumption. This doctrine of the Assumption comes to us through Tradition, and this Tradition can be found in the early Patristic homilies, especially those given on this feast. But as Pope Pius XII pointed out when defining this dogma, the feast was not the source of the faith in this doctrine; rather the faith in this doctrine was the source of the feast. He writes:

However, since the liturgy of the Church does not engender the Catholic faith, but rather springs from it, in such a way that the practices of the sacred worship proceed from the faith as the fruit comes from the tree, it follows that the holy Fathers and the great Doctors, in the homilies and sermons they gave the people on this feast day, did not draw their teaching from the feast itself as from a primary source, but rather they spoke of this doctrine as something already known and accepted by Christ’s faithful. They presented it more clearly. They offered more profound explanations of its meaning and nature, bringing out into sharper light the fact that this feast shows, not only that the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary remained incorrupt, but that she gained a triumph out of death, her heavenly glorification after the example of her only begotten Son, Jesus Christ-truths that the liturgical books had frequently touched upon concisely and briefly. (Munificentissimus Deus, 20)

To read the early homilies given on this feast, see On the Dormition of Mary: Early Patristic Homilies, edited by Brian J. Daley, and The Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption (Oxford University Press), written by Stephen J. Shoemaker. Shoemaker has some of these homilies available on a webpage titled “Early Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition.” And Luigi Gambero’s Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought is also a helpful resource.


The Dormition of the Theotokos2

The Apostles knew of Mary’s dormition, since Christ had entrusted her to St. John’s care, and Mary was obviously a central figure in the community of the early Church. So how she completed her days was part of the Apostolic Tradition. But that Mary had been assumed body and soul into heaven was not universally known in the first few centuries of the Church. It is not that the Fathers of that time denied it; they simply didn’t talk about it, or talk about any first-class relics of Mary. The doctrine of the Assumption gradually came to be universally known within the Church, from the latter part of the fifth century, and by the sixth and seventh centuries, it was a universal feast. The Church Fathers viewed Mary not only as the New Eve, but also as the Ark of the New Covenant. (See here and here.) Hence they came to understand Psalm 132:8 (“Arise, O LORD, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might.”) as referring to Mary’s Assumption. The more clearly they understand that Mary had been preserved immaculate, the more clearly they understood that she too had been preserved from corruption. Similarly, the more clearly they grasped her dignity as the Mother of God (Theotokos), the more they recognized the fittingness of her Son keeping her body from corruption. Likewise, the more clearly they understood Mary’s role as the New Eve, and thus as Christ’s associate in the work of the redemption, the more clearly they understand that she too, in her own flesh, must have participated in His victory over death.

Here are a few selections.

Theodosius, Jacobite Patriarch of Alexandria (d. 567 or 568)

O my beautiful mother, when Adam transgressed my commandment, I passed upon him a sentence, saying: ‘Adam, you are earth, and you shall return unto the earth again. For I too, the Life of all men, tasted death in the flesh which I took from you, in the flesh of Adam, your forefather. But because my Godhead was united to me, for that reason I raised it from the dead. I would prefer not to have you taste death, but to translate you up to the heavens like Enoch and Elias. But these also, even they must at last taste death. But if this happened to you, wicked men would think concerning you that you are a power which came down from heaven, and that this dispensation took place in appearance alone. ( On the Falling Asleep of Mary)

St. Gregory of Tours (d. 594)

Finally, when blessed Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was about to be called from this world, all the apostles, coming from their different regions, gathered together in her house. When they heard that she was about to be taken up out of the world, they kept watch together with her.

And behold, the Lord Jesus came with his angels and, taking her soul, handed it over to the archangel Michael and withdrew. At dawn, the apostles lifted up her body on a pallet, laid it in a tomb, and kept watch over it, awaiting the coming of the Lord. and behold, again the Lord presented himself to them and ordered that her holy body be taken and carried up to heaven. There she is now, joined once more to her soul; she exults with the elect, rejoicing in the eternal blessings that will have no end. (Libri Miraculorum 1, De gloria beatorum maryrum 4)

St. Modestus of Jerusalem (c. AD 630)

The bright spiritual dawn of the Sun of Justice, [our Lady Mary], has gone to dwell and shine in His brilliance; she is called there by the one who rose from her, and who gives light to all things. Through her, that overwhelming radiance pours the rays of His sunshine upon us, in mercy and compassion, rekindling the souls of the faithful to imitate, as far as they can, His divine kindness and goodness. For Christ our God, who put on living and intelligent flesh, which He took from the ever-Virgin and the Holy Spirit, has called her to Himself and invested her with an incorruptibility touching all her corporeal frame; He has glorified her beyond all measure of glory, so that she, His holy Mother, might share His inheritance. (Encomium on the Dormition)

John of Thessalonica

John of Thessalonica was Metropolitan of that city between 610 and 649. In his homily on the Dormition of Mary, he indicates that the Church at Thessalonica was one of the few Eastern Churches where the Feast of the Assumption had not become part of the liturgical year. In his homily, he explains that the reason for this delay by his episcopal predecessors in the Church at Thessalonica was not due to impiety or laziness, but to make sure that the Dormition narrative was an authentic part of the Apostolic Tradition. And he writes his homily after having investigated to determine that the Assumption is an authentic part of the Apostolic Tradition.

Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople (d. 733)

[Her body], being human, was adapted and conformed to the supreme life of immortality; however, it remained whole and glorious, gifted with perfect vitality and not subject to the sleep [of death], precisely because it was not possible that the vessel that had contained God, the living Temple of the most holy Divinity of the Only-begotten, should be held by a tomb made for the dead. … You are, as it is written, “all-beautiful” (Song of Songs 2:13), and your virginal body is all-holy, all-chaste, all the dwelling place of God, so that dissolving into dust is foreign to it. (Homily 1 on the Dormition)

Your departure did not lack witnesses, nor was your Dormition false. Heaven tells the glory of those who ran to meet you then; earth presents the truth about it; the clouds cry out the honor they paid you, and the angels tell of the offering of gifts that was made to you then, when the apostles were at your side [as you passed away] above Jerusalem. (Homily 2 on the Dormition)

And when we, the disciples of the Lord, gathered with the throng in your presence, O Gethsemane, for the funeral of the Ever-Virgin Mary, we all saw that she was laid in the tomb and then transferred elsewhere. She passed beyond our sight, beyond any dispute, before the tomb was sealed with the stone. . . While she was being praised with hymns, and was about to be lowered into the tomb, she left the tomb empty. (Homily 3 on the Dormition)

St. John Damascene (d. 750)

Even though your most holy and blessed soul was separated from your most happy and immaculate body, according to the usual course of nature, and even though it was carried to a proper burial place, nevertheless it did not remain under the dominion of death, nor was it destroyed by corruption.

Indeed, just as her virginity remained intact when she gave birth, so her body, even after death, was preserved from decay and transferred to a better and more divine dwelling place. There it is no longer subject to death but abides for all ages. …

Your holy and all-virginal body was consigned to a holy tomb, while the angels went before it, accompanied it, and followed it; for what would they not do to serve the Mother of their Lord?

Meanwhile, the apostles and the whole assembly of the Church sang divine hymns and struck the lyre of the Spirit: “We shall be filled with the blessing of your house; your temple is holy; wondrous in justice” (Ps. 65:4). And again: “The Most High has sanctified his dwelling” (Ps. 46:5); “God’s mountain, rich mountain, the mountain in which God has been pleased to dwell” (Ps. 68:16-17).

The assembly of apostles carried you, the Lord God’s true Ark, as once the priests carried the symbolic ark, on their shoulders. They laid you in the tomb, through which, as if through the Jordan, they will conduct you to the promised land, that is to say, the Jerusalem above, mother of all the faithful, whose architect and builder is God. Your soul did not descend to Hades, neither did your flesh see corruption. Your virginal and uncontaminated body was not abandoned in the earth, but you are transferred into the royal dwelling of heaven, you, the Queen, the sovereign, the Lady, God’s Mother, the true God-bearer. …

A precious ointment, when it is poured out upon the garments or in any place and then taken away, leaves traces of its fragrance even after evaporating. In the same way your body, holy and perfect, impregnated with divine perfume and abundant spring of grace, this body which had been laid in the tomb, when it was taken out and transferred to a better and more elevated place, did not leave the tomb bereft of honor but left behind a divine fragrance and grace, making it a wellspring of healing and a source of every blessing for those who approach it with faith. (Homily 1 on the Dormition, 10, 12-13)

It was necessary that the body of the one who preserved her virginity intact in giving birth should also be kept incorrupt after death. It was necessary that she, who carried the creator in her womb when he was a baby, should dwell among the tabernacles of heaven. (Homily 2 on the Dormition)

Dr. Feingold lecture on the Assumption

In November of last year, Dr. Lawrence Feingold of Ave Maria University, gave a lecture on the subject of the Dogma of the Assumption, to the Association of Hebrew Catholics. The audio both for the lecture and the following Q&A are available below. I have included summary headings for the different parts of the lecture, according to the minute they occur in the lecture. The mp3s for both the lecture and the Q&A can be downloaded here.

Lecture:
 


The Dormition of the Virgin (ca. 950-1000)

(1′) Introduction. The Assumption as the final mystery of the life of Mary. Scripture doesn’t narrate it, so how do we know it?
(4′) What is the significance of Mary’s Assumption?
(5′) What is the relation between the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and the dogma of the Assumption?
(10′) Mary as New Eve. She shares in all the mysteries with Christ, and hence also shares with His victory over death.
(16′) The teaching of St. Francis de Sales and St. Alphonsus Ligouri on the Assumption.

This mystery is a mystery of our participation with God. It is a mystery of theosis. Mary is the icon of the Church, and so her assumption reveals to us something about the Church. Her participation in Christ’s victory over death prefigures our future participation in this victory.

(21′) Enoch and Elijah as types
(23′) The woman in Revelation 12.
(26′) The Song of Songs — reading in the liturgy
(27′) Ps. 132:8 – Mary as ark
(29′) History of the development of the Feast of the Assumption, celebrated in the seventh century in the universal Church (both East and West).
(35′) How Pope Pius XII went about defining this dogma.
(38′) How is this dogma opportune for our times? How does it address materialism, atheism, naturalism, and the loss of Christian hope?
(41′) The definition of the dogma, in MD.
(43′) Did Mary die, or not?
(46′) Mary’s Dormition
(48′) Church Fathers on the Assumption
(57′) What do we celebrate in this Feast?

Question and Answer
 

1. How is it that feasts are celebrated before they are defined by the Church? (1′)

2. Can Lazarus be used as a type of Mary’s Assumption? (2′)

3. Didn’t Jesus say under questioning from the Apostles that Elijah had returned to earth already, and was treated poorly by the Jews? (4′)

4. Explain again why Mary is a type of the Church. (6′)

5. How do we know that Mary had no pain in childbirth? (9′)

6. What about Revelation 12 which speaks of the woman giving birth with the pains of childbirth? (11′)

7. It seems that it would be still more fitting if Mary, like Christ, had some mission during her Dormition. Tradition tells us that Christ’s soul harrowed hell was His body was in the tomb. Does it tell us anything of Mary’s soul while her body slept? (13′)

Video of the declaration of the dogma

The day the dogma was declared: November 1, 1950.

H/T: Terry

  1. Pope Pius XII writes:

    Since the universal Church, within which dwells the Spirit of Truth who infallibly directs it toward an ever more perfect knowledge of the revealed truths, has expressed its own belief many times over the course of the centuries, and since the bishops of the entire world are almost unanimously petitioning that the truth of the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven should be defined as a dogma of divine and Catholic faith–this truth which is based on the Sacred Writings, which is thoroughly rooted in the minds of the faithful, which has been approved in ecclesiastical worship from the most remote times, which is completely in harmony with the other revealed truths, and which has been expounded and explained magnificently in the work, the science, and the wisdom of the theologians – we believe that the moment appointed in the plan of divine providence for the solemn proclamation of this outstanding privilege of the Virgin Mary has already arrived. (Munificentissimum Deus, 41)

    []

  2. H/T: John []
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  1. This dogma is the great antidote to materialism and the moral corruption that follows despair, because in Mary’s Assumption into heaven we see our own glorious destiny as fellow creatures like her, united to her Son. In her Assumption we see the eschatological finale awaiting the Church, of which she is the icon.

    But I have never believed in this dogma, and I still have managed to not be materialistic or despairing. The reason is that I believe that Jesus was raised on the third day and then he ascended into heaven with my glorified human nature. John tells me that I will be like him, for I shall see him as he is.

    So I guess I don’t see why I need Mary to show me what Jesus showed me already.

  2. Jason,

    I didn’t intend to imply that only those who believe this dogma can resist materialism and despair. So, I concede your point. I myself have argued in “The Ascension and Man’s Supernatural End” that the doctrine of the Ascension provides hope and assurance of heaven. But there are important differences between the Ascension and the Assumption. If Mary were divine, then the Assumption would be just a repeat of the Ascension. But Mary is a mere creature, whereas Christ is divine. Of course Christ went back to heaven. That’s where He belongs, so to speak. And He went there on His own power. Christ is not a mere creature, or a mere human; He is a divine Person with a human nature. But, for a mere creature, a mere human (one of us) to be taken up, body and soul, into heaven, that shows us by way of example (and not merely by a verbal promise) that this destiny is not only for God, but also for all of us who love Him and eagerly await His return. It is a demonstration to the rest of us, that Jesus wasn’t just speaking metaphorically about our resurrection and our union with Him in heaven. It is a real-case manifestation in a mere creature, of what will happen to mere creatures such as ourselves, if we persevere till death in faith, hope, and charity. And in that way, it provides us with an additional distinct mode of seeing the goal of our hope, and the end for which we must now continue to fight the good fight.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  3. Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on Aug. 15, saying that the celebration gives Christians hope of a future united with Christ, both in this life and in heaven.

    “This feast,” he said, “tells us that we too will be with Jesus in the joy of God and invites us to have courage, to believe that the power of the Resurrection of Christ can work in us as well.”

    (Source)

  4. Thanks for another great piece, Bryan.

    David Mills writes today at First Things in response to objections to the Dogma:

    “Why would the declaration that God has already done for the Mother of God what He will do for the rest of us be in itself a bad thing?”

  5. This is just a thought I had, the reason that the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven is not in the Bible is because the Blessed Virgin Mary was still alive at the time St.Paul wrote his letters. Maybe just Revelations was written after she had been Assumed into Heaven. I know Paul and John had no ideal of Sola Scrptura, so by principle it does not have to be in the Bible to be true and binding on the Christian believer.

  6. Jerry (#5)

    “Maybe just Revelations was written after she had been Assumed into Heaven.”

    And in Rev. 12:1 John sees her in heaven.

    “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:”

    So it is interesting that perhaps the only book written after her assumption includes a vision of her glorified body in heaven.

  7. Jerry- is it really safe to say that Mary’s Assumption simply isn’t “in the Bible”? Since the Bible is used to provide a broad context through which the Church recognizes Mary’s Immaculate Conception, and due to the fact that her Assumption can be understood as a logical consequence of her being spared of all sin, it seems to me that one could argue that her Assumption is, if not explicit, at least present in the Scriptures when considered in light of Sacred Tradition. Does that sound fair enough? Thank you.

  8. @ Jerry, David, Herbert,

    Another serious problem for those who insist upon the “it is not in the bible” critique is this. In Jude 1:9 we have a NT reference to a dispute between the archangel Michael and the devil over the “body of Moses”. Yet – so far as I am aware – neither the event itself, nor any implicit theological pointers, seem to be present anywhere in any of the writings which the Palestinian or Hellenistic Jews accepted as authoritative in the first century. Moreover, unlike the Assumption of Mary, the dispute over the body of Moses does not even appear to provide any obvious theological insights upon which to reflect (I am not saying there aren’t any, they’re just not obvious to me).

    Anyhow, any refereneces to the event seem to be located in one or more non-canonical Jewish writings (“Assumption of Moses” or “Testament of Moses”, etc.). In short, the dispute over the body of Moses seems to be a historical datum entirely rooted in Jewish tradition and NOT in any Jewish text recognized as authoritative or canonical either then or now! Nevertheless, St. Jude makes referenece to the event, almost in passing, as a matter of course. He apparently banks on the fact that his readers accept the fact of the angelic “dispute over the body of Moses” as true and non-controversial. I am unaware of any Christian controversy surrounding the passage. Is there any evidence in Christian history of a “hey Jude” objection?

    “Hey Jude, why are you refering to that non-biblical accretion from Jewish tradition as if it is something we Christians are required to believe? Like the Bereans, we have searched the scriptures (OT) and we find no textual evidence for this novel, superstitious, historical claim. Besides, even the non-biblical references to this event that we do find in Jewish history date many, many, centuries after the lifetime of Moses! Isn’t it just obvious that this is a piece of theological and historical chicanery? Traditions of men! Traditions of men! Beware!”

    In fact, Jude’s audience seems not to have embraced a first century notion of sola scriptura; for if they did, it seems to me they could have lodged an almost identical set of objections against the alleged angelic “dispute over the body of Moses”, as Protestants currently do against the Assumption of Mary.

    Case 1: The fact of an angelic “dispute over the body of Moses” was received by our Christian forebearers without protest on the basis of tradition without any explicit mention in the canon – as early Christians understood the canon, i.e. the OT.

    Case 2: The “Assumption of Mary” is received by Catholics on the basis of tradition without explicit canonical reference (although in this case, it is at least arguable that there are implicit references such as Rev 12:1, which makes this doctrine even LESS objectionable than the “the body of Moses” teaching!).

    When someone first pointed out to me the uncanny similarity between these two historical/theological datums, I knew there and then that my understanding of the scope of the sources of revelation had been unjustifiably circumscribed.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  9. Yes that fair enough, I agree “”least present in the Scriptures when considered in light of Sacred Tradition.”” The teaching of the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption is implicit in Scriptures and does not contradict. When I was saying it was not in the Bible I meant explicit.

    The reason I think the Mary’s Assumption is not explicit in the Bible are.
    (1) Mary was still alive when most of the New Testament being written.

  10. Good point Ray, I know about dispute between the archangel Michael and the devil over the “body of Moses” in Jude not being in the Old Testament.

  11. A question from someone who has no formal training in this stuff…

    Since Mary’s soul was untainted by sin, could she not have been assumed into heaven? Wouldn’t her body and soul be always united? Put another way, does the dogma of the assumption *necessarily* follow from the dogma of the immaculate conception?

    Thanks for any insight!

  12. The hard thing about this particular tradition is that we have no record that it happened, for almost 600 years after the event. One would think that a miracle this amazing would have been recorded somewhere, by somebody, not long after the event. I would sure like to know more about what happened.

  13. Brian K,

    Jesus’ soul was not tainted by sin, and yet it separated from His body when He died on the cross. Death of the body is the separation of the soul from the body. But death did not take His life; He gave Himself up to death, freely, for our sake. So in Christ we have an example of a Person who was without sin, and capable of never dying, but who nevertheless allowed Himself to suffer death. So the sinlessness of Mary does not entail that she could never die, and therefore does not entail that her body and soul be always [at every moment] united and never [at any moment] divided. But since corruption of the body is a punishment for sin, it would not have been fitting or just for her to suffer corruption of her body (i.e. going back to dust) unnecessarily, given that she had no actual sin and no original sin. So in that respect yes, the doctrine of the Assumption necessarily follows the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. And Pope Pius XII brings out that connection in Munificentissimus Deus.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  14. Bryan —

    Awesome! Never thought of it that way. Thanks for answering!

  15. Ray,

    In fact, Jude’s audience seems not to have embraced a first century notion of sola scriptura; for if they did, it seems to me they could have lodged an almost identical set of objections against the alleged angelic “dispute over the body of Moses”, as Protestants currently do against the Assumption of Mary.

    As Jonathan points out in #12, the reasons for Protestant suspicion on this point is much deeper than you indicate. I mean, I don’t doubt that Mark’s Gospel has Peter as its source, even though there is nothing is the inspired record that tells me this. I believe on the basis of tradition (as I do countless other historical facts).

    But when it comes to the assumption, it just sounds a bit fishy that an utterly amazing and miraculous event happened to arguably the most important Christian person in the entire world, and nobody bothered to mention it for 600 years. And it just so happens that when people did start mentioning it, it was right after a Christological debate that concluded that Mary can be called Theotokos. So what seems to have happened is that an historical event was postulated (centuries after the fact) as the logical consequence of a doctrinal pronouncement.

    Don’t get me wrong, the assumption does follow logically from other Christological factors. It’s just that we think that if it actually happened (not ought to have happened, but really happened), them someone would have mentioned it sooner. In fact, the Christian world would have been ablaze with talk and excitement about an event as momentous as that.

  16. Jason,

    Here’s a photo of Mary’s empty tomb in Jerusalem:

    (Source)

    Given the early tradition concerning the identity and location of her tomb in Jerusalem (including Patriarch Juvenal’s reply to Emperor Marcian at the Council of Chalcedon, and the monument Patriarch Juvenal had built over the tomb), what is more surprising to me than the early silence concerning the Assumption, is the early silence concerning the grave robbery.

    When comparing the two hypotheses (i.e. she was assumed, she was not assumed), we ought not consider only what is surprising on one hypothesis, but also what is surprising on the other, so that we can fairly compare the hypotheses against each other. For example, given the hypothesis that she was not assumed, the universal absence of first class relics of the Blessed Mother is surprising. If I remember correctly, there are first class relics of all the Apostles, but so far as we know, there have never been relics of the Blessed Mother.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  17. I went to that tomb when I was in the Holy Land in 2003. Nice pic

  18. JJS,

    It’s just that we think that if it actually happened (not ought to have happened, but really happened), them someone would have mentioned it sooner. In fact, the Christian world would have been ablaze with talk and excitement about an event as momentous as that.

    I understand the sentiment. However, ISTM that given the central importance of Moses in the religious landscape of both first century Judaism and Christianity; almost the exact same complaint could have been made concerning St. Jude’s reference to the angelic dispute over Moses’ body. I mean, given the VERY LATE Jewish documentary references to this event in relation to the life and times of Moses (such as “The Assumption of Moses” – assuming that to be the most likely source upon which St. Jude is drawing); a first century Jew or Christian could have easily raised the same concern. I can hear them challenging St. Jude:

    “It’s just that we think that if it actually happened (not ought to have happened, but really happened), them someone (in Jewish history) would have mentioned it sooner. In fact, the Hebrew nation would have been ablaze with talk and excitement about an event as momentous as that.”

    So my point is not so much that the sentiment itself is unnatural or anything, at least as a first reaction (although I think Bryan’s point about comparitive hypotheses is right-on). My point goes more to the apparent inconsistency displayed by Protestants who (perhaps unreflectively) accept the account of the angelic dispute over Moses’ body (which seems to refer to some effort by opposing heavenly forces to “assume”, “capture”, “control”??? Moses’ body); yet reject the bodily Assumption of Mary; even though the relative evidential support for each claim is extraordinatily similar in its relation to tradition, lack of explicit cannonical mention, late-dated historical reference, et al.

    I have a difficult time understanding the rational for embracing the one over the other. At least for myself (along with many other philosophical and theological considerations), it added additional challenge to my (then Protestant) notion of the source-scope of Divine Revelation; for it seemed to me that something very similar to the relation of scripture and tradition as outlined in Dei Verbum, was also operative among the people of God prior to the coming of Christ.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  19. In my experience, the Protestant objections to the dogma of the Assumption are twofold, only one of which is addressed here. The first, which you acknowledge, is the absence of any express reference to the Assumption in Scripture. The second, however, is the very fact that the Assumption is a dogma, that is, a doctrine which must be believed under pain of anathema.

    I can understand a Protestant acknowledging that the Assumption may in fact be true, although it is not recorded in Scripture, but nevertheless arguing that a teaching found expressly only in Tradition, and not in Scripture, cannot be the basis of a dogma. How would you respond to that objection?

  20. Gentlemen,

    You state that “Although the Orthodox have not formally defined the doctrine as a dogma, this doctrine is not a point of dispute between Catholics and Orthodox.” This is a misrepresentation of the Orthodox view; further, the use of an Orthodox icon of the Dormition in your page furthers this misrepresentation. Unintentional, I have no doubt, but nonetheless misrepresentative.

    The Feast we Orthodox celebrated on Monday was the Dormition, not the Assumption, of the Mother of God– and there is a vast theological divide between us on this topic, a divide which invokes hard questions regarding the true humanity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Immaculate Conception (as noted by Dr. Feingold above, and fundamentally for us, the RC concept of Original Guilt (the stain of Adam’s sin transmitted to all humans through the male seed) vs the historic Christian understanding of Original Sin (the personal sin of Adam that corrupted the cosmos).

    Those interested in a little more insight into the Orthodox view might benefit from this link: http://orthodoxwiki.org/Dormition A great little quote from that link sums up a very key difference well: “She died as all people die, not “voluntarily” as her Son, but by the necessity of her mortal human nature which is indivisibly bound up with the corruption of this world.”

    Those interested in heavier reading on the topic really should spend some time here: http://ortodoks.dk/On_Orthodox_Veneration_of_the_Mary.htm Frankly, I think that Protestants would gain much from understanding from this source regarding the historic Christian view of Mary and her appropriate veneration.

    Finally, I would ask the authors of this site, if only out of respect for the Orthodox, to remove material in this post that suggests a conflation between the Orthodox Christian Feast of the Dormition and the RC feast of the Assumption or at least to add a clarifier that makes clear that the Orthodox and RC do not agree on the underlying theology regarding this feast.

    Jonny

  21. @Bill,

    The first response I would have to the proposition: “A teaching found expressly only in Tradition, and not in Scripture, cannot be the basis of a dogma” is to ask what grounds one might have for making this assertion in the first place? Of course, Catholics understand the sources of”Divine Revelation” to include BOTH sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. That is, apostolic teaching handed on orally and/or in and among the community of faith (Sacred Tradition) AND aspostolic teaching written down, collected, and cannonized by the community of faith. Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are two coordinating streams of the same Divine Revelation to mankind. Both contain the teaching of the apostles, and both are preserved in and by the people of God.

    Reasons why Catholics view the matter this way include an absence of evidence in Sacred Scriptue to indicate that ONLY the OT or the apostle’s written letters could serve as the basis for formal doctrine. An absence which is complimented by ample historical evidence that, for the first 1500 years of the Christian era, BOTH Scripture and Tradition were regarded as authoritative. In addition, examples such as the passage in Jude 1:9 (detailed above) seem to clearly indicate that the scripture-only-as-a-source-of-dogma position was never held by either the earliest Christians nor our Jewish forerunners in the faith. God’s communication with mankind has always been embedded in both writing as well as the traditions and worship of His people. So, in short, the philosophical, theological and historical burden of proof seems to lay quite heavily upon those who would defend the proposition in question.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  22. Ray Stamper,

    I think you may have misunderstood my point. I pointed to dogma, and not to doctrine in general. Even Protestants will generally not have a problem with acknowledging that doctrine need not be expressly stated in the canonical Scriptures, as long as it is a necessary implication from Scripture. The most common illustration of this point is the doctrine of the Trinity, which is not expressly stated in Scripture, but is nevertheless accepted by all orthodox Protestants. This is why I expressly raised the issue of dogma, an infallible teaching that must be believed by Catholics on pain of anathema or excommunication in the event of denial. Clearly not all doctrine is to be regarded as dogma. Therefore my question is not whether doctrine may derive from Tradition where it is not expressly taught in the Scriptures, but whether dogma may so derive.

  23. Jonny,

    Thanks for the link to the OrthodoxWiki article on the Dormition. The following bit is particularly good, and resonates with central theological themes found in the Catholic doctrine (also notice the prevelance of the name “Assumption” among Orthodox parishes):

    Thomas arrived a few days later, and desiring to see her one more time, convinced the others to open her tomb. Upon doing so, the Apostles discovered that her body was no longer present. This event is seen as a firstfruits of the resurrection of the faithful that will occur at the Second Coming of Christ. The event is normally called the Dormition, though there are many Orthodox parishes in English-speaking countries with the name Assumption.

    It is well known that, historically, Catholics and Orthodox have articulated the doctrine of Original Sin in somewhat different ways, perhaps, at some times and in some cases, in very different ways. And of course that has implications for the Marian doctrines, among other things. However, we agree that Mary was bodily assumed into Heaven, “as a firstfruits of the resurrection of the faithful.” This is the doctrine that is being affirmed in this post.

    As for Original Sin and the Mother of God, which, as you rightly point out, is relevant to the doctrine of the Dormition and Assumption of the Theotokos, I recommend the following post, from the blog of an Orthodox Christian: On Original Sin and the Immaculate Conception. In general, I find that website to be very helpful for sorting through the differences, real and imagined, between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

    Andrew

  24. Ray,

    Of course, Catholics understand the sources of”Divine Revelation” to include BOTH sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. That is, apostolic teaching handed on orally and/or in and among the community of faith (Sacred Tradition) AND aspostolic teaching written down, collected, and cannonized by the community of faith.

    But what evidence is there that the assumption was ever taught by an apostle? None of them saw fit to mention it in Scripture (and the Rev. 11/12 passage hardly counts), and as far as we know, none of them ever mentioned it verbally to anyone. It’s possible that John did (since I think he would have been the only apostle who could have known about it), but none of the people John possibly mentioned it to ever mentioned it to anyone else, at least not until hundreds of years later.

    Sure, no one ever claimed to have her bones (that we know of anyway), but the plausibility of something that momentous having happened with no mention of it anywhere just seems really low to me.

    So I guess my question is, If the assumption were not something that actually happened that an apostle knew of and passed on, but instead were something that was posited centuries later as a necessary consequence of recent christological formulations, how would you know?

  25. @Bill,

    I think you may have misunderstood my point. I pointed to dogma, and not to doctrine in general.

    I understand the technical distinction between doctrine and dogma, which is why, in my response, I summarized the position you are articulating as follows:

    “A teaching found expressly only in Tradition, and not in Scripture, cannot be the basis of a dogma

    And my response to that assertion remains the same, I would like to know:

    “. . . what grounds one might have for making this assertion in the first place?”

    You wrote:

    Even Protestants will generally not have a problem with acknowledging that doctrine need not be expressly stated in the canonical Scriptures, as long as it is a necessary implication from Scripture. The most common illustration of this point is the doctrine of the Trinity, which is not expressly stated in Scripture, but is nevertheless accepted by all orthodox Protestants

    Again I would ask what the grounds are for stipulating this requirement of “necessary implication” in the first place? Where does this notion come from – what is the root? Is it just an a priori postulate for one’s doctrinal epistemology?

    Moreover, this requirement very much begs the question: “necessary implication according to whom”? Given the extensive exegetical appeals by the Arians and heretics of all times (remember that at one time the Arian heresy pervaded a large portion, maybe even the majority, of Christendom); ISTM that the doctrines of the Trinity or the dual nature of Christ can hardly be defended as “necessary implications” from Scripture without sophistry.

    Someone who denies the authorization of the Catholic Magisterium through apostolic succession to make definitive dogmatic acts, no doubt MUST insist that Christological and Trinitarian “orthodoxy” derives from “necessary implication” – for what other authority could they possibly appeal to as a means for differentiating orthodoxy from heterodoxy? But then such a person seems limited to loudly insisting that such doctrines are orthodox – and mere insistence is hardly persuasive. To the insistence that “orthodox” Christological dogmas flow from scripture by “necessary implication”, the heretic will respond: “no they do not”! To which the non-Catholic “orthodox” Christian will respond, “yes they do”; followed by a series of proof texts intended to make a cumulative case for the orthodox interpretation of the textual data. To which the heretic will respond “no they do not”; followed by a series of proof texts intended to make a cumulative case for the heterodox interpretation of the textual data. Hence, the criteria of “necessary implication”, comes down to nothing less than table pounding. “We’re orthodox and you’re not, we have the texts to prove it!” —– “NO, WE’RE orthodox and you’re not, WE have the texts to prove it!” And so on ad infinitum.

    So, if a non question begging (non table pounding) defense of central dogmas like the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ (which Protestants accept as orthodox on insufficient grounds) requires recourse to the authoritative voice of the Church; what good reason can one have for rejecting the Church’s claim to establish dogma based on Tradition? A question which, of course, highlights the crucial need to identify “the Church”; which in turn brings us to questions about ecclesiology, apostolic succession, and the need (or not) for the unitive role of the Petrine ministry – all in relation to the grounds for establishing the dogmatic status of any theological proposition – i.e. its orthodoxy.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  26. Hello Jonny, (re: #20)

    Welcome to Called to Communion. I wrote this before seeing Andrew’s reply, but we’re saying much the same thing.

    You wrote:

    This is a misrepresentation of the Orthodox view;

    The Feast of the Assumption, as I explained in the post, was a Feast of the universal Church long before the schism. And as Andrew said, this doctrine (i.e. that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven) is not a point of dispute between Orthodox and Catholics. Noting that we agree on the fact of the Assumption doesn’t imply that we agree on all the related theological claims (e.g. Immaculate Conception).

    further, the use of an Orthodox icon of the Dormition in your page furthers this misrepresentation.

    The icon of the Assumption shows the common ground regarding the fact of the Assumption; it doesn’t imply agreement on all the surrounding theological matters. (And there are Eastern Catholic icons of the Assumption that are indistinguishable from icons by Orthodox of this sacred event.)

    The Feast we Orthodox celebrated on Monday was the Dormition, not the Assumption, of the Mother of God–

    At the link you included, it says “The feast was added to the Roman calendar in the seventh century as the Dormitio. In the eighth century, the title was changed to the Assumptio (Assumption). …The event is normally called the Dormition, though there are many Orthodox parishes in English-speaking countries with the name Assumption.” That it goes by ‘Dormitio’ by some, and ‘Assumptio’ by others shows that the difference in the name need not be a point of disagreement or cause for division, especially when some Orthodox parishes themselves are named “Assumption.”

    and there is a vast theological divide between us on this topic, a divide which invokes hard questions regarding the true humanity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Immaculate Conception (as noted by Dr. Feingold above, and fundamentally for us, the RC concept of Original Guilt (the stain of Adam’s sin transmitted to all humans through the male seed) vs the historic Christian understanding of Original Sin (the personal sin of Adam that corrupted the cosmos).

    The degree to which there are substantive (as opposed to merely semantic / paradigmatic) differences in these areas notwithstanding, does not change the fact that regarding the belief that the Blessed Theotokos was assumed body and soul into heaven, Catholics and Orthodox are in agreement. That’s true even if the Orthodox do not agree with Catholics concerning one of the reasons why the Blessed Mother did not see corruption.

    Finally, I would ask the authors of this site, if only out of respect for the Orthodox, to remove material in this post that suggests a conflation between the Orthodox Christian Feast of the Dormition and the RC feast of the Assumption ….

    It is the same Feast, just as Pascha is the same Feast, and Pentecost is the same Feast, and Christmas is the same Feast. Disagreements about related doctrines and terminology are not unimportant, but they do not make the one Feast into two distinct Feasts (rather than the same Feast being celebrated by two distinct communities), because despite those disagreements, we are both celebrating the sacred event of the Blessed Virgin’s body and soul being assumed into heaven. I think our readers are astute enough not to assume that our sharing the same feast entails that all the related theological positions between the Orthodox and the Catholic Church are identical. But I acknowledge and appreciate your concern to make sure this is clear.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  27. JJS,

    You wrote:

    None of them saw fit to mention it in Scripture

    Of course, the only way it could be mentioned in scripture is if some scriptural letter were written after the actual event. And, given the dating estimates of both the NT letters and the lifetime of Mary, the only letter that potentially fills the bill seems to be St. John’s Apocalypse. There we find the following:

    “And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars”

    But you write:

    (and the Rev. 11/12 passage hardly counts)

    Why Not? Scripture passages, especially prophetic and apocalyptic ones, are known to have ployvalent meanings. The only way in which interpretation of this passage can be ruled out as an implicit indication that Mary’s body was assumed into heaven, is to approach the text through a Protestant interpretive lens. I realize the reverse position depends upon a Catholic interpretive lens. The point is that your exegetical assessment of this passage’s value, in regards to the Catholic dogma of the Assumption, is question begging (as would by mine). Hence, we need some other means of adjudicating the evidential support this passage lends to the doctrine of the Assumption. But why does it not “count” – at least as a plausible reference to Mary’s Assumption – given that this passage was written by St. John who would – given his personal care for Mary after Jesus’ ascension – be in a position to know of this event?

    You wrote:

    It’s possible that John did (since I think he would have been the only apostle who could have known about it), but none of the people John possibly mentioned it to ever mentioned it to anyone else, at least not until hundreds of years later.

    How do you know that none of the people whom John possibly mentioned it to, never mentioned it to anyone else until hundreds of years later? How does this follow from mere lack of written record during some time frame? The era in question relied heavily on oral transmission. No printing presses, hand copied text on brittle parchment, illiteracy, etc. etc.

    You wrote:

    but the plausibility of something that momentous having happened with no mention of it anywhere just seems really low to me.

    First, as I have been saying, the exact same sentiment could be expressed with regard to the event mentioned in Jude 1:9, yet non-Catholics apparently swallow the fact of that event without blinking. That does not address your criticism, but it highlights what I think is an inconsistency among Protestants (assuming, of course, they accept tha tSt. Jude is telling the truth about a real historical event).

    Secondly, it’s possible that what strikes you or I as momentous today; may not have had the same subjective impact in an era when miraculous resurrections, healing by shadow and handkerchief, bi-location, etc. were know to occur. Consider the scant attention in Scripture given to the event of dead people rising from their graves and walking around Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s death. How much additional press did this “momentous” event get in the rest of the NT, or in the documents of Christian history? I mean, here is an event of significantly larger numeric and geographic proportion, witnessed presumably by more people. One naturally would like to hear more about this; where did those resurrected people go? Did they disappear -poof, or go back to their graves? Yet, it get’s just passing mention. As late as St. Augustine, we have reference to folks rising from the dead and other miraculous events which seem to lack any sense of shock. So the presumption that the event (as a mere historical fact prior to the recognition of its theological implications) was so momentous that, if true, it simply had to warrant more documentary attention, may not be a safe one.

    Thirdly, that the plausibility seems low to you is a subjective assessment which is not an argument that the plausibility really is low. Bryan, for instance, might argue that the plausibility of Mary NOT being assumed into heaven, given the complete absence of any written reference to the remains of Mary’s body (in an age when such things were highly prized and written about), is very low. Arguably lower than your assessment, since at least the Assumption of Mary was eventually written about. And what’s more, when it was finally written about, it was in the context of feasts which the Church had already been celebrating for some time (decades, centuries, who knows); thus, further reducing the time gap between the time of John and verifiable knowledge of this event as expressed in Christian worship. This shows that a subjective assessment of plausibility, just like individual exegesis, remains inconclusive regarding the actual plausibility or factuality of the event.

    You wrote:

    So I guess my question is, If the assumption were not something that actually happened that an apostle knew of and passed on, but instead were something that was posited centuries later as a necessary consequence of recent christological formulations, how would you know?

    Relying upon my own exegetical skills or probabilistic judgments of plausibility, I would not know it to be true. I would, at best, make a judgment concerning its probability. And given the reference in Revelation, the absence of any mention of Mary’s relics, and the fact of eventual documentary mention preceded by communal celebration; I would judge that the probability that the event happened is more likely than not. But that would not be sufficient as knowledge per se, nor as a basis for viewing the matter as a point of dogma. I believe that the dogma is true (rather than merely probable) for the same reason that I believe the Christological and Trinitarian dogmatic definitions are true (rather than merely probable) – because the Magisterial successors to Peter and the apostles have so defined it – see my response to Bill in #25. First comes Church, then comes dogma.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  28. @Ray (25),

    “So, if a non question begging (non table pounding) defense of central dogmas like the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ (which Protestants accept as orthodox on insufficient grounds) requires recourse to the authoritative voice of the Church; what good reason can one have for rejecting the Church’s claim to establish dogma based on Tradition?”

    I’m not rejecting it, Ray, but simply trying to establish the basis for the Assumption being a dogma (as opposed to simply being a doctrine that does not carry the additional weight of a dogma). Here’s the way I would ask my question based on your incisive comments: for central dogmas such as the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ, there are Scriptures aplenty which one may consider. I grant that if generally accepted hermeneutical principles allow for more than one interpretation, only the Magisterium can establish the true reading. But in the case of the Assumption, the same proliferation of Scriptures is absent. So we rely entirely on Tradition and the Magisterium to establish the doctrine. Understand that I’m not objecting to doctrine being established on such a basis. What I’m trying to understand is the basis of a doctrine rising to the level of a dogma where it lacks even a single Scriptural support.

    If it’s helpful, I understand that a person who subscribes to a partim-partim view of Scripture and Tradition (as I assume you do) may not see the difficulty. My view, however, inclines to that of Yves Congar in “The Meaning of Tradition,” where he states (on p. 100) that “Scripture is always the supreme rule and is never submitted to any other objective rule. It is, however, not the _sole_ principle regulating the belief and life of the Church. To this end God has established two other principles: tradition and the Church, with her pastoral Magisterium.” Granting this, which I think is a more unitary view of the role of Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium, my question becomes: may dogma (and not just doctrine) be established where the supreme rule is silent on the teaching? If not, what is the rationale for determining that such a doctrine must also be declared a dogma of the Church?

  29. Gents,

    Regarding the Assumption in the Bible, if we date Mary’s Assumption to 63 A.D., then propose that St. John is writing Rev. during the Neronean persecution (starts in 64 A.D.), interpreting Rev. 12 in light of the Assumption can make good sense.

    In Rev. 12:13, the dragon “pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child“. She is then given “two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly to her place in the desert” (v.14 / also an allusion to Isaiah 40:31) and “Then the dragon became angry [why?] with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments…”

    Christians were aware that their brothers and sisters were being gruesomely martyred. They would have been in utter terror of this happening to Mary. John is writing in the codified apocalyptic language of his day. If so, we must ask what is he trying to “get across” to the Church that they would understand but non-believers would not. I think nothing would bring Christians under persecution more relief than to know that Christ had taken care of his mother.

    In other words, what any good son would do if he had it within his power.

  30. I think a great question would be if the earliest of the early fathers commented on Revelation 12, and if they did, did they see there the assumption of Mary? If not, then that’s a problem, no?

  31. Jason,

    According to the author of the article, “Patristic Commentaries on Revelation”:

    Portions of at least twenty-one [commentaries] on the Book of Revelation exist from the third through eighth centuries (2).

    There were several commentaries on Revelation written between the second and seventh centuries of which not even a fragment has survived (15).

    There are many works from the early church that are not commentaries on the Book of Revelation per se, but contain interpretations of its passages [several examples follow, from the late 2nd to the 5th centuries] (16).

    So that is (more or less) what we have (and do not have) to work with.

    Concerning Revelation 12, the two earliest fathers that I could find (Hippolytus and Victorinus, both 3rd century) interpret the Woman clothed with the Sun as a reference to the Church. (The article also notes that “In the fourth century, Methodius of Olympus (d. 311) wrote a lengthy interpretation of Revelation 12 in Logos 8.4-13 of his Symposium….” Unfortunately, I have been unable to find this text.) This might be a problem (i.e., objectively at odds with the dogma) if this interpretation is incompatible with there being a Marian allusion in the text, or if it is illegitimate to discern anything in the text beyond the recorded interpretations of these Church fathers, even if that something more is compatible with their interpretations.

    The next step, obviously, would be to trace the history of interpretation forward, through the fourth and fifth centuries, up to the time that we find explicit testimony to the Dormition and Assumption of the BVM. Sadly, only 3 of the 21 (or so) patristic commentaries have been translated into English.

    Andrew

  32. Andrew:

    You could say that there are two problems in one. One problem is whether the woman has any reference to Mary (or should instead refer to the church in general or particularly the Old Testament church), but the bigger problem is whether that reference to Mary (if she is referenced at all) has anything to do with the Assumption.

    Regarding Methodius, the Symposium has been translated in volume 27 of the Ancient Christian Writers series. (see page 109 and following) He does identify the woman as the church. For example, he states:

    Now I think that the Church is here said to bring forth a man child simply because the enlightened spiritually receive the features and image and manliness of Christ; the likeness of the Word is stamped on them and is begotten within them by perfect knowledge and faith, and thus Christ is spiritually begotten in each one.

    You can also find some more examples here:

    http://turretinfan.blogspot.com/2009/08/mary-crowned-in-revelation.html

    and one more if you just click on the “Revelation 12” tag on that post.

    Nevertheless, as I said, even if some father or other identifies this woman as Mary (Oecumenius, perhaps, if I recall correctly?), that still doesn’t mean that they viewed this passage as having anything at all to do with a theory of an assumption of Mary.

    -TurretinFan

  33. “It was fitting that the she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting that the spouse, whom the Father had taken to himself, should live in the divine mansions. It was fitting that she, who had seen her Son upon the cross and who had thereby received into her heart the sword of sorrow which she had escaped when giving birth to him, should look upon him as he sits with the Father, It was fitting that God’s Mother should possess what belongs to her Son, and that she should be honored by every creature as the Mother and as the handmaid of God”
    John of Damascene,Dormition of Mary(PG 96,741),(ante A.D. 749) from Munificentis simus Deus

    ” ‘St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451), made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.’ ”
    John of Damascene,PG(96:1)(A.D. 747-751)

  34. I recently read something from JPII where he was interpreting the Woman to be the Church although most immediately exemplified in the person of Mary. So the interpretation that the Woman is the Church stands even today in the RCC. Historically just to what degree Mary is seen as a representative of the Woman in Revelation would vary depend on which Church Father you were querying. And we Protestants would tend to place less emphasis on Mary as a representative (although she certainly is a representative) and point to the eternal battle between Satan and the Church throughout the ages as the primary lesson that Revelation 12 is pointing us to.

    On the Assumption of Mary, it would seem most plausible to assume that the Church picked up this concept from the various apocryphal works beginning in the 4th century or so. Now just because these apocryphal works were the collective sources does not make the doctrine wrong, but I think it’s reasonable to conclude that we don’t find the doctrine previously in the writings of the orthodox Fathers because in the early centuries of the Church there was no evidence to suggest such a thing.

    It seems to me that the faithful Roman Catholic believes the Assumption of Mary to be true because it has been dogmatically defined regardless of where our historical investigation of the origins of the doctrine might lead us. And it certainly is conceptually possible that the precise chain of oral tradition was lost and that the truth of the Assumption was always part of the teaching of the Church, but I don’t think it’s possible to come up with a good stand alone proof for it. Catholics today believe in the Assumption because it is part of a package deal, so as to speak. If the modern RCC is indeed the proper spiritual descendants of the Church of the Apostles, and if she has the right to define certain matters as infallible, then the Assumption must be true, end of story.

  35. Jerry:

    Let’s just assume that those are quotations supportive of Rome’s dogma of the assumption. Still, I think you have to admit that they don’t make any reference at all to Revelation 12. In fact, on the contrary the second one makes it look like the Assumption was speculation from the absence of her remains, not anything to do with divine revelation, much less the Apocalypse.

    -TurretinFan

  36. TF,

    You wrote:

    You could say that there are two problems in one. One problem is whether the woman has any reference to Mary (or should instead refer to the church in general or particularly the Old Testament church), but the bigger problem is whether that reference to Mary (if she is referenced at all) has anything to do with the Assumption.

    I appreciate the distinction. The first is only a problem if Revelation 12 cannot be both a reference to the Church and an allusion to the BVM. However, if Mary is understood as a type of the Church, that dilemma disappears. Your second problem becomes serious only if it is illegitimate to discern significance in a text beyond (though compatible with) that discerned by the Church fathers. But it seems fairly uncontroversial to posit that the Church’s understanding of Sacred Scripture develops and deepens (without reversing prior tradition) over time. I would be interested to know what is the first record of Revelation 12 interpreted as an allusion to the Assumption.

    This text, so interpreted, is of course important for Catholics as being a biblical witness (even if an obscure one) to the dogma that Mary has been assumed, body and soul, to Heaven. Otherwise, we have a few arguments from “fitness,” with inferences drawn from (other) teachings in Scripture and Tradition pertaining to Mary, as well as Marian typology in the Old Testament, as our biblical basis for this traditional doctrine.

    I think that these are sufficient, apart from Revelation 12, for those Catholics who hold that all divine (public) revelation, even that handed down by Tradition, is at least implicitly contained in Scripture. However, in the light of these other considerations (biblical and traditional), it is not implausible, in my opinion, that there be a Marian allusion, involving her bodily presence in Heaven, in the Apocalypse.

    Andrew

  37. Bill,

    In #19 you wrote:

    I can understand a Protestant acknowledging that the Assumption may in fact be true, although it is not recorded in Scripture, but nevertheless arguing that a teaching found expressly only in Tradition, and not in Scripture, cannot be the basis of a dogma. How would you respond to that objection?

    I would respond by pointing out that this notion that “nothing found expressly only in Tradition, and not in Scripture, cannot be the basis of a dogma” is itself neither in Scripture nor in Tradition. We find in the Church Fathers, for example, many teachings that are not “expressly” in Scripture, but which are, nevertheless, taught as Apostolic. Such teachings can be present in Scripture in an implicit way, such that they can be seen there only in the light of the Tradition. But that is not the same as the notion that “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (Westminster Confession of Faith I.6). The WCF position, for example, makes Tradition superfluous with respect to dogma, since it posits that whatever is necessary to be believed is either “expressly set down in Scripture” or is logically deducible from Scripture “by good and necessary consequence.” And the logical deduction referred to there does not require the light of the Apostolic Tradition.

    In #22 you wrote:

    Therefore my question is not whether doctrine may derive from Tradition where it is not expressly taught in the Scriptures, but whether dogma may so derive.

    The answer is yes. The notion that to be dogma something must be “expressly taught” in Scripture is not itself in Scripture, either expressly or by logical deduction from Scripture alone. The First Vatican Council taught:

    Wherefore, by divine and Catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in Scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the Church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal magisterium. (First Vatican Council 3.3.8)

    In #28 you wrote:

    My view, however, inclines to that of Yves Congar in “The Meaning of Tradition,” where he states (on p. 100) that “Scripture is always the supreme rule and is never submitted to any other objective rule. It is, however, not the _sole_ principle regulating the belief and life of the Church. To this end God has established two other principles: tradition and the Church, with her pastoral Magisterium.” Granting this, which I think is a more unitary view of the role of Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium, my question becomes: may dogma (and not just doctrine) be established where the supreme rule is silent on the teaching? If not, what is the rationale for determining that such a doctrine must also be declared a dogma of the Church?

    What Congar says is compatible with dogma being drawn from the Tradition, and seen in Scripture not “expressly” or inferred by logical deduction from Scripture alone, but visible in Scripture only by the light of Tradition. The rationale is that dogmas were already dogmas when they were preached as such by the Apostles, even before they were written down in the New Testament in the Gospels or epistles. It wasn’t as though the Church had to wait until the first New Testament book was written, in order to have any uniquely Christian dogmas.

    The Second Vatican Council, in sections 7-10 of Dei Verbum, set forward the Church’s teaching concerning the relation of Tradition and Scripture:

    7. In His gracious goodness, God has seen to it that what He had revealed for the salvation of all nations would abide perpetually in its full integrity and be handed on to all generations. Therefore Christ the Lord in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion (see Cor. 1:20; 3:13; 4:6), commissioned the Apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is the source of all saving truth and moral teaching, and to impart to them heavenly gifts. This Gospel had been promised in former times through the prophets, and Christ Himself had fulfilled it and promulgated it with His lips. This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the Apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The commission was fulfilled, too, by those Apostles and apostolic men who under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit committed the message of salvation to writing.

    But in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, “handing over” to them “the authority to teach in their own place.” This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face (see 1 John 3:2).

    8. And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3) Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.

    This tradition which comes from the Apostles develop in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.

    The words of the holy fathers witness to the presence of this living tradition, whose wealth is poured into the practice and life of the believing and praying Church. Through the same tradition the Church’s full canon of the sacred books is known, and the sacred writings themselves are more profoundly understood and unceasingly made active in her; and thus God, who spoke of old, uninterruptedly converses with the bride of His beloved Son; and the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel resounds in the Church, and through her, in the world, leads unto all truth those who believe and makes the word of Christ dwell abundantly in them (see Col. 3:16).

    9. Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence [Quapropter utraque pari pietatis affectu ac reverentia suscipienda et veneranda est].

    10. Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort.

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

    It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls. (Dei Verbum, 7-10)

    Notice that last line of section 9: Another translation from the Latin is ” Therefore both [sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture] are to be accepted and venerated with equal piety and reverence. That is because not only what is written [in Scripture] is the word of God, but also what was (and still is) handed down orally. We can see that, for example, in section 10, “But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” (my emphasis) So there is a fundamental difference between the Protestant and Catholic positions regarding the authority and necessity of Tradition.

    In the body of the post above, I linked to a comment I made at Justin Taylor’s site. There I wrote:

    The problem with Leithart’s claim is that without a Magisterium, Scripture as “final authority” reduces to Scripture as the only authority. And that’s because without a Magisterium, what gets to count as “tradition” is only what agrees with one’s interpretation of Scripture. That’s how Protestants justify rejecting so much of tradition from the first fifteen hundred years of Church history. But tradition in that sense, has no authority, when it is picked only if it agrees with one’s interpretation of Scripture. Similarly, Leithart points to Protestants’ recognition of “the relative authority of human teachers.” But again, the problem is that only those persons who generally agree with one’s own interpretation of Scripture are the ones who get to count as a “human teacher.” And a fundamental principle regarding authority is that submission on the basis of agreement is not actual submission, but only seeming submission; it is the illusion of authority, not actual authority. Since both the tradition recognized by Protestants, and the human teachers recognized by Protestants, are selected on the basis of their agreement with the individual’s interpretation of Scripture, they aren’t actual authorities but only accoutrements to Scripture. So the jiu jitsu lies in Leithart’s position. Neal Judisch and I have written about this in more detail in “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura and the Question of Interpretive Authority.”

    That’s why Congar’s position on the authority and necessity of Tradition is not reducible to the position found in the WCF. Congar’s position is compatible with dogma coming from Tradition, and visible in Scripture only by the light of that Tradition, whereas Protestantism, in the way I explained in the quotation just above, denies the necessity and authority (and/or existence) of Tradition.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  38. Jason (re: #24)

    You asked:

    But what evidence is there that the assumption was ever taught by an apostle?

    If we set aside the Rev. 12 passage, then the answer to this question is that we have no independent direct evidence that any Apostle taught the Assumption. The evidence for the Assumption is indirect, and dependent. That is, it depends on the Church and on a stance of faith. (Yes, I know that’s going to seem question-begging.) What I mean is that there is a certain underlying assumption (no pun intended; I’ll distinguish the two senses of the term by capitalization) that is doing work here, and should itself be examined. That assumption is that the entire content of the Apostolic Tradition can be determined independently through historical methods, apart from faith and apart from the Church.

    This assumption in relation to Tradition works much like a similar notion in relation to Scripture, namely, that the entire content and meaning of Scripture can be determined independently through the historical-grammatical method, apart from faith and apart from the Church. Pope Benedict XVI, in his Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini addressed that latter assumption, especially in sections 29-34. An historical-grammatical approach to Scripture is good and helpful, but it is not sufficient for determining the divine meaning of Scripture, and therefore can be used rightly only as informed by and subordinate to the analogy of faith and the Tradition of the Church as elucidated through the centuries by the Church. Because Sacred Scripture has the Holy Spirit as its primary author, it can be understood rightly only by the aid of the Holy Spirit operating in and through the Church, not by human reason alone, making use of exegetical and hermeneutical tools and methods. (I have written about that in more detail in “The Tradition and the Lexicon.”) A purely rationalistic approach to Scripture discounts every supernatural explanation of its origin, development and meaning, and posits instead naturalistic explanations. It fails to see Scripture as a divinely inspired text, and therefore as having a supernatural unity as a coherent and unified narrative presented and orchestrated by God through the sacred texts compiled under His providential guidance. And this is why a rationalistic approach to Scripture, while not necessarily eliminating books from the Bible, essentially eliminates a great deal from the Bible, by ‘explaining it away,’ or positing merely natural causes for it. We can see this, for example, in the result of the Jesus Seminar and Robert Funk, in which precious little is left of Jesus’ words, after the four Gospels are run through their rationalistic (faithless) analysis.

    I said all that, because much of what Pope Benedict XVI says in Verbum Domini about the danger of a purely rationalistic approach to Scripture, applies also to a purely rationalistic approach to Tradition. What I mean is, there is a “Jesus Seminar” sort of approach to Tradition as well, in which what is allowed to count as authentic Tradition is only that which can be confirmed as Apostolic by an independent, rationalistic method, apart from the light of faith and from the guidance of the Church. If (yes, big if, but I’m presenting the Catholic paradigm, so bear with me) Scripture and Tradition are both the word of God, in the way Dei Verbum describes (see comment #37), then what makes a rationalistic approach to Scripture problematic is likewise what makes a rationalistic approach to Tradition problematic. The rationalistic methodology brings with it implicitly a presupposition that is anti-supernatural. And in this way, this rationalistic approach to Scripture and Tradition is not theologically neutral, but is theologically ‘loaded.’

    So what does it mean or look like, then, to seek out the Tradition not in a purely rationalistic way? Among other things, it means not assuming ecclesial deism. Positively it means being open to the work of the Holy Spirit as the divine agent not only faithfully preserving the Apostolic Tradition but also effecting a deeper understanding of that Apostolic Tradition in the Church over the course of the centuries. So, in that stance, i.e. the stance of faith in relation to the Tradition, this adoption of the Feast of the Assumption by the universal Church (i.e. throughout East and West) in the sixth and seventh centuries, is itself evidence not only that the universal Church of that time understood this event to belong to the Apostolic Tradition, but that in some sense it did belong to the Apostolic Tradition. The judgment of the universal Church of the sixth and seventh centuries concerning the Assumption testifies to us today not only to the sixth/seventh century Church’s belief concerning the content of the Apostolic Tradition, but, by our assurance of the the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Church into all truth, to this doctrine’s presence in the Apostolic Tradition, even if it became part of the Apostolic Tradition later in the first century or was initially handed down through only one or a few lines of apostolic succession.

    In the stance of faith, we do not have to corroborate the teaching of the Church by way of independent direct evidence, just as the hearers of the Apostles did not have to corroborate their claims regarding Christ’s teaching, by independent direct evidence. The agreement of the whole Church is sufficient evidence from the stance of faith, just as for the first Christians the agreement of all the Apostles was sufficient evidence that what they taught was what Christ had revealed.

    So the plausibility of the Assumption depends on what is allowed to count as evidence. If the testimony of the sixth/seventh century Church is not considered part of the body of evidence, and the primary criterion for its plausibility is independent testimony to it in the centuries immediately succeeding it preserved to the present day, then the plausibility will be judged to be much lower.

    So I guess my question is, If the assumption were not something that actually happened that an apostle knew of and passed on, but instead were something that was posited centuries later as a necessary consequence of recent christological formulations, how would you know?

    There would have been conflict between the particular Churches (e.g. the Church of Ephesus, the Church of Corinth, the Church of Jerusalem, etc.) regarding this doctrine as some particular Churches began to celebrate the Feast, and the universal Church would not have adopted the Feast. Also, given the universal practice of the Church with respect to relics of the Apostles and saints, we would expect either first-class relics of Mary already to have been known (by which the aforementioned conflict would have been quickly resolved in favor of those opposing the Feast) or that there would have been some tradition concerning a grave robbery. We find neither of those.

    But theologically, who could possibly imagine that the perfect Son of God, and therefore the perfect Son of Mary (for if He was the perfect Son of God the Father, then in His incarnation He must be the perfect Son of His mother), who most perfectly kept the Command to honor one’s parents, would allow the sacred body of His mother from whom He took flesh, safe harbor and nourishment throughout His gestation and childhood, to be stolen away by grave robbers, eaten by worms, or divided into relics to be handled by men? Such notions call into question either Christ’s humanity or His deity. That is, if He let this happen to her, then either He wasn’t her Son, or if He was her Son, He wasn’t divine.

    That Mary’s body came to be absent from her grave was given a clearer explanation as the Church meditated on the Apostolic Tradition. The early Church began very early to recognize that Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant. (I included links to this in the body of the post above.) And they began to see the implications of this in relation to her body having been taken into heaven, and in relation to the woman described in Revelation 12 — it is worth noting that even the canonical status of the book of Revelation was not settled for some time. It takes time for the content of the Tradition (in this case the canon of Scripture) to be made clearer. Likewise, it took some time for the doctrine of the Assumption to become clear in the Tradition.

    I might also add that the rationalism that doesn’t allow the Church’s judgment in the sixth/seventh centuries to count as theological evidence regarding the Assumption is the same sort of rationalism that doesn’t allow the fifth ecumenical council’s statement that Mary remained ever-Virgin to count as theological evidence. Implicit in that rationalistic methodology is a denial of the divine authority and divine guidance of the Church, insofar as what is allowed to count as evidence of the content of Tradition is only independent direct evidence for the doctrine in question. And so in my opinion, that underlying assumption is what needs to be examined, namely, the assumption that the entire content of the Tradition can be known independently of faith and the Church. That underlying assumption is in large part behind why Protestants and Catholics disagree on these two Marian dogmas.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  39. @Bill,

    First, thank you for the thoughtful exchange. You wrote:

    So we rely entirely on Tradition and the Magisterium to establish the doctrine. Understand that I’m not objecting to doctrine being established on such a basis. What I’m trying to understand is the basis of a doctrine rising to the level of a dogma where it lacks even a single Scriptural support.

    Firstly, to say that “we rely entirely on Tradition and the Magisterium”, or that the dogma of the Assumption “lacks even a single Scriptural support”, is to already presuppose a particular exegesis of the passage in John’s Apocalypse which I highlighted in my discussion with JJS in #27.

    “And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars”

    If I am correct in arguing that JJS’ assessment that the passage “hardly Counts” is exegetically question-begging; then it cannot be said – categorically – that the dogma lacks “even a single Scriptural support”. For if the exegesis of this passage – derived from a Catholic hermeneutical paradigm – happens to be correct (i.e. that one of its polyvalent meanings entails Mary’s bodily presence in heaven); then the passage in question amounts to a nearly explicit affirmation of the dogma of the Assumption. However, as you rightly point out; “if generally accepted hermeneutical principles allow for more than one interpretation, only the Magisterium can establish the true reading”.

    Given your acceptance of the Magisterium’s competency to arbitrate between competing interpretations, if one assumes that both the Protestant and Catholic interpretations of this passage are derived from generally accepted hermeneutical principles; then the Magisterium has competency to arbitrate between the two contrary interpretations of this passage as supportive (or not) of the dogma of the Assumption. Since, in fact, Pope Pius XII explicitly cites the above passage in reference to, and in defense of, the dogma of the bodily Assumption of Mary [see section 27 of MUNIFICENTISSIMUS DEUS], it follows that the Catholic Magisterium has established the true reading of this passage as supportive of the dogma of the Assumption. Therefore, [given all the above premises] it follows that the dogma of the bodily Assumption of Mary does NOT lack Scriptural support.

    Now it would be hard to deny the premise that the Catholic interpretation follows along a set of generally accepted hermeneutical principles, since the passage has long been recognized as supportive of Mary’s bodily assumption, including by St. Thomas and the scholastics, whose careful attention to the four senses of scripture [which involves a nuanced understanding of the relative primacy of each sense and their interrelations] undergirds all of their exegetical efforts. The pivotal premise – and the only one which would seem to threaten the conclusion – is the claim that only the Magisterium can establish the true reading (and of course Protestants deny precisely this). Hence, the real question at hand concerns the grounds we have for accepting the Magisterium’s authority claims both in fact and in scope.

    You wrote:

    What I’m trying to understand is the basis of a doctrine rising to the level of a dogma where it lacks even a single Scriptural support

    I am not entirely sure how to interpret this statement, since the phrase “. . . basis of a doctrine rising to the level of a dogma”, seems to allow for at least three meanings:

    1. You could be asking about the evidential basis (in this case the feasts and documents in Christian history which relate to the Assumption – including Rev 12:1as discussed above).

    2. Or, you might be asking what rationale the Magisterium could be using to explain the decision to raise a doctrine with little or no scriptural support to the level of dogma

    3. Or, by “basis” you might be asking how we know the Magisterium has the authority to elevate a doctrine to a dogma will little or no scriptural support. Which is just another way of asking what grounds we have for accepting the Magisterium’s authority claims both in fact and scope.

    I doubt you are asking about 1, since the evidential data (whether one finds it persuasive or not) has been discussed at length in prior posts. Therefore, I suspect you are concerned about either 2 or 3, or both. But before I address those, I want to return again to a notion you seem to have sympathy with; namely, that the Magisterium’s ability/authority to elevate a doctrine to a dogma somehow depends upon that doctrine’s explicit – or at least implicit – mention in scripture. Yet, what grounds in scripture, or tradition could lead one to think that the Magisterium’s authority is limited in this way? Along these lines you wrote:

    My view, however, inclines to that of Yves Congar in “The Meaning of Tradition,” where he states (on p. 100) that “Scripture is always the supreme rule and is never submitted to any other objective rule. It is, however, not the _sole_ principle regulating the belief and life of the Church. To this end God has established two other principles: tradition and the Church, with her pastoral Magisterium.”

    Cardinal Congar’s monumental 500+ page “Tradition and Traditions” had a profound impact on my understanding of the relations which obtain between Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium. To begin with, we can be sure that Cardinal Congar fully assented to the dogma of the Assumption; for, besides being a Cardinal, he was appointed a Peritus to the Second Vatican Council by Pope John XXIII and is considered by many to be a dominant theological figure in the shaping of the Council itself. Neither his appointment as a Cardinal or a Peritus, nor his influence at the Council are compatible with the notion that he denied the dogma of the Assumption (I realize you never implied that it was). Therefore, whatever else he hoped to convey by the quote you have provided, it cannot rightly be interpreted as casting any doubt on the Magisterium’s authority to elevate the doctrine of the Assumption to the level of a dogma (which is quite different from affirming the Magisterium’s prudence in doing so).

    Notice that scripture’s status as the supreme rule, in no way implies than all dogmas must have some (at least implicit) basis in scripture. Rather, it need only mean that no dogma defined by the Magisterium can be contrary to the teaching of scripture – which the dogma of the Assumption manifestly is not. Thus, even if one were to grant that there is absolutely no support for the Assumption in scripture (which I deny for the reasons given above); this fact alone would not violate Congar’s definition, since the dogma in no way contradicts anything in scripture. The dogma does not threaten the supremacy of the scriptures in any way. It simply highlights what Congar goes on to say; namely, that scripture is not the SOLE authority. Nor does the dogmatic definition of the Assumption in any way subject the scripture to an objective rule. Accordingly, even if it were the case that the Assumption were completely lacking in scriptural support – finding its evidential basis ONLY in Tradition – the Magisterium’s subsequent dogmatization of this doctrine would remain perfectly in keeping with Congar’s position. And this is not surprising since Congar himself assented to the dogma.

    However, in reading Congar, one does get the sense (reading between the lines so to speak) that he was not nearly as certain about the prudence of the decision of Pope Pius XII to elevate the doctrine to dogmatic status, as he was about the truth of the dogma, or about the authority of Pius XII to define the dogma. In this, I am inclined to share his concern (assuming that really was his position). As far as I can see, the obligation of a Catholic to give assent of mind and will to a defined dogma does NOT entail that a Catholic must also affirm the motivations given for the definition, nor its timing, nor its prudence generally, nor even that its formulation is the best possible (dogmatic definitions enjoy Divine protection from error, not Divine inspiration). A Catholic need only affirm its truth once defined, because the Magisterium has the authority to make such definitions.

    Returning then to point number 2 above, concerning what rationale the Magisterium could be using to justify the decision to raise a doctrine with little or no scriptural support to the level of dogma. You finished your post by asking the following question:

    . . .what is the rationale for determining that such a doctrine must also be declared a dogma of the Church

    And that is an excellent point. Obviously, there is no absolute necessity that any particular doctrine must be elevated to the status of a dogma (otherwise all doctrines would become dogmas). Hence, the rationale for making that transition will always involve a prudential judgment on the part of the Magisterium. Until the recent past, that prudential rationale had usually involved the duty of the Pope and/or the bishops to defend the faith and the flock against heretical attacks. Dogmatic definitions were promulgated to resolve doctrinal firestorms. However, in the case of the last two Marian dogmas, the Popes have appealed to a more proactive (rather than defensive) principle as the prudential rationale for their definitive acts: namely, the edification and strengthening of the Catholic people by way of the added certainty achieved by raising a doctrine to a dogma. Here is the prudential rationale Pope Pius XII gives for his decision to dogmatize the doctrine of the Assumption:

    “We, who have placed our pontificate under the special patronage of the most holy Virgin, to whom we have had recourse so often in times of grave trouble, we who have consecrated the entire human race to her Immaculate Heart in public ceremonies, and who have time and time again experienced her powerful protection, are confident that this solemn proclamation and definition of the Assumption will contribute in no small way to the advantage of human society, since it redounds to the glory of the Most Blessed Trinity, to which the Blessed Mother of God is bound by such singular bonds. It is to be hoped that all the faithful will be stirred up to a stronger piety toward their heavenly Mother, and that the souls of all those who glory in the Christian name may be moved by the desire of sharing in the unity of Jesus Christ’s Mystical Body and of increasing their love for her who shows her motherly heart to all the members of this august body. And so we may hope that those who meditate upon the glorious example Mary offers us may be more and more convinced of the value of a human life entirely devoted to carrying out the heavenly Father’s will and to bringing good to others. Thus, while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals that follows from these teachings threaten to extinguish the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined. Finally it is our hope that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective.

    While disagreement with the prudential judgment of a pope is nothing to take lightly, I do not think that such disagreement – strictly speaking – is contrary to Catholic faith; especially, if the disagreement is maintained with humility and charity. In light of the profound drive towards ecumenism which has arisen within the Church since the date of this dogmatic definition, and in light of the stumbling block this dogma represents in the minds of many of our separated brethren, it seems to me that a Catholic might charitably question – in hind site – the prudence (or at least timing) of this dogmatic act. One might reasonably argue that the added certainty resulting from a dogmatic definition of the doctrine of the Assumption was not worth the cost in terms of ecumenism – although one should readily acknowledge that a pope is generally in a much better position to assess the ramifications of his own actions for the wider Christian world than most other Christians. Still, it is important to remember that dogmatic definitions are not “inspired” by the Holy Spirit; they are protected from error. The difference between the two is significant. A dogmatic definition need not represent the very “word of God” in the sense that God is the primary author of the definition. It may be that the formulation of the definition could be clearer, or else better anticipate objections, etc., etc. All that is guaranteed by Christ through the Holy Spirit is that the definition will be true so far as it goes. Christ (on behalf of His flock) protects the pope – when speaking with the authority of Christ – from teaching as definitive truth, that which is in fact error. Nor does this protection from error entail that Christ endorses the prudential rationale put forward by a pope as the occasion for promulgating a dogma. Nevertheless, a Catholic is obliged to assent to the truth of the dogma based upon the fact and scope of the Magisterium’s authority.

    And that brings me to the final and fundamental point relating to option 3 from above. As Bryan has just reiterated in #37. The Magisterium is perfectly capable of defining dogma (not just doctrine) that find’s no explicit or implicit mention in scripture. Scripture nowhere places the limitation that “every dogma must have some basis in scripture” upon the Magisterium. Both Scripture and tradition give witness to the work of Jesus Christ in founding the Church and vesting Peter and the apostles and their successors with His own authority such that whatever is bound on earth is bound in heaven and whoever listens to them (those with apostolic authority), listens to Him. Peter and his successors, in particular, possess the keys to the kingdom and are entrusted with the care of Christ’s flock on earth. The Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. Both Scripture and Tradition bear witnes to fact and scope of the Mgisterium’s authority, and that scope is not limited by the requirement that all dogma find an implicit reference somewhere in Scripture, since the apostolic teaching comes down to us in both Scripture and Tradition. Not every teaching found within the one must necessarily overlap with a teaching found in the other. However, the two can never contradict each other since they are two streams from the same source. The Assumption poses no such contradiction.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  40. I’ve long thought that the reason for the delayed communication of our lady’s assumption and the other Marian dogmas has much to do with the principle of the first being last and the last being first.

    If our Lord had glorified his mother while she was on earth, he would have been robbing her of glory in heaven. Instead he brought her quietly to heaven, body and soul, and glorified her there.

    The same could be said of his comments about the breasts that nursed him. If he had given her credit then and there he would have robbed her of her reward in heaven for the counterfeit of praise before men.

    The assumption is a preview of our resurrection, but it’s also a vindication of the lowly, barely mentioned in scripture Mary and all the meek who will inherit the earth on the last day.

  41. Bryan,

    <If we set aside the Rev. 12 passage, then the answer to this question is that we have no independent direct evidence that any Apostle taught the Assumption. The evidence for the Assumption is indirect, and dependent. That is, it depends on the Church and on a stance of faith.

    I’m glad to hear you say this. It underscores what I said in #34 that there was no stand alone proof for the Assumption.

    This assumption in relation to Tradition works much like a similar notion in relation to Scripture, namely, that the entire content and meaning of Scripture can be determined independently through the historical-grammatical method, apart from faith and apart from the Church.

    Agreed. No issues between us here, right?

    In the stance of faith, we do not have to corroborate the teaching of the Church by way of independent direct evidence, just as the hearers of the Apostles did not have to corroborate their claims regarding Christ’s teaching, by independent direct evidence. The agreement of the whole Church is sufficient evidence from the stance of faith, just as for the first Christians the agreement of all the Apostles was sufficient evidence that what they taught was what Christ had revealed.

    Here you are equating the “words of the Apostles” with the “teaching of the Church.” So concerning the “words of the Apostles,” do you mean what we have recorded of the Apostles words in the Scriptures or is there something else in addition? And concerning the “teaching of the Church,” isn’t the problem between us that we cannot agree what the teaching of the Church is? You speak about the “teaching of the Church” as if it is some sort of objective body of knowledge that we can appeal to.

    If the testimony of the sixth/seventh century Church is not considered part of the body of evidence,….

    Well of course, in discussions between Catholic and Protestant, the sixth/seventh century Church is part of the body of evidence when we look at in the case for/against the Assumption. This is just what my #34 is getting at.

    But theologically, who could possibly imagine that the perfect Son of God, and therefore the perfect Son of Mary (for if He was the perfect Son of God the Father, then in His incarnation He must be the perfect Son of His mother), who most perfectly kept the Command to honor one’s parents, would allow the sacred body of His mother from whom He took flesh, safe harbor and nourishment throughout His gestation and childhood, to be stolen away by grave robbers, eaten by worms, or divided into relics to be handled by men?

    That kind of Scholastic sort of reasoning is just the sort of thing that inhibits rather than encourages dialogue. Do you really want us to take a stab at answering it? I guarantee you that I could come with just as convincing sort of argument against the Assumption that you can for it if we divorce the argument from Scripture and history.

  42. Andrew, you said:

    “That kind of Scholastic sort of reasoning is just the sort of thing that inhibits rather than encourages dialogue. Do you really want us to take a stab at answering it? I guarantee you that I could come with just as convincing sort of argument against the Assumption that you can for it if we divorce the argument from Scripture and history.”

    I’m actually very curious what your answer to this question is as I believe that this is a very strong argument in favor of the Assumption. I’d like to know your opinion on another question as well, though. Is Jesus honoring his mother right now as he sits at the right hand of the Father? If not, then why not? If so, then wouldn’t our honor to her promote our own union with Christ in that we are doing the same thing that he is doing? (I realize that this last question doesn’t have anything to do with the Assumption directly, but I’m just curious how a reformed Christian such as yourself would answer).

    Blessings.

  43. Hello Andrew, (re: #41)

    You wrote:

    Here you are equating the “words of the Apostles” with the “teaching of the Church.”

    Careful. I compared them; I didn’t equate them.

    So concerning the “words of the Apostles,” do you mean what we have recorded of the Apostles words in the Scriptures or is there something else in addition?

    I didn’t use the phrase “words of the Apostles.” So, I’m not exactly sure what you are talking about. My point was that when the Apostles preached about the things Christ had taught them, the first Christians did not first corroborate and verify for themselves the Apostles’ claims regarding this new revelation, but accepted them by faith, on the divine authority of the Apostles. Likewise, for us, we accept the dogma of the Assumption by faith, on the divine authority of the successors of the Apostles, and not by first corroborating and verifying it through independent surviving historical evidence. That is one of distinctions between the way of faith, and the way of rationalism. (See “St. Thomas Aquinas on the Relation of Faith to the Church“)

    You speak about the “teaching of the Church” as if it is some sort of objective body of knowledge that we can appeal to.

    Yes, I do, because it is, and what a blessing that is. Catholics do not need to grope about in the dark to know what the Church is, where are her boundaries, and what she teaches. This is one of the benefits of having a visible catholic Church, rather than only an invisible catholic Church.

    That kind of Scholastic sort of reasoning is just the sort of thing that inhibits rather than encourages dialogue.

    I constructed that argument not fundamentally in order to encourage dialogue, but primarily to show the truth of the conclusion for those pursuing the truth, whether that argument encourages or discourages dialogue. Putting a label on it (i.e. “scholastic”) doesn’t refute it (nor does anything else you said). So, your criticism is suited for a different forum, i.e. the forum in which the primary goal is not truth, but encouraging dialogue. Of course a forum in which the primary goal is not truth, but dialogue, is a forum in which persons just talk to talk, even at the expense of truth, and not to arrive at agreement concerning the truth. That sort of ecumenicism is not what CTC is about. We believe that the pursuit of unity comes through the mutual pursuit of truth, in charity.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  44. Bryan,

    Sorry, you said the “agreement of all the Apostles .” But still my point is that we don’t have to corroborate what the agreement of the Apostles was because it is laid down in Scripture. But then you compare this with the “teaching of the Church.” But what is the teaching of the Church? It is not laid down for us in any way similar to the witness of the Apostles in Scriptures. So I’m questioning your comparison and suggesting that you need to be at least be a little more precise in defining what these these terms mean.

    And then applying this to this quote of yours:

    In the stance of faith, we do not have to corroborate the teaching of the Church by way of independent direct evidence, just as the hearers of the Apostles did not have to corroborate their claims regarding Christ’s teaching, by independent direct evidence. The agreement of the whole Church is sufficient evidence from the stance of faith, just as for the first Christians the agreement of all the Apostles was sufficient evidence that what they taught was what Christ had revealed.

    So on the Apostles if, for example, the agreement of the Apostles is that Jesus rose from the dead then yes, we ought to believe it even without any further direct evidence. After all, we have the clear witness of what the Apostles said laid down for us. But then you compare this with the “teaching of the Church,” but unlike the agreement of the Apostles in the example above, the question over what the whole Church said about the Assumption is not at that obvious. At first blush it would seem most reasonable that the Church picked up the idea after it became popular in a number of apocryphal works floating around beginning in the 4th century. Maybe this is coincidental, but it would seem reasonable to draw this connection. And goodness knows where these apocryphal writers picked up their ideas.

    I think all of this gets back to the question of how we interpret tradition. We can both look at the tradition of the Church and come to quite different conclusions. So what’s the resolution? Why is your interpretation of the tradition of the Church any more accurate than mine?

  45. Fr. Bryan (re: 42),

    I’m just skeptical of trying to reason from what might seem reasonable to one person. You might think that honoring Mary should mean that Jesus would not have allowed her to die or not allowed her to sin or not allowed her to be subjected to marital relations, or whatever else you might think is reasonable given Mary’s status. But one might equally well argue that because Jesus suffered the humiliations of this world that He would insist that His mother must do likewise and insist that she suffer the grave so that she could truly be the Mother of all humanity. I’m sure I could go on if I felt creative enough. The Scholastics were full of these kinds of arguments but from my standpoint they are meant to reinforce a belief that is already firmly held rather than provide a valid apologetic point. I just don’t think that such arguments, if we can call them arguments, have any place in the context of Catholic/Protestant dialogues. I understand they may have a certain devotional value to the faithful Catholic, but I don’t see that they can provide anything for the Protestant to respond to.

  46. Andrew, (re: #44)

    You wrote:

    But still my point is that we don’t have to corroborate what the agreement of the Apostles was because it is laid down in Scripture.

    I was speaking of the time after Pentecost but before the Apostles had written any NT Scripture.

    You wrote:

    But what is the teaching of the Church? It is not laid down for us in any way similar to the witness of the Apostles in Scriptures.

    Yes it is. That’s just what the Catechism of the Catholic Church is, a summary of the teaching of the Church.

    You wrote:

    But then you compare this with the “teaching of the Church,” but unlike the agreement of the Apostles in the example above, the question over what the whole Church said about the Assumption is not at that obvious.

    The Assumption was a Feast of the universal Church by the seventh century. When the whole Church celebrates a sacred event, the whole Church is saying that this event occurred. And to define this formally, Pope Pius XII promulgated the Apostolic Constitution titled Munificentissimus Deus in 1950.

    You wrote:

    At first blush it would seem most reasonable that the Church picked up the idea after it became popular in a number of apocryphal works floating around beginning in the 4th century. Maybe this is coincidental, but it would seem reasonable to draw this connection. And goodness knows where these apocryphal writers picked up their ideas.

    It would be reasonable to draw this conclusion only if one presupposes ecclesial deism, such that the Holy Spirit is not protecting the universal Church from falling into doctrinal error. You do not presuppose ecclesial deism in the case of the Church’s determination of the canon of Scripture, so it is arbitrary to presuppose ecclesial deism in the case of the universal Church’s adoption of the Feast of the Assumption.

    You wrote:

    Why is your interpretation of the tradition of the Church any more accurate than mine?

    Because I’m not presupposing ecclesial deism. See my comment #38 for an explanation of the difference between approaching a dogma such as the Assumption from the stance of rationalism, and approaching it from the stance of faith.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  47. […] the combox for his post at Called to Communion on the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, Bryan Cross writes in comment […]

  48. Bryan (37) and Ray (39), I want to thank both of you for heartfelt and enlightening responses to my questions about whether the Assumption must rise to the level of a dogma, rather than exist simply as a doctrine, and the reason for its dogmatization. I was particularly struck by Bryan’s claim that some implicit teachings can only be seen in light of Tradition, although this point doesn’t directly address the issue of dogmatization. Ray’s candid comments about the prudence of the dogmatization of the Assumption were also appreciated. Perhaps only future generations will fully understand this prudence or its lack.

    Although I am not (yet?) a Catholic, I feel the attraction of the Church most powerfully as I grow older. Much, although not all, of this attraction is intellectual, so that even if all my intellectual issues were resolved, I know that that I’ve merely cleared a path but not yet walked upon it. But the Marian dogmas have presented a particular obstacle, as I’m sure they do for many others like me. As I reflect on them, I’m struck by what I think may be the principle difficulty for a non-Catholic. It is not, as may first appear, the “non-Scriptural” basis, although that objection comes to hand most readily. Rather, it is the difference I see between the OT Church (i.e., Israel) and the NT Church, as represented by the Roman Catholic Church. More precisely, it is the difference between the prophetic roles in each. Thus Israel is constantly failing in its mission to be the Church, that is, it wanders far from the truth and worships false gods. The prophet arises, proclaiming the Word of God, and seeks to call Israel back to the true God. But for the NT Church, the prophetic office appears to function differently. The true comparison with Israel exists only with its external prophetic role, addressing the world outside the Church. Within the Church, however, the prophetic role, where it continues, can address only morals and not faith, since the NT Church, unlike Israel, is infallible in its doctrinal teaching. All, or nearly all, of the root conflicts between Protestants and Catholics return to this issue, for if the infallibillity of the NT Church were assumed by Protestants, the Reformation as a theological controversary could not have arisen. Issues such as the Assumption are simply additional examples of this difference.

    Protestants, however, see the prophetic role persisting to date, with the Scriptures as the prophetic vehicle for the correction of the Church. For Catholics, on the other hand, the prophetic office as to issues of faith has ceased within the Church itself, and restricts itself to the world outside the Church, or to issues of morals within the Church. The difference, it seems, is the role the Holy Spirit plays within the Church, as compared with the lack of such a role in the OT Church, Israel. The Protestant argues that the Church has failed in its role as teacher, and supports his point by comparing present Church teachings to NT passages, assuming that his interpretation of the NT can be fully known outside the Church. The Catholic, on the other hand, assumes the infallibility of the Church from the latter’s proclamation of such, based as it is (in part at least) upon an understanding that it has the Mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16).

    At least this is where my reflection has taken me to date.

  49. Bryan,

    The Assumption was a Feast of the universal Church by the seventh century. When the whole Church celebrates a sacred event, the whole Church is saying that this event occurred.

    And the whole Church accepted at this time that the writings of Dionysius were the writings of the companion of Paul (acts 17). And the whole Church continued in this belief for 1000 years or so and Dionysius was a major influence on the theology of the Medieval Church (see how much he is quoted as authoritative by Aquinas in the Summa). But the whole Church was wrong which the RCC finally conceded in the 19th century. But what of that? So the Church was wrong about something it believed for a great many years. Isn’t one of the major lessons of the OT that the people of God can fall into major errors on a great many things for many many years? You are wed to the assumption that the Church cannot possibly err as the OT Church did. But this is just an assumption, that as far as I can see, has no basis in anything we find in Scriptures and for that matter anything we find in the centuries immediately following the Apostles. So again Bryan, why should we accept your assumption? What of all the OT examples which would seem to teach just the opposite? If you are accusing me of accepting that the Church could fall into error on a substantive matter than yes, I am guilty as charged. But I just find no reason to reject such a notion. What in the Scriptures or in the tradition of the Church immediately following the Apostles would argue against it?

    It would be reasonable to draw this conclusion only if one presupposes ecclesial deism, such that the Holy Spirit is not protecting the universal Church from falling into doctrinal error. You do not presuppose ecclesial deism in the case of the Church’s determination of the canon of Scripture, so it is arbitrary to presuppose ecclesial deism in the case of the universal Church’s adoption of the Feast of the Assumption.

    You want to make your case based on the sole example of the canon. But we know that God inspired the canon, but He did not inspire the writing of the Fathers, collectively or otherwise. And the RCC does not claim inspiration for the tradition of the Fathers. So I am not being arbitrary by drawing a distinction between that which God has inspired and that which He has not.

    See my comment #38 for an explanation of the difference between approaching a dogma such as the Assumption from the stance of rationalism, and approaching it from the stance of faith.

    And I responded to your #38 on this matter in my #41 (second statement of mine) asking you to confirm that we are in agreement. I thought we both believed that we cannot approach dogma outside of the context of faith. The role of faith guided by the Holy Spirit is part of both of our communions I thought. But you don’t agree?

  50. Andrew,

    You wrote:

    And the whole Church accepted at this time that the writings of Dionysius were the writings of the companion of Paul (acts 17).

    No, only certain scholars did so. When I say “the whole Church,” I mean the the whole Church, not just some scholars. The Assumption was celebrated liturgically as a sacred Feast by the whole Church. There was never any universal sacred feast claiming that the writings attributed to Dionysius were truly his. Nor was there any teaching by the ordinary universal Magisterium that these writings were those of the Dionysius St. Paul converted. So it is inaccurate to claim that this was something taught by the Church, let alone by the whole Church.

    You wrote:

    You are wed to the assumption that the Church cannot possibly err as the OT Church did. But this is just an assumption, that as far as I can see, has no basis in anything we find in Scriptures and for that matter anything we find in the centuries immediately following the Apostles.

    It is not a mere assumption; this principle is all over the place in the Church Fathers. This is, for example, one of the ways St. Augustine argued against the Donatists, who arrogantly assumed that they were right and the whole Church was wrong. (See Gavril Andreicut’s recently published dissertation on St. Augustine’s letters against the Donatists: “The Church’s Unity and Authority: Augustine’s Effort to Convert the Donatists.”) The principle is, in short, the principle of catholicity, i.e. that no part of the Church has a “monopoly on truth” over against the whole Church. See, for example, my article on St. Vincent of Lérins. See also my article on Ecclesial Deism in which I provide some patristic evidence regarding the indefectibility of the Church. See also my comment #21 in the Terry Johnson thread, where I presented some patristic references to the catholicity of the Church.

    You wrote:

    What of all the OT examples which would seem to teach just the opposite?

    That’s like arguing against the Eucharistic sacrifice, on the basis of OT animal sacrifices, or against baptism, on the basis of OT circumcision. It does not take into consideration that the New Covenant is a new and better covenant. “Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (Heb 7:22), “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.” (Heb 8:6) When Jesus came, He established His Church, and it is better than the Old Covenant arrangement. The Church is the pillar and ground of truth, and the Spirit has come to dwell in her, and shall never be removed from her, because the bond of union between Christ and His Church is indissoluble, as is the hypostatic union.

    If you are accusing me of accepting that the Church could fall into error on a substantive matter than yes, I am guilty as charged. But I just find no reason to reject such a notion. What in the Scriptures or in the tradition of the Church immediately following the Apostles would argue against it?

    The gates of hell shall not prevail against it. To have faith in Christ includes believing that He is guarding and preserving His Church, which is His Mystical Body, such that what the Church binds on earth, Christ binds in heaven, and what the Church looses on earth, Christ looses in heaven. To hear and listen to the Church is to hear and listen to Christ, who is the Head. To obey the Church, is to obey Christ who appointed and authorized her leaders, and governs His Church through them. To serve the Church, is to serve Christ. To trust Christ is to trust Christ in the Church. To deny the Church, is to deny Christ.

    But we know that God inspired the canon, but He did not inspire the writing of the Fathers, collectively or otherwise. And the RCC does not claim inspiration for the tradition of the Fathers. So I am not being arbitrary by drawing a distinction between that which God has inspired and that which He has not.

    I didn’t claim that you are making an arbitrary conceptual distinction between whatever God has inspired, and what God has not inspired. The arbitrariness of your position lies in the fact that you do not presuppose ecclesial deism in the case of the Church’s determination of what is the canon of Scripture [setting aside the fact that the fifth century canon was the Catholic canon], but you do presuppose ecclesial deism in the case of the universal Church’s adoption of the Feast of the Assumption.

    I thought we both believed that we cannot approach dogma outside of the context of faith.

    Ecclesial deism is a defect in faith, and so is the stance of rationalism that I described in #38. See “St. Thomas Aquinas on the Relation of Faith to the Church.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  51. “He that hears you hears me; and he that rejects you rejects me; and he that rejects me rejects him that sent me.” -Luke 10:16

    The Father–>Jesus Christ–>The Apostles–>Who They Sent

    To reject one is to reject all of them, and rejection doesn’t just imply the rejection of their teachings. Rather, as Christ said:

    “And whosoever shall (1) not receive you, (2) nor hear your words: going forth out of that house or city shake off the dust from your feet. Amen I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.”-Matthew 10:14-15

  52. Bryan,

    On Dionysius, it was not just some scholars. There is little question of the authenticity of the now discredited texts from the 7th to the 15 th century. Nobody questioned Aquinas for adducing Dionysius to make various points because the Medieval Church was convinced that this was an associate of Paul. It was not until certain Humanists in the 15th century discovered that the texts ascribed to Dionysius could not possibly have been written by the companion of Paul that anyone questioned the matter. But this kind of reassessment of medieval assumptions happened over and over again after the new textual/linguistic tools of the Renaissance were developed. The example of Dionysius is appropriate because the acceptance of questionable works also played a large part in the acceptance of the Assumption, a dogma apparently unknown to the early centuries of Christianity. It would seem most reasonable to me that the utter silence of any mention of a doctrine among so many Fathers which is of such importance to the modern RCC would bring into question why the doctrine so quickly took root in and after the 7th century. To say that the various apocryphal writings were coincidental to it’s acceptance among orthodox theologians is a real stretch and to me does not seem to deal realistically with the historical data we have.

    And to reiterate another point I made above, the reassessment of the Assumption is not subjecting the tradition of the RCC to a historical critical process outside of the context of faith and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

    I think that my interpretation of history (that of the Reformed churches) is a more fair interpretation than yours (that is the sector of the RCC that you associate with). But here we have competing interpretations of the history of tradition. The modern RCC has taken one possible interpretation and codified it. So again why should anyone accept your particular interpretation?

    You get to the heart of the matter in your ecclesial deism article, and it’s the beliefs underlying your definition of ecclesial deism which I am trying to question. You believe that the Magisterium of the RCC could not lose or corrupt any essential of the deposit of the faith. From what I see this is an assumption which is not shared by the writers of Scripture nor by those who immediately followed the Apostles. Concerning the Scriptures, in the OT God promises to lead His people, never leave them, etc just as He promises in the NT. But despite the fact God infallibly lead His people, the descendants of Abraham did not infallibly follow and yes, the teachers of Israel did often lead God’s people astray on a number of issues, often times for many many years. So it should be no surprise that in the post Apostolic age similar phenomena could happen. Why should we expect anything different? But you do expect something different and this expectation gets to the heart of a significant difference between Catholic and Protestant. My observation is that your assumption ignores some basic lessons we are supposed to learn from Scriptures. The fact that God leads infallibly does not mean that His people will follow infallibly. But you speak of the Catholic assumption that underlies what you call ecclesial deism as if it’s obvious and perspicuous. Do think your assumption is obvious?

    The Reformed understanding that God’s people can be lead astray even on important matters, does not in any way mean that we believe that God leaves His Church alone. The fact that the Church the OT was lead astray was in the end a testimony to God’s continued providential working. And the same could be said for God’s providential working in the NT age. There is no deism at work here, just a providence which surprises you and one that you will not accept.

  53. Andrew, (re: #52)

    You wrote:

    On Dionysius, it was not just some scholars. There is little question of the authenticity of the now discredited texts from the 7th to the 15 th century. Nobody questioned Aquinas for adducing Dionysius to make various points because the Medieval Church was convinced that this was an associate of Paul.

    The Magisterium of the Church never taught that the works attributed to the Dionysius referred to in Acts were in fact his works. The general belief among scholars of the medieval period that those works were written by Dionysius is not evidence that the Magisterium taught that those works were written by Dionysius. But the universal liturgical celebration of the Feast of the Assumption shows that this doctrine (i.e. the Assumption) was taught by the bishops of the universal Church; see the homilies I linked to in the body of my post. So the case of Pseudo-Dionysius is not a counterexample to the claim that the whole Church cannot fall into error in matters of faith and morals. Of course academia is fallible in that area, and in all other areas. But academia is not the Magisterium. And it would be unconscionable to conflate them. And that’s why errors in academia, even among scholars who are Catholic, is not a justification for ecclesial deism.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  54. The dispute between Andrew (@ 52) and Bryan (@ 53) is related to the issue I touched upon in the last paragraph of my post @ 48:

    “Protestants, however, see the prophetic role persisting to date, with the Scriptures as the prophetic vehicle for the correction of the Church. For Catholics, on the other hand, the prophetic office as to issues of faith has ceased within the Church itself, and restricts itself to the world outside the Church, or to issues of morals within the Church. The difference, it seems, is the role the Holy Spirit plays within the Church, as compared with the lack of such a role in the OT Church, Israel. The Protestant argues that the Church has failed in its role as teacher, and supports his point by comparing present Church teachings to NT passages, assuming that his interpretation of the NT can be fully known outside the Church. The Catholic, on the other hand, assumes the infallibility of the Church from the latter’s proclamation of such, based as it is (in part at least) upon an understanding that it has the Mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16).”

    In other words, for the Catholic the Church functions differently in matters of teaching than it did for Israel, and the difference is the role of the Holy Spirit. For the Reformed, that function is essentially the same. This is why Andrew states @52:

    “Concerning the Scriptures, in the OT God promises to lead His people, never leave them, etc just as He promises in the NT. But despite the fact God infallibly lead His people, the descendants of Abraham did not infallibly follow and yes, the teachers of Israel did often lead God’s people astray on a number of issues, often times for many many years. So it should be no surprise that in the post Apostolic age similar phenomena could happen. Why should we expect anything different?”

    Are the promises with regard to the Holy Spirit the same for the Church as they were for Israel? Or are they qualitatively different? What is the meaning of Paul’s assertion that the Church is the “pillar and ground of the truth”? Was any similar promise ever made about Israel? What is the meaning of Paul’s further assertion that “we have the Mind of Christ”? Can that Mind be at odds with itself? Or hidden in the Church’s formulation of key teachings?

  55. IMHO, it seems to me that even during Christ’s time there was a public, visible authority in Israel. Christ taught his fellow Jews to observe the teachings of those who sat in the seat of Moses. There was no absence of authority in israel. Then, as is the case today, the problem was religious hypocrisy. Hypocrites existed in Israel and hypocrites exist inChrost’s Church, the New Israel. In neither case does the presence of hypocrisy inhibit God’s shepherding of His flock.
    Thank you.

  56. Hello, I haven’t posted much the past few months but have been following fairly closely. Thanks for the great discussion Bryan and Andrew and Ray.

    Thank you Bill for that comment #54. You thinking along the same lines that I am contemplating.

    Regarding Israel and Andrew M’s assertions of Israels unfaithfulness I have some questions. Clearly Israel as a whole stumbled and leadership was culpable much of the time, but did Israel still know and transmit the truth of revelation and the Mosaic Covenant at the time of Christ? I ask because it sounds to me like Andrew M is implying that Israel fell away and its leadership was so unreliable that the transmission of OT revelation is questionable.

    I would assume that the common understanding is that Israel did indeed pass on OT revelation and the scriptures intact and accurately. Does the question of Israels failed leadership impact the truth and validity of the OT? If not, how can we trust the OT scriptures given the failures of Israels teaching authority?

    I would think that even Israel was in some sense preserved from error in compiling the scriptures and in transmitting the truth of revelation. Obviously, in practice both the broader Israelite community and the leadership failed. However, did OT Israel ever lose the truth of revelation and if so how did they reacquire that truth?

  57. GNW Paul @56,

    Thanks for your kind words. However, I wasn’t referring to the transmission of the written Word of God, the preservation of which lies in God’s control, whether we speak of the OT or the NT. I’m referring to the teaching office, so to speak, of each era. That such office in OT times was not infallible is evident from the failure of Israel to recognize its Messiah when He appeared. The question is whether the teaching office of the NT Church has a special grace of infallibility that OT Israel lacked.

    Herbert vanderlugt @55,

    Hypocrisy isn’t the test. By definition hypocrites fail to live up to their own standards. But even hypocrites may, and very likely do, teach truth. The issue isn’t authority per se, but rather the infallibility of that authority.

  58. Gentlemen, I think this OT Israel vs. NT Church is confusing two things. There is a difference between teaching error on the one hand and falling into gross immorality on the other. One has to do with believing and the other with doing. I think most Reformed Protestants want to intertwine the two and I think it is a big mistake. OT Israel still validly had the law of Moses *and* taught it to the people even if at times in her history she displeased God with her lack of faith in Him which led to disobedience…enter the Prophets to call the people back to *obedience,* not so much to correct their supposed doctrinal errors. I think we can all agree that the Catholic Church has at times in the last 2000 years lost any sense of moral integrity from the highest levels, and the Lord has raised up men to call her back to righteousness, but that is a separate issue than the Church teaching falsehood.

    This is also why the argument I have heard Protestants make that the 7 Churches in Revelation proves their point that the Church erred very early on (or was at least capable of it) is wrong and in my mind in fact lends itself to support the Catholic position. If I remember correctly only one church (Ephesus) was threatened with losing their lampstand and that was because of a lack *love* and Jesus calls them back to “*do* the things you *did* at first,” not “believe what you believed at first.” Also, I find it interesting that the Lord condemns the false teachings of *certain people in those churches* but not the churches themselves and He does threaten to punish *those people* but not remove the lampstand entirely.

    This is why Jesus telling the people to obey those in the seat of Moses but not do what they do makes perfect sense. And this can apply to the Pope/Magisterium as well…

    Shalom…

    Aaron G.

  59. The Reformed understanding that God’s people can be lead astray even on important matters, does not in any way mean that we believe that God leaves His Church alone. The fact that the Church the OT was lead astray was in the end a testimony to God’s continued providential working. And the same could be said for God’s providential working in the NT age. There is no deism at work here, just a providence which surprises you and one that you will not accept.

    If God let the whole of Christendom fall into serious error and stay there for many generations then you have to answer the question of how we know we are not in serious error now. What do Reformed believers do now that Catholic believers before the reformation did not do? Are they smarter? Are they holier? Why did the Holy Spirit lead you into truth and leave them in falsehood? If you were not in the truth would you know? Certainly these Catholics thought they were in the truth. If they could be so seriously mistaken why can’t you be?

  60. If God let the whole of Christendom fall into serious error and stay there for many generations then you have to answer the question of how we know we are not in serious error now.

    How do you know you are not in error?

    What do Reformed believers do now that Catholic believers before the reformation did not do?

    I’m not sure what you mean by that question.

    Are they smarter?

    Hard to tell, are Catholics? :)

    Are they holier?

    I don’t know how you could measure that but are Catholics holier?

    Why did the Holy Spirit lead you into truth and leave them in falsehood?

    Why would the Holy Spirit allow Protestants to be in error? Why did the Holy Spirit lead you into truth and allow Protestants to fall into error?

    If you were not in the truth would you know?

    How would you know?

    Certainly these Catholics thought they were in the truth.

    Certainly Protestants believe they are in the truth.

    If they could be so seriously mistaken why can’t you be?

    The question again goes back to you. Why can’t you be mistaken?

    My point is that these types of questions are not fruitful because I can obviously ask the same of you. We’re each going to answer them according to our paradigm which is not going to shed much light on the matter.

  61. Steve G

    I can say reformed Christians are in error because they reject sacred tradition. If Catholicism is right then there is no logical reason to suppose Reformed Christians would arrive at the truth given the assumptions they have made about the reformed tradition being the right interpretation of scripture. I can say the same about other protestant traditions. Reformed Christianity was never the only form of Christianity taught. Catholicism was always there. So you are then asking why there were false teachers of the gospel along side the true teachers of the gospel. But that is to be expected.

    Reformed Christians can’t say pre-reformation Catholics lacked reformed tradition. They believe the reformed tradition is clearly taught in the bible. Those Christians had the bible and believed it was the word of God and studied it diligently. Yet nobody arrived at Reformed Christianity. They were one in faith but it was not the reformed faith. So there are a few choices:

    1. They were wrong and you are right

    2. They were right and you are wrong

    3. They were wrong and you are wrong

    How can you be sure that #1 is the case? Either they were all defective in comparison to you. They didn’t pray enough or they are not very smart or whatever. The other option is you have access to a greater grace then they did. The trouble is that seems to say Calvin brought a greater grace to the world than Jesus did. That is just unthinkable.

    So either we accept that Christianity has the potential to be seriously corrupted and teach falsehood in the most solemn manner or we accept that pre-reformation Christians were not wrong and it is us that is wrong about some major aspects of the faith.

  62. Gentlemen, I think this OT Israel vs. NT Church is confusing two things. There is a difference between teaching error on the one hand and falling into gross immorality on the other. One has to do with believing and the other with doing

    That’s a false dichotomy, IMO. I know Catholics like to say that and I understand why Catholics like to say that but it’s not entirely true. We teach by how we live. If I say “Love God with all your heart, mind and soul” but run around cheating people, cursing them, committing adultery, which will have the greater impact with regards as to what you learn from me? Yes, certain theological doctrines aren’t/can’t be taught by actions (the Trinity, etc.) but who’s going to listen to what you say about the Trinity if on your off time you’re chasing skirts? What does it say if I do this and teach about going to confession (or “walking the aisle” in some Protestant churches) and make it seem that God’s grace is cheap? The old adage, “Actions speak louder than words” is still true.

    I think most Reformed Protestants want to intertwine the two and I think it is a big mistake.

    I think the bigger mistake is separating them as Catholicism does. The idea that a pope could be an immoral pig, yet retain his position as Christ’s Vicar, and the Church with no recourse to remove him is absurd by any reasonable standard. Even secular govts see the need to have a way to remove leaders that abuse/break the law. How much more so should the church seeing as we should be setting the standard for the rest of the world!?! Valid teachings of “doctrine” should be no protection for immoral behavior. Indeed the harm of such behavior can be as bad as teaching false doctrine. Surely if anything the Reformation should have taught Catholics that.

    OT Israel still validly had the law of Moses *and* taught it to the people even if at times in her history she displeased God with her lack of faith in Him which led to disobedience

    No, it wasn’t always taught and God’s punishment wasn’t always about behavior. What about the “reformation” of Josiah, when certain scriptures were found during the cleaning/repair of the temple? The people knew nothing of those teachings. What about the syncretist worship of Yahweh, Baal, and Asherah that took place under many kings, the belief that they could worship both Yahweh and these other gods? Somebody taught that this was ok, approved of it. What about the temples built in Israel in opposition to the Temple in Jerusalem in Judah? These are all doctrinal issues – it’s ok to mix Yahweh with Baal/Asherah, it’s ok to not to go Jerusalem and offer sacrifices there, stay in Samaria and do it at our temple, God doesn’t care.

    I think we can all agree that the Catholic Church has at times in the last 2000 years lost any sense of moral integrity from the highest levels, and the Lord has raised up men to call her back to righteousness, but that is a separate issue than the Church teaching falsehood.

    Again, I disagree. Try as you might, you cannot separate doctrine from morality, nor should you. I don’t see God giving either a pass in the OT/NT or weighing one more than the other. That to me is a major Catholic error.

  63. So Steve, given that stance (outlined in #62) how can you trust the OT Scriptures? The NT Scriptures? The Canon? and the Nicean Creed?

    The way I read what you outline is that we can’t trust the teaching of anyone who is not indefectible.

    I presume you are going to say “we trust only in God” but when you have the variation and division we have in Christianity and particularly Protestantism we get back to Randy’s question. “How do you know YOU are right and everyone else is wrong?

  64. Steve G, you are going to laugh but I am actually a Reformed Protestant, although I’m not sure for how much longer ;-)

    Thanks for our comments. A few things:
    I am in no way disagreeing with you that what you profess to believe and how you act are related. All I am pointing out is that when we talk about the OT people of God (or the NT Church) “going astray” we may not all be meaning the same thing. If we say that OT Israel went astray we could be meaning
    1) that they somehow corrupted the law of Moses and the message of the Prophets which had been handed down to them, or
    2) we could be meaning that the Law of Moses and the Prophets remained completely intact but the people ignored them and went after their own way such that they fell into sin and disobedience, or
    3) we could be meaning some amount of both.
    And in this respect if you think that 1 or 3 are possible than GNW Paul in #62 brings up a good point, namely, how can we trust the OT writings as not hopelessly corrupted?

    As for your ideas about the pope being able to be removed from office, I think that history and our own form of government should point out to all of us that maybe that isn’t such a great idea. Our own Supreme Court Justices are installed for life precisely because you and I do not want them making decisions out of fear of keeping their job (much like our presidents do). If that were the case then the Church would be hopelessly broken up into factions each one trying to bring a charge against the current pope who happens to not be of their faction. I agree that there have been some pretty morally awful popes but I have been a Protestant *way* too long to think that we can claim any kind of better track record. Another thing to think about, by your standard do you think Paul and the other Apostles would have been right to de-Apostle Peter when Paul confronted him as recorded in Galatians? I mean from a Reformed position Peter must be seen to have almost abandoned the Gospel by what he did.

    And to your issue of Josiah I agree that that is a great story but I wonder what your reaction would be if a cave in the desert turned out to contain a bunch of authentic letters of Paul, say they contained some of the things that he told the various churches he would tell them more fully when he visited them but never made it into Scripture. Would you be willing to rethink your theological commitments then? If so then how do you know that you have the true understanding of Scripture now? Also, how could a Protestant ever even *know* if they were authentic or not?

    And I further conclude with GNW Paul in #62 that all if us should be *very* leery of connecting the objective truth of someone’s message with the holiness of their life. If for no other reason than that there will be some people, Catholic and Protestant, who seem to be holy but inwardly are not. Would you want to validate someone’s message by the inward desires of their heart, which you could not possibly know?

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  65. I can say reformed Christians are in error because they reject sacred tradition.

    Well, I can say Catholics are in error because much of their sacred tradition is the tradition of men. So there! :)

    If Catholicism is right then there is no logical reason to suppose Reformed Christians would arrive at the truth given the assumptions they have made about the reformed tradition being the right interpretation of scripture.

    Well, duh! And if Protestantism is right then there is no logical reason to suppose Catholicism has arrived at the truth. Talk about stacking the deck with your presuppositions! Where’s the argument here? :)

    I can say the same about other protestant traditions.

    Good because I’m not Reformed!

    Reformed Christianity was never the only form of Christianity taught. Catholicism was always there

    No, neither was current day Catholicism always taught. The Catholic Church of today is not the same as the Catholic Church of the earlier centuries from a doctrinal standpoint. Some doctrines are the same/similar, others are different. That’s why “doctrinal development” was coined.

    So you are then asking why there were false teachers of the gospel along side the true teachers of the gospel. But that is to be expected.

    I’m not asking that question.

    Reformed Christians can’t say pre-reformation Catholics lacked reformed tradition.

    And Catholics of today don’t have the exact same beliefs as earlier Catholics, hence “doctrinal development” and “growing in knowledge of the deposit of faith”, etc. as explanations for those differences.

    They believe the reformed tradition is clearly taught in the bible. Those Christians had the bible and believed it was the word of God and studied it diligently. Yet nobody arrived at Reformed Christianity. They were one in faith but it was not the reformed faith. So there are a few choices:

    1. They were wrong and you are right

    2. They were right and you are wrong

    3. They were wrong and you are wrong

    The same could be said of your position since current Catholic beliefs don’t align 100% with earlier Catholicism. Are you right and were they wrong? Personally, I don’t think the issue is as black and white as you wish to make it for either of us.

    How can you be sure that #1 is the case? Either they were all defective in comparison to you. They didn’t pray enough or they are not very smart or whatever.

    Again, the same argument can be used against you. Are you smarter, do you pray more or “whatever” than Protestants?

    The other option is you have access to a greater grace then they did. The trouble is that seems to say Calvin brought a greater grace to the world than Jesus did. That is just unthinkable.

    You miss a third option. God in his patience gave the church time and opportunity to reform itself but when it didn’t, He acted.

    So either we accept that Christianity has the potential to be seriously corrupted and teach falsehood in the most solemn manner or we accept that pre-reformation Christians were not wrong and it is us that is wrong about some major aspects of the faith.

    I don’t think pre-reformation Christians got everything wrong. They got the Trinity right for example. However, I think over the centuries human traditions got added and loaded the church down, covering the grace and simplicity of the gospel, much as the Pharisees loaded the Jewish people down with their human traditions. I hear this all the time from ex-Catholics who become Protestants. They are palpably angry that the gospel of grace was concealed from them (in their opinion, of course), buried under the sacraments, confession, penance, etc. You can blame that as many do on poor catechism but there it is, far too common from my experience.

  66. So Steve, given that stance (outlined in #62) how can you trust the OT Scriptures? The NT Scriptures? The Canon? and the Nicean Creed? The way I read what you outline is that we can’t trust the teaching of anyone who is not indefectible.

    Nope, re read what I wrote. I didn’t say that we can’t trust the teachings of anyone who is not “indefectible” at all. My position is:

    1) Actions teach as loudly as words. The Catholic dichotomy between correct doctrinal teaching and immoral actions is false. Both end up “teaching”, one by words, one by example. False doctrine can oftentimes be taught by actions as well as words.
    2) Anyone seeking to be a shepherd of God’s people, whether the whole Catholic Church or a Protestant pastor, should live as moral a life as possible.
    3) However, in the case of serious sin, they should either resign or they should be able to be forced out of office, impeached as it were.

    I presume you are going to say “we trust only in God” but when you have the variation and division we have in Christianity and particularly Protestantism we get back to Randy’s question. “How do you know YOU are right and everyone else is wrong?

    Since neither of us is infallible, how do any of us KNOW we are right. I do the best I can with what I know and understand and believe to be true, trusting in God’s grace to make up the difference. What about you?

  67. I am in no way disagreeing with you that what you profess to believe and how you act are related. All I am pointing out is that when we talk about the OT people of God (or the NT Church) “going astray” we may not all be meaning the same thing. If we say that OT Israel went astray we could be meaning
    1) that they somehow corrupted the law of Moses and the message of the Prophets which had been handed down to them, or
    2) we could be meaning that the Law of Moses and the Prophets remained completely intact but the people ignored them and went after their own way such that they fell into sin and disobedience, or
    3) we could be meaning some amount of both.
    And in this respect if you think that 1 or 3 are possible than GNW Paul in #62 brings up a good point, namely, how can we trust the OT writings as not hopelessly corrupted?

    I think all 3 happened. People did corrupt the law of Moses and the Prophets per my examples (and don’t forget the false prophets either). People did reject God’s laws/prophets and fall into sin/disobedience. But never so much to totally eliminate the truth as God always brought the people back to the truth. It’s not an either/or situation, all of it can be true. I can believe the OT is true without believing that the people who wrote/recorded it were perfect. It’s God’s Word that is perfect, not his instruments of that message.

    As for your ideas about the pope being able to be removed from office, I think that history and our own form of government should point out to all of us that maybe that isn’t such a great idea.

    You think adulterous, corrupt, ungodly popes are a great idea? You do realize how much damage this did the Catholic Church right?

    Our own Supreme Court Justices are installed for life precisely because you and I do not want them making decisions out of fear of keeping their job (much like our presidents do). If that were the case then the Church would be hopelessly broken up into factions each one trying to bring a charge against the current pope who happens to not be of their faction

    How many times has a President been impeached? Not many at all. You don’t make good arguments with exceptions :)

    That said, you think that poorly of the Catholic Church? That is it so faction bound that many bishops would be angling to dethrone the pope they elected from day one? You also believe that the average Joe Catholic in the pew would be so easily fooled? (Not that they matter, they don’t get a vote!)

    I agree that there have been some pretty morally awful popes but I have been a Protestant *way* too long to think that we can claim any kind of better track record.

    Strawman, I never made that argument. But at least Protestants can remove criminal, immoral, corrupt leaders. They’ve got that going for them.

    Another thing to think about, by your standard do you think Paul and the other Apostles would have been right to de-Apostle Peter when Paul confronted him as recorded in Galatians? I mean from a Reformed position Peter must be seen to have almost abandoned the Gospel by what he did.

    If he had never repented, sure! You think he should have continued as an apostle if he refused the gospel to the Gentiles? Is that what you really believe should have happened?

    And to your issue of Josiah I agree that that is a great story but I wonder what your reaction would be if a cave in the desert turned out to contain a bunch of authentic letters of Paul, say they contained some of the things that he told the various churches he would tell them more fully when he visited them but never made it into Scripture. Would you be willing to rethink your theological commitments then? If so then how do you know that you have the true understanding of Scripture now? Also, how could a Protestant ever even *know* if they were authentic or not?

    I’m not sure what this has to do with anything. And I don’t see that I’d be in any different position than anyone else would be in, Protestant or Catholic. What theological commitment would I need to rethink that any other Christian wouldn’t? The point of the Josiah story is that the people were not taught the correct doctrine, or hardly any at all. The “lost” documents were “lost” because they weren’t being taught to begin with. That’s not the same as your example of scrolls being “lost” in a cave.

    And I further conclude with GNW Paul in #62 that all if us should be *very* leery of connecting the objective truth of someone’s message with the holiness of their life. If for no other reason than that there will be some people, Catholic and Protestant, who seem to be holy but inwardly are not. Would you want to validate someone’s message by the inward desires of their heart, which you could not possibly know?

    And again, I say, I never made that connection. Please read what I wrote, not what someone else said I wrote. That’s always the safest thing :)

  68. GNW Paul (re: 56),

    Regarding Israel and Andrew M’s assertions of Israels unfaithfulness I have some questions. Clearly Israel as a whole stumbled and leadership was culpable much of the time, but did Israel still know and transmit the truth of revelation and the Mosaic Covenant at the time of Christ? I ask because it sounds to me like Andrew M is implying that Israel fell away and its leadership was so unreliable that the transmission of OT revelation is questionable.

    It’s not that the transmission of the OT was at issue, it’s whether the descendants of Abraham fell into error and mislead the people of God. What Jesus accused the leaders of Israel of was obviating the Scriptures by their tradition. The response of the leaders of Israel was they had Abraham as their Father. This was no idle boast, the Jews of Jesus’ time could indeed trace their lineage to Abraham. But despite this they erred in their teaching on a number of important issues.

    God had always promised to lead His people and never forsake them and so on. But despite the perfect leading by God of his people, the spiritual successors of Abraham lead His people into error on a number of matters. Jesus told the leaders of Israel that they had erred, not knowing the Scriptures. So thus in the NT age it should not be surprising that, despite the fact that God promised to lead His people perfectly, the descendants of the Apostles did not always follow perfectly. By saying this we are not by any means, contra Bryan Cross, positing some sort of ecclesial deism whereby God leaves His Church to their own devices. God worked through the unfaithfulness of the leaders of His people in the OT age and God continued to do so in the NT age. There is basic lesson that we are supposed to learn from the accounts of Israel’s unfaithfulness as we look at the Church in the NT age and beyond – God’s providential purposes are accomplished when His people are faithful and when they are not. The unfaithfulness of the leaders of the Church God has ordained does not in any way bring into question God’s faithfulness to His people.

  69. Hi Andrew (#68)

    You wrote:

    There is [a] basic lesson that we are supposed to learn from the accounts of Israel’s unfaithfulness as we look at the Church in the NT age and beyond – God’s providential purposes are accomplished when His people are faithful and when they are not. The unfaithfulness of the leaders of the Church God has ordained does not in any way bring into question God’s faithfulness to His people.

    Despite moving back and forth a bit in your descriptions of God’s faithfulness relative to the unfaithfulness of [leaders? people?], I still see what you’ve written to offer us one of the simplest and most robust arguments for remaining in full communion with the Church you name in your comment, and for pursuing full communion with her if we have not already. As a corroborating point to yours above, when ever was anyone in Israel (or in the Church) given permission to take leave either for the sake of preserving his own holiness or as a mechanism of reform?

    Last, I don’t read Bryan to be saying anything otherwise than what I’ve quoted from you above, though you and he may quibble about whether this or that particular activity or teaching constitutes an instance of leaderly unfaithfulness.

    Pax,

    Chad

  70. Chad,

    First, I don’t I’ve here presented an argument for not becoming Catholic. I’m only at this point trying to answer one critique against Protestantism. The argument against Protestantism on this one point is that the descendants of the Apostles (the leadership of the RCC) cannot lose or corrupt any essential element of the Christian faith. To the Catholic mind this would be tantamount to deism in that God would then not be actively involved in protecting His Church. And the answer is that, just as in the OT, God’s providence can and does work through unfaithfulness of the leaders of God’s people just as much as it does through their faithfulness. In the OT God promised to lead His people and not forsake them ever. His leading was perfect and He never left them without infallible guidance (how could God do otherwise?). But the unfaithfulness of the descendants of Abraham is not proof that God left Israel to its own devices. On the contrary, we see God’s faithfulness to Israel carried out despite the unfaithfulness of the descendants of Abraham. So, yes we perceive that descendants of the Apostles were sometimes unfaithful in terms of teaching something contrary to the essence of the Christian faith, but no, there is nothing deistic going on here. God’s providence is established through the unfaithfulness of the Church rather than the contrary.

    But to your question, the people of God were not expected to obey the priests when they commanded something contrary to the will of God. This is why so many of the prophets fled the ecclesiastical community and headed into the wilderness. But I can’t imagine that you would say that a priest or layperson should obey leadership when it meant knowingly violating God’s will, so I’m not sure why you are asking the question.

  71. Andrew, (re: #70)

    You keep claiming that “In the OT God promised to lead His people and not forsake them ever.” Which OT verse or verses, in particular, do think say that? Let’s carefully examine together what the Scriptures actual say regarding this promise.

    You wrote:

    His leading was perfect and He never left them without infallible guidance (how could God do otherwise?). But the unfaithfulness of the descendants of Abraham is not proof that God left Israel to its own devices.

    Given your definition of “infallible guidance,” everything and everyone is infallibly guided by God, even all those going to hell, since it is impossible for God to give fallible guidance to anyone (“how could He do otherwise?”). Hence it would follow that God infallibly guided the devil and his angels, when they rebelled against Him, and still infallibly guides them in their war against Him, and that God now infallibly guides all reprobate human persons on the broad path that leads to destruction. Given your position, “God’s promise to lead His people and not forsake them ever” is nothing more than what He gave (and still gives) to the devil and his angels and all the reprobate, since, in your view it is impossible for God to do otherwise than give them infallible guidance.

    As a monergist, by “infallible guidance” you simply mean that God ensures that persons act according to His plan, such that they do not fail to conform to His plan, even when that plan calls for them to sin and fall into eternal damnation. The word ‘infallible’ in your definition is about whether things go according to God’s plan, not about whether anyone is preserved in the truth or protected from apostasy or anything like that.

    Yes, nothing can thwart God’s plan. But, that’s not what we are talking about when we talk about the error of ecclesial deism and the promise to guide the Church into all truth, and that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, and that it is the pillar and ground of truth. Those promises are much more than what is true of God’s relation to Satan and the demons. So, there is a significant equivocation going on here. Protection from heresy and apostasy is not the same thing as what God gives to Satan and his demons. What you are doing, in a round about way, is essentially denying that God protects the Church from heresy and apostasy, by saying that providence is compatible with heresy. Yes, providence is compatible with human error. But ecclesial deism is compatible with affirming divine providence, because ecclesial deism is not merely about God’s relation to creation itself, but about His unique relation to the Church. He gives more to the Church, than He does to creation in general. His relation to the Church, is more than the ordinary providence under which angels rebel against Him and sinners die in mortal sin.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  72. Steve G. RE#67

    Thanks for your comments, you wrote,

    But never so much to totally eliminate the truth as God always brought the people back to the truth. It’s not an either/or situation, all of it can be true. I can believe the OT is true without believing that the people who wrote/recorded it were perfect. It’s God’s Word that is perfect, not his instruments of that message.

    Why can this not also be true of the Roman Catholic Church? She does not claim that the people who define dogma are perfect. As you say, God’s Word is perfect, and the Catholic Church holds Jesus’ words to be true, namely that the Holy Spirit would come and lead them into all truth, and that has nothing to do with the instrument itself. And most Roman Catholics that I have spoken with see the Council of Trent as having just that intention, of bring the Church back from the waywardness to which she had gone for a time, and this is entirely separate from the issue of whether she is capable of officially teaching error.

    You think adulterous, corrupt, ungodly popes are a great idea?

    That is most certainly not what I said and to accuse me of it is uncharitable.

    You do realize how much damage this did the Catholic Church right?

    And my point is that the Catholic Church has no monopoly on corruptness in its leaders from time to time. I would be more than happy to give you more than a few examples of very high-profile and influential Protestant pastors who have fallen into “adultery, corruptness, and ungodliness.” Does this render Protestantism not legit?

    you think that poorly of the Catholic Church? That is it so faction bound that many bishops would be angling to dethrone the pope they elected from day one?

    Paul certainly thought so, read 1 Corinthians 1:12 and 3:4

    And again, I say, I never made that connection

    Except that you did when you said,

    you cannot separate doctrine from morality

    We teach by how we live.

    who’s going to listen to what you say about the Trinity if on your off time you’re chasing skirts?

    And all that I am attempting to point out is that using the moral corruptness of any given human as reason to doubt that the Holy Spirit may be speaking through them is a slippery slope, for the exact reason that while you may know who is “chasing skirts” out into the parking lot after church, you may never know who is doing so in their hearts and Christ certainly equates the two.

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  73. SteveG,

    You seem to be misunderstanding me. What I was trying to point out to Andrew was that the true faith should have certain characteristics. One is that it should not change over time is such a way that either the faith is false now or it was false at some other time. I was trying to point out that if Catholicism is true then the faith has this characteristic you would expect truth to have and if Reformed Christianity is true it does not. You seemed to think I was just shouting down the reformed faith. Sorry if I confused you.

    Reformed Christianity was never the only form of Christianity taught. Catholicism was always there

    No, neither was current day Catholicism always taught. The Catholic Church of today is not the same as the Catholic Church of the earlier centuries from a doctrinal standpoint. Some doctrines are the same/similar, others are different. That’s why “doctrinal development” was coined.

    Sure, that complicates matters but it does not change them. The early church teaching was not exactly the same but it was compatible. That is, if Catholicism is true, it can be seen as a less understanding of the same truth. That is what you would expect. Because Catholicism has a living magisterium they can continue to define the truth more deeply and more fully. They should not contradict the early church truth in any major way.

    They believe the reformed tradition is clearly taught in the bible. Those Christians had the bible and believed it was the word of God and studied it diligently. Yet nobody arrived at Reformed Christianity. They were one in faith but it was not the reformed faith. So there are a few choices:

    1. They were wrong and you are right

    2. They were right and you are wrong

    3. They were wrong and you are wrong

    The same could be said of your position since current Catholic beliefs don’t align 100% with earlier Catholicism. Are you right and were they wrong? Personally, I don’t think the issue is as black and white as you wish to make it for either of us.

    I don’t think the same could be said. It was not my point to argue that. I think the data shows that but the proof is much longer people have already made the case much better than I could. My point was that Andrew conceded this or at least seemed to concede it in the quote of his I cited. That the early church fell into prolonged and serious error. If you think that they didn’t but were really believing something compatible with your protestant understanding then you can escape this objection. As a protestant, I could not hold that position and remain intellectually honest. The evidence was simply overwhelmingly against it.

  74. Hi Andrew (70),

    My apologies for not being clearer. I’m probably too terse, too much of the time. You wrote:

    First, I don’t [think] I’ve here presented an argument for not becoming Catholic.

    I agree. I think you’ve done the opposite, even if it wasn’t your intention. I only meant to make the observation, not to disagree with the intention of your post.

    I’m only at this point trying to answer one critique against Protestantism.

    Right. But in so doing, you’ve varnished over the fundamental justification for the existence of Protestantism as an ecclesial category. You want to deny that you’re guilty of ecclesial deism. Let’s grant your innocence. But just to the degree that you are innocent, you’ve offered an argument for remaining Catholic or for becoming so: God has not abandoned his people. This is the claim that acquits you of ecclesial deism. (FWIW, it was owning the full weight of such a claim–after having defended a nuanced version of ED for several years–that flipped one of the two remaining switches in my mind and led more rapidly to my own conversion.)

    Absent such a commitment to ecclesial deism, on what grounds might anyone suppose it’s acceptable to remain separated from the people God made for himself (whether we are talking about Israel or the Church)? Neither the OT nor the NT presents a license for this situation, though both include examples of those who wrongly thought they were justified in ‘going out from us’ or in remaining apart.

    This is where my question corroborates (and fair play, I should’ve developed it). It’s one thing to note prophets taking a geographical leave of absence. Fine, numerous of them fled to the wilderness. The point the question means to raise is what they didn’t do there. They didn’t initiate a collateral community called ‘New Israel’ in order to preserve their holiness or in order to reform ‘Apostate Israel’. Luther cannot be understood on analogy with Elijah.

    But then you changed the wording slightly from your #68 post:

    So, yes we perceive that descendants of the Apostles were sometimes unfaithful in terms of teaching something contrary to the essence of the Christian faith, but no, there is nothing deistic going on here.

    Here, you’ve included ‘teaching’ what is ‘contrary’ (the Assumption, perhaps?) as a given among the list of ‘unfaithful’ actions, and we are back to the primary focus of this thread. Without the math in front of us, it’s a bit of an overstep to suppose that ‘we perceive’ [who are ‘we’?] that ‘the descendants [‘successors’?] of the Apostles’ have been ‘unfaithful in terms of teaching’ [irreformably?]. It is not a matter of debate that some of those who share in the succession of the apostles have been unfaithful. It is the matter of debate in this thread whether the Assumption (or any other doctrine) is a false doctrine taught irreformably.

    But I remain in agreement with the basic point in your next sentence if I’m allowed to bracket ‘the magisterium has irreformably taught heresy’ from the category ‘unfaithfulness’:

    God’s providence is established through the unfaithfulness of the Church rather than the contrary.

    I wonder whether, for you as a Protestant, it should make much of a difference even if you did include instructional missteps on the list of unfaithful actions. It makes a good bit of difference to me as a Catholic, but on your reasoning, God’s faithfulness won’t be thwarted in either case. One might say your claim about God’s providential guidance is stronger than the Catholic claim, so that there is even more compulsion to pursue full communion than had you tried to make a case for some version of temporary ecclesial deism, as I had been doing.

    Pax,

    Chad

  75. Given your definition of “infallible guidance,” everything and everyone is infallibly guided by God, even all those going to hell, since it is impossible for God to give fallible guidance to anyone

    Bryan – No, I’m not talking about everyone. I was very careful to stipulate that I was speaking about the leaders of the Church, those who God had ordained to lead His people. God ordained an ecclesiastical system in the OT and gave leadership to certain people. He promised to guide the OT Church faithfully. Despite this leading, the spiritual descendants of these leaders of God’s Church were not always faithful and often lead God’s people away from Him. But my saying that these leaders were not always faithful, even in definite elements of the faith, does not mean that I am suggesting anything deistic. God worked providentially through the unfaithfulness of Israel’s leaders. The verses I am thinking about that speak about God never leaving and forsaking and so on are part of the words that tend to accompany the covenantal promises God makes to the leaders of Israel. Take Joshua 1 for example.

    But I’m wondering if you think that God’s leading of the OT Church was something less than infallible. I will assume that you could not possibly believe this. So if it is infallible, but the spiritual successors of those to whom God’s gave authority over His Church feel into substantive error, then can we say that God left His Church without guidance? I assume you won’t say that either. God lead the OT Church away from heresy and apostasy, just as He did in the NT. But the OT Church fell into heresy and apostasy.

    OK, then in the NT Church, yes God lead His Church infallibly. Now if we assume that, like in the OT, the successors of those to whom God gave authority over His Church lead His people into an error, what is the problem? God’s divine providence is equally as capable of working through the NT Church’s unfaithfulness as it is the OT Church’s unfaithfulness. There is just no deism going on here no matter what we say about the spiritual fidelity of the successors of the Apostles.

    Chad – I don’t think your tracking with me. I’m not trying to present an argument here other than to bring into question Bryan’s attempted connection between positing the Church fell into substantive error and what Bryan terms “ecclesial deism.” Bryan believes that if we say that the Church fell into heresy or apostasy on any essential matter of the Christian faith then we are in essence saying that God withdrew from His Church. And I’m saying there is no necessary logical connection. And this is true whether we look at the OT (where God shows us many case studies of His Church falling into heresy) or the NT.

  76. @Andrew

    Hope all is well with you and yours!

    You wrote:

    So if it is infallible, but the spiritual successors of those to whom God’s gave authority over His Church feel into substantive error

    This sort of statement has been put forward many times by Protestants, and often it seems that even Catholics just go along with the assumption that those with authority in OT Israel DID in fact fall into “substantive error”. I am concerned that this is an un-reflected upon intuition that might possibly be incorrect.

    Now first I would like to get VERY clear on what you (we) mean by substantive error. Are you asserting that those to whom God gave authority in the OT (or their successors where a line of succession applies) definitively taught false doctrine. That is, did they propose teachings as the revelation of God that were, in fact, false? Or else do you mean that those in authority (or their successors) sometimes/often led the people into praxis which was contrary to the law and/or whatever other positive revelation God had granted to his people at any given point in OT history – but without repudiating or positively teaching something contradictory to that which had already been revealed?

    Side note: [I am assuming here that you do not think that mere failure to practice the truth is the same as explicitly denying the truth, or that one’s behavior can be automatically taken as some sort of positive teaching about what they believe. While in many cases a person’s behavior may, in fact, reflect what they believe; nevertheless, like St. Paul, we often do the contrary of that which we know to be true. So behavior, viewed from the outside, is inconclusive as to a person’s internal assessment of the truth or falsity of any given proposition which relates to that action. In acting, a person may be acting according to what they believe to be true or good, or else they may be acting contrary to what they know to be true and good (mystery of iniquity). For instance, if I should fall into the sin of lust, it hardly follows that I have changed my view that lust is a sin, or that I mean (by my actions) to positively teach that lust is a good. It is the very fact that I retain my conviction that lust is sinful that puts pressure upon my conscience and fosters my awareness of the need to repent of my actions.]

    So if you are asserting that OT authorities led the people into a praxis contrary to God’s revelation, but did not teach contrary to that revelation; then of course, your assertion would in no way contradict the Catholic notion of how God has infallibly maintained and communicated His revelation to mankind THROUGH His appointed authorities, despite the fact that some of them have at times lived and lead others into a way of life contrary to that revelation which God has revealed. You would merely be affirming the Catholic assertion that infallibility does not imply impeccability.

    So setting aside, entirely, the whole argument that the new covenant is of a substantially higher order (being inaugurated by the Redeemer Himself); ISTM that to make your comparative analogy between the OT and NT situation stick, you absolutely need to assert the that there are clear instances in the OT where God’s appointed authorities (or their successors) positively taught (not just failed to live) truths/doctrines/etc. which were clearly contrary to that which had been positively communicated at some prior time. I am not at all sure that such a claim will be as easy to support as you (or others) might intuitively think.

    I think we all agree that the OT period represents a time of “progressive revelation” moving toward the fullness of revelation in Christ in the “fullness of time”. But as I consider all the various epochs and events of OT history, I am not sure I can readily think of a case where someone known to be authorized by God (or else someone in a line of succession from an authorized person) formally taught the people some doctrine contrary to what had come before. There’s lots of bad behavior, lots of law-breaking, lots of false prophets (by definition, persons NOT authorized by God, nor part of any line of succession that I can see).

    But are there priests, judges, kings, scribes, prophets (authorized by God), who we find TEACHING error as God’s truth? Given the OT situation of progressive revelation, it seems to me that the only means of ascertaining that a given OT teaching was errant would be to see in it a clear repudiation or contradiction – not just development – of some positive revelation given at an earlier point in OT salvation history. Maybe the case material is there, but I can’t readily think of it – can you? If you cannot, then I think you have a real problem in terms of the analogy you are attempting to draw between the OT and NT revelatory situation.

    And that is to say nothing with regard to the fact that there are good reasons to think that even IF OT authorities demonstrably taught false doctrine, the same need not apply to the NT situation because we have a better covenant built on better promises; including Christ’s establishment of the supernatural society of the Church (not merely natural ethnic) which has been uniquely infused by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in a way that the community of biological descendants of Abraham never was.

    Anyway, I would love to get feedback from you and others on this issue. Are there obvious cases in the OT of those authorized by God (or their successors where lines of succession apply) where we find them positively teaching the people doctrines that are said to be part of God’s revelation, which clearly contradict some other revelatory teaching promulgated earlier in OT salvation history?

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  77. Andrew (re: #75),

    Let’s be very clear. Do you believe that it is possible for God to give fallible guidance to anyone? I’m not asking whether you believe it is possible for someone to fail to heed God’s guidance, because I already know your answer to that question. I’m only asking whether you believe that it is possible for God to give fallible guidance to anyone.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  78. Ray, RE#76
    You are bringing up the exact distinction I did in #58 and #64 above. I think it is an important one to discuss because it seems that a lot of my fellow Protestants want to disregard the Catholic Church’s teachings because the head of that Church has at times himself been immoral, and has at times allowed gross immorality to permeate the Church leadership. But I think that the witness of the Old Testament actually helps the Catholic case because OT Israel had a very long history of some very wicked kings. But God still raised up Prophets to remind the people of their calling, and to call those kings and teachers of the law back to repentance.

    I don’t know if you’ve been following all the different discussions going on in this thread but several of us have been discussing a similar issue with Steve G. See post #72 also for more.

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  79. @Aaron,

    Yep, I have been following the discussion. I noticed earlier that the line of thought which you hit upon and which I have now reiterated (the question about formal heretical teaching being evidenced in the OT) seemed not to gain much traction – which is why I have raised it again. In addition, my “Side Note” to Andrew in #76 was designed to anticipate / rebutt the position which Steve G. seemed to be taking – i.e. that the distinction between praxis and explicit doctrinal propositions is somehow invalid with regard to the general discussion of authority / infallibility / etc. I gave explicit reasons why the two are rightly considered as distinct. I would like to see a reasoned defense for the contrary position, rather than assertion.

    ISTM that the OT plays like a who’s who of sinners (Abraham/liar, Jacob/deceiver, Noah/incest, Moses/murder-manslaughter, Elijah/coward, David/adultry-murder, etc., etc.). So like you, I’m wondering if a clear case really can be made for the notion that all this moral infidelity cashed out as doctrinal infidelity in the OT. If that notion is incorrect – or even debatable – this would seem to work against some of what motivates Protestant animosity toward Catholicism.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  80. On a related note (sorry I don’t have time to write extensive comments just now) I’ve been aiming at a corresponding point regarding the OT. If the authorized teachers of Israel in the OT period were unreliable and corrupted revelation mixing it with error and human ideas, how can it be that OT revelation was intact at the time of Christ? If the truth of revelation was lost and regained how was it regained?

    It appears to me that Steve G and Andrew M are projecting their Protestant eccliesial theology backwards into the OT. It seems to me that they are claiming that through out all of revelation there has never been a consistent teaching authority that has managed to pass on uncorrupted revelation. Yet… and this s the part that astounds me …. somehow we have a Inerrant Bible (Protestant Canon), and a handful of doctrines like the Trinity which we can (and must) absolutely rely on … and…. we have a body of Protestantism that somehow (they allege) manages to teach mostly the clear truth of divine revelation despite that fact that God has left no one with the authority or charism of judgement to say what is truth and what is error.

    Incredible!

  81. GNW Paul RE#80

    and this s the part that astounds me …. somehow we have a Inerrant Bible (Protestant Canon), and a handful of doctrines like the Trinity which we can (and must) absolutely rely on … and…. we have a body of Protestantism that somehow (they allege) manages to teach mostly the clear truth of divine revelation despite that fact that God has left no one with the authority or charism of judgement to say what is truth and what is error

    And this is exactly what has bothered me for so long as a Protestant and to which I must have a satisfactory answer to remain so but I have to admit it has not been easy. And for a Protestant to start with the assumption that the Bible is inerrant is to put the cart before the horse because first we have to be able to define what the Bible even is (which Protestants have disagreed about from time to time, most notably Luther). And while the paradigm you mention above is rationally plausible, there is a competing paradigm (the Catholic one) which might be more rationally plausible, as well as rationally preferable, as Dr. Liccione pointed out here.

    Interestingly, a few weeks back I was sitting outside with my Father-in-Law smoking cigars and have a few beers. We do this from time to time and our conversations range from sports to politics to family matters to religion. Its always fun and even when we disagree we do so very charitably. On this particular occasion we were talking religion. He was raised as a Baptist but left the church at a young age for various reasons but was so scarred from it that he never went back. He was telling me what his church had taught him about various issues of doctrine and morals, then he told me what his sister believed (who was still a church goer, although of a different denomination), and then I proposed to tell him what my church (PCA) believed. And at the end of it all he just sat there, puffed on his cigar, and smilingly said “yea but that’s just your opinion.” And it surprised me how frustrated I got. I mean I must have run through in my head all the arguments used to justify my theological beliefs and was just about ready to get into to them with him when I stopped and said to myself, “he’s just going to come back after I explain it all and say again that it’s just my opinion, and that the church down the street has theirs, and the one down the street from that one has another one ad nauseum.” And I found myself completely unable to give him a satisfactory reason why my church had it right when so many others had it wrong, and how I could know.

    Anyway, enough rambling, I have to prepare for a direct hit by a Category 3 hurricane, as if the earthquake were not enough :-/

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  82. Ray, et al,

    I can appreciate the distinction between personal conduct, even the general moral conduct of a community, and the dogmas that are held by an individual or community. However, there seems to be not so great a distinction between the liturgical worship of a community and its teaching (Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi). For the sake of argument, consider 2 Chronicles 36.11-16:

    Zedekiah was one and twenty years old when he began to reign, and reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD his God, and humbled not himself before Jeremiah the prophet speaking from the mouth of the LORD. And he also rebelled against king Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God: but he stiffened his neck, and hardened his heart from turning unto the LORD God of Israel. Moreover all the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the LORD which he had hallowed in Jerusalem. And the LORD God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place: But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy.

    Judging by the principle lex orandi, lex credendi, we might conclude that “all the chief of the priests” contradicted a fundamental tenant of Israelite doctrine, as variously expressed in the Pentateuch, and reaffirmed by “the messengers of God.” In defining the dogma of the Assumption, Pope Pius XII noted that there is also a sense in which the rule of prayer depends upon doctrine; thus, the universal celebration of the Feast of the Assumption was evidence of its status as a revealed doctrine. If we apply the same reasoning to the religious hierarchy of Israel as depicted at the end of Chronicles, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that they embraced heresy, worshiped accordingly, and by this rule taught heresy.

    Obviously, justification for the Protestant Reformation depends (to some degree) upon whether or not the analogy between Israel, just before the Babylonian Captivity, and the Church, just before the Protestant Reformation, holds. It sure seems to me that the Israelite hierarchy taught heresy. If so, the question is whether or not the fallibility of the OT hierarchy implies the fallibility of the Magisterium of the Church that Christ founded.

    There is a related question for purposes of pursuing the analogy, along the lines suggested by Chad in comments 69 and 74. Yes, God intervened by means of messengers, and then Babylonians who destroyed the temple and took captive the people. Does this entail that the hierarchy that God had established became defunct (was destroyed?), and that the faithful among Israel, by means of, during, and / or after the Captivity, came out from among (rose from the ashes of) the hierarchy that God had originally established, and that God raised up among them a new line of priests (as Christians maintain happened in the first century A.D.)? If not, then I agree with Chad that Andrew M.’s analogy, by which he raises a point about God’s care of his chosen people, despite a fallible, and at times heretical, hierarchy, does raise another point, concerning the justification for schism, which further point might not be so amenable to Protestantism.

  83. Andrew P. #81 Agreed at the pre-Babylonian Captivity to restoration under Zerubbabel / Joshua. I’d lke to hear what Andrew M and Steve G actually believe regarding the reliability of OT hierarchy. It isn’t clear to me whether they believe that the hierarchy (Priests, Prophets, Kings) was pretty reliable most of the time with one or two periods of decadence, or if they believe the Israelite leaders were prone to error in varying degrees throughout history with a few high points and a lot of really low points. I suspect they believe the latter.

    At the same time the restoration of Judaism with the Second Temple is noteworthy in that like all other periods of reform it was done under the leadership and cooperation of a legitimate authority: an heir of David and a member of the Levitical Priesthood although with the help of prophets.

    Andrew M and Steve G are attempting to undermine the Catholic claims of 1) Authority and 2) infallibility by pointing to the failure of Israel. My thought is that such an effort actually undermines the entire Protestant hermeneutic because without legitimate authority there is no way to restore the faith.

    Again, I’d like to hear what Andrew M and Steve G. actually believe, but what is sounds like to me is that they think that the History of Revelation from Moses forward is mostly dark with error punctuated by occasional bright spots of truth. The real qestion is then “what evidence or reason is there to support the claim that Protestantism in general or any particular denomination has restored the truth of the Gospel?” I think the arguments presented thus far by Andrew M and Steve G in attempting to undermine legitimate authority entirely both in the OT and the NT actually seriously call into question the ability of God’s Church to ever maintain true teaching in any institution. I’ll make an attempt at a syllogism. I believe premises 1-5 are well established previously in this forum and are uncontroversial. I believe something close to Premise 6 is what Andrew M and Steve G are proposing.

    Premise 1: Scripture is the ultimate authority
    Premise 2: All human authority is under scripture
    Premise 3: Human authority is always fallible
    Premise 4: The Unity of the Church is invisible
    Premise 5: a Christian should submit to the authority of a Church but only so far as that doesn’t contradict the Bible.
    Premise 6: God’s guidance of His Church is perfect, but human following is rife with error BOTH in FAITH and PRAXXIS and we should expect the human institutions of the Church to fall into serious and grave error periodically.
    Conclusion 1: There is a continual need for reform
    Conclusion 2: Outside of the Bible itself there is no objective way to discern True Teaching

    As I believe Bryan Cross has pointed out that leaves them with “Blossom Burning” or Scholasticism as the only options for resolving disputes over doctrine.

  84. that leaves them with “Blossom Burning” or Scholasticism as the only options for resolving disputes over doctrine

    And when that doctrine comes down to “how am I saved” then the question becomes: am I willing to stake my eternal salvation on how my bosom is feeling at the moment?

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  85. GNW Paul,

    You said, “what evidence or reason is there to support the claim that Protestantism in general or any particular denomination has restored the truth of the Gospel?”

    That is the right question, and I’m glad you asked it. If it cannot be answered, then Protestantism has no reason to exist. If it has no reason to exist, then it doesn’t exist. If it doesn’t exist, then what we know as Protestantism isn’t in fact a “thing/entity” but a theory about Christianity not a form of Christianity–a mental object not a real object.

    Premise 3 and 6 seem to necessarily lead to a type of theological nihilism. But, I don’t think any Protestant acts on those premises (thus, believes them), although they will talk like that (see Aaron #81). Though, WCF 25:4-5 states:

    “This catholic Church has been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the Gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them. The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error…”

    Therefore, the Reformed Gospel is more or less pure, mixed with some error, and you may or may not be able to find its church (of course assuming we all know what we are comparing the “less pure” against). I’m not sure what this type of theology restores other than confusion.

    I think, as many have pointed out, the locus for this debate is not so much in the 1-to-1 comparison between the Church and Israel but in the necessary and qualitative differences between the Church and Israel, and how the Church completes and perfects what was merely a type, shadow and imperfect in the old:

    the Spirit of truth: whom the world cannot receive; for it beholdeth him not, neither knoweth him: ye know him; for he abideth with you (OT), and shall be in you (NT) John 14:17

  86. Bryan said:

    Let’s be very clear. Do you believe that it is possible for God to give fallible guidance to anyone?

    No, I don’t think it’s possible that God would give someone guidance that might be wrong. But further in the interest of being clear, I’m not speaking of God’s general guidance of individuals, but rather the kind of guidance he gives the leaders of His people in the ecclesiastical sphere. In the OT God established an ecclesiastical system and appointed leaders of this community and prescribed standards for the operation of this system and community. We can say the same thing about the NT ecclesiastical system and the community of believers it governed. In the OT, via this ecclesiastical system, God gave his people everything they needed to keep away from error. Same is true of the NT ecclesiastical system and community. My observation is that in the OT there were times when the successors of these leaders God established turned the people away from God in a number of important ways. And yet, God providentially used even the disobedience of these spiritual successors. And likewise I’m observing the same phenomenon in the NT and noting that He still providentially used this disobedience.

    Even if you are able to make the case that the nature of God’s guarantee to the leaders of OT vs NT ecclesiastical systems is qualitatively different (which I don’t think it is) this still does not alter my point. God used the disobedience of the successors of the NT Church He established just as He did with the successors of the OT Church He established. You are trying to make “ecclesial deism” a necessary implication of the position that the successors of the Apostles lead the Church away from God on a number of important issues. But there is no necessary connection that I can see.

  87. Good morning Ray,

    Now first I would like to get VERY clear on what you (we) mean by substantive error. Are you asserting that those to whom God gave authority in the OT (or their successors where a line of succession applies) definitively taught false doctrine. That is, did they propose teachings as the revelation of God that were, in fact, false?

    Yes, I’m saying that the successors Abraham, Moses, Aaron, etc taught something contrary to the Scriptures, not just that they fell into moral backwardness. Jesus said that these successors had erred, not knowing the Scripture and that they had obviated the Scriptures by their traditions.

    Sorry Ray, I know you said more, but I have to go now. Back later. Cheers….

  88. Andrew, (re: #86)

    You wrote:

    No, I don’t think it’s possible that God would give someone guidance that might be wrong.

    Then everything I said in #71 still stands.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  89. Bryan,

    But I think Andrew’s point is that there is a difference between God giving infallible guidance and man following that guidance infallibly. If Andrew affirms that God gave the OC leadership infallible guidance, but that that leadership fell into error, then that shows the distinction between God’s and man’s responsibility in the matter.

    If I use a recipe to try to bake a cake and fail, maybe it’s my fault?

  90. Yes, I’m saying that the successors Abraham, Moses, Aaron, etc taught something contrary to the Scriptures, not just that they fell into moral backwardness. Jesus said that these successors had erred, not knowing the Scripture and that they had obviated the Scriptures by their traditions.

    Jesus said they erred on the Corban rule. That they erred on whether someone is bound by an oath. They has disputes about the resurrection. My thinking is that none of these issues would be infallible in the Catholic church. What we are looking for is a less form of the charism of infallibility in the Old Testament. It seems you are noting they didn’t have what the church still does not have and that is a general doctrinal inerrancy on all matters.

    Remember Jesus also commanded his followers to obey the Pharisees in Mat 23:1-3. He says this despite noting their immorality. It is based on “Moses’ seat”.

    Then you have Caiaphas in Jn 11:49-53. John notes that his statement is more true than he knows and then adds, “He did not say this on his own, but as high priest.” Again an immoral leader was having his statement declared to be noteworthy based on the office he holds.

    So this charism did seem to exist in kernel form. Not defined in explicit detail. Even the New Testament church did not do that until the 19th century. Still the Holy Spirit would not let them corrupt the message of salvation. They disobeyed it and failed to teach it but they never said Moses was OK with female priests or child sacrifice. The core doctrines remained intact.

  91. JJS – Yep, just what I’m trying to get across.

    Bryan,

    From your #71: Yes, nothing can thwart God’s plan. But, that’s not what we are talking about when we talk about the error of ecclesial deism and the promise to guide the Church into all truth, and that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, and that it is the pillar and ground of truth.

    I know that we are not talking about God’s general guidance. I’ve already agreed with you, more than once. We are talking about the peculiar guidance God gives His Church, beginning in the OT and then in the NT and beyond. Yes, God guides His Church into all truth and is the ground and pillar of the truth and so on. But as Jason points out, and I have already pointed out, God’s perfect leading here does not at all guarantee that the Church will follow. We see in many cases in the OT the the Church didn’t follow, but this is hardly a reflection on God’s faithfulness or an indication that God was no longer providentially leading His people. He works providentially through His Church’s failures as well as their obedience.

  92. Andrew, (re: #91)

    You wrote:

    I know that we are not talking about God’s general guidance. I’ve already agreed with you, more than once. We are talking about the peculiar guidance God gives His Church, beginning in the OT and then in the NT and beyond. Yes, God guides His Church into all truth and is the ground and pillar of the truth and so on. But as Jason points out, and I have already pointed out, God’s perfect leading here does not at all guarantee that the Church will follow.

    Again, you are equivocating. In your first sentence, you say “we are not talking about God’s general guidance,” but in your fourth sentence, you go right back to talking about God’s general guidance, because what you call God’s “perfect leading” is (for you) what God gives to everything (including Satan and his demons), since, in your view, God’s can’t give fallible (imperfect) guidance to anything.

    But, as I explained in #71, when talking about ecclesial deism, I am not talking about the sort of guidance that even Satan and his demon received and receive. I’m talking about an additional gift given to the Church, a gift beyond mere providence. But when you respond by talking about “perfect leading” (meaning the same thing Satan received and receives), you are talking past me, i.e. equivocating, i.e. talking about something other than what I’m talking about.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  93. Bryan says,

    Again, you are equivocating. In your first sentence, you say “we are not talking about God’s general guidance,” but in your fourth sentence, you go right back to talking about God’s general guidance, because what you call God’s “perfect leading” is (for you) what God gives to everything….

    No Bryan, look at again at what you quoted from me, particularly the part I’ve now put in bold:

    I know that we are not talking about God’s general guidance. I’ve already agreed with you, more than once. We are talking about the peculiar guidance God gives His Church, beginning in the OT and then in the NT and beyond. Yes, God guides His Church into all truth and is the ground and pillar of the truth and so on. But as Jason points out, and I have already pointed out, God’s perfect leading here does not at all guarantee that the Church will follow.

    So again, I’m not talking about God’s general guidance He might give to an individual, but rather that special gift/guidance which He has granted to His Church.

  94. JJS and Andrew –

    But I think Andrew’s point is that there is a difference between God giving infallible guidance and man following that guidance infallibly. If Andrew affirms that God gave the OC leadership infallible guidance, but that that leadership fell into error, then that shows the distinction between God’s and man’s responsibility in the matter.

    If I use a recipe to try to bake a cake and fail, maybe it’s my fault?

    I see what you’re saying, and I think you make a really good point here, but to me it seems like God may has well have just not established a Church at all if he wasn’t going to guarantee an infallible authority. If it was possible for a Church to fall into error then the Church flips on its head. Lay people then have to be experts on interpreting the Bible in order to tell whether or not a Church has fallen into error. I really don’t think that God intended for everyone to have to be an expert in such matters to discern which Church is the one that Christ established. It is my opinion that God established one Church in which he intended EVERYONE to be a part of. Since the devil doesn’t want people to be part of this Church he either could corrupt the true Church OR he could set up counterfeit churches to try and get people to join them.

    You seem to believe that the first one happened. I do not believe it is possible for the first option to have happened, so I believe that he set up fake Churches to try and lure people away from the true Church.

    Literally we are talking about whether or not Satan can defeat God. That is as cut and dry and as simple as I can make it.

    Furthermore, going to your cake analogy, in order for you to tell whether or not the cake that you baked is what the recipe called for, you have to have in your mind a clear picture of what that cake was supposed to look like and taste like. Without this perfect form of “cake” you would have no idea whether or not you made an error in baking it or whether or not the recipe was bad. The fact that you have had a true authentic cake means that you can judge whether or not your cake was the right cake or not. If there was no proper form of “cake,” then who are you to say you (or anyone else) messed the recipe up?

  95. Andrew, (re: #93)

    I’m aware of what you said. I know you say that you are “not talking about God’s general guidance He might give to an individual,” but are instead talking about “that special gift/guidance which He has granted to His Church.” The problem, as I pointed out above, is that in your theology there is no principled difference between them, so it is merely a semantic difference. In your theology, the Church is no more protected from falling into heresy and apostasy than anyone else is protected from falling into scientific error, moral error or any other kind of error. So merely pinning a different label (i.e. “special guidance”) on God’s providential guidance of the Church doesn’t make that guidance any different in nature from the providential guidance anyone else receives, since nobody (in your view) receives less-than-perfect divine guidance. In both cases, God “works providentially through their failures as well as their obedience.” And that’s true of the providence that governed Satan and his angels, even if their quantity of obedience happened to be zero.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  96. In your theology, the Church is no more protected from falling into heresy and apostasy than anyone else is protected from falling into scientific error, moral error or any other kind of error.

    Bryan,

    You seem to want to define my position and the refute it which makes it difficult to respond to you. If what you say above were true then the biblical guidance for the officers of the Church would be meaningless. But in Reformed theology it is not meaningless and there is a very real spiritual gift given to the officers of the Church in the OT and NT. It is of course a different understanding than what the RCC has concerning it’s officers and I am perfectly willing and able to show that the RCC position is not in accord with Scripture or early tradition. But if you are determined to believe that our position necessitates that there is no difference then there in nothing more I can say. Believe what you want to believe….

  97. Father Bryan,

    If it was possible for a Church to fall into error then the Church flips on its head. Lay people then have to be experts on interpreting the Bible in order to tell whether or not a Church has fallen into error.

    We are not suggesting that if the Church fell into error that it is then up to every layperson to correct those errors. We are suggesting that it is up to the Church to correct the Church. And I think you would agree that concerning non-de fide matters that the Church has made errors that she later corrected, right? So what is the essential problem with saying that the Church defined a position on matter central to the Christian faith and then later came back and admitted that she was not quite correct and proceeded to correct the error she had made?

  98. Andrew (re: #96)

    You wrote:

    You seem to want to define my position and the refute it which makes it difficult to respond to you…. But if you are determined to believe that our position …

    Instead of resorting to the ad hominem (notice the subject of those two sentences), feel free to show that what I said is false. Resorting to the ad hominem is essentially conceding my point, because it is saying that you don’t know how to refute my claim, and so the best you can do is attack my person.

    But in Reformed theology it is not meaningless and there is a very real spiritual gift given to the officers of the Church in the OT and NT.

    Feel free to explain how in Reformed theology the divine providence enjoyed by the officers of the Church provides greater protection from error than does the divine providence enjoyed by everyone else (and please show where in any Reformed confession or primary source or textbook it says this). Otherwise, the claim [that God has given a “special guidance” to the officers of the Church] is mere semantics, if the kind of providential protection from error enjoyed by the officers of the Church is no greater than that enjoyed by everyone else.

    If the officers of the Church enjoy no greater protection from error than does anyone else, my point stands; that’s ecclesial deism. But if the officers of the Church enjoy greater protection from error than does anyone else, this removes the justification for the coming-into-existence of Protestantism. So which is it?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  99. Instead of resorting to the ad hominem (notice the subject of those two sentences), feel free to show that what I said is false. Resorting to the ad hominem is essentially conceding my point, because it is saying that you don’t know how to refute my claim, and so the best you can do is attack my person.

    Bryan – You are being a little overly sensitive here. I’m not engaging in any ad hominem, just pointing out that you continue to try to refute a position that I have not advanced and have shown specifically why I do not hold to that position. In the meantime you are ignoring the arguments that I advanced earlier to show that positing a Church that can fall into error does not in any way imply ecclesial deism. You have not even touched my argument, but only continued to try to represent my position in a way I don’t recognize. If you continue to do this I can’t continue and my final statement is just meant to underscore this. If you want to believe something that I don’t believe, and there is not proof that I believe it, then I just need to walk away. Fair enough?

    Feel free to explain how in Reformed theology the divine providence enjoyed by the officers of the Church provides greater protection from error than does the divine providence enjoyed by everyone else

    The Reformed Confessions such as the WCF (see chapter 25) specifically give spiritual gifts and responsibilities to the visible church that allow it to protect the congregations. You can look at any commentary on the confessions or any Reformed work on ecclesiology to see how this is worked out. Or you can just ask a local Reformed pastor how it is worked out. The Scriptures and the Confession explicitly enumerate gifts given to the officers of congregations that are NOT given to individuals. Where the the RCC has problems with these gifts is that it believes they are insufficient to guard the whole Church and there are other gifts that are necessary. And I’m fine with talking about whether the RCC has any solid basis for claiming this, but let’s get past this idea that there is no difference in Reformed theology concerning the guidance/gifts given to the officers of the churches and those given to everyone.

    But if the officers of the Church enjoy greater protection from error than does anyone else, this removes the justification for the coming-into-existence of Protestantism.

    Non-sequitur. Think about it – if the RCC is wrong and the Church does not need infallible guidance, then it does not logically follow that she needs no more guidance than any ordinary layman has. The question is on the specifics of what guidance has been ordained by God – is it that which the RCC claims or is it that which was practiced in the Scriptures and the early centuries of the Church before there was any concept of infallible tradition outside of Scripture?

  100. Andrew, (re: #99)

    You wrote:

    Bryan – You are being a little overly sensitive here.  I’m not engaging in any ad hominem, just pointing out that you continue to try to refute a position that I have not advanced and have shown specifically why I do not hold to that position.  In the meantime you are ignoring the arguments that I advanced earlier to show that positing a Church that can fall into error does not in any way imply ecclesial deism.  You have not even touched my argument, but only continued to try to represent my position in a way I don’t recognize.  If you continue to do this I can’t continue and my final statement is just meant to underscore this.  If you want to believe something that I don’t believe, and there is not proof that I believe it, then I just need to walk away.  Fair enough?

    The subject of six of those sentences is me, when it ought to be the claims that I have made. (I put them in bold font, so that it is clear what is being criticized.) See the second paragraph of our “Posting Guidelines,” in which it states clearly that ad hominems are not allowed here. Any additional comments containing them will not be permitted in this thread.

    The Reformed Confessions such as the WCF (see chapter 25) specifically give spiritual gifts and responsibilities to the visible church that allow it to protect the congregations.  You can look at any commentary on the confessions or any Reformed work on ecclesiology to see how this is worked out.

    The point in question is not whether anyone has spiritual gifts, or whether some people receive spiritual gifts that others do not receive. No one disputes that, and to bring it up is a red herring. The point in question has to do with protection from error. Are the officers of the Church infallibly guided by God such that they have greater protection from error than does anyone else? If not, then that’s ecclesial deism. Showing that Reformed theology affirms that different people (including officers) have different spiritual gifts does not show that officers have greater protection from error than does anyone else. So, you have not yet shown that the Reformed position is not a form of ecclesial deism.

    Non-sequitur.  Think about it – if the RCC is wrong and the Church does not need infallible guidance, then it does not logically follow that she needs no more guidance than any ordinary layman has.  The question is on the specifics of what guidance has been ordained by God – is it that which the RCC claims or is it that which was practiced in the Scriptures and the early centuries of the Church before there was any concept of infallible tradition outside of Scripture?

    If the officers have greater divine protection from error than does anyone else, and laymen know about this, then laymen could not be justified in rebelling against those officers, and forming a schism from them, since the laymen would know that in every case their own interpretation is more likely to be wrong than is that of the officers, since the officers have the gift of greater divine protection from error than do they.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  101. The subject of six of those sentences is me, when it ought to be the claims that I have made.

    Bryan – The paragraph where you put all of my “you” in bold is about the arguments you made or the arguments you ignored, not something specific to your person. Please don’t be so sensitive, I’m not attacking you, just pointing out the errors in the arguments you made. But I’m now half wondering if I shroud reword all my sentences to take out the word “you.”

    Are the officers of the Church infallibly guided by God such that they have greater protection from error than does anyone else? If not, then that’s ecclesial deism.

    Again non sequitur and underscore the examples I gave earlier showing that there is no necessary implication between the officers being in error, even on essential matters of the Christian faith, and God leaving His Church alone (deism). If you are equating the position that denies the infallibility of the certain human traditions with ecclesial deism then you are just stamping a new name on an old error and have done nothing to further your argument.

    If the officers have greater divine protection from error than does anyone else, and laymen know about this, then laymen could not be justified in rebelling against those officers, and forming a schism from them,….

    And as I said to Fr. Bryan, it’s not about what a layman can and might say or do, it’s about whether the Church can correct itself when it has made an error, and of course before this, whether the Church can make an error on a de fide matter. Until that is dealt with, your discussion of what a layman might do in response is premature.

  102. Bryan,

    The point in question has to do with protection from error. Are the officers of the Church infallibly guided by God such that they have greater protection from error than does anyone else? If not, then that’s ecclesial deism.

    If black people are not more protected from error than white people, is that racial deism? If women are just as susceptible to error as men, is that sexual deism?

    In other words, if it’s ecclesial deism for a church not to be more protected than anything else, then why do other forms of deism not follow and be applied to every other group or institution that does not enjoy some special measure of protection by God?

    Your entire criterion for deism seems to be a lack of special protection from error. But if there’s a level extra-ecclesial playing field, then are you saying that you’re indeed a deist, just not an ecclesial one?

  103. Andrew, (re: #101)

    You wrote:

    The paragraph where you put all of my “you” in bold is about the arguments you made or the arguments you ignored

    A sentence is about its subject. The best way to make your sentences about arguments rather than about your interlocutor, is to make arguments (not your interlocutor) the subject of your sentences.

    The preferable way of responding, when you think someone has ignored your argument, is not to accuse that person of ignoring your argument, but to lay out your argument, premise by premise, (or point back to the comment # in which you laid out your argument in this way), and point out that your argument has not yet been refuted. To accuse your interlocutor of ignoring your argument is to make the interlocutor the subject of your criticism. And to do this without laying out the argument (or without at least pointing back to the comment where it was laid out), is sophistry, because it implies that you are only trying to score crowd points, and don’t really want the interlocutor to examine the argument in question.

    Please don’t be so sensitive, I’m not attacking you,

    Accusing a person of being “overlysensitive” is precisely attacking the *person.* Pointing out ad hominems as ad hominems is not necessarily being overlysensitive. In this case it has nothing to do with my feelings, etc., but rather in maintaining a context for dialogue that is potentially fruitful. When a discussion sinks into ad hominems, it cannot be fruitful. And that’s why we don’t allow that here.

    You wrote:

    … just pointing out the errors in the arguments you made.

    So far as I can tell, nothing you have said has falsified any proposition in any of my arguments. If you believe otherwise, please present the falsified proposition (rather than merely hand-waving to an alleged error, but without actually presenting the supposed error.)

    I had written, “Are the officers of the Church infallibly guided by God such that they have greater protection from error than does anyone else? If not, then that’s ecclesial deism.”

    You responded:

    Again non sequitur …

    It is not a non sequitur, because that’s just what ecclesial deism means. (See the article “Ecclesial Deism.”) Ecclesial deism is the notion that the Church is not protected from falling into heresy and apostasy. And if humans are not protected from falling into math and science errors, and laymen are not protected from falling into heresy and apostasy, and the officers of the Church have no greater divine protection [from falling into heresy and apostasy] than does anyone else, then it follows (by definition) that ecclesial deism is true, because that’s just what ecclesial deism means, namely, that the Church is allowed to fall into heresy and apostasy, or even non-existence for some period of time. That’s why Reformed persons cannot answer the question: Where was the Church, from the first Council of Nicaea until the sixteenth century, because for them, the Church only exists where the “biblical gospel” (i.e. the Protestant gospel — or at least one of the Protestant versions of the gospel) exists. But there is no record of a continuous community holding the “biblical gospel” (i.e. the Protestant version of the gospel) between the second century and the sixteenth century. If it already existed in the first twenty years of the sixteenth century, then there would have been no need to start Protestantism — instead these disgruntled Catholics (who would later become Protestants) could have separated from the [institutional] Catholic Church and joined the already existing “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” that taught the Protestant gospel. But that option wasn’t available, because there was no such existing community, nor had there been for as long as the Church had been in existence. Hence, the Reformed person not only has to posit that Christ allowed the Church to fall into heresy and apostasy (i.e. bite the ecclesial deism bullet), but that He even allowed it to disappear from history (and therefore maybe even existence, so far as we know) for almost fifteen hundred years.

    And as I said to Fr. Bryan, it’s not about what a layman can and might say or do, it’s about whether the Church can correct itself when it has made an error, and of course before this, whether the Church can make an error on a de fide matter. Until that is dealt with, your discussion of what a layman might do in response is premature.

    None of that refutes the argument I made: (1) If the officers have greater divine protection from error than does anyone else, and if laymen know about this, then the laymen would know that in every case their own interpretation is more likely to be wrong than is that of the officers, since the officers have the gift of greater divine protection from error than do they. (2) If in every case one knows one’s own interpretation is more likely to be wrong than is that of the officers of the Church, then one knows that one is not justified in rebelling against those officers, and forming a schism from them. Therefore (3) if the officers have greater divine protection from error than does anyone else, and if laymen know about this, laymen could not be justified in rebelling against those officers, and forming a schism from them.

    That argument (in the paragraph immediately preceding this one) forms one horn of the dilemma I laid out in the very last paragraph of #98.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  104. Jason, (re: #102)

    If black people are not more protected from error than white people, is that racial deism? If women are just as susceptible to error as men, is that sexual deism?

    No and no.

    In other words, if it’s ecclesial deism for a church not to be more protected than anything else, then why do other forms of deism not follow and be applied to every other group or institution that does not enjoy some special measure of protection by God?

    Because of the Incarnation and the Passion. All the other groups have their origin in creation. The Church, however, has her origin in the Incarnation and the Passion. The Incarnation is an in-breaking into creation, for the purpose of redeeming creation. Creation is therefore the backdrop against which (and into which) the Incarnation takes place. But there is no reason to believe that one part of creation has been granted a special divine protection from error or extinction, such that claiming that it does not receive such divine protection would count as a kind of deism. There is, however, a tremendous reason to believe that the Church has been granted such a special divine protection, such that claiming that she does not receive such divine protection counts as a kind of deism. And that reason is the Incarnation and the Passion. Christ came into the world to suffer and die, in order to found one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church against which the gates of hell would never prevail, and into which men of all nations would be drawn, and by which they would be saved. That He was willing to suffer and pour out His blood for His Church, and that His Church is His Body (He being the Head) shows that there is good reason to believe that He would not allow His Church to fall into heresy and apostasy, let alone extinction. If He was willing to do the greater, then He would do the lesser. And pouring out His blood on the cross for His Church is much more difficult than ensuring that she doesn’t fall into heresy or apostasy. So because there are good reasons to believe that Christ has endowed His Church with this special protection, denying that special protection is a qualified kind of deism. Deism is not merely denying a certain level of divine guidance and protection, but rather, denying a certain level of divine guidance and protection where we have reason to believe that that level of guidance and protection is present. And this is why the cases you described above (e.g. black people / white people, women / men) are not cases of deism, because those are cases concerning which we have no reason to believe that a higher level of divine guidance and protection has been given.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  105. Bryan – As in the past I’m just exhausted trying to get through to you. You seem to have endless amounts of time to argue over whether I was attacking you or your arguments and no matter what I say to try to reassure you that I was not attacking you in any way you seem convinced that somehow I was. Meanwhile you never did address what I originally wrote utilizing the OT for examples on the matter of ecclesial deism. I’m not going to lay these arguments out again. If anyone else here wants to try to address what you did not, I would be happy to reply.

  106. Andrew, (re: #105)

    You wrote:

    Bryan – As in the past I’m just exhausted trying to get through to you.

    Thick-skulled though I may be, I can tell you the way to “get through to me.” Present sound arguments and good evidence for the truth of your claims. If you show something to be true, I guarantee that you will “get through to me.” If instead you resort to criticizing me, that won’t “get through to me,” because it won’t show me that your claims are true. Instead, it will tend to confirm for me that you don’t have sufficient evidence to show your position to be true, so you must resort to personal attacks, such as implying that I am thick-skulled.

    Meanwhile you never did address what I originally wrote utilizing the OT for examples on the matter of ecclesial deism. I’m not going to lay these arguments out again. If anyone else here wants to try to address what you did not, I would be happy to reply.

    Regarding your OT examples, I addressed that in comment #50. The notion that the New Covenant is no better than the Old is the error of the Judaizers. St. Paul condemns this error strongly in his letter to the Galatians. In the Old Covenant, the law was written on stone, but in the New, it is written on the heart. And this New Covenant people is the Church, the “pillar and ground of truth” (1 Tim 3:15), the family of God, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and the New Jerusalem. Greater is He who is in this Temple, than he who is in the world, and hence the enemy cannot prevail against the Church, “spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners.” The Spirit who indwells this people is leading them into all truth. Christ has promised never to leave them or forsake them. The fundamental problem with the error of the Judaizers is that it implicitly denied the incarnation of Christ. It clung to the Old Covenant, because (in their view), no one greater had come along, and hence no better covenant had been made. Likewise, a notion that the Church (which is the Body of Christ) could fall into heresy and apostasy (or even extinction) for almost fifteen hundred years, implies that the person whose Body this community was said to be, was a mere man, not the Son of the living God. Ecclesial deism is in this way a denial of the incarnation of the Son of God. It is the ecclesial equivalent of returning to the necessity of circumcision.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  107. Andrew, you said:

    From#86

    I’m not speaking of God’s general guidance of individuals, but rather the kind of guidance he gives the leaders of His people in the ecclesiastical sphere

    From #91

    Yes, God guides His Church into all truth and is the ground and pillar of the truth and so on. But as Jason points out, and I have already pointed out, God’s perfect leading here does not at all guarantee that the Church will follow

    From #93

    So again, I’m not talking about God’s general guidance He might give to an individual, but rather that special gift/guidance which He has granted to His Church

    From #96

    in Reformed theology it is not meaningless and there is a very real spiritual gift given to the officers of the Church in the OT and NT

    From #99

    The Scriptures and the Confession explicitly enumerate gifts given to the officers of congregations that are NOT given to individuals

    Now why did I just quote all those? Because I have a question, and it is not rhetorical, I honestly would like your response. And just so you know, I am a Protestant but I see Bryan’s point in all this. So here goes:

    You’re going to have to give me (or whoever), as a lay believer, a principled way in which to distinguish between those “leaders of His people in the ecclesiastical sphere” who are in fact exercising “a very real spiritual gift given to the officers of the Church,” from those who are not. And I think Bryan’s point is that if the answer involves some kind of inward witness of the Holy Spirit given to me (or whoever) then there is in fact no difference between that guidance given to the individual vs. that guidance given to the Church.

    So to rephrase, in what principledway am I to determine whether the officers of the Lutheran or the Reformed or the Jehovah’s Witness or the Prosperity Gospel churches are exercising this gift such that one of them is the “ground and pillar of truth?”

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  108. Regarding your OT examples, I addressed that in comment #50.

    Bryan, you sure did. I don’t know how I missed this but I did. OK, I apologize, you did indeed answer this and in whatever hurry I was in I didn’t read these paragraphs. What you say in #50 is the kind of thing I was waiting for. So mea culpa.

    The notion that the New Covenant is no better than the Old is the error of the Judaizers.

    The Judaizers were those who demanded that Christians keep aspects of the ceremonial law to be saved. I don’t see how this applicable to my comments. And I’m sure you know the Reformed agree with you that the New Covenant is better. But I don’t see how we can draw the conclusion from this that in the OT God’s guidance to the officers of the Church did NOT entail that they couldn’t fail while in the NT His guidance does means that the officers of the Church could not possibly fail. Yes the NT the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth. Are you saying that the Church is not the pillar and ground of the truth in the OT? Weren’t the God ordained officers of the OT Church given gifts to guide and protect His people?

    I don’t see how you are getting from the Church being the pillar and ground of the truth to the Church having an iron clad guarantee that the she will never err. The Church was the pillar and ground of the truth because she ministered God’s Word, which was perfect, to the people. In the OT and the NT she was that entity to which God’s Word was given and thus she was the keeper of the truth.

    ….the enemy cannot prevail against the Church,

    And why does this preclude the Church in the NT from falling into some substantive error? You seem to be saying that in order for the Church to prevail she can never fail (at least in de fide matters) in the interim. Was is the essential problem in saying that the Church could lose certain battles but ultimately win the war?

  109. Aaron G,

    You’re going to have to give me (or whoever), as a lay believer, a principled way in which to distinguish between those “leaders of His people in the ecclesiastical sphere” who are in fact exercising “a very real spiritual gift given to the officers of the Church,” from those who are not.

    The gifts given to the officers of the Church are to minister the Word to the people, minister the sacraments to the people, and exercise spiritual oversight over the people. These are the spiritual gifts give to the officers of the Church which really do work to keep His people from error. And it really does work. For the Roman Catholics these would seem to be insufficient and it is their job as Catholic apologist to try to justify the addition of gifts given to the Church to include those peculiar to their communion.

    So to rephrase, in what principledway am I to determine whether the officers of the Lutheran or the Reformed or the Jehovah’s Witness or the Prosperity Gospel churches are exercising this gift such that one of them is the “ground and pillar of truth?”

    There is a point at which congregations fall so far away from the gospel that they can no longer be called Christian communions. In the Catholic world there is an analogous problem with all of the various liberal and synergistic blends of Catholicism and paganism. As a for instance, not too far from where I live there are all of the liberation theology Catholic churches. The difference in this regards from my standpoint is that we don’t call the officers of “churches” who have denied the faith to be Christians or Catholic.

  110. Hi Andrew (McCallum),

    You wrote (#108):

    [What] is the essential problem in saying that the Church could lose certain battles but ultimately win the war?

    Answer: It would mean that you would have to come up with a better reason for separating or remaining separated from that Church than simply that it erred. And that’s granting the scenario Bryan calls ‘ecclesial deism’ but which you prefer to call something else.

    FTR: It’s not that I haven’t been tracking with you all along (ref. #75). It’s that I’ve been pointing up the implications for a larger argument in the background that your more specific argument in the foreground happens to be bolstering, but which I don’t think you want to bolster at all. (Take that last clause as a guess, not an ad hominem.)

    (Also FTR: I realize you may be referring to a different definition of ‘Church’ than I am doing, but it’s really irrelevant, since the strength of your claim that the Church is broken but that this does not spell its end could be applied just as well to the visible Roman Catholic Church as to the more expansive concept of ‘Church’ you may have in view. Or at least, you would need to show why it couldn’t.)

    Pax,

    Chad

  111. Andrew RE#109
    I understand that there are certain churches which we would consider to have fallen so far away from the Gospel that they are in fact not to be considered Christian churches, but all you’ve done is pointed out to me why I need that principled way to distinguish which ones are valid churches.

    So essentially you haven’t answered my question. You have only agreed with me that you and I both need a clear answer to it to make sure that our church isn’t one of those that has “fallen so far away.”

    The Catholic answer is that all valid local churches are those who are in full communion with the Successor of Peter and that the issue of liberal priests and/or parishes is essentially one that has to do with church discipline not so much the validity of the local church itself.

    So again, I am interested in your answer to my question in #107 because it is one that I have thought long and hard about and to which I have not found a satisfactory answer.

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  112. It would mean that you would have to come up with a better reason for separating or remaining separated from that Church than simply that it erred.

    Chad – And what in your mind would be a good reason? What would the institutional church have to do in your mind before you would admit that it was time to move on?

    I would also point out that I was not trying to justify leaving the Catholic Church, but merely point out that positing the possibility of the Church failing into error on some definitive issue is not tantamount to saying that God has withdrawn His oversight of the Church. There is no necessary logical connection.

  113. Hi Andrew (#112),

    You ask,

    And what in your mind would be a good reason? What would the institutional church have to do in your mind before you would admit that it was time to move on?

    If you’re right and Bryan is wrong, I can’t think of a single thing. So long as God has not taken leave, I don’t reckon I’m at liberty to do so either.

    I would also point out that I was not trying to justify leaving the Catholic Church

    I’m very glad to learn this! What about remaining separated? Is the specific argument you’ve been making (which has been clear all along) in service to this larger project of justifying present and ongoing division?

    Pax,

    Chad

  114. Andrew McCallum: I would also point out that I was not trying to justify leaving the Catholic Church, but merely point out that positing the possibility of the Church failing into error on some definitive issue is not tantamount to saying that God has withdrawn His oversight of the Church.

    How would you know that the church that Christ has founded has fallen into error unless you, personally, are exercising the charismatic gift of infallibility? You can’t know with certainty that the church that Christ founded is officially teaching error. All you can do is form a personal opinion that the church that Christ founded is teaching error, but you can’t be certain that it is teaching error without exercising the charismatic gift of infallibility. And you are not claiming that you exercise that gift, nor are you claiming that anyone in a Reformed sect can exercised that gift, nor are you claiming that anyone at any time has ever has exercised that gift within a Reformed denomination.

    Now, if you think that someone in the church that Christ founded is teaching error, then the scriptures are clear about what you are to do, and it sure isn’t to separate from the church founded by Christ and go join a Protesting Denomination founded by some mere man or a woman that is in schism with the church that Christ founded.

    If you have formed an opinion that someone in the church that Christ founded is teaching heresy, then you would need to do what Christ has taught us to do in such a circumstance. (see Matt 18:17) You would bring that person to the church that Christ founded upon the Petrine Office (see Matt 16:18) and that church, the true church, would rule on whether or not what you think is heresy, is actually heresy. You may be right, and the person that is teaching heresy may be anathematized, as was brother Arius, brother Nestorius, and brother Sabellius, who all thought that they were teaching doctrine that was backed by scripture, but were mistaken. Of course you personally think that your Reformed sect teaches true doctrine, but what of it? There is nothing in the scriptures that teaches that a Reformed sect that was founded by some mere man is the church that has the authority to rule on a matter involving heresy. You need to seek out the church that Christ founded, take you concerns to that church, and listen to what she teaches you. If you are not willing to do this, you cannot claim that scriptures have superior authority over your opinions.

  115. To all:

    Thank you for this debate which really is getting at the heart of the matter, though the Assumption, itself, is an interesting manifestation of the foundational dispute and worth considering.

    @Andrew McCallum, #108:

    I may not really understand or agree with a lot of what you are saying, and I may wish that we could all sit down and I could listen to you all try to not talk past each other, but the humility you expressed in comment #108 just blew my socks off. I have to say that it was a tremendous boon to my spirit, regardless of the positions here being argued and their gravity. A true brother you are to us, all, and this is proclaimed with a bull-horn by the first part of comment #108. You never see that kind of stuff after a protracted online debate! I really was starting to sink back down into the muck at your back-and-forth with Bryan Cross, but then you apologized, and it was brilliant. Whether or not anything doctrinally constructive comes from this thread, for me or anyone else, I can give thanks to God for the Spirit among us called to be His sons. May we continue to work towards unity in love.

    Peace and hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Drew

  116. Andrew, I completely agree with Drew. That comment gave me hope for reconciliation with you, and a deeper respect for you as a person. Thank you for being humble and gracious.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  117. Hi, I know that my comment is completely out of place. But I was watching a protestant video where they visciously attack the Blessed Virgin Mary using a book by Loraine Boettner, which they claim is the “best” book against Catholicism. I was just wondering if there are any Catholic books that you guys would recommend that directly challenges Boettner’s book? Thanks.

  118. Mkvine:

    http://www.catholic.com/library/The_Anti_Catholic_Bible.asp

  119. Aaron G (re: 111)

    So essentially you haven’t answered my question. You have only agreed with me that you and I both need a clear answer to it to make sure that our church isn’t one of those that has “fallen so far away.”

    I thought you were asking a question about distinctions between those who are in authority and those who are not. But it seems you are asking about what makes a faithful congregation. Is that right? So the first thing to note is that I was not speaking in the posts above what the reaction of layperson ought to be. I was speaking of competing ecclesiastical communions. Whether the Reformation was justified hinges on the debate between Protestant and Catholic communions rather than individuals. It’s a similar sort of debate between the EO and Catholic – how do we determine which communion is correct when they disagree? The criteria from my standpoint is the degree to which the communions in question hold to the historic Christian faith. Of course the question is then how is this judged. From my standpoint, our respective communions have to make determinations of three things that I can see: 1) what the criteria is for determining fidelity to the historic Christian faith, 2) what the standard of truth is upon which the Church is to base her decisions, and 3) how we interpret this standard.

    #1 for the Catholics is the aforementioned formal succession outside of any judgments being made concerning the fidelity, of lack thereof, to the rule of faith of the successors of any given era. For the Protestants it is adherence to the rule of faith as such rule of faith was adhered to in the early centuries of Christianity.

    #2 for the Catholics is the tradition of the Church including but not limited to Scriptures. The additions to the Scriptures which, along with Scripture, become the infallible tradition of the Church is at the heart of the disputes between Catholic and Protestant. For the Protestant it is the Scripture alone which is, from our standpoint, the way the Church operated in her early centuries. As one EO scholar (Florovsky) put it, biblical exegesis was probably the only form of theological discourse in the early centuries and the Scriptures ruled supreme (not an exact quote, but close enough I think).

    #3 for the Catholics differs depending on which Catholic you speak with. There are lots of different interpretations of the tradition of the Church and the conservatives such as those here have landed on one among many of those interpretations. Beyond Catholicism there are also the competing interpretations of the EO who have different “infallible” interpretations of tradition on a number of points. #3 for the Protestants depends on which Protestants you speak with. Just as much as their different interpretations of the tradition between EO and Catholic and within Catholicism, so there are different interpretations of Scripture within Protestantism. I would add though that within historic Protestant theology there are very few differences between the Reformed communions as is attested to by the unity of the Reformed confessions. Because of this I don’t see that many cases where the challenges that you raise become an issue. There are some of course, but not many.

    That’s my perspective. Where the Catholics here take immediate issue is over the interpretation of tradition and whether there is really any such thing as “conservative” Catholics. Catholics such as those on this loop believe that there are only faithful Catholics and unfaithful Catholics and that their tradition within Catholicism (that which accords with the current magisterial teaching of the RCC) has the correct interpretation of tradition and all the other Catholics are wrong where they disagree with the current RCC. And while I understand they believe this, for us Reformed which Catholic (or EO) group has the correct interpretation of tradition is an intramural debate within Catholicism that we don’t want to weigh in on. For us there are just lots of interpretations of tradition and different Catholics groups arise because of this.

    On the issue of what the response of the individual is to the claims of the various communions (EO, Catholic, Reformed, others), I don’t think it should be a matter that primarily looks to any “internal witness.” We may feel like we are being lead towards a certain conclusion, but if this conclusion violates what we know to be true from the standpoint of the historical tradition of the Christian faith then we are compelled to disregard how we might feel about one given communion or another. All of us have to start off with some judgment concerning the Church so there has to be some starting criteria. If you believe that this criteria must be solely the succession from Peter then you will be compelled to go the Catholic route. If you believe that the criteria must be solely the succession from the Apostles who jointly shared power then I suppose you would be compelled to go towards an EO communion. If you believed that succession, while important, was not the only factor then you would tend towards Protestantism.

  120. Drew and Bryan,

    Thanks very much! I really appreciate that feedback. It definitely encourages me to be more careful in the future.

    Cheers….

  121. Mkvine (re:#117),

    In addition to the article to which Fr. Bryan linked above in #118, you might want to read the book, “Catholicism and Fundamentalism,” written by Karl Keating, the founder of Catholic Answers. Keating’s work also answers the inaccuracies of Loraine Boettner’s book, “Roman Catholicism,” at length.

  122. Andrew McCallum: Whether the Reformation was justified hinges on the debate between Protestant and Catholic communions rather than individuals.

    Luther, Calvin and Zwingli were all cafeteria Catholics. These so-called “reformers” only later gathered “communions” around themselves in the personal churches that they created. So there is no way that I will concede to you that he debate about whether ”the Reformation was justified hinges on the debate between Protestant and Catholic communions rather than individuals“. For the Reformation to be justified, one must first justify the rebellion of individuals against existing church authority.

    One cannot look to scriptures to justify the the rebellion of Luther, Calvin, etc. against existing church authority, since there are no scriptures that justify their rebellion. Ultimately, to justify the rebellion of Luther, Calvin, et al, one must look to something outside of scriptures, and that means embracing a novelty, namely the novelty of the Protestant doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience. If one embraces the novelty of the primacy of the individual conscience to justify rebellion against existing church teaching authority, one is also embracing the notion that there is no church that exists that has any real teaching authority to which one must submit.

    Andrew McCallum: … how do we determine which communion is correct when they disagree? The criteria from my standpoint is the degree to which the communions in question hold to the historic Christian faith.

    A Protestant “communion” is nothing more than a communion of people that agree with one’s personal interpretation of scriptures. So what is a sola scriptura confessing Protestant supposed to do when he encounters one of the tens of thousands of other Protestant sects that are “communions” of individuals that interpret the scriptures in irreconcilable ways with his personal interpretation of scriptures? As long as there are thousands upon thousands of disagreeing Protestant sects embracing the doctrinal novelty that undercuts the teaching authority of every church, this question will never find resolution.

    From my standpoint, our respective communions have to make determinations of three things that I can see: 1) what the criteria is for determining fidelity to the historic Christian faith, 2) what the standard of truth is upon which the Church is to base her decisions, and 3) how we interpret this standard.

    But Andrew, your standpoint is not justified by scriptures. The scriptures explicitly portray Christ founding his own church, and demanding that we listen to the leaders of his church. There is nothing in the scriptures that justify men going into schism with the church that Christ founded and creating their own personal churches that teach their personal interpretations of the bible!

    I find it highly ironic that a Protestant that has built his faith upon the extra-biblical novelties of the primacy of the individual conscience and sola scriptura, would then complain that the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary cannot be accepted because that doctrine isn’t taught in scriptures!

  123. Andrew RE#119
    Thanks for your response. You said:

    But it seems you are asking about what makes a faithful congregation. Is that right?

    Kinda, I was more getting at how it is you know that the officers/i> of any given congregation are exercising the gifts you mentioned that true officers posses in your post #99. I think you have nonetheless addressed this issue.

    how do we determine which communion is correct when they disagree? The criteria from my standpoint is the degree to which the communions in question hold to the historic Christian faith

    For the Protestants it is adherence to the rule of faith as such rule of faith was adhered to in the early centuries of Christianity

    And this is an appeal to an authority outside of Scripture, namely tradition. That’s the irony, we as Reformed Protestants want the benefits that come with an authoritative tradition while having no other authority than Scripture alone and I am beginning to believe that it just doesn’t work. How can you(we) say that some given congregation is not a true church because they do not “adhere to the rule of faith as such rule of faith was adhered to in the early centuries of the Christianity” when it doesn’t matter what the earliest church did if it was not codified in the New Testament Scripture?
    Also, all the officers of said congregation have to say in response is that they are adhering to the faith practiced in the earliest centuries of Christianity because they are practicing Sola Scriptura, because as you say, in the earliest centuries the “Scriptures ruled supreme.” And that takes us right back to square one in trying to determine if they can in fact be considered a Christian church and how you can know.

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  124. Mateo,

    Yes, there were individuals making decisions early on the in Reformation, but this is the way most religions or philosophical movements get started, isn’t it? The real test of any movement is a generation(s) later when it is the whole ecclesiastical community that has to come to a decision. Take for example the Swiss and German Christian communities in the 16th century after there was some sort of truce when communities were allowed to make choices without the coercion of the government, or at least with less coercion. It’s at this point that you have theologians, bishops, etc from either side and there is an evaluation of the relative merits of each system.

    If just for sake of argument the Medieval RCC was wrong on one or some essential points it has to be corrected and not surprisingly there would be individuals who would step forward to point out the problems. With the Reformation, the theologians who championed positions at odds with the RCC were often just carrying on theological debates that had been going on in the Medieval Church for centuries. Take the example of papalism vs. conciliarism. The papalists won at Trent but the opposition of the Reformers did not begin with them. They were being “rebellious” only in that they were rebelling against a certain faction within the RCC that eventually won out.

    One cannot look to scriptures to justify the the rebellion of Luther, Calvin, etc. against existing church authority, since there are no scriptures that justify their rebellion.

    Well there are no Scriptures to justify anything beyond a congregational ecclesiastical structure who consult with each other from time to time as need arises (as in Acts 15). So were the Reformers rebelling against the Scriptures or against what the Medieval Church had become?

    I don’t believe in the primacy of the individual conscience as some sort of general operating principle, but I do think there are times at which an individual has to take issue with his ecclesiastical community. Take for example those who rebelled against what even Catholic historians label as abuses in the late Medieval era. If nobody ever rebels then abuses are never corrected. For those living in this time they were told by their church that, what was later branded as abuses, was part of the tradition of the Church.

    On interpretation of Scripture, I know we have talked about this before, but a central problem that the Protestants (at least those who think about such things) is that they don’t agree with your interpretation of tradition. I know you don’t look at it this way, but at least at some level I have to agree with your with your interpretation of tradition if I was ever to be convinced that the modern RCC was indeed the rightful successor of the Apostolic Church. And it’s not like the Catholic Church is one monolithic institution. Well, it is in theory, but not in practice which is my point. You see what I’m getting at?

    Gotta run now….

  125. Andrew McCallum: Yes, there were individuals making decisions early on the in Reformation, but this is the way most religions or philosophical movements get started, isn’t it?

    Sure, most religions get started by men. But Judaism and Christianity are two exceptions to that general rule. Surely you would concede this point, wouldn’t you?

    Andrew McCallum: The real test of any movement is a generation(s) later when it is the whole ecclesiastical community that has to come to a decision.

    How would you define the Jewish “ecclesiastic community” in the time of Christ? Would the Pharisees be in that “ecclesiastic community”? The Zealots? The Sadducees? The Essenes? Or should we consider these to be separate Jewish ecclesiastic communities that bitterly fought among themselves over doctrines of faith and morals? Certainly we know from scriptures that the Pharisees and the Sadducees fought over the doctrine of the Resurrection of the dead. How, exactly, do you believe this dispute was resolved in Judaism? And how would its resolution prove anything about where the truth lay?

    In the case of Christianity, it is much easier to define the “ecclesiastic community” that is constituted of the members of the church that Christ founded. Adults that are members of Christ’s church are those adults who have received the three Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist), and have not lost their membership in Christ’s church by being excommunicated, or committing the sins of schism, heresy or apostasy (these three sins entail the loss of membership in Christ’s Church). A member of Christ’s church is obligated by Christ to listen to the church that Christ founded.

    From the scriptures we know that Christ founded his own church, a church with bishops, priests and deacons. We also know from scriptures that when a dispute arises within the church that Christ founded, one must take the dispute to Christ’s church and let Christ’s church resolve the dispute. Scriptures do not teach that one should take the dispute to any old “church” founded by some mere man or a woman, and let one of those “churches” resolve the dispute. Unfortunately, no Protestant follows the scriptures on this point. Protestants do not listen to the church that Christ founded, they listen instead to one of the thousands upon thousands of “churches” that are founded by men and women (Mary Baker Eddy, Charles Taze Russell, Martin Luther, Garner Ted Armstrong, the Wesley brothers, the Campbell brothers, Chuck Smith, Joesph Smith, Aimee Semple McPherson, John Calvin, etc, etc.)

    Andrew McCallum: Take for example the Swiss and German Christian communities in the 16th century after there was some sort of truce when communities were allowed to make choices without the coercion of the government, or at least with less coercion. It’s at this point that you have theologians, bishops, etc from either side and there is an evaluation of the relative merits of each system.

    Dissenters that don’t listen to the church that Christ founded are found from day one among those who claim to be Christian. What makes 16th century dissenters any different than 1st century dissenters or 21st century dissenters? If one chose to follow Arius, Nestorius or Sabellius without coercion, it still would not make Arius, Nestorius or Sabellius right.

    Andrew McCallum: If just for sake of argument the Medieval RCC was wrong on one or some essential points it has to be corrected and not surprisingly there would be individuals who would step forward to point out the problems.

    If the “Medieval RCC” was teaching heresy as de fide definita doctrine, then she could not be the church that Christ founded, because the gates of hell can never prevail against Christ’s church. A church that is teaching heresy as her official doctrine, is a church that is a tool of Satan, and it must be said of that church that the gates of hell have prevailed against her, since she is an instrument of Satan leading people astray.

    A 16th century Christian that believed in the bible would be obligated to find the church that Christ founded, the church that can never teach error. And that church cannot possibly be found within Protestantism since every “church” within Protestantism is founded, not by Christ, but by some mere man or woman. So where would one look for the church that Christ founded? That church would have to have a history that extends all the way back to Christ; that church would need to claim that she was founded by Christ; and that church would need to be in communion with the Petrine office, since the church that Christ founded is built upon the Petrine office. (Matthew 16:18) But that leaves the 16th century Christian only one choice, the Medieval Catholic Church.

    Andrew McCallum: With the Reformation, the theologians who championed positions at odds with the RCC were often just carrying on theological debates that had been going on in the Medieval Church for centuries. Take the example of papalism vs. conciliarism. The papalists won at Trent but the opposition of the Reformers did not begin with them. They were being “rebellious” only in that they were rebelling against a certain faction within the RCC that eventually won out.

    I will grant you that men have opposed the the teaching authority vested with the Petrine office long, long, before Protestants began opposing the authority of the Petrine office. The Byzantine government constantly opposed the authority of the Petrine offfice. But what of it? It doesn’t change the fact that Christ founded his church upon the Petrine office. That truth is explicitly taught in scriptures (Matthew 16:18). Those men that stand in opposition to the authority of the Petrine office are men that stand in opposition to Christ’s church.

    Andrew McCallum: … there are no Scriptures to justify anything beyond a congregational ecclesiastical structure who consult with each other from time to time as need arises (as in Acts 15). So were the Reformers rebelling against the Scriptures or against what the Medieval Church had become?

    Who says that there are “no Scriptures to justify anything beyond a congregational ecclesiastical structure”? Protestant congregationalists, that’s who say this! If a 16th century Christian went to Kerala India and met the Christians that claimed that they were evangelized by the Apostle Thomas, would that 16th century Christian find a church of “congregationalists”? Absolutely not! If you asked these Christian in India how long had they maintained their non-congregationalist church structure, they would tel’ you since the Apostle Thomas came to India. But Protestant congregationalists would only take that as evidence that these ignorant Christians in India did not understand the scriptures. A Christian of the 16th century would not find congregationalism in any church that had a history stretching back to the time of Christ; not among the Christians living in the remote mountains of Abyssinia, nor among the Christians of Armenia or Syria. The problem with arguing with “congregationalists” about this point is that the congregationalists assume that congregationalism is the church structure of the earliest Christians, and any evidence that one brings against this fantasy is dismissed outright. Any evidence that showed an early Christian community being led by bishops with Apostolic Succession would be proof to a congregationalist of an early community that had been led astray from the “pure Gospel truth”.

    As evidence against congregationalism, I could quote a bishop of the early church, St. Ignatius of Antioch, who heard the Gospel preached from the mouth of the Apostle John. But why bother? Since for or the congregationalists, that evidence would be seen as proof that St. Ignatious of Antioch was a heretic that had been led astray from the pure light of scriptures because he he didn’t preach congregationalism! Protestants drive me crazy when the argue this way. Protestants assume that the novelties unleashed by the Reformers are a restoration of the beliefs of the earliest Christians, and any evidence that one might give to correct these Protestant fantasies is immediately dismissed since it doesn’t agree with the pure word of God as interpreted by Protestants. Sheesh!

    When a Calvinist reads the early church Fathers and sees a church Father contradicting John Calvin, if he is a good Calvinist, he is supposed to assume that John Calvin is correct, because John Calvin knew more about the real meaning of the scriptures and the real traditions of the church than any early Church father, since John Calvin holds near godlike knowledge about the scriptures and the early traditions of the church. Granting Calvin this near godlike knowledge of the truths of the Christian faith is an essential element of the religion of Calvinism, since otherwise a sensible man would assume that a man like St. Ignatius of Antioch that heard the Gospel from the mouth of an Apostle probably knew more about the authentic traditions of Christianity that a man born one-thousand-five-hundred years later. But that logic is always lost on hard-core Calvinists since they operate on the assumption that next to Jesus and the Apostles, John Calvin has the most perfect knowledge of Christianity. If you think that I am exaggerating, just ask a Calvinist which man (other than Christ or the Apostles) had a superior knowledge to John Calvin of the truths of Christianity. It can’t be St. Augustine, because when John Calvin contradicts St. Augustine, the Calvinists assume Calvin was right, and Augustine was wrong. If any man disagrees with John Calvin, the Calvinists will always assume that Calvin was right, and the man disagreeing with Calvin was wrong. And any evidence that you could give to a Calvinist that showed that Calvin was wrong will be taken as evidence of a belief in heresy since the evidence disagrees with John Calvin.

    Andrew McCallum: I don’t believe in the primacy of the individual conscience as some sort of general operating principle, but I do think there are times at which an individual has to take issue with his ecclesiastical community.

    I fail to see how you are not contradicting yourself, because when, in your opinion, your church is not teaching error, you do not take her to task, and when, in your opinion, your church is teaching error, you take her to task. But at all times, the primacy of your conscience reigns supreme in your ecclesiology, as far as I can tell. The fact that you don’t spend most of your time correcting your church does not mean that the primacy of the individual conscience is not the foundational operating principle of your religion. I don’t think that you are unique by a long shot, I think that every sola scriptura confessing Protestant has this principle as the foundation of their religion, even if they aren’t “Reformed”. If you can name a living man that has the authority to bind your conscience on a point of doctrine, then I might concede that you do not have the primacy of your conscience as the operating principle of your religion. But I don’t think that you can name such a man, and I don’t see why you won’t concede that the primacy of the individual conscience is a foundational belief or your religion, since almost every “reformed” Christian that I have ever met would concede that point. They would even go so far as to quote the Westminster Confession to support their belief in the primacy of the individual conscience.

    Take for example those who rebelled against what even Catholic historians label as abuses in the late Medieval era. If nobody ever rebels then abuses are never corrected. For those living in this time they were told by their church that, what was later branded as abuses, was part of the tradition of the Church.

    If a Christian in the 16th century thought that there were abuses in the church that Christ founded, then that Christian would be obligated to try and correct those abuses. Leaving the church that Christ founded and starting one’s own personal church can hardly be seen as an attempt to correct the abuses in Christ’s church. That would be like saying that I don’t like the way the government of the USA is run, so I will renounce my citizenship in the USA and move to Paraguay. St. Francis of Assisi and St. Bridget of Sweden are reformers in the real sense. Luther and Calvin are merely schismatics that left the church that they were members of to found their own personal churches that they controlled.

    Andrew McCallum: On interpretation of Scripture, I know we have talked about this before, but a central problem that the Protestants (at least those who think about such things) is that they don’t agree with your interpretation of tradition.

    The problem of tradition between Catholics and Protestants is that the tradition of Protestants includes the mere traditions of men, traditions that were unheard of novelties within Christendom before Protestants started espousing them (sola scriptura, sola fide, imputed righteousness, OSAS, congregationalism, etc. ). But the central problem is that the Reformation is built on the novelty of the doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience, and that novelty makes meaningless the teaching of Christ in Matthew 18:17. Christ says that that those that refuse to listen to his church are to be excommunicated, and the doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience teaches that I am only obligated to listen to a church when that church agrees with my personal interpretation of scriptures. So if a church doesn’t agree with me, then it is the church that needs to change, not me. And if the church won’t change, then I am free to do as Luther and Calvin did – found my own personal church, that quite naturally, agrees with me. How can that be the Gospel – founding personal churches that recognize no temporal authority higher than oneself? The vast numbers of Protestants that are becoming “un-churched” Christians are simply riding the train run by Luther and Calvin to its final destination, a Christianity where churches are seen as irrelevant since churches have no authority to bind the conscience of the individual on a matters of faith or morals.

  126. re: Andrew McCallum

    You are working from the same misconception that I worked from, that is that our Lord failed His Church, ie, He did not protect it from Hhll or human error. My misconception was to confuse the failures of human beings, including His own agents, with the failure of the Church He founded. That Church was the fulfillment of both the Temple and srael, wrote not just large, but universally as in “to the ends of the earth.” It brought the sacrifices of the Temple into completion, and put that temple in as many towns and cities as it could in order that the perfect Sacrifice would be available to as many as would receive it.

    It was the scripture, as determined by the Church He founded, that brought me to the conclusion that I was wrong. Once I recognized the Church, everything else was illuminated correctly. Mary. Peter. The sacraments including the Eucharist. The forgiveness of sins. The communion of saints. The meaning of and power behind the words “be perfect.” Literally everything I ever once presumed to define. I was not the judge. I did not have the authority to make such bold (and rash) decisions as I was making, and if my reading of history is correct, neither did a lot of others whose names are household items, such as Luther, Calvin, Henry VIII, etc.

    Men fail but our Lord does not fail. He is the Head of the Church He founded and He has maintained that Church since the beginning. The gates of hell did not prevail against it.

    I am happy to report that I am fallible and in need of an infallible source to even have a hope of recognizing the Truth and the contingent truths that spring from the Source of all Truth. I have long ceased to be my own pope, or even to look outside the Church for direction. I am free to be a very small part of a divine Institution, a son, as opposed to Its head.

    I actually hope that everyone who looks, finds, which is in accord with Jesus’ own words.

    Cordially,

    dt

  127. Mateo/Donald,

    I wish I had more time to respond to more of the specifics you raise, but I wanted to comment on something common to both of your posts (and Bryan’s previously) which is your position that in order for Christ’s Church not to fail she can never make any errors. Now I think that you would immediately want to qualify this by saying that she can never make any errors on substantive issues of the faith (things pronounced with a de fide or equivalent level of certainty). Am I correct here?

    It would also seem that you have no problems saying that the officers that God ordained in the OT could err even on substantive issues. God had promised to lead His people and their descendants, but despite this leading God’s people often did not follow faithfully. And in the end we see God’s providential working through the failures of the leaders of His people. Again, am I correct here?

    For us Protestants it is certainly true that we believe that the Church can lose a battle, so as to speak, and yet win the war. There seems to us to be no issue from the standpoint of Scriptures or the tradition of the Church immediately following the Apostolic age to suggest that the Church could not fall into errors just as she had in the OT age. The victory God promised to the NT Church in the end did not preclude her failing from time to time. And just as in the OT, it seems to us that God used the Church’s failing providentially to teach the Church something. So in fact the Church’s failing in the NT age and beyond can be seen as a testimony to God’s providence. There is thus no reason that “ecclesial deism” should be necessarily associated with the position that God allows His people to fail from time to time.

  128. Andrew,

    For us Protestants it is certainly true that we believe that the Church can lose a battle, so as to speak, and yet win the war.

    Anticipating the coming response, here’s a question: Were there periods in history during which the true gospel, as we understand it, was not preached? If the answer is “yes,” then the next question is, For how long was this allowed to last? A few years? A few decades?

    If I were a Catholic, I would ask you, “If thousands of people could live and die as members of a church whose official doctrine was heresy throughout the whole of their lives from birth to death, then it doesn’t matter if that church ‘wins the war’ in a thousand years’ time, the gates of hell have prevailed against it.”

    In other words, our definition of hell’s gates prevailing is much looser than theirs.

  129. JJS & Andrew,
    There is an interesting thing to point out about the “gates of hell.” I think sometimes we assume this passage means that hell is on the offensive and because Jesus says the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church then she will never be completely overrun. However, one interesting thing to note is that gates are primarily defensive fortifications. Hell is not on the offensive but actually on the defense. The Church militant is on the offensive, pushing into the territory of the ruler of this world. And so Jesus’ promise takes a little bit of a different meaning in this respect. The Lord can be seen to be saying that the Church will never stop spreading, will never cease to be breaking into the world, that the gates of hell will never prevent her from moving forward with the message and means of salvation.

    If you maintain that the Church was apostate for over 1000 years then you are saying that the gates of hell did prevail against the forward progress of the Church, and not only that, but that hell’s gates were successful in repelling the advance of the Church for longer than they weren’t!

    Something to think about…

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  130. Andrew,

    The Second Person of God, the Son of Mary, is the Founder and (very important) Head of the Church. He is responsible for the doctrinal and dogmatic correctness of the Church. The Way, the Truth, and the Life is responsible for Truth. He is not, in this instance, comparable with Luther or Calvin or Siddhartha or Mohammed or any other founder of a religious body of any kind.

    Further, He said that the Third Person of God, the Holy Spirit, would guide His Church into all truth.

    Through apostolic decisions, through Church councils, through papal proclamations, through the Scriptures, through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and through the dispensing of the Sacraments, He has lived up to His guarantee and promise. He did not abandon us, neither was He overpowered by angelic or human evil. His will won’t be thwarted, no matter the particular destination an individual decides to achieve. He won’t leave me. I can leave Him. He permits me that choice.

    When I left Protestantism for Catholicism, I was leaving Luther and Calvin and whomever for Jesus. I was leaving various ideas for that singular Person Who purchased my redemption, and then provided every grace I needed to respond to that offer of redemption, in the Church He founded.

    I was working from Scripture when I discovered the failure of my church which failed Scripture’s description of what Jesus was doing. I was working from Scripture when I discovered the Church which was doing exactly what Jesus told it to do. In the process I ceased to be the arbiter of truth. I gave that up to Jesus, Who was acting through His Church, to bring about the result He wanted. I went from being an high-ranking officer to a private and welcomed the demotion.

    To be sure, Jesus is not limited to operating through His Church, and can certainly act outside of that Vessel, but my impression is that I could not operate outside of that Vessel. I would be cut off, by my own choice, from the means Jesus had provided to enable me to follow Him. I would not benefit from the only Food that can achieve Heaven, a supernatural Food for a journey to a supernatural Location. I would not benefit from the only people who could forgive my sins in His Name. I was responding to a call as dynamic as my original conversion, albeit a quieter one. I recognized that second conversion for what it was. I recognized me for my limitations, and recognized Him for what He was offering me. I stepped down and He stepped up.

    When I was originally converted, I chose the Assemblies of God because of joy. A lot of those people were truly happy with God, trusting in His promises, believing Him to be immanent and responsive to their prayers. This contrasted well with the dourness of other congregations/denominations (some of whom presaged an angry God and a joyless salvation [better get saved or you’ll be roasting in hell]), but over time joy was not enough. That truth expressed by Scripture, that the Temple (read: sacrifice) and Israel (read: governance) were to be completed in and through the coming Messiah Who is also the High Priest and the King, was not met even in a church which celebrated God as well as the AG does.

    In my reading, it was not met in Luther or Calvin or a host of others. It was met in a Church founded in Palestine by Jesus on the apostles who were empowered by the Holy Spirit to do exactly what Jesus had told them to do. It was met in the early Church fathers. It was met in the councils that weighed the ideas of Who God is and how God is to be understood, questions and problems which had to be addressed. Since Jesus never failed, His Church never failed. Its sons and daughters may or may not have failed, yet that never undid the Church which will roll along until Her Master and Head decides to bring Her to Her fulfillment.

    I noted above that the Third Person of God would bring us to all truth, per Jesus’ statement. The Yellow Pages under Church doesn’t recognize His hand in all of this. He is not responsible for competing and conflicting “truths” which set people against each other. That chaos is from another source which gains currency from those of us who believe we are the arbiter of truth. Not surprisingly, sola scriptura means that “what I believe” is credited to the Holy Spirit. I have heard “God told me” more times than care to remember. It is Luther who provided the dictum (I believe in Table Talk) that any man inhabited by the Holy Spirit is capable of understanding and expounding the Scripture. That dictum did not work in Luther’s favor as is recognized by the historical record of the Yellow Pages under Church.

    I left the world of the Church under Yellow Pages for the world of the Church described in Scripture. I have never looked back. I asked to see the Face of God and He graciously pointed me in the right direction. If I am not dead when I see His Face, I will die that moment. Hopefully such an occurrence will also be purgative. Once I see Him, I won’t want to leave.

    I was re-reading this and I noted that Mary came up only in reference to her Son. None of the apostles were named. They were once issues but are issues no longer. They fit perfectly in the life of the Church and have ceased to be the source of contention and separation that they were once claimed to be.

    It is a great grace to be Catholic. It is immensely more than I could ever have imagined.

    Cordially,

    dt

  131. Aaron,

    First, I agree 100% with your observation about the offensive nature of the mission of the Church. In the OT Satan held the nations outside of Israel in the palm of his hand, but in the NT the disciples of Jesus saw Satan “fall like lightning from Heaven” and the Spirit go forward with power.

    If you maintain that the Church was apostate for over 1000 years….

    Certainly there are Evangelicals who take that position but that is certainly not the Reformed position. I am not speaking of the Medieval Church as apostate, only questioning the assumption that the Church must be 100% correct on every single one of her dogmatic statements. Let’s say for sake of argument that the Church was wrong on just this one issue of the Assumption. When it was discovered that the rise of the belief in the Assumption happened during the same period of time when the various apocryphal works had begin to argue for the Assumption (or something rather close to it) what if the RCC had said that the Church had generally believed from the 5th century or so that the Assumption was correct, but now upon reconsideration of the textual evidence, the Church has concluded that she was previously in error of this matter? Would this one error have brought into question everything that she had done before, or is it possible that God could have been using this error the Church to guide her into the truth? Does just one error compel us to cry “ecclesial deism” or is it possible that this one error of the Church is just a reflection of the fact that humans, even when gathered in a solemn ecumenical council, can sometimes fail to see where God is leading them?

    our definition of hell’s gates prevailing is much looser than theirs.

    Jason – I would not say “looser,” but it’s certainly fair to say that our understanding of the prevailing against the gates of hell is more focused on the end game rather than on each and every act of the Church.

    As in my response to Aaron G’s thoughts, I think we need to talk specifically about what we mean when we speak of the gospel not being preached. It’s not like we hold that nobody preached the gospel in the Medieval Church because she fell into some errors, right?

  132. Andrew, thanks for your response. You said:

    Certainly there are Evangelicals who take that position but that is certainly not the Reformed position.

    But that is the Reformed position. The Reformers could only justify their separation from the Catholic Church if they thought she had become apostate, and therefore no longer a true Church.

    You said:

    It’s not like we hold that nobody preached the gospel in the Medieval Church because she fell into some errors, right?

    Wrong, because the “errors” the Reformers felt like the Catholic Church had fallen into had to do with the very heart of the Gospel itself. For the Reformers the Gospel is justification by faith alone. So they see the Catholic Church as having officially anathematized the Gospel at the Council of Trent, although in her teaching much sooner than that. This is why they felt justified in splitting from her. And this is the position you must take to justify your continued separation from her. As Carl Trueman says, if you don’t think the difference between Rome and Geneva is a salvation issue then you should do the right thing and convert to Catholicism.

    You said:

    is it possible that God could have been using this error the Church to guide her into the truth? Does just one error compel us to cry “ecclesial deism” or is it possible that this one error of the Church is just a reflection of the fact that humans, even when gathered in a solemn ecumenical council, can sometimes fail to see where God is leading them?

    And this brings up the issue you and I have been discussing. At what point are these “errors” serious enough such that that church ceases to be a true church and what principled means can you employ to establish this? You tried to answer this question above but I replied in #123 and have as yet to hear any fellow Protestant come up with a good answer. In other words, how do you know that your church isn’t “failing to see where God is leading them?”

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  133. Andrew,

    Not to butt in, but when you say “Jason – I would not say “looser,” but it’s certainly fair to say that our understanding of the prevailing against the gates of hell is more focused on the end game rather than on each and every act of the Church,” this seems to be not altogether consonant with what (I thought) may have been the thrust of Jason’s Catholico-hypothetical question. In other words, it seemed as though he was suggesting (ex hypothesi?) that it might be cold comfort, for some, to discover that there is some end game victory for “the Church,” even though many erzatz “Christian believers” throughout Church history had never heard the true Gospel preached, and consequently never came to accept it so as to be saved. Those folks “live and die” as members of an apostate church, never having heard the Gospel. If you say that Protestants are focused on “the end game,” and so can dismiss this eventuality as theologically insignificant, that’s one thing. But if you say that these sorts of hypothesized “gaps” in redemptive history are indeed troublesome, and go on to allege that folks were saved even during those apostate-church periods (as you seem to in your response), then insisting that Protestants are focused on the “end game” rather than each and every “act” [temporal period??] of the Church [Church history??] seems simply to make your observations about the “end-game” focus of Protestantism otiose. Why bother with the “end-game” defense, if God ensured that the battle has ever continuously been won through each generational remnant, and despite the didactic and spiritual obstacles thrown up by an apostate, medieval institutional church?

    Confused about what end games have to do with anything.

    Neal

  134. But that is the Reformed position. The Reformers could only justify their separation from the Catholic Church if they thought she had become apostate, and therefore no longer a true Church.

    Aaron (re: 132),

    You are using this term “apostate” without defining it. What do you mean by “apostate?” Apart from the pejorative use of the term, within the context of the Christian Church by “apostate” we generally mean someone who has renounced their faith. Julian was aptly called an apostate. But if Julian is an apostate I’m not sure who is an apostate in the RCC at the time of the Reformation. There were some really bad folks in the RCC at the time of the Reformation. One Catholic historian calls Leo X “the worst thing that God ever inflicted on His Church.” And this is saying lots in an age of spectacularly bad popes and bishops. But not everyone was bad, there were lots of godly people in the RCC and many of these were good friends with the Protestant Reformers. Take Jean Colet. He was a godly man and anything but an apostate. So exactly which faction of the RCC do you think the Reformers considered apostate?

    The Reformers were reacting against some elements of the RCC. They took specific theological positions, many of which were still in the bounds of RCC orthodoxy before Trent. It’s hardly as if they claimed that the whole of the RCC was apostate since so many of their positions derived from the Medieval RCC. But if you are determined to use the term “apostate” then I think you need to define what exactly you mean by the term and which factions of the RCC you are speaking of (remember, this is before Trent).

    You said:

    Wrong, because the “errors” the Reformers felt like the Catholic Church had fallen into had to do with the very heart of the Gospel itself. For the Reformers the Gospel is justification by faith alone. So they see the Catholic Church as having officially anathematized the Gospel at the Council of Trent, although in her teaching much sooner than that.

    The doctrine of justification is a great example of just what I was speaking of in the paragraphs above. You talk as if there was some sort of established historical doctrine of justification that the RCC could appeal to and which the Protestants rebelled against. But between Carthage and Trent there were no dogmatic statements concerning justification (Orange was lost to the Medieval Church). At the beginning of the 15th century there was a bewildering variety of doctrines of justification in the RCC. There was nothing in the soteriological formulations of the Protestants on justification before Trent which violated any RCC dogmatic statements on justification. Trent dogmatized one position among many within the RCC world but the Reformation creeds had already been formulated and Trent was a reaction again the Protestant position rather than vice versa. So it’s not a matter of the Protestants rejecting ancient Christian doctrine as if they were taking on the Trinity. It’s the RCC which was rejecting what the Protestants had already formulated as the Protestants congregations considered what the Scriptures and tradition said on the matter during the previous 15 centuries.

    The specific discussions between the Protestants and Catholics on justification turned on the debates over exegetical considerations of certain Greek and even some Hebrews soteriological terms. This debate had only become a debate once the new linguistic standards and hermeneutical tools of the Renaissance became available shortly before the Reformers came on the historical scene. So I hope you see where I am going here – The Catholic Church had not “fallen” into anything. Before Trent the RCC had not defined anything on justification (more than what was contained in the simple pronouncements from Carthage) from which she could fall. The debate over justification was only just getting going at the Reformation and Trent was the RCC’s initial response.

    And this brings up the issue you and I have been discussing. At what point are these “errors” serious enough such that that church ceases to be a true church and what principled means can you employ to establish this?

    Your answer #123 to my #119 did not seem to be very interested in addressing the specific issues that I raised on the differing standards of Catholic vs. Protestant nor in how we interpret them. Do you think that these differing standards are of no importance? We can only answer the question you raise above when we have considered firstly what the final authority is for the Church and secondly how we interpret this standard.

    The Protestant response to your question has consistently been to compare her doctrine with that of the tradition of the Church, the Scriptures being the final bar of authority. The result has been the creeds of the Reformed churches. Do you think that these don’t provide specific enough of a secondary standard against which to determine orthodoxy? If not, then where have they gone wrong?

    Now as I see it the Catholic response to your question is to define orthodoxy in a formal sense as that which derives from what is perceived to be the succession of Peter. This is the “we have Peter as our Father” argument that I have referred to before. Thus it matters not whether the RCC in any given age does or does not have any interest in matters of Christian theology or morals. She is correct by simple virtue of her lineage, end of story. This is why Catholics today are often untroubled when they hear of the awful stories of Leo X and other such infamous Catholics. So do I paint a correct picture here or not? Do you agree that Christianity ought to be defined in such formal terms, or is there some sort of subjective evaluation which ought to be made concerning whether a given ecclesiastical body is orthodox or not? For instance, was Leo X a true Christian bishop?

  135. Not to butt in,…
    Those folks “live and die” as members of an apostate church….

    Hello Neal,

    Of course you are never butting in! Before I answer your question, given what I say to Aaron above, what exactly is this “apostate church” that I’m supposed to believe in? Why must the only alternatives be a completely faithful Medieval Church (based on her lineage) or a completely “apostate” one? Cannot I hold to a Medieval Church that sometimes got it right and sometime did not?

  136. Thanks Andrew. You sure can hold onto an institutional church that sometimes errs. What I was trying to get clear on was your comments about Protestantism’s end-game orientation, and how this relates to the question I thought Jason was putting to you.

    Neal

  137. Andrew RE#134
    Thanks for your response. A couple of things:

    1. For the sake of clarification lets drop the word ‘apostate.’ You said in #109:

    There is a point at which congregations fall so far away from the gospel that they can no longer be called Christian communions.

    Do you consider the RCC to be one of these communions? If ‘yes’ then at what point in history did this happen?

    2. I still do not feel like you have adequately answered my question in #107, I will repost it and then post your response and the issue I have with it.
    My question:

    in what principled way am I to determine whether the officers of the Lutheran or the Reformed or the Jehovah’s Witness or the Prosperity Gospel churches are exercising this gift such that one of them is the “ground and pillar of truth?”

    Your answer
    from #119

    The criteria from my standpoint is the degree to which the communions in question hold to the historic Christian faith.

    from #134

    The Protestant response to your question has consistently been to compare her doctrine with that of the tradition of the Church, the Scriptures being the final bar of authority.

    My problem with this answer is, as I said before, that it is an appeal to some kind of tradition as somehow authoritative. It seems that your position is more one of prima scriptura rather than sola scriptura. For a sola scriptura Protestant nothing the Church has done or believed in the past is in any way normative for the present. Thoughts?

    Anyone else following this discussion feel free to chime in with your thoughts, comments, concerns, etc…

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  138. St. Augustine Against the Epistle of Manichaeus 397 A.D in NPNF1,IV:130-131

    “For in the Catholic Church, not to speak of the purest wisdom, to the knowledge of which a few spiritual, men attain in this life, so as to know it, in the scantiest measure,deed, because they are but men, still without any uncertainty (since the rest of the multitude derive their entire security not from acuteness of intellect, but from simplicity of faith,)–not to speak of this wisdom, which you do not believe to be in the Catholic Church, there are many other things which most justly keep me in her bosom. The consent of peoples and nations keeps me in the Church; so does her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, established by age. The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate. And so, lastly, does the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house. Such then in number and importance are the precious ties belonging to the Christian name which keep a believer in the Catholic Church, as it is right they should, though from the slowness of our understanding, or the small attainment of our life, the truth may not yet fully disclose itself. But with you, where there is none of these things to attract or keep me, the promise of truth is the only thing that comes into play. Now if the truth is so clearly proved as to leave no possibility of doubt, it must be set before all the things that keep me in the Catholic Church; but if there is only a promise without any fulfillment, no one shall move me from the faith which binds my mind with ties so many and so strong to the Christian religion in which almost all that you believe is contained.

  139. Andrew
    I did not get to address all of the issues you brought up in #134 due to other obligations on my time, but I did address the ones I felt are the most important in my response above in #137. I look forward to hearing from you on those points.
    However, I have a little more time this morning and so would like to address some of your other points. You said:

    Now as I see it the Catholic response to your question is to define orthodoxy in a formal sense as that which derives from what is perceived to be the succession of Peter. This is the “we have Peter as our Father” argument that I have referred to before. Thus it matters not whether the RCC in any given age does or does not have any interest in matters of Christian theology or morals. She is correct by simple virtue of her lineage, end of story. This is why Catholics today are often untroubled when they hear of the awful stories of Leo X and other such infamous Catholics. So do I paint a correct picture here or not?

    Apostolic succession as means to locate the church is exactly what a Catholic would argue. And herein lies a fundamental, philosophical difference between Protestants and Catholics. When asked ‘where is the Church located?’ the Protestant paradigm is doxastic whereas the Catholic paradigm is historical. And the “we have Peter as our Father” reasoning doesn’t bother a Catholic for the following reasons:
    Matthew 10:40
    John 16:13
    Matthew 16:18-19
    Matthew 28:20
    And this is at least a principled way of determining where the valid church is that preaches the true Gospel.

    Do you agree that Christianity ought to be defined in such formal terms,

    Yes

    or is there some sort of subjective evaluation which ought to be made concerning whether a given ecclesiastical body is orthodox or not?

    “subjective evaluation” smells of “bosom burning/inward witness of the Spirit” to me and you already specifically denied this in #119.

    You said:

    For instance, was Leo X a true Christian bishop?

    The issue of Leo X is a straw man and will not be addressed by me. We have discussed that before, Protestants are by no means protected from morally awful leaders at times.

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  140. Aaron (re: 137)

    Do you consider the RCC to be one of these communions? If ‘yes’ then at what point in history did this happen?

    The RCC and the Reformed churches look mutually at each other as having fundamental flaws concerning their understanding of the gospel. This is why we are not in communion with each other. That does not mean that Catholics don’t believe it is possible for Protestants to be saved, and vice versa. Concerning when in history the RCC went wrong, I don’t think there is any clear answer here. It would be excessively difficult to pinpoint the exact point at which ANY devolving institution lost validity. And what is the significance of this question? If we could agree that the leadership of the RCC of the Renaissance/Reformation age was not valid, would it matter that we could not trace that loss of validity to one single point in time? If you think it does matter, why does it matter?

    in what principled way am I to determine whether the officers of the Lutheran or the Reformed or the Jehovah’s Witness or the Prosperity Gospel churches are exercising this gift such that one of them is the “ground and pillar of truth?”

    So firstly, why can there only be one of these bodies you mention above that is the ground and pillar or the truth? If let’s say the historic confessions of the Lutheran and Reformed bodies are not mutually exclusive, and only differ on non-essential matters, then cannot both be part of the Church that Christ founded? It seems to me that an assumption in your question is that there must be one ecclesiastical administration governing the Church if it to be the Church Christ founded? Is that right and if so, how do you know this to be true?

    I’m not sure there is too much more that I can say in regards to your question. You raise the issue of the JW’s so I’ll take them as an example. Our response to them would be to challenge them primarily from the Scriptures as to who Christ says He is, and then secondarily from the tradition of the Church. This is the way that Athanasius dealt with the JW’s (Arians) or his age. He told them that they were perverting the plain meaning of the Scripture. He did not appeal to the infallibility of the Church but pounded them over and over again with the Scriptures even though he was writing decades after there had been an unqualified conciliar statement against the Arian position. Of course the Arians disagreed with the Athanasius’ interpretation of Scripture just like the JW’s of today disagree with the Protestant interpretation of Scripture. The alternative to this approach is would have been for Athanasius to claim that the Church was infallible on such matters and the Arians were disagreeing with this tradition of the Church. In this case the Arians would have said that they disagreed with Athanasius’ interpretation of the tradition of the Church. So I don’t think the kind of “principled distinction” you speak of gets us anywhere. Today the RCC takes on the JW’s by telling them that they are running afoul of the Church which Christ founded. And the JW’s say that they disagree with the interpretation of the tradition of the RCC. So the RCC has this principled distinction but where has it gotten the RCC? You first have to agree with the RCC on 1) the appropriate final standard of authority and 2) how you interpret this standard before this principled distinction is of any use.

    I agree with you that appealing to the Magisterium of the RCC allows for a quick and easy distinction that cannot be argued with. We can appeal to the RCC for a final judgment. But the JW’s also have a way of making principled distinctions – they appeal to the Watchtower Bible and Tract society. Do you think it’s a point in the favor of the JW’s that they can make such principled distinctions? What good does making this sort of quick and dirty principled distinction do you if you have not answered the very first questions I asked you – 1) What is the final bar of authority that the Church must appeal to and 2) how do we interpret that authority.

    And as far as the arguments the Protestants make against the JW’s , do you really think that utilizing the Scriptures and the secondary traditions of the Reformed standards are insufficient to draw a distinction between what the JW’s believe and historic Christian theology? If so, how so?

    Maybe I can get to your post #139 tomorrow (and Neal’s as well).

    Cheers for now….

  141. Shoemaker has some of these homilies available on a webpage titled “Early Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition.”

    Actually taking the time to read these homilies is very insightful. They are clearly based upon apocryphal legendary accounts such that no one should take them seriously:

    1) In some of them, the apostles scattered around the world are magically transported back to Jerusalem so that they will all be there to attend to Mary in her last days. In one of them, even known dead apostles were brought back to life to attend to Mary:

    And the Holy Spirit said to the apostles: Let all of you together, having come by the clouds from the ends of the world, be assembled to holy Bethlehem by a whirlwind, on account of the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ; Peter from Rome, Paul from Tiberia, Thomas from Hither India, James from Jerusalem. Andrew, Peter’s brother, and Philip, Luke, and Simon the Cananaean, and Thaddaeus who had fallen asleep, were raised by the Holy Spirit out of their tombs; to whom the Holy Spirit said: Do not think that it is now the resurrection; but on this account you have risen out of your tombs, that you may go to give greeting to the honour and wonder-working of the mother of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, because the day of her departure is at hand, of her going up into the heavens.

    2) But in another, it’s just Peter, James and John that are there, with no miraculous taxi service involved:

    And it came to pass that for ten years after our Lord rose from the dead, according to what the Ancient History of Josephus and Irenaeus and the Hebrew authorities say, John and Mary lived in the same house in Jerusalem. And it came to pass on a certain day, for so he saith, that the holy Virgin Mary called John and said unto him, ‘Go and summon to me Peter and James, and let them come to me here in this place.’ And John went in haste and summoned them, and they came, and the three [Apostles] sat down before her. And she said unto them, ‘Hearken unto me, O ye whom God hath chosen to preach the Gospel throughout the world . . . Now therefore, be not grieved in your hearts at what I shall say unto you.

    ‘The time of my visitation hath drawn nigh, and I must lay down my body so that my soul and my spirit may depart to the Lord, in order that He may give unto me the things which He hath promised to me. For my Lord came unto me on the evening of the Sabbath (?), as I was standing in prayer, and He said unto me, “Dost thou know Me?” And I said unto Him, “Thou art my Lord and my beloved Son; [p. 645] what is it that Thou commandest me to do?” And He said unto me, “Inform Peter and John concerning these things, for it is they who shall lay their hands upon thine eyes.

    3) Another account has Jesus (and King David and thousands of angels!!!!) himself appearing to everyone, to take his mother to heaven:

    Now it came to pass at the hour of the light on the twenty-first of the month Tobi, which was the morrow, that Christ the true Word came unto us riding on a chariot of Cherubim, thousand thousands of angels following Him, the powers of light surrounding Him and singing before Him: David the holy singer riding on a chariot of light, having his spiritual harp, crying out and saying, Let us sing unto the Lord, for with glory hath He been glorified. And our Saviour stood in our midst, the doors being shut, and stretched forth His hand towards us all; the multitude of the disciples being gathered together, and said unto us, Peace be unto you all. And we all arose together, and worshipped His hands and His feet, and He blessed us with the blessing of heaven; the angels answering Him, Amen. And He turned to my father Peter, and said to him, Take care of the altar, that I may give a blessing to you; for I must needs take a great offering from your midst to-day. But we fell down at His feet and worshipped Him, and besought Him, saying, Our Lord and our God, we beseech Thee that Thou wouldest tell us this word which Thou hast spoken to us, I must needs take a great offering from your [53] midst to-day. Our Saviour answered, and said to us, O my glorious; members, whom I chose out of all the world, this is the day that the prophecy of My father David has been fulfilled, The queen stood at thy right hand in garments worked with gold, arrayed and adorned in divers manners. This is the day that I will receive My virgin mother, who has been to me a dwelling-place on the earth for nine months, and take her up with me to the heavenly places of the heavens, and give her as a gift to My good Father, even as David saith, There shall be brought in unto the king virgins behind her, there shall be brought in unto him all her neighbours also. He answered in His divine and gentle voice, and said, Arise and come unto Me, O my beloved mother, in whom My soul was pleased to be; O thou that art beautiful among the daughters of Kedar; O thou chosen nest wherein He that is the beautiful Dove dwelt; O thou chosen garden that brought forth without seed and without husbandry, bringing forth a goodly fruit; O thou golden pot, wherein the manna is hidden, even I, the true manna; O thou hidden treasure, wherein the true light is hidden, which was manifested forth and, bestowed wealth on the sons of men.

    4) In several accounts the apostles and other witnesses plead with Christ to take them first, that they could not live without the presence of Mary:

    Now when we heard these things, as our Saviour was saying them to His virgin mother, we all knew that He was wishing to take her from the body. And we all turned our face away and wept bitterly; and she also wept with us, the mother of us all, the holy Virgin Mary. Our Saviour said to us, Why weep ye? Our father Peter said to Him, My Lord and my God, we weep over the great bereavement that shall befall us At the time indeed that the lawless Jews crucified Thee, we mourned for a few days; afterwards our mourning was turned for us into joy by Thy rising from the dead: for Thou didst appear to us and didst comfort us, and didst entrust us to Thy virgin mother, even Mary the mother of us all; and we remained as though Thou wert yet in the body with us. Now therefore if Thou wilt take her from us, better is it for us that Thou shouldst take us before her than the bereavement that shall befall us.

    5) In one account the Jews oppose the funeral procession and are defeated:

    And that same hour Satan entered into them, and they began to consider what they were to do with her body. And they took up weapons, that they might burn her body and kill the apostles, because from her had gone forth the dispersions of Israel, on account of their sins and the gathering together of the Gentiles. But they were struck with blindness, striking their heads against the walls, and striking each other. Then the apostles, alarmed by so much brightness, arose, and with psalms carried the holy body down from Mount Zion to the valley of Jehoshaphat. But as they were going in the middle of the road, behold, a certain Jew, Reuben by name, wishing to throw to the ground the holy bier with the body of the blessed Mary. But his hands dried up, even to the elbow; whether he would or not, he went down even to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, weeping and lamenting because his hands were raised to the bier, and he was not able to draw back his hands to himself. And he began to ask the apostles that by their prayer he might be saved and made a Christian. Then the apostles, bending their knees, asked the Lord to let him loose. And he, being healed that same hour, giving thanks to God and kissing the feet of the queen of all the saints and apostles, was baptized in that same place, and began to preach the name of our God Jesus Christ.

    6) But in another account the apostles flee in fear, the Jews seize the bier but there’s nothing on it, the body is gone!

    And when they arrived at the Temple of the Jews all the members of the Sanhedrin were gathered together in the Temple on that day, and they heard the singing of the hymns over her holy body. And they said, ‘Who is this who hath died in the city this day?’ And [the people] said unto them, ‘It is the mother of the Nazarene, that is, Jesus, who hath died, and they are taking her out to bury her.’ And they passed a decree unanimously, saying, ‘We must not let her be buried in the city; lest mighty deeds be worked [at her tomb] similar to those which her Son performed, and lest the people believe in her, and they [p. 649] change our Law.’ And the high priests and the scribes said, let us go and burn her body with fire, so that no man will ever be able to find it.’ And the Jews lighted a fire, and they pursued [the Apostles] with the bier whereon was the body of the Virgin. And when the Apostles had arrived at the Valley of Jehosaphat they looked behind them, I and they saw the Jews pursuing them, and they dropped the bier upon the ground, for they were afraid that the godless Jews would kill them. And whilst the Jews were rushing on to overtake them the Apostles betook themselves to flight and escaped. Now the body of the holy Virgin they could not find, and all that they found was the wooden bier, and they lighted a fire and threw the bier into it. And they went into every place, saying, ‘Perhaps her body hath been carried away secretly,’ but they could not find it. And a very strong sweet smell emanated from the place whereon the body of the Virgin had been laid, and a mighty voice came from heaven, saying unto them, ‘Let no man give himself the trouble of seeking after the body of the Virgin until the great day of the appearing the Saviour.’ And the Jews fled greatly ashamed; and they came to the city and told their neighbours what had happened, and they commended them, saying, ‘Tell no man whomsoever what hath happened.

    7) Another account has the apostles witnessing the assumption into heaven accompanied by all sorts of biblical figures after putting the body in the tomb:

    And after it had been transferred, behold, we see Elisabeth the mother of St. John the Baptist, and Anna the mother of the Lady, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and David, singing the Alleluiah, and all the choirs of the saints adoring the holy relics of the mother of the Lord, and the place full of light, than which light nothing could be more brilliant, and an abundance of perfume in that place to which her precious and holy body had been transferred in paradise, and the melody of those praising Him who had been born of her-sweet melody, of which there is no satiety, such as is given to virgins, and them only, to hear. We apostles, therefore, having beheld the sudden precious translation of her holy body, glorified God, who had shown us His wonders at the departure of the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose prayers and good offices may we all be deemed worthy to receive. under her shelter, and support, and protection, both in the world that now is and in that which is to come, glorifying in every time and place her only-begotten Son, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.

    7) But another tradition has the apostles somehow making it to the tomb and laying Mary in it. Then Jesus, angels, and St. Michael appear to take her body to heaven (but only after Peter and the apostles make this recommendation to Jesus):

    And the apostles, carrying Mary, came to the place of the Valley of Jehoshaphat which the Lord had showed them; and they laid her in a new tomb, and closed the sepulchre. And they themselves sat down at the door of the tomb, as the Lord had commanded them; and, behold, suddenly the Lord Jesus Christ came with a great multitude of angels, with a halo of great brightness gleaming, and said to the apostles: Peace be with you! And they answered and said: Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, as we have hoped in Thee. Then the Saviour spoke to them, saying: Before I ascended to my Father I promised to you, saying that you who have followed me in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit upon the throne of His majesty, will sit, you also, upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Her, therefore, did I choose out of the tribes of Israel by the command of my Father, that I should dwell in her. What, therefore, do you wish that I should do to her? Then Peter and the other apostles said: Lord, Thou didst choose beforehand this Thine handmaid to become a spotless chamber for Thyself, and us Thy servants to minister unto Thee. Before the ages Thou didst foreknow all things along with the Father, with whom to Thee and the Holy Spirit there is one Godhead, equal and infinite power. If, therefore, it were possible to be done in the presence of the power of Thy grace, it had seemed to us Thy servants to be right that, just as Thou, having vanquished death, reignest in glory, so, raising up again the body of Thy mother, Thou shouldst take her with Thee in joy into heaven.

    16. Then the Saviour said: Let it be according to your opinion. And He ordered the archangel Michael to bring the soul of St. Mary. And, behold, the archangel Michael rolled back the stone from the door of the tomb; and the Lord said: Arise, my beloved and my nearest relation; thou who hast not put an corruption by intercourse with man, suffer not destruction of the body in the sepulchre. And immediately Mary rose from the tomb, and blessed the Lord, and falling forward at the feet of the Lord, adored Him, saying: I cannot render sufficient thanks to Thee, O Lord, for Thy boundless benefits which Thou hast deigned to bestow upon me Thine handmaiden. May Thy name, O Redeemer of the world, God of Israel, be blessed for ever.

    So what can we say to this?

    There’s obviously no historical value in these “traditions”. They’re obviously legendary and contradict each other even in the main details of each story. In some cases Jesus appears, in some he doesn’t. In some all the Apostles are magically transported to Jerusalem, in others they aren’t. Opposition by the Jews seems consistent but what happens on account of that opposition is all over the place. Different heavenly figures appear at the assumption. Supernatural events are all over the place in contrast to the more restrained resurrection accounts of Christ. This looks far more like the apocryphal accounts of Christ’s resurrection where we see talking crosses, etc.

    If anything, these accounts only prove the Protestant point. There’s no historical basis for belief in the assumption of Mary, and such belief is clearly based upon contradictory apocryphal legendary accounts. Historically, the it is quite clear that belief in the Assumption did arise in the church but it is also clear that there is there’s no historical evidence for the event, no evidence it was taught by the apostles (despite them having supposedly witnessed it!), and belief in it arose only over time as the first mention we have seems to be the late 3rd, early 4th centuries.

    Catholics will believe in the Assumption because they have to, but Protestants will continue to look at the evidence or lack thereof with a skeptical eye.

  142. Aaron,

    And herein lies a fundamental, philosophical difference between Protestants and Catholics. When asked ‘where is the Church located?’ the Protestant paradigm is doxastic whereas the Catholic paradigm is historical.

    Aaron,

    Much of my replies to you has been to take you back to the history of the Church. You are contrasting the Reformed approach to the “historical” Catholic one, but I think it’s not fair to say that the Reformed approach is anti-historical or a-historical. We are no less historical in our attempt to comprehend the doctrines under consideration, we just have a different interpretation of the tradition of the Church and a different understanding of the role that the tradition of the Church ought to play in determining dogma.

    It often seems as though the Catholic is saying that their interpretation is obvious and perspicuous. Do you think this is true – is the philosophical approach that you speak of perspicuous? If it is then why is it that reasonable Christians from other traditions can look at the same historical data and come to different conclusions than the Catholics?

    “subjective evaluation” smells of “bosom burning/inward witness of the Spirit” to me….

    I don’t know why it would “smell” this way to you. I’m asking you about the historic Christian criteria for determining the characteristics of ecclesiastical officers. You can find these in places like I Timothy 3 as well as the discussion of such passages in the ECF’s.

    And why is bringing up Leo X a red herring? I’m not asking about Leo’s morals or lack thereof, but rather about the ecclesiastical body that affirmed his gifts. Did they get it right or not? What I’m trying to point out is that if the question of the validity of Christian officers is reduced to a formality then there is no necessary connection between the system of succession and the historic Christian faith. To me Leo is just a good example of the outworking of such a system.

  143. Steve, (re: #141)

    You claim that the earliest accounts of the Assumption are “clearly based upon apocryphal legendary accounts such that no one should take them seriously.” And by ‘apocryphal’ you mean at least false. The only evidence you provide that they are false is that (1) they involve miracles, and (2) the accounts differ from each other.

    Given those two criteria, the Gospels too would count as “apocryphal legendary accounts.” In this way, your inconsistency is showing, as when you grant that Philip’s being caught away by the Spirit (Acts 8:39-40) is a miracle, but presume that any such miraculous transport of the Apostles to the bedside of Mary must be “magical,” and you mock it as a “magical taxi service.” Similarly, you grant that the bodies of many of the saints were raised from the dead, and went into Jerusalem (Mt. 27:52-53), but you presume that any similar such claim in the early Christian literature must be false and made up. And you conclude from the differences in the various accounts that the accounts must all be false, rather than recognize the positive evidential implications of the general narrative they share in common.

    That skeptical stance is very similar to the kind of approach Bart Ehrman and other biblical critics use to draw very much the same conclusion regarding the Gospels, namely, that they were forged. So, when from these two criteria you conclude, “There’s obviously no historical value in these “traditions,” … If anything, these accounts only prove the Protestant point. There’s no historical basis for belief in the assumption of Mary,” you are being inconsistent, taking a stance of open, humble receptivity toward the Gospels (even when they include accounts of miracles, and the accounts differ from each other), while taking a hostile, critical, skeptical approach to the accounts of the Assumption (on the ground of their containing purported miracles and that the accounts differ from each other). That inconsistency on your part is a [relatively] good thing, because otherwise you would quite possibly be in exactly Ehrman’s position. I say “relatively” good thing because in your inconsistency, there remains some potential for rooting out the inconsistency in the opposite direction, i.e. by letting your faith grow and push out ecclesial deism and rationalism such that you no longer “continue to look at the evidence or lack thereof with a skeptical eye,” as you put it. Ehrman could have said the same thing about himself, namely, that he continues to “look at the evidence or lack thereof with a skeptical eye.” But the resolution of this inconsistency can go only one way or the other; people cannot ultimately hold on to an inconsistency. This is why liberalism arose in and has mostly devastated Protestantism. And likewise you too cannot remain long in this inconsistency. You will eventually go one way or the other, and if you have children, they will most likely follow you, one way or the other.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  144. Andrew, RE #140 & #142
    Thanks for your response. Just a few things:
    You said:

    It often seems as though the Catholic is saying that their interpretation is obvious and perspicuous. Do you think this is true – is the philosophical approach that you speak of perspicuous?

    I want to be careful here; what I am not saying is that the Catholic interpretation of some biblical passages is perspicuous. What I am saying is that the location of the body that is authorized to truthfully make sense of those passages is perspicuous. So in this sense the historical, philosophical approach I am speaking of is perspicuous precisely because there is only one Church that traces it origins directly back to Christ and His Apostles. This is not a matter of opinion but a matter of historical fact.

    You said:

    If it is then why is it that reasonable Christians from other traditions can look at the same historical data and come to different conclusions than the Catholics?

    Because these spiritual truths are spiritually discerned as Paul says in I Corinthians 2.

    All this does is bring us around to our original point. The leaders of the Church are given spiritual gifts to guide the church into the truth. My question to you all along is for you (or anyone) to give me a principled way in which to locate that group of leaders who are currently exercising said gifts today. You have regularly appealed to “historical christianity” but again have failed to give me a reason why this includes, for example, the Nicene Creed (which I assume you hold to) but not the decrees of the Council of Trent.

    You said:

    If let’s say the historic confessions of the Lutheran and Reformed bodies are not mutually exclusive, and only differ on non-essential matters, then cannot both be part of the Church that Christ founded?

    And this brings up a good point because the Lutherans and Reformed cannot even agree on what actually happens at Baptism (regeneration or not?). That seems pretty basic and essential so it just proves my point.

    Gotta run for now, thanks for the continued discussion.

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  145. What I am saying is that the location of the body that is authorized to truthfully make sense of those passages is perspicuous. So in this sense the historical, philosophical approach I am speaking of is perspicuous precisely because there is only one Church that traces it origins directly back to Christ and His Apostles. This is not a matter of opinion but a matter of historical fact.

    Aaron – What we know historically is that we can trace the Bishop of Rome’s lineage back to Clement for certain. Before this point in time, what the leaders of the Church of Rome thought or believed is entirely uncertain. And what Clement believed concerning the office of bishop seems to be considerably different than what Bishops of Rome believed once the concept of the Petrine office becomes fully developed in the High Middle Ages. Clement did not even distinguish between a bishop and an elder.

    But let’s just ignore all of that and for the moment assume that we can establish the relevant facts of history without contention. What I’m asking you about is not the historical facts, but rather about the interpretation of these facts. One of the the Catholic interpretations of these facts is that Bishop of Rome is the head of the other bishops and, in his own office, and along with these other bishops, is authorized to rule infallibly on matters central to the Christian faith. So my question was whether you think that interpretation is clear and obvious. If this interpretation is not obvious given the facts of history you cite, then I wanted to suggest that the Catholic will get the same basic critique of his interpretation of tradition as the Protestant does of his interpretation of Scripture.

  146. Andrew RE#145
    Thanks for your response. It seems that you are attempting the “Tu Quoque” argument and Bryan Cross has done a much more thorough response to it than I ever could; you can find it here.

    I don’t want to beat a dead horse so I’ll leave it up to the readers here to judge whether you have adequately answered my question. I have enjoyed our discussion; it has greatly helped me mentally organize some thoughts I have had lately.

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  147. Andrew # 145

    You wrote:

    What we know historically is that we can trace the Bishop of Rome’s lineage back to Clement for certain. Before this point in time, what the leaders of the Church of Rome thought or believed is entirely uncertain.

    Here is a list of popes from Benedict 16th all the way back to Peter. You have granted that the papacy extends all the way back to Clement (AD 88 – 97) is established from history but no farther. Might it be said that you doubt that Linus succeeded Peter and that Cletus succeeded Linus? Why? Because of lack of extant evidence during those years? Or is it because of historical evidence that points to a different reality? Maybe there exists historical evidence that says that starting with Clement the popes just kind of made up apostolic succession out of thin air and everybody just went along with it?

    The fact is that very little extant historical records from the church survived from that era about virtually anything. One could argue that the early church during that era did not believe in the Trinity or the incarnation because no extant record from that era affirming those doctrines survived to modern times.

    Either the church, from very early, decided to engage in this vast deception and no father ever noticed it or cared enough to say, “Hey, wait a minute. This whole apostolic succession thing is a big lie.” Or, Linus succeeded Peter and Cletus succeeded Linus etc.

    We have discussed this era of history before.

  148. You claim that the earliest accounts of the Assumption are “clearly based upon apocryphal legendary accounts such that no one should take them seriously.” And by ‘apocryphal’ you mean at least false. The only evidence you provide that they are false is that (1) they involve miracles, and (2) the accounts differ from each other.

    I wasn’t trying to be exhaustive, I was just working from the accounts themselves. And in truth, the legendary and contradictory accounts are mere symptoms of the real problems. But let’s go further in assessing their historical reliability since you want to.

    Given those two criteria, the Gospels too would count as “apocryphal legendary accounts.” In this way, your inconsistency is showing, as when you grant that Philip’s being caught away by the Spirit (Acts 8:39-40) is a miracle, but presume that any such miraculous transport of the Apostles to the bedside of Mary must be “magical,” and you mock it as a “magical taxi service.” Similarly, you grant that the bodies of many of the saints were raised from the dead, and went into Jerusalem (Mt. 27:52-53), but you presume that any similar such claim in the early Christian literature must be false and made up. And you conclude from the differences in the various accounts that the accounts must all be false, rather than recognize the positive evidential implications of the general narrative they share in common.

    But those aren’t the only two criteria, just the ones I noted from the accounts themselves. Let’s add a few more. Number one, let’s look at the source of these accounts. So you tell me, who/what is the source(s) of these varied accounts? Which apostles or their associates can these accounts be traced to? Which apostles taught the doctrine of the Assumption? You see, in comparison to the gospels, which we can trace the either to the apostles or their associates, I don’t think you can do the same for these accounts. I don’t believe you can even tell me who the sources of these accounts are beyond the authors of these homilies. And since they obviously didn’t attend the Assumption, then where did they get their information from? Can you tell me what their sources were?

    Second, what is the date of these accounts? Again, comparing with the gospels, the gospels were all written before the end of the 1st century, all within 30 – 60 years from the death of Jesus, well within the living memory of the people involved. A quick search reveals that most of these accounts can not be dated before the 5th or 6th century, well after the death of Mary. By any reasonable standard that greatly reduces the historical value of these accounts, if there even is any. Where’s the check on the truthfulness of these accounts since nobody who was alive during the event and saw it was even around during the time we first have evidence of these accounts?

    Thirdly, it is interesting that we have no accounts from the Apostle themselves (that I can tell) or their associates of these miraculous occurrences. Surely if they were translated from around the world to the deathbed of Mary, and Jesus appeared along with many OT saints even deceased fellow NT apostles, you’d think somewhere along the way, we’d have such an account, especially since this is something that the Church says you MUST believe as dogma. I mean this is a dogma, a doctrine that must be believed by all Catholics. Yet the apostles were witnesses to this magnificent event, yet their is no evidence that they taught it or wrote about it? How could that be?

    As for the inconsistencies (and me being inconsistent in accepting inconsistencies in the gospel accounts but not in the various versions of the assumption), I judge them to be too extensive and irreconcilable. About the only consistency is that Mary was assumed. The Jews opposed the burial of Mary and were defeated – no the apostle ran in fear and left the bier to the Jews; the apostles were translated from around the world – no, Peter, James and John were already in Jerusalem, Christ appeared and spoke the apostles, then took Mary to heaven – no Christ didn’t appear, didn’t speak to anyone, etc.

    Lastly, if you think these have historical value, please do argue for that. So far I’ve not seen you present any evidence for their historicity. I’d like to see such an argument, especially answering the questions of sources, dating, etc. in comparison with the gospel accounts.

    That skeptical stance is very similar to the kind of approach Bart Ehrman and other biblical critics use to draw very much the same conclusion regarding the Gospels, namely, that they were forged. So, when from these two criteria you conclude, “There’s obviously no historical value in these “traditions,” … If anything, these accounts only prove the Protestant point. There’s no historical basis for belief in the assumption of Mary,” you are being inconsistent, taking a stance of open, humble receptivity toward the Gospels (even when they include accounts of miracles, and the accounts differ from each other), while taking a hostile, critical, skeptical approach to the accounts of the Assumption (on the ground of their containing purported miracles and that the accounts differ from each other).

    As I noted above, I was trying to be comprehensive in my objections but was working from the accounts themselves. I’ve noted above further objections to their historicity. I think the contradictions and legendary aspects are due to the facts that there are no reliable sources and no timely record of these purported events. These are just pious fictions as to what the authors believed happened or should have happened.

    That inconsistency on your part is a [relatively] good thing, because otherwise you would quite possibly be in exactly Ehrman’s position. I say “relatively” good thing because in your inconsistency, there remains some potential for rooting out the inconsistency in the opposite direction, i.e. by letting your faith grow and push out ecclesial deism and rationalism such that you no longer “continue to look at the evidence or lack thereof with a skeptical eye,” as you put it

    In discussions like this I’m always reminded of the sign I saw outside a church near the university I attended, which I thought was very apt given the intellectual environment. They had a picture of Christ and under it, the sign said:

    “He came to take away your sins, not your mind”.

    Again, if you think these accounts are historical, then let’s hear your arguments as you have heard mine that they aren’t. Then we can let everyone judge whether it is my “rationalism” and “ecclesial deism” that is the problem, or if the problem resides somewhere else.

    Lastly, another question I would ask you is on what basis would you reject the apocryphal gospels, gospels such as the Gospel of Peter, Acts of Pilate, the protoevangelium of James, etc.? Why don’t you look at these with the same faith as you say I should look at the accounts of the Assumption. And if you reject these on the basis of the lack of evidence for their historicity, then why not the Assumption too? What’s the difference except that one contains official Catholic dogma and the others don’t?

  149. Aaron G said:

    What I am saying is that the location of the body that is authorized to truthfully make sense of those passages is perspicuous

    That does not mean we need to prove everything the Catholic church claims about history is true. Just that if God gave us a body with the authority to clarify His word then that body is the Catholic church. That is a much lesser claim. In one you are presupposing there is such a body and only needing to show the Catholic church is the only reasonable candidate. In the other you are requiring proof that the body exists at all.

    If you become convinced that God gave us more than Sola Scriptura as a foundation for Christianity then what are the other options? There are very few. If there is a visible church that is one, holy, catholic and apostolic then where is it? Most people figure it out pretty quick. They don’t need absolute proof of all the details.

    If that is all Aaron is saying then I think it is pretty accurate. Certainly the Eastern Orthodox, the Mormons, and maybe a few others will argue the point but as a protestant I saw the Catholic church as the only one that could not be quickly ruled out.

  150. Let me also point you to this Catholic apologist site which summarizes very nicely the history of Catholic thought about the assumption:

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

    His information is from Juniper Carol’s Mariology.

    In speaking of early Western Patristic thought (or lack thereof) on the Assumption:

    the fact remains that Jerome, who knew the local traditions of the Holy Land as well as Epiphanius, gives no indication that he is aware of any historical tradition with reference to the death of Our Lady, her grave, or an assumption. [40] Briefly, between Nicaea (325 AD) and Ephesus (431 AD) the allusions to Mary’s destiny are rare and insignificant.

    The results of a study of early Eastern Patristic thought are similar:

    Before Ephesus the scant evidence suggests strongly (a) that a widespread ignorance prevailed relative to Our Lady’s destiny, and (b) that, save for isolated instances, Eastern Christianity had not yet confronted the problem.

    The above statements are interesting because it was Ephesus that proclaimed Mary “Theotokos”. From that point it appears that this was when all sorts of stories about the Assumption started to come into being. The timing seems to be more than coincidental to this observer.

    Regarding the inconsistencies in the various Assumption account, the author seems to agree with me that the accounts so differ from each other that they cannot be reconciled:

    What do the Transitus Mariae stories say? In point of fact, the divergences are so pronounced that the accounts cannot be reduced to a genuine unity.

    Regarding the historical value of the accounts of the Assumption:

    Burghardt: The account of Pseudo-Melito, like the rest of the Transitus literature, is admittedly valueless as history, as an historical report of Mary’s death and corporeal assumption; under that aspect the historian is justified in dismissing it with a critical distaste. But the account is priceless nonetheless — historically and theologically. Historically, because it witnesses indisputably to the feeling of the faithful for Mary, a growing awareness of her dignity, even though we are unable to specify the full range of this awareness geographically or even to indicate its dawning. Theologically, because it postulates the Assumption on grounds that are valid not simply for piety but for scientific theology as well.”

    Burghardt: “What is the value of these witnesses? As historical accounts of an actual event — Mary’s death, her translation, her Assumption — by individuals who were personally present, or else were in contact with the events through unimpeachable sources, the Transitus literature is valueless. But theologically the tales are priceless. They reveal the reaction of early Christian piety when confronted with the apparent fact of Our Lady’s death; they evidence the first unequivocal solutions to the problem of Mary’s destiny.

    Lastly, a Catholic scholar says that the “historical uselessness” of the accounts is irrelevant:

    As Fr. Mateo notes, the supposed “historical uselessness” of the apocrypha or Transitus literature is irrelevant since Pius XII made no mention of this material in his definition. He writes in Refuting the Attack on Mary: “The Assumption is a theological datum and must be proved or disproved on theological, not historical grounds…” And those are the grounds that the early Fathers used for their belief in the Assumption: “…Modestus, Germanus, Andrew, and Damascene…primary reasons for asserting an Assumption of Mary are not pseudo-historical but theological…” (Carol Mariology, volume 2, page 152, note 310).

    So basically, the only value of these accounts is that they indicate that there was a belief in the Assumption of Mary arose sometime after Ephesus during that latter half of the 4th century at the earliest. All these accounts do is show what people believed, not what happened. I hardly need to add that belief in something is not evidence that that something happened. In the end, even Catholic scholars seems to agree that the argument for the Assumption has to be made on theological grounds, not historical grounds.

    There in lies the problem. The argument for the Assumption has to be made on the basis of theological speculation. For the Protestant, this seems like so many angels dancing on the head of a pin, as do so many of the arguments for the various aspects of Mariology. But that’s what you’re left with when there’s no historical evidence for an event.

  151. Andrew McCallum:

    Mateo/Donald,

    I wish I had more time to respond to more of the specifics you raise, but I wanted to comment on something common to both of your posts (and Bryan’s previously) which is your position that in order for Christ’s Church not to fail she can never make any errors. Now I think that you would immediately want to qualify this by saying that she can never make any errors on substantive issues of the faith (things pronounced with a de fide or equivalent level of certainty). Am I correct here?

    Sort of. Christ’s Church is the Body of Christ – the Christians dwelling on earth are the feet and the hands, the eyes and ears, of the Body of Christ on earth. Christ is the head of the Body of Christ. Can the hands and the feet do things on this earth that are in error? Sure they can, that is called committing sin. Popes and bishops can commit sin, which is why popes and bishops go to confession. So I wouldn’t agree with you if you are asserting that Catholics believe that the members of the living magisterium cannot commit sin. The point that I want to make is that a church that is without Christ as her head cannot be Christ’s Church, since the scriptures explicitly teach that Christ is the head of his church (Col 1:18; Eph. 5:3). The real question you should ask is this: Can the head of Christ’s church make errors? The answer is no, since Christ is the head of his church, and Christ is without defect. Which is why Christ’s Church must have the quality of indefectibility.

    INDEFECTIBILITY. Imperishable duration of the Church and her immutability until the end of time. The First Vatican Council declared that the Church possesses “an unconquered stability” and that, “built on a rock, she will continue to stand until the end of time” (Denzinger 3013, 3056). The Church’s indefectibility, therefore, means that she now is and will always remain the institution of salvation, founded by Christ. This affirms that the Church is essentially unchangeable in her teaching, her constitution, and her liturgy. It does not exclude modifications that do not affect her substance, nor does it exclude the decay of individual local churches or even whole dioceses.

    Ref. Modern Catholic Dictionary
    http://www.therealpresence.org/cgi-bin/getdefinition.pl

    I will indeed make the claim that Christ’s Church cannot teach heresy as de fide definita doctrine, since that would mean that the institution of salvation founded by Christ could become an institution that teaches Satanic doctrine. It is not possible for an institution that teaches Satanic doctrine to be simultaneously the the institution of salvation that Christ established on earth.

    Andrew McCallum: It would also seem that you have no problems saying that the officers that God ordained in the OT could err even on substantive issues. God had promised to lead His people and their descendants, but despite this leading God’s people often did not follow faithfully. And in the end we see God’s providential working through the failures of the leaders of His people. Again, am I correct here?

    When have I ever said that the OT teachers that were sent by God could promulgate as articles of the Jewish faith doctrines that were, in reality, heresy? If that was possible, what reason would you have to believe that the OT that is found within your Protestant Bible is without error?

    I will note that it is important to understand there is a difference between doctrine and discipline. The doctrines of faith and morals taught in the OT are without error. The religious discipline practiced by the Jews is reformable, as is the religious discipline practiced by Christians. The Jewish kosher dietary restrictions can be dropped altogether, but the Ten Commandments are immutable. Christ’s Church can make an arbitrary decision that date that Easter will be celebrated by the whole church is to determined in part by the Jewish lunar calendar that calculates the night that the Passover meal is to be eaten, and partly by the the solar calendar that keeps track of the days of the week. In the Catholic Church, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the Paschal moon, which is why Easter is a movable feast that is always celebrated on a Sunday, unlike Christmas, that is arbitrarily celebrated on Dec. 25th. Christ’s church can make those arbitrary (though reasonable) decisions because these are matters of church discipline, not church doctrine. Christ’s Church cannot declare that it is questionable doctrine that Christ suffered, died, and rose from the dead on third day after the “Day of Preparation”, since that is a matter of doctrine, not discipline.

    As an aside, I will note that the Day of Preparation that is mentioned in all four Gospels as the day that Jesus was crucified (which Catholics celebrate as Good Friday) is the fourteenth of Nisan. (Matt 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19: 14, 31 & 42). The Day of Preparation can fall on any day of the week, not just on a Friday, since the fourteenth of Nisan is determined by a lunar calendar (Lev 23:5). It is an almost forgotten fact of history that the sect of the Sadducees that determined the date of the 14th of Nisan for the Temple in Jerusalem did not follow the lunar calendar, but instead, they always fudged their calculations so that the that Pasch would always be celebrated on a ordinary Sabbath as determined by the solar calendar. Some Protestants make much ado about nothing by pointing out that the scriptural way for determining the Day of Preparation means that this day could land on any day of the week. That is true, but it is also true that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem during the corrupt reign of the sect of the Sadducees who controlled the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The arguments that some Protestants give for calculating the day of the week that Christ was crucified fall apart when it is recognized that the Sadducees made sure that in Jerusalem the Day of Preparation always fell on the day of the week before an ordinary (Saturday) Sabbath. The reason that I bring up this aside is to show that using the scriptures alone as your only source of truth can lead you into error. The arguments given by some Protestants for calculating the day Jesus was crucified are not unreasonable based on evidence found in the scriptures alone. Their arguments are only unreasonable if we ignore facts of history that are not mentioned in the scriptures. (See for example, the arguments given in the article Good Friday is a Myth, Jesus died on a Wednesday
    http://ad2004.com/prophecytruths/Articles/Prophecy/3days3nights.html). The Reformed sects of Protestantism fall into the same kinds of errors when they ignore facts of history that are not found in the scriptures to maintain their peculiar traditions, traditions such as congregationalism.

    Andrew McCallum: For us Protestants it is certainly true that we believe that the Church can lose a battle, so as to speak, and yet win the war.

    You write about “us Protestants” and what they believe as if that is a meaningful statement. Protestantism, as it exists today, is thousands upon thousands of divided communities that cannot all agree on a single point of doctrine. Even the “Reformed” Protestant sects are doctrinally divided communities spread across the world in over seven hundred different sects. How can Protestants ever win a war, when they cannot even end the battles that they fight amongst themselves? The Protestant experiment has been going on for five-hundred years, and what started out as a few sects that could not agree about what constitutes orthodox Christian doctrine, has devolved into tens of thousands of sects that cannot agree about what constitutes orthodox Christian doctrine. Why would I think that fifty, a hundred, or even five-hundred more years of the Protestant experiment will produce a result that is any different than the doctrinal anarchy and chaos that it has already produced? I believe that five-hundred more years of the Protestant experiment would result in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of divided sects that cannot agree on what constitutes orthodox doctrines of Christianity. To speak about what Protestants believe in today’s world is nearly meaningless, since within Protestantism, anything and everything is believed.

    Andrew McCallum: There seems to us to be no issue from the standpoint of Scriptures or the tradition of the Church immediately following the Apostolic age to suggest that the Church could not fall into errors just as she had in the OT age.

    Of course you, as a Protestant, believe that peculiar idea about the Church that Christ founded – that partcular belief is what puts the “protest” into Protestantism. All Protestants protest against the idea that the Church that Christ founded cannot ever teach error in her official doctrine. (And so do Muslims and Hindus). Sola Scriptura is a doctrine that is not fundamentally about the inerrancy of scriptures; it is, instead, fundamentally a doctrine protesting against the teaching authority vested by Christ in the Church that he founded. At the root of the disagreement between Protestants and Catholics is a disagreement over primacy. And that is a question about the teaching authority of living men. Where is primacy found? In myself? With some other living man or group of men? How do I know who has primacy when formally defining the doctrines of Christianity? These are all questions about primacy.

    If I am a sola scriptura confessing Protestant, then my personal interpretations of the scriptures are the primary authority upon which I will build my faith. If a Protestant church does not agree with what I think the scriptures say, then I am free to go church shopping until I find a church that agrees with me. If I am inclined to listen to Calvin, I can church shop among hundreds of “Reformed” sects until I find a “church” founded by some man that agrees with me. If I am not inclined to listen to Calvin, then I can church shop among thousands upon thousands of other Protestant sects that teach doctrines that contradict John Calvin’s novelties. And if I can’t find any Protestant sect that agrees with me, I can do as Calvin, Luther, Mary Baker Eddy, and Charles Taze Russell did – found my own personal church that teaches as doctrine my personal interpretations of the scriptures!

    To join the Catholic Church, I must let go of the idea of the primacy of conscience – the idea that I am the supreme temporal authority that determines what doctrines constitutes Christian orthodoxy. The Catholic Church makes the claim that she is the church founded by Christ, and she insists that anyone that believes that NT is without error is obligated to do as Christ commands – to listen to Christ’s Church or be excommunicated. Christ’s Church does not conform her doctrines to what I think they should be, I conform my thinking to what Christ’s Church teaches as her official doctrine. And that is really what makes Catholics distinct from Protestants. Catholics at least think that they are being obedient to Christ and the scriptures by listening to the Church that Christ founded. Protestants with any sense of history know that they are listening to men and women who founded their own personal “churches”.

    Andrew McCallum: The victory God promised to the NT Church in the end did not preclude her failing from time to time.

    This is an assertion that the Church that Christ founded can become a tool of Satan “from time to time”. How would you know with certainty that the Church that Christ founded was not acting as a tool of Satan when she declared books like the Gospel of Thomas to be spurious? Maybe the Jesus Seminar types are right, the Gospel of Thomas does belong in your Protestant bible. How could you possibly know with certainty that the academics of the Jesus Seminar are not right? You can’t appeal to your Protestant bible as your sole authority to decide this question. If you did that, all you would be doing is arguing in a circle – I say the Gospel of Thomas doesn’t “fit in” with the other NT scriptures found in my Protestant bible because it is “different”. But that wouldn’t prove that the Church that Christ founded wasn’t acting as a tool of Satan when it suppressed the real truth, the truth of the Gospel of Thomas. Maybe Dan Brown is right, maybe the Catholic Church suppressed the truth, and the scriptures that are in your Protestant bible are merely there because deranged papists wanted to grab political power to oppress the true Christians – the Christians that believed in the Gospel of Thomas, the Christians that believed that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had children together. Once you claim that Christ’s Church can teach error as her official doctrine, then everything is up for grabs. There can be no stability in Christ’s Church since she would be an institution that is blown about on a sea of chaos by the winds of doctrines.

    Andrew McCallum: And just as in the OT, it seems to us that God used the Church’s failing providentially to teach the Church something.

    Please give me an example of where a man under the anointing of the Holy Spirit taught heresy in the OT.

    Andrew McCallum: So in fact the Church’s failing in the NT age and beyond can be seen as a testimony to God’s providence.

    Please give me an example of Christ’s Church teaching heresy as her official doctrine that is a testimony to God’s providence! The Mormon’s I know don’t evade answering this question. They tell me that Peter was anointed by God as a Prophet, but that church that Christ founded began teaching heresy when Linus became pope. That is why they want me to listen to the Prophet of Salt Lake City, because he is the man that now has the anointing. According the Mormons, Apostolic succession is bunk, the Church that Christ founded fell immediately into heresy after the last Apostle died, and heresy is defined as anything that disagrees with what Joseph Smith taught as doctrine.

    Andrew McCallum: There is thus no reason that “ecclesial deism” should be necessarily associated with the position that God allows His people to fail from time to time.

    I will concede that point. Perhaps we need to define a new term, limited eccelsial deism. In this analogy, God is still the Great Clockmaker, the clock that God builds is still his church, and the time told by the clock is orthodox doctrine with the following caveat. The time told by God’s clock is only right when the clock is running right. The doctrine of limited ecclesial deism asserts that God’s clock is seriously flawed, because it can only keep the correct time for limited amount to time. After a while, God’s clock breaks down, and even though it is still running, it is giving the the incorrect time (that is, Christ’s Church begins to teach false doctrine). In the doctrine of limited eccesial deism, God is not totally indifferent to our need for the correct time, because God occasionally sens a sends a repairman to fix his clock so that it gives the right time once again … at least for a while.

    The Mormon’s version of limited eccelsial deism is found in their belief that Christ founded a Church and gave Peter the anointing of the Holy Spirit to teach the truth. The Mormons believe that the clock created by God is such a piece of junk that it started giving the wrong time as soon as Linus succeeded Peter. The clock never again gave the correct time until Joseph Smith was given special instructions by God to fix things. The way to know the correct time (that is, to know what is constitutes orthodox doctrine) is to use the Joseph Smith test – if a doctrine disagrees with what Joseph Smith taught, then it is not orthodox doctrine. Using the Joseph Smith test, one can discard most of what the Catholic Church teaches.

    On the specific point that that Church that Christ founded can fall into teaching heresy, how is what the Mormons are teaching on this point really any different than what the Calvinists are teaching? The Mormons and the Calvinists only disagree about the details of when the God’s clock failed to keep the correct time, and they only disagree with the details about who is the real clock repairman sent by the God to fix the problem.

    The Calvinists, like the Mormons, also believe that God’s clock failed to keep the correct time after it was started, but are vague in comparison to the Mormons about when that failure occurred . Calvinists believe that is not until John Calvin repaired the clock that the followers of Christ could know, once again, the correct time. The way to discern what constitutes orthodox doctrine is to use the John Calvin test – if a doctrine disagrees with what John Calvin taught, it is not orthodox doctrine. Using the John Calvin test, one can discard some of what the Catholic Church teaches, but not as much as what can be discarded by using the Joseph Smith test. So how am I supposed to know what constitutes orthodoxy? Should I use the John Calvin test, or the Joseph Smith test? Or should I use the Martin Luther test, or the Jakob Ammann test, or the Ellen Gould White test, or the Charles Taze Russell test, or the mateo test, or the McCallum test, or the ….?

    If a man showed up at my house to repair my kitchen appliances, I would ask him for identification to show he is authorized to touch my appliances. But men claim that they are authorized to repair what is infinitely more valuable than my kitchen appliances, they are claiming that the came to fix the Church that Christ founded. But what ID can they show me that proves that they are authorized by God for this task? Nothing more than than the Protestant bible they clutch in their hands and their own peculiar notions about what constitutes the doctrines of Christianity. Listening to unauthorized repairmen that would fix Christ’s Church makes no more sense than letting an unauthorized repairman do brain surgery on me.

  152. Steve G #150:

    You said there is no historical evidence for the Assumption of the BVM. What historical weight, if any, are you willing to grant for the fact that we have no body or relics of Mary? If, as you suggest, the ‘legend’ doesn’t come until after Ephesus and if Mary died between 60 to 70 AD, that would amount to 350 years of cover-up for a novel belief in the 4th century. In other words, if the Assumption isn’t what the Church always believed, and Mary died 350 years or so before we really ‘hear about’ the Assumption, then it would seem to follow that upon her death we should have evidence of her death.

    How would you explain the fact that we have no evidence for something other than the Assumption in the first 4 centuries of the Church? The only ‘proof’ one might have is the belief that everyone dies and goes to the grave. Yet in her case, we have no embodied tomb nor relics of her precious body. Yet, in the most early traditions of the Christian Church–Coptic for example–there is evidence for special reverence given to Mary that would seem to exclude the possibility of either: (a) her body being lost or (b) no relics being procured upon her death. I know I wouldn’t lose my mother’s body…

    A discussion about various accounts of the Assumption in the 4th century and onward, misses the mark. Debating them can quickly make our debate dissolve into something more approximating Hume’s Of Miracles. The diversity of stories can also just as easily point to the fact that something actually did happen, and that local manifestations, though differing in details, still were effective in preserving the core tradition of the Assumption of the BVM.

    Either way, we have no body. Either (a) the body was lost or (b) she was Assumed into heaven. From Tradition, Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church we hold (b). What ground, other than reason wielded upon conflicting tradition so as to produce doubt or skepticism, do you reject (b) in favor of (a)?

    Through the Immaculate Conception,

    Brent

  153. Steve / Brent,

    I think the argument from silence at least cancels out. On the one hand, its not unreasonable to think/expect that some mention of a known miraculous assumption of Jesus’ mother into heaven might have found its way into some writing prior to the 5th/6th century (although the veneration of Mary in the worship of the Church surely predates these centuries, though we cannot say by how much, other than to point out that the celebration of a feast both East and West does not develop overnight; especially given the limits of communication and transportation of those times).

    On the other hand, given the evidence for the veneration and trackng of relics of prominent Christian personages (apostles, martyrs, saints) in centuries prior to the 5th and 6th, it seems at least equally reasonable to expect some written mention of the veneration or whereabouts of Mary’s relics prior to the 5th and 6th century. Why neither of these expectations obtain, is a fact about which one can only speculate. And, of course, just how reasonable both of those expectation are, will come down to a subjective judgement. Nevertheless, I think it would be difficult to make a an argued case that the former expectation is more reasonable / likely than the later (or the later than the former) which did not come off as something like table-pounding.

    If I am right about that, then the relative persuasive power of 4 centuries of written silence (remember the liturgical silence is not so extensive, given the fact of existing Marian feasts both East and West) does little to advance the overall argument one way or another with regards to the historical fact (or not) of Mary’s assumption into heaven. But this is exactly why I agree with Brent (and I came to this conclusion prior to becoming a Catholic), that since the very first liturgical / written indications we DO have, affirm that Mary was assumed into heaven, and given the indecisive nature of the silence prior to these historical indications; the likelihood that the event actually occured is greater than the likilhood that it did not (despite inconsistencies in the various accounts- which despite their diversity of detail, DO all support the one central claim that Mary was assumed).

    Of course, an argument that the probablilities are higher for the historicity of the assumption than not, is not the same as arguing for the assumption as an article of faith de fide. But that argument is made on other grounds, wherein the argument from historical probability serves only to establish the reasonableness of the dogma; but it is argument (on other grounds) for the authority of the Magisterium as Christ’s teaching authority on earth which oblige one to give assent of mind and will to the “Assumption” as an article of faith per se. Remembering that Christian faith is the mean between rationalism on the one hand, and fideism on the other. Any article of Christian faith has a basis in reason (like the probability of the Assumption discussed above), so it is not fideism. But reasonableness, or reasonable probability falls short of demonstrative proof, so it is not rationalism.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  154. Re: Questions about the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
    Coming from a evangelical background, I don’t mind using other arguments, but do find that scripture is compelling. Based on scripture, I believe that the Church has a brilliant argument (apologetic) for the decision to recognize Mary’s proximity to her Son, even though it is not spelled out as such in scripture.
    First, who is Mary?
    Gen 3:15. “I will make you enemies of each other: you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring. It will crush your head and you will strike at its heel.”
    Exodus 20:12. Honor your father and your mother . I am told that the word honor means to glorify.
    1st Kings 2:19-20, with reference to Solomon and Bathsheba. “the king rose to meet her and bowed before her; he then sat down on his throne; a seat was brought for the mother of the king, and she sat down at his right hand.”
    This is the beginning of a practice whereby the mother of the king would keep him apprised of the needs of Israel. It continues through Kings.
    Note that mother of the king sits at his right hand, which indicates a position of power.
    1st Kings 14. Rehoboam becomes king and scripture notes that his mother is Naamah.
    1st Kings 15. Abijam becomes the king and scripture notes that his mother is Maacah.
    1st Kings 22. Jehoshaphat becomes the king and scripture notes that his mother is Azubah.
    2nd Kings 8. Ahaziah becomes the king and scripture notes that his mother is Athaliahl.
    2nd Kings 14. Amaziah becomes the king and scripture notes that his mother is Jehoaddin.
    2nd Kings 15. Uzziah becomes the king and scripture notes that his mother is Jecoliah.
    2nd Kings 18. Hezekiah becomes the king and scripture notes that his mother is Abijah.
    2nd Kings 21. Amon becomes the king and scripture notes that his mother is Meshullemeth.
    2nd Kings 22. Josiah becomes the king and scripture notes that his mother is Jedidah.
    2nd Kings 23. Jehoahaz becomes the king and scripture notes that his mother is Hamutal.
    2nd Kings 23. Jehoiakim becomes the king and scripture notes that his mother is Zebidah.
    2nd Kings 24. Jehoiachin becomes the king and scripture notes that his mother is Nehushta. When the king of Babylon accepts Jehoiachin’s surrender, Jehoiachin and his mother are deported to Babylon.
    2nd Kings 24. Zedekiah becomes the king and scripture notes that his mother is Hamital.
    Isaiah 7:14. The Lord Himself, therefore, will give you a sign. It is this: the virgin is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Immanuel.
    Matthew 1: 6. David was the father of Solomon, a list of forebearers concluding with
    Matthew 1:16. Jacob was the father of Joseph, husband of Mary; of her was born Jesus Who is called Christ. Since Joseph is, under Jewish law, officially the father of Jesus, Jesus is of the lineage of David who was king of the Jews.
    Matthew 27:37. Above His head was placed the charge against Him; it read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
    Mary is the mother of the King of the Jews. Referencing the idea presented and reinforced through 1st and 2nd Kings, her position is easily recognized by the Jews who are familiar with this idea.
    Luke 2:35 from Simeon directed to Mary. “and a sword will pierce your own soul too”
    John 2. Reference the wedding feast at Cana. Jesus, the perfect Son, glorifies His mother’s request by fulfilling it, which refers to the command to honor your father and your mother. Jesus the King honors His mother’s recognition of the needs of His people. Then Jesus honors His mother’s faith. She does not respond directly to Him after telling Him what she has observed, rather she instructs the servants to “do whatever He tells you,” explicitly believing that He will do whatever is right.
    John 19:26. Seeing His mother and the disciple He loved standing near her, Jesus said to His mother, “Woman, this is your son.” Then to His disciple He said, “This is your mother.” And from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home.
    Acts 1:9. “As He said this He was lifted up while they looked on; “ which describes the Ascension.
    Post-biblical. The early church fathers recognized Paul’s statement that Jesus is the new Adam. They extended that idea by recognizing Mary as the new Eve, the mother of the redeemed.
    I noted in an earlier missive that I had surrendered my decision making to the Church. I did so because the Church (of which Christ Jesus is the head) was right. The Church was right where I was right and, perhaps of greater gravity, the Church was right where I was wrong.
    I was seeing scripture in a new light and to a new depth and I saw this amazing woman who is being described in scripture. Unlike the Anabaptists I could not accept the idea that any woman would do.
    When I heard the feast of the Assumption described, I thought of a perfect Son, Whose mother was pre-announced in scripture. She was the means He chose to become human, a man like us in everything but sin. She loved Him as seen in her care Him. She suffered as only a mother can suffer for her Child.
    After the Ascension, she was with John until she died. Using the Jewish custom, her grave was marked.
    When peace finally came to the Church, a decision was made to re-inter her in a cathedral or basilica. Her remains were not found.
    Her Son opened heaven for occupancy. He brought her body and soul to be with Him, and to reign as the Queen of Heaven, sitting at His right hand.
    The disparities in the various texts about the Assumption weren’t a problem. The direction given by the Church was the needed item.
    Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. That He is with her is true right now.
    Cordially,
    dt

  155. BrentYou said there is no historical evidence for the Assumption of the BVM. What historical weight, if any, are you willing to grant for the fact that we have no body or relics of Mary?

    That is an interesting statement, and it gives me pause to think. Actually we do have third class relics of Mary – her house from Nazareth one day mysteriously appeared in Loreto Italy, where it is venerated even today.

    The history of Mary’s house in Loreto Italy can be found here:
    http://www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/loreto-holy-house

    If Mary’s entire house can be picked up by angels and moved to Loreto Italy overnight, then I don’t find it to be much of a stretch that Mary herself could be Assumed into heaven. But your point about having no first class relics of Mary is more powerful than most Protestants understand, since Protestants of our era typically do no know how much relics were venerated by the first Christians. I would not expect to find a part of the body of Mary venerated as a first class relic, I would expect to find her intact, incorrupt, body venerated by the earliest Christians . The miracle of incorruption has many examples, some more perfect than others. The incorruptible bodies of saints such as St. Bernadette of Lourdes are venerated in various places around the world, so there is ample evidence for the miracle of incorruption that one can examine. If there was a body of Mary on earth, it should be the most spectacular case of an incorruptible saint known to man. But then, I think the earliest Christians knew that, and that is why they understood that Mary was assumed into heaven, because that would be the most spectacular example of the miracle of incorruption that could exist. Some things are just so glaringly obvious that they don’t need to be pointed out, which is why not finding a lot of talk about the obvious among the first Christians does not surprise me. In this case, I believe that an argument from silence is justified.

  156. Re 127

    Andrew,

    I won’t presume to speak for Mateo, in part because I enjoy reading his responses, and often of learning something that I had no knowledge of, or had forgotten. Always best when my brother speaks for himself.

    I also won’t presume to speak to the inerrancy of the Old Testament clergy. I have read and re-read the Old Testament, which points to the New, but did not see what you appear to be seeing. Even Moses did not enter the promised land, but was only permitted to see it from a distance; and of all the Old Testament saints, he is the one most like our Lord.

    There are blessings associated with keeping the OT Law, and curses associated with Lawbreaking. Is ritual perfection sufficient? Paul did not think so. Grace and truth come through Jesus, the only acceptable Sacrifice. It is the Church which is guaranteed the presence of the Holy Spirit. I don’t remember seeing anything like that guaranteed for the Temple.

    There is one thing that I did see however. Jesus noted to the woman at the well that “salvation is of the Jews.” That meant it was not of the Samaritans, or the Greeks, or the Irish or English (from which I claim descent). To be sure, Jesus opened the door to those Samaritans but He did not offer them something that they had not been given. He did not baptize their temple.

    I think that is true of the Church Jesus founded. He founded it, maintains it, guarantees it against error (He is the Truth), and remains with it to the end of time. The protestant churches seem to me to be the Samaritan temples of our time, and I am speaking as one who left that domain.

    The Church, at Vatican II, recognized our separated brothers and sisters, specifically those who are baptized with water using the Trinitarian formula. It put forth a call to re-union, to once again being together. It wants what Jesus wants, “that we all may be one” per John 17, and is open and willing, in imitation of Jesus, to forgive and forget what kept us apart.

    That reminded me of St Augustine, who responded to the Donatists by noting that the people who had fallen away under duress did not need to be re-baptized or re-ordained. Rather they needed to be forgiven.

    When I left evangelicalism for the Church, even more than the Eucharist it was forgiveness I wanted. I wanted the weight of my sin lifted off of my shoulders. I could not bear it. I had apologized to as many of the people I had hurt as I could find. I was truly sorry for the evil I had done. It was not enough. I had sinned against God as well as sinning against His creation.

    Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them. That statement, part of the charge He was giving the Church He founded, was directed to the apostles from our Lord. He was setting up the means of getting forgiveness. He is in charge so I went to the place where He was operating and calling the shots and submitted. I made a great confession and have made more since then, out of necessity. I have changed immensely since both my first and second conversions, but there is a ways to go.

    If any fault of mine is involved in keeping you from the Church, I am sorry. I would not have you stay away due to me. Forgive me and come home.

    Don’t let the failures of Catholics keep you from the Church. Forgive us. Bring your gifts and add them to what is already here. We converts are some of the best Catholics because we appreciate what we have been given, and want to express it in season and out.

    Cordially,

    dt

  157. Donald Todd: Bring your gifts and add them to what is already here. We converts are some of the best Catholics because we appreciate what we have been given, and want to express it in season and out.

    Amen!

    I know many cradle Catholics that are big Scott Hahn fans. One reason why they like listening to Scott Hahn is the way he presents the truths of the faith. Scott Hahn invariably brings covenantal theology into the discussion, and he uses scriptural arguments as his primary arguments to make a point about an article of the faith. He supplements those scriptural arguments with references to other sources as he sees fit, but his primary arguments are typically made from scriptures along with exegesis. Understanding the role of the seven Sacraments in convenantal theology was a big eye opener for me. (See, for example, Scott Hahn’s talks in Growth by Oath, The Seven Sacraments http://www.amazon.com/Growth-Oath-Sacraments-Scott-Hahn/dp/1570580022 )

    When I was young, catechesis for cradle Catholics typically was not primarily scriptural, in the sense that if a point was made about an article of faith, one was not given an exhaustive scriptural argument with exegesis to make that point. The point might be made by reading the Baltimore Catechism, through quoting a decree of an ecumenical council, quoting a papal encyclical, or quoting the writings of a saint. Scripture would be quoted too, if the scriptures about the point under consideration were explicit. But as often as not, the point would be made without reference to scriptures. Since Catholics see the doctrine of sola scriptura as a novelty of Protestantism, it is quite natural that Catholic catechesis would proceed along these lines. This approach to catechesis can be seen by reading the footnotes in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Lots of scriptural references, but lots of non-scriptural references too.

    Scott Hahn’s presentation of the faith was exciting to hear for many of us older cradle Catholics. Who knew that such strong scriptural arguments could be given to Protestants that questioned Catholic beliefs? I know that Scott Hahn sparked an interest in bible study among many of my friends. Suddenly they wanted to take a book of the bible and do a verse by verse study of the book – something many of my friends had never done.

    Donald Todd: Coming from a evangelical background, I don’t mind using other arguments, but do find that scripture is compelling. Based on scripture, I believe that the Church has a brilliant argument (apologetic) for the decision to recognize Mary’s proximity to her Son, even though it is not spelled out as such in scripture …

    I thought your scriptural argument was just great. Very much like what Scott Hahn would have done. Have you ever thought about leading a bible study in your parish? Protestant converts with strong backgrounds in scripture study really are a gift to the Catholic Church.

    It is interesting to me that coming out of a Protestant background, you, quite naturally, have a strong inclination to examine the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary by doing a study of the scriptures; whereas my Catholic background of growing up in the Southern Arizona among Catholics with a Mexico connection caused me think of how the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe speaks to the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. Are not both ways of thinking examples of how God’s divine providence can lead us to the truth? Millions of native Americans converted to the Catholic faith, not because of exhaustive scripture studies, but because of the miracle of the image of or Lady of Guadalupe. The natives could read that image in the way that I read the CCC – Oh look at what this image is telling us, lets get baptized and become Catholics! The mother of Jesus has come down from heaven and spoken to one of us on a hill in the Tepeyac.

    If God doesn’t practice sola scriptura, why should I?

  158. Luke 16:31. “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.”

    I had assumed from early on in my first conversion that this referred to our Lord. Later, after my second conversion to Catholicity, I assumed it also referred to our Lady in her appearances and apparitions along with the miracles associated with them, as performed around the world, so long as they were recognized as valid by the Church. There is a history of these magnificent events which anyone who is interested in can read and verify. When our Lord uses His mother, these are normally big time events and often display wonders of a magnitude not seen since the apostles walked the earth.

    Mateo’s reference to the great miracle in Guadalupe is of that cloth, noting that in this case, our Lady’s appearance in Guadalupe brought about the conversion of virtually a whole people. At a time when Protestantism was disaffecting a great deal of Europe, God manifests Himself through this Woman to bring about a mass conversion. The Church continued growing and the very public miracle worked through this Woman was a contrast to what was occurring in Europe at that time.

    Even prior to coming into the Church I found Mary a bright beacon of the love of God, a profoundly keen witness, a servant mother (no oxymoron there) who points to her Son and tells us to “do whatever He tells you.”

    I would note that my mother died when I was nine and it left an empty place in my heart. I think that place exists in most people and that God, Who knows how He made us, finds a way to use this most attractive Woman borne of two human parents, the mother of His Son, to reach that part of us for our own good, which is a sign of His love for us. As the wedding feast at Cana attests, she is attentive in our behalf even when we are not aware of it, a statement which sounds very motherly to me.

    St Jerome notes that ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of the Lord. For anyone who reads this, I would recommend a good Catholic bible and a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for a means of understanding the difficult passages. In the process of reading, comparing and reflecting, I believe that anyone doing this will find themselves honored by a visit from the mother of our Lord (Luke 1:42) and the grace to recognize that visitation.

    I have regularly been involved in scripture studies in my current parish, more often than not with the dissenting position (I vote Catholic) in a parish which uses the Little Rock Scripture Study series. Since they put up with me, I continue to participate and can generally state a position from the Church through scripture and the CCC, a position not always welcome in a place where it should be. Such occasions make for great teaching moments. Conflict, even minor, galvanizes the mind, the heart and therefore the attention of those who are truly interested. Truly, once this occurs, there is no background noise, and every face is pointed in the same direction.

    Semper fi.

    dt

  159. August 15, Feast of the Assumption.

  160. In this concerto Rachmaninov makes use of the words of the Orthodox hymn for the Dormition of the Theotokos:

    Neither the tomb, nor death could hold the Theotokos,
    Who is constant in prayer
    and our firm hope in her intercessions.
    For being the Mother of Life,
    She was translated to life
    by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb.

    St. Padre Pio reportedly said more than once, “After my death I will do more. My real mission will begin after my death.” If this is true for the saints, it is even more so for Our Lady, in whom dwelt the fullness of deity. If, as St. Hilary of Poitiers said, “God the Word became flesh, that through His Incarnation our flesh might attain to union with God the Word,” (On the Trinity, I.11) this mystery is most manifest at the Incarnation: the nexus of the union of God and man in the womb of the blessed Virgin, from whom He took humanity, and to whom He gave the fullness of participation in the divine nature, that is, the fullness of grace. The Incarnation is the proximate beginning of the reversal of the sin of Eden. If, as St. Athanasius said, “He was made man that we might be made God,” (On the Incarnation, 54.3), and “we men are deified by the Word as being taken to Him through His flesh,” (Discourse III Against the Arians, 34), what greater participation in His divine nature was given to her from whom He took His flesh, by Him who cannot be outgiven? No less than was given to the angels who never sinned, was she given who gave him flesh and nourishment, breasts to suckle, and clean for soiled diapers. Hence her immaculate conception is part of His gift to her, and of course He acts first, for He is no Pelagian.

    With His gift to the Second Eve comes the undoing of the loss of immortality incurred by the first Eve who fell to temptation and led the first Adam into sin. God did not leave the female sex without a heroine unstained by sin, but through a woman untied the knot of sin by making her a helper to the Second Adam in His work of redemption, and so a second Eve and co-redemptrix. Because death came to Adam and Eve only as a result of sin, so the Second Adam and the second Eve were immortal. Jesus was immortal not because He was God, but because, like pre-Fall Adam, He was without sin. And so likewise with Our Lady. Yet this immortality did not mean that they could not possibly die; they could choose to allow themselves to suffer death. Death had no claim on them, as it has on us who ultimately have no choice whether to die. As St. Andrew of Crete (d. AD 740) wrote,

    Death does not come to her in the same way that it comes to us. Instead, it comes in a superior way, and for a reason higher than the reason that obliges us to surrender totally to death.” (Homily 1 on the Dormition)

    So why then did Mary die, when she could have chosen to remain until Christ returned? The union of Mary and Christ was not merely an intersection in time, wherein natures were exchanged, and paths subsequently diverged. This is a union of divine love, in which Jesus gave Himself to Mary by taking her into His human heart and into the mystery of His divine blessedness, and in this holy and divine love she gave herself entirely to Him for His sake. From love she gave of her nature to Him, and from love He gave of both His natures to her. The union of the second Eve and the second Adam is an image of the union of Christ and the Church, not in every respect, but in that in our incorporation into His Mystical Body, we give to Him our humanity, and He gives to us in love the eternal Life which is a participation in His Trinitarian communion, and His human family, the Church, made one in that very communion. We are thereby brought into and within God’s perfect Love for Himself, which is God Himself. A greater participation in His divinity does not mean that something removed from Him is then given to us, but a greater union with Him is effected. Union with Christ in love includes sharing in His sufferings, even sharing in His death. In this present life, the greater the union, the greater the suffering. By this union, the sword that pierced Mary’s heart was the sword that pierced His. In love she followed Him even in death, still breathing “be it done unto me according to Thy word.”

    But there is another reason too, for had Christ willed it, she would have remained with us. Through baptism we are incorporated into the Church, the family of Jesus. So His Mother becomes our Mother, as He showed us on the cross in giving John to Mary, and giving Mary to John. She did not cease to be the second Eve at Christ’s resurrection, or even at her death. As our Mother she assented not only to her Son’s death, but to her death also, for our sakes, because by her Assumption she gives us hope. The Feast of the Assumption is always at the same time a concrete affirmation of the article of faith in the Creed: Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum, et vitam ventúri sæculi. (“I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”) In Mary’s Assumption Christ demonstrates to us that resurrection from the dead, and eternal life are not only for the God-man, but also for us mere mortals. Her Assumption testifies to the fidelity of Christ, who would not leave the sinless second Eve to suffer the same decay endured by the sinful first Eve. (See Cardinal Newman on the Assumption.)

    Moreover, as St. Pio said of his greater efficacy after death, Mary knew that in the Beatific Vision she could be far more effective as a Mother for the Church through her prayers. Though on earth as the second Eve she had been a co-redemptrix with Christ as His helper in His mission, she knew that upon obtaining the Beatific Vision after her death, she would be able to do all the more in fulfilling her mission as spiritual Mother to the Church. As Pope Benedict XVI said,

    [P]recisely because Mary is with God and in God, she is very close to each one of us. While she lived on this earth she could only be close to a very few people. Being in God, who is actually ‘within’ all of us, Mary shares in this closeness of God.

    So she over whom death had no hold consented to death for our sake, for His sake, to be our spiritual Mother.

    Prof. Feingold on Mary’s Spiritual Maternity

    Q&A

    Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 2012

  161. Thank you Bryan for this article and the additions at 159 and 160. Thank you Mateo and all the other Catholics who have written on this thread. I am learning so much and falling more in love with my Christian faith. This journey just got a heck of a lot more exciting:) God has given us everything! Praise Him!

    ~Susan

  162. Taylor Marshall writes:

    The Eastern Churches celebrate a mini-Lent before the Assumption from August 1-14. In addition to fasting, the Eastern Christians chant the Paraklesis Canon to the Mother of God from August 1-13. There is a tradition is that she died at 3pm on August 13 and rose again and was assumed into Heaven on August 15. Her death on August 13 is still commemorated in Jerusalem to this day. Hence Aug 13-15 is a Marian Triduum or “three-day” death and resurrection cycle. In fact, the Jerusalem rite for Matins on August 14 are those of Holy Saturday. In Jerusalem, the liturgy of her death begins on the evening of August 12.

  163. On the Feast of the Assumption I wish you all a blessed day!

    Ad Jesum per Mariam,

    Michael

  164. H/T: Taylor Marshall

  165. Recently some commenters at CtC have objected to the notion of the queenship of Mary, complaining that medieval authors sounded like they were referring to a literal crown rather than a metaphorical one.

    Perhaps it would be worth pointing out that the Bible speaks repeatedly about Jesus sitting down at the right hand of the Father…and yet it is flatly impossible for such a thing to literally happen, precisely because God is a Spirit. He has no “right hand” at all.

    Now, if it is fair (and it is) to understand the biblical authors to be speaking metaphorically with respect to Christ sitting down at God’s right hand despite the frequency with which they speak of it, surely it is nothing more than courtesy to extend medieval and modern Catholics the same fairness when they/we speak of the Blessed Virgin’s coronation.

    Just a few random thoughts inspired while reading the Roman Catechism this afternoon…

    Fred

  166. Pope Pius XII, in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, in which he defined the dogma of the Assumption, writes the following:

    And so we may hope that those who meditate upon the glorious example Mary offers us may be more and more convinced of the value of a human life entirely devoted to carrying out the heavenly Father’s will and to bringing good to others. Thus, while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals that follows from these teachings threaten to extinguish the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined. (c. 42)

    Notice the following three expressions: “value of a human life,” the “illusory teachings of materialism,” and “to what a lofty goal our bodies … are destined.” Among the implications of the dogma of the Assumption, one implication is the dignity given to the human body through grace. This is a dignity infinitely greater than the dignity every human body has by nature, that is, by virtue of being the body of a rational creature, and thus being a person. (See Lawrence Feingold’s lecture on nature and grace.) Through the grace won for us by Christ’s Passion and death, every human person is offered a participation in the divine life, which is Eternal Life. This participation extends not only to the soul, but also to the body. The body too is divinized, and this participation in the divine life begins at the moment of baptism. The body of each person in a state of grace is already participating in the divine life, and is in that respect already divine, by second nature, and thus already possesses, by participation, an infinite dignity. The culmination of this participation by the body in the divine life is what is called glorification, of which we caught a glimpse in Christ’s Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor, and which we celebrate today in Mary’s Assumption. This glorification of the body is not fundamentally a change in place, as though God merely hid Mary’s body through translocation. The human body itself is elevated beyond its natural condition, beyond even the preternatural gifts. The human body enters into heaven, i.e. into the divine life. Heaven is not merely the restoration of an earthly paradise; by deification it is infinitely greater. (See Lawrence Feingold on the Beatific Vision.)

    The universal offer of salvation, and thus to the divinization of every human body, thereby extends greater dignity even to the bodies of those persons who have not yet received this grace, because the offer indicates that for any human body God Himself desires this body to share in His own divine life. Just as an ordinary cup in the marketplace would suddenly acquire a great value if the king expressed his desire to drink from that cup at a royal feast, so by the divine invitation to divinization, the human body, even prior to receiving grace, receives a greater dignity than it has by nature.

    How would we treat such a cup? Obviously with extreme care and respect. In many ways our age has lost sight not only of the dignity the body has by grace, but also of the dignity the body has by nature. In our time, the body is reduced to a mere machine, a personalized toy to be used however we wish, an instrumentalized object to be exploited, abused, sold, commodified, used to sell products, experimented on, advertised on, painted on, marketed to, desecrated, pierced, scarified, re-‘gendered,’ dismembered, mutilated, endangered for fun or thrills, euthanized, recycled in the distribution of its parts, dissected, burned to generate electricity and heat swimming pools, composted, and used as tree fertilizer. Debasement of the body is an expression of the culture of death. Even our change in dress reflects this. When the body is not thought of as sacred, utility becomes its only remaining value. And when the body is thought of not as sacred, but only as useful, we no longer dress as though the body is sacred, and our choice of dress is then governed by pragmatics. In actuality, however, the body has a greater intrinsic dignity than that of any other material creature, a lofty nobility that summons us to behave in a manner that recognizes and honors it. Such behavior and honor is an expression of the culture of life.

    There is at present a certain ‘worship’ of the human body through athletics, body-building, beauty contests, and all that goes with the pursuit of attempting to preserve those features even into old age. This ‘worship’ of the body, however, is an imitation that does not affirm the dignity of the body, or deify the body or value the body per se, but instead values only certain features the body can temporarily exemplify. In this way this ‘worship’ of the body actually debases the body by instrumentalizing it. By contrast, the deification of the body by grace makes the body too a sharer in the divine life, deified not by what it can do or manifest or what it is for, but by what it has been made to be, by grace, namely, a sharer in God’s own life. By grace the disabled, even those presently incapable of reasoning, share in this infinite dignity no less than do the able-bodied and thus their worth is no less than that of those who are capable of labor.

    In this way the dogma of the Assumption shows the glorious destination and infinite dignity to which every human body is called. It thereby infinitely elevates our valuation of the human body, and is for this reason the antidote to our time’s instrumentalizing degradation of the human body.

  167. Thank you Bryan – this is a wonderful and most timely reflection on some of the important implications of the Dogma of the Assumption!

    Pax Christi,
    Jeff H.

  168. Lutheran (LCMS) chaplain Graham Glover writes:

    To ignore the Blessed Virgin Mary makes no sense. Without her our Christology is shot. Without her our hermeneutics are insignificant. Without her our understanding of sin and grace is incomplete. Without her we cannot call ourselves part of the Body of Christ. This woman is our Mother, commended to the Church by our Lord Himself. And to ignore her is something no Christian should ever do.