A Response to Scott Clark and Robert Godfrey on “The Lure of Rome”

Jan 30th, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Not that long ago, Scott Clark and Robert Godfrey, professors at Westminster Seminary California, posted a podcast in which they discuss the question of why some Evangelical Christians, including some Calvinists, convert to the Catholic Church. It is hard to pass up the chance to hear someone else’s reaction to one’s own story, so I tuned in for what turned out to be an interesting account of why folks such as the contributors at Called to Communion bite upon “the lure of Rome.”

The professors acknowledged that many Protestants simply take the wrongness of Rome for granted, unconsciously adopting a kind of “Protestant triumphalism.” As a result, they are left “complacent about the challenge that Rome can pose to us,” mistaking easily refuted caricatures of Catholic teaching for actual Catholic teaching. Regrettably, despite these observations, there are several serious misconceptions along with arguments by innuendo in this brief conversation. These include the baffling suggestion that the Pope does not do much preaching (cf. the Vatican’s collection of Pope Benedict’s homilies and other pastoral addresses), an unfortunate slur concerning what lurks “below the surface” of Catholicism, and a passing reference, drawing from a somewhat sensationalistic contemporary writer, to John Henry Newman’s supposed doubt and discontent after his conversion. The latter is a canard that was current during Newman’s lifetime, and easily disproved by his own testimony. As for secondary sources, the professors would have done far better to refer their listeners to the new edition of Ian Ker’s meticulously researched biography, which is imbued with Newman’s own private writings, giving us an intimate portrait of this faithful Catholic priest and Cardinal.

Although I will address a few more particular problems in the professors’ attempt to unmask Catholicism, such that by the end of the podcast they are claiming that the Catholic Church is a “false Church,” my focus will be primarily on the one topic that runs like a thread through the entire discussion, which is the development or germination or evolution or whatever you think best describes the changes exhibited in the Catholic Church over time.

I. Emerging Catholicism

A prevailing theme of the talk was the non-primitive nature of some core Catholic institutions and beliefs. For example: The medieval and modern papacy is not exactly like the early and original papacy of the ancient Roman church. Or if that characterization is considered too compliant, then you can say with the professors that the papacy in all of its historical forms is not at all like (what the professors suppose to have been) the congregational leadership structure of the really ancient church in Rome. On their view, furthermore, neither is the ancient nor medieval nor modern episcopacy very much like (the professor’s conception of) the earliest churches that the Apostles founded throughout the Roman Empire. [1]

The professors went on to mention the fact that the seven sacraments were not specifically delineated until the Middle Ages, and not dogmatically defined (at least by an extraordinary act of the Magisterium) as to source, number, and efficacy until after the Reformation. And the very controversial definition of papal infallibility did not occur until 1870, when the Fathers of Vatican I defined the doctrine of papal infallibility. The Catholic Church’s rites, ceremonies, and devotions were also alluded to in the talk, in connection with development. Certainly these are saturated with changes. I don’t suppose that anyone thinks that the liturgy celebrated in a Jewish house church in 50 A.D. was that of John Chrysostom, nor that of the Tridentine Missal. [2]

Development has been evident and abundant in the Catholic Church from East to West. Since the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), the Church has held 21 Ecumenical Councils (by Catholic reckoning), many of these defining some fundamental matters of doctrine. As regards religious ceremony and devotion, the Byzantine liturgical (including imperial) processions through Constantinople (echoed today in the various “entrances” of that Rite), the iconostasis, hesychasm and the Jesus Prayer (which blows away the Rosary for sheer repetition), the Latin Church’s Corpus Christi processions (still proceeding through the public streets of our marvelous modern cities), the elevation of the Host, the confessional box, the Gothic Cathedral, etc., are all obvious developments. We don’t find much of this in the New Testament or the first few centuries or even the first several centuries of Church history. This list could easily be greatly multiplied. There is simply no denying the fact that the Catholic Church has changed over the course of time. The question is, how do we explain this fact?

The Catholic Church has given various accounts of the Catholic developments. As to essential things, she maintains that they have been there from the beginning, and are either clearly presented in the sources, or implicit in them, or else were known and preserved among the faithful in a secret discipline, hidden from profane eyes and the as yet not fully initiated catechumens. As to those things that are related to the essential things, but not themselves essential, e.g., the prayer beads, the processions, the elevation, the College of Cardinals, these require no more, perhaps far less, explanation than do the hymns of Charles Wesley, two meetings on Sunday, or the General Assembly.

Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks; consequently, the body aligns. The heart of Catholic worship is of course the Holy Eucharist. A large part of Catholicism’s rich liturgical heritage (Eastern and Western) is but the progressive aligning of the body in visible forms of worship expressive of belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the consecrated elements. The relative poverty of Protestantism with regard to the visible dimension of worship is largely a consequence of denying the Real Presence and the Sacrifice of the Mass, or else redefining the doctrines such that the consecrated elements are supposed to remain bread and wine, and the sacrifice is supposed to be something other than the self-oblation of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby our sins are forgiven. In order to properly evaluate ceremonial developments in the Catholic Church, one has first to answer some fundamental doctrinal questions about the Holy Eucharist. If as a result of investigating the testimony of Sacred Scripture and the Church Fathers one concludes that the Eucharist is indeed, and not merely in figure, the Body and Blood of Christ, the organic development of the liturgy including the rise of devotions to the Blessed Sacrament itself will seem to be natural if not inevitable. [3]

II. Imagining the Catholic Church

The professors at one point surmised that people might very well turn Romanist because of the romantic appeal of Rome, at least as compared to the slavish contemporaneity and/or plodding iconoclasm of Evangelical and Reformed worship services. There is surely something to the supposition that people turn to Rome through a longing for romance.  But the desire of the convert is for something significantly more than vestments, chants, thuribles, and stained-glass windows. After all, as was noted in the podcast, in connection with Evangelicals’ penchant for guitar-strumming praise songs, Catholicism has of late been tainted by some of the same ills that plague Evangelicalism, including liturgical banality, architectural functionalism, and artistic modernism.

These phenomena, unhappy in themselves, nevertheless serve to highlight an essential element of Roman romanticism, one that cannot be completely overwhelmed by underwhelming or even egregious aesthetics. Basically, many would be converts begin by imagining the Catholic Church to be a secure haven from a rudderless and consequently fissiparous Protestantism. As they progress, they realize that the image of a haven or harbor, while certainly applicable, is not completely adequate, and must be joined by a Barque. And once one gets the picture of a ship, sometimes tossed about by perilous seas, but ever remaining intact and afloat, one is nearer to understanding that Catholicism is like a marriage, in which romance does not reduce to sentimentalism, nor prescind from difficulty and pain, but rather flows from the realities of a life shared together, come what may. [4]

allegory-of-faith-peter-the-elder-dell

Thus the essential element in the love story that is Catholicism does not ultimately depend upon the aesthetic appeal of the concrete expressions of the Church’s piety. These do pertain to the essence, and so enter into the image that prompts and entices the convert, but the more fundamental thing, that which gives form and focus, provides sense and stability, to the “smells and bells” and proliferating forms of art and devotion in the Church, is the unity and enduring identity-in-continuity-through-history of the Catholic Church herself. Nothing is more romantic than enduring unity, which is why we are so moved by a Golden Anniversary.

The convert to the Catholic Church is likewise moved. He thinks that here he has found the “pearl of great price,” the precious Bride of Christ, the Mystical Body. Of course, in the end (which is really the beginning), conversion involves an act of faith that cannot be ultimately vindicated by imagination. But as it turns out, the romance of Rome has more than a little to do with the reasons for Rome, and lies largely in the fact that Christ established one Church (Matthew 16:16-18), which is his Mystical Body and beloved Bride, which has endured through time (according to his promise and by the power of the Holy Spirit), having visible roots in and historical continuity with Cephas and the twelve, to which the monuments of Sts. Peter and Paul, the succession of Popes, and the very name “Catholic” bear witness.

III. The Image and the Essence

Such is the essential structure of the lure of Rome, that which most appeals to many would be converts. The Catholic Church’s formal unity and antiquity in (at least) material continuity with the Apostles, and through them with Our Lord Jesus himself, are all evidences of its identity as that one Church which Christ founded (cf. the quotation from John Henry Newman in this section). The professors immediately pick up on this point, and commence by asserting the necessity of the Reformation, which they maintain was the product of very talented and well-educated men, who severally came to the conclusion that the whole Church was not properly ordered according to the New Testament. Their claim is that the Catholic Church’s essence, regardless of her image, is other than the essence of the Church that Christ established. The evidence adduced on behalf of this claim is that the Catholic Church, at least as constituted sometime prior-to (and since) the Reformation, and sometime after the [fill-in-the-blank] century, is discernibly different from the original Church, which can be identified by talented and well-educated persons through critical interpretation of Scripture and history.

Abiding in material continuity with something in the past does not necessitate being the same thing, or same kind of thing, as that which existed in the past. Material continuity sans identity in essence or kind is exemplified by the way that, per evolutionary theory, a modern mammal, let’s say an elephant, is related by an unbroken succession of life forms to an ancient animal that for all we know was (to paraphrase Chesterton) some kind of fish but certainly no kind of elephant. That sort of change does not constitute a continuity of essence, as does, for example, the biological process which we observe all around us and commonly call “reproduction”–elephants giving birth to elephants. The reproductive process involves identity of essence as well as the material continuity of life forms, whereas evolution only involves the latter. The professors’ contention is that changes in the Catholic tradition, including the definitions of some essential Catholic doctrines, exhibit an evolutionary kind of development, by which one thing turns into something else. The Catholic Church might very well be materially continuous with the Church that Christ founded, but she is nevertheless not that same Church (so the story goes).

Regarding the Catholic conception of ecclesial development, it is first necessary to note that the Church is not best likened to either the evolution or the reproduction of a species. According to the New Testament, and St. Paul in particular, the Church exists after the manner of a living body, that is, an individual substance having an essence, including an inherent principle of movement, which constitutes its identity-in-continuity-through-change-over-time. Staying with this “form of sound words,” i.e., the image of a living body as indicating the nature of the Church, we would expect the Church, like a body, to change according to its own inherent principle of motion–to grow and develop. This expectation is also is in accordance with Scripture, which describes the kingdom of heaven as a tiny mustard seed, which grows into a tree, becoming a home for all the birds of the air (Matthew 13:31-32).

Catholics maintain that changes in the Church, such as the accumulating definitions of doctrine, ritual embellishments in the celebration of the Sacraments, proliferating forms of religious art and devotion, and varying arrangements in the organization of the Magisterium, are like the growth and development of a living being, a quite natural and indeed indispensable facet of its life. Thus Newman remarked on the life of material beings: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” Furthermore, as we know, a fully grown tree looks less like a mustard seed than an elephant looks like a fish. So even from remarkable changes it does not follow that there has been an essential change. In fact, if we are thinking along the lines of an individual thing, rather than a chain of related things, then material continuity itself will strongly suggest identity, as Newman notes at the beginning of his essay on development:

Till positive reasons grounded on facts are adduced to the contrary, the most natural hypotheses, the most agreeable to our mode of proceeding in parallel cases, and that which takes precedence of all others, is to consider that the society of Christians, which the Apostles left on earth, were of that religion to which the Apostles had converted them; that the external continuity of name, profession, and communion, argues a real continuity of doctrine; that, as Christianity began by manifesting itself as of a certain shape and bearing to all mankind, therefore it went on so to manifest itself; and that the more, considering that prophecy had already determined that it was to be a power visible in the world and sovereign over it, characters which are accurately fulfilled in that historical Christianity to which we commonly give the name. It is not a violent assumption, then, but rather mere abstinence from the wanton admission of a principle which would necessarily lead to the most vexatious and preposterous scepticism, to take it for granted, before proof to the contrary, that the Christianity of the second, fourth, seventh, twelfth, sixteenth, and intermediate centuries is in its substance the very religion which Christ and His Apostles taught in the first, whatever may be the modifications for good or for evil which lapse of years, or the vicissitudes of human affairs, have impressed upon it.

Of course I do not deny the abstract possibility of extreme changes. The substitution is certainly, in idea, supposable of a counterfeit Christianity,—superseding the original, by means of the adroit innovations of seasons, places, and persons, till, according to the familiar illustration, the “blade” and the “handle” are alternately renewed, and identity is lost without the loss of continuity. It is possible; but it must not be assumed. The onus probandi is with those who assert what it is unnatural to expect; to be just able to doubt is no warrant for disbelieving. (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, p. 5-6.)

The Catholic Church’s persistence in material continuity from the time of Christ and the Apostles is a strong indicator that she is also formally, and therefore bodily (a body being comprised of form and matter), the proper subject of the entirety of Church history. In which case, the Catholic Church is the Church of both Justin Martyr and John Chrysostom, Constantine and Charlemagne, John of Damascus and John of the Cross, the Thomas Christians and Thomas Aquinas, Saint Patrick and Saint Nicholas, and of course the Venerable Bede. The professors certainly object to this claim of formal identity, but they do not, it seems to me, sufficiently take into account the force of the Catholic Church’s material continuity with the Apostles (particularly Peter), which cannot be dismissed merely by pointing out, as they do, that the Orthodox Church is also contiguous with the churches founded by the Apostles. [5] I hope that the following analogy will serve to underscore the point that Newman was making in his Essay: The Catholic Church looks upon the persons just mentioned, and their times and places, much as an experienced, well-traveled, and variously adept man looks on his own life. That man would be bemused but unpersuaded if you told him that the enormous variety of his past is evidence against the essential identity of his person.

IV. The Tradition of the Fathers

Before proceeding further in our consideration of development, I want to take a moment to clarify, or at least acknowledge, something about Tradition. The fact that Catholics refer to many of the aforementioned men as “fathers” is an indication that development is not the end all and be all of the life of the Church. Our seasoned man in the preceding paragraph might, after all, have himself converted to various incompatible doctrines concerning “essential matters” over the course of his long and illustrious life. Such a change in the Catholic Church would falsify her claim of identity in continuity through history with the Church that Christ established. There are also crucial differences between the origin of an individual man and the origin of the Church, with a corresponding difference in how the concept of growth or development applies to each.

The Catholic appeal to antiquity as authority has to be understood, at least in part, from the doctrinal standpoint which one finds, to take an authoritative and ecumenical example, in the Nicene Creed as concerning Jesus. When we come with this point of reference to consider history, we are profoundly affected by the facts that the Apostles knew our Lord personally, and their immediate successors knew the Apostles personally. Before the second generation from Christ passed away, the Church was already referred to as “the catholic Church,” having an institutional identity that was clearly distinct from the already proliferating sects. (I don’t think that many people will disagree with this claim, though there will of course be disagreement over a host of related matters.) But this institutional identity, which (as Catholics believe) is perpetual and essentially involves a teaching authority that has been guaranteed enduring doctrinal integrity, is not opposed to a special deference and veneration for the early Fathers, who personally and/or by virtue of historical and social proximity had the teaching of the Apostles “ringing in their ears,” who, in their turn, had heard, seen, and touched the Word of Life.

John Henry Cardinal Newman, now Blessed, who is known for developing the theory of doctrinal development, is likewise known for his devotion to the early Church Fathers. Newman once wrote of antiquity, in connection with development:

For myself, hopeless as you consider it, I am not ashamed still to take my stand upon the Fathers, and do not mean to budge. The history of their times is not yet an old almanac to me. Of course I maintain the value and authority of the “Schola,” as one of the loci theologici; nevertheless I sympathize with Petavius in preferring to the “contentious and subtle theology” of the middle age, that “more elegant and fruitful teaching which is moulded after the image of erudite Antiquity.” The Fathers made me a Catholic, and I am not going to kick down the ladder by which I ascended into the Church. It is a ladder quite as serviceable for that purpose now, as it was twenty years ago [i.e., when Newman converted]. Though I hold, as you know, a process of development in Apostolic truth as time goes on, such development does not supersede the Fathers, but explains and completes them. (Letter to Dr. Pusey, p. 24.)

Contrary to the claim of at least one Reformed (or ersatz Reformed) Protestant, the Church Fathers were not “Church babies.” There is a sense in which the deposit of faith is better understood by latter generations who can see more of the tree, as it were, due to centuries of growth and development. However, there is a kind of concentration of the arboreal life in its earlier stages, which renders the writings of the Fathers extremely potent, such that they are rightly called fathers, to whom later generations, as faithful children, turn for knowledge and wisdom. The same goes, a fortiori, for the writings of the Apostles and their associates, even apart from consideration of the unique status of those writings as divinitus inspirata. The Church both begins from and moves towards perfection. Born from the wounded side of the Son of God (CCC 766), and from the beginning having the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), the Church “according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16).

V. On Appealing to the Past

I can understand Protestant frustrations with what might be perceived as the Catholic’s proprietary use of the theory of the development of doctrine. Protestants introduce a new idea, e.g., justification as extra nos imputation received by faith alone, and it is called a break from the Fathers. Catholics introduce a new idea, e.g., the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist as involving a transubstantiation of the elements, and it is called a development of the Fathers, i.e., explaining and completing them. As for the indisputably old ideas, Catholics take credit for holding those intact, and then accuse the Protestants, where they hold the same ideas, of being inconsistent and unprincipled. It seems like Catholics get to have their cake and eat it, and also to turn the cake into pumpkin pie and eat that too, calling it a development of the dessert implicit in the original cake. As for Protestant developments, such as Reformed ideas that are hard to find in the early Fathers, well, those aren’t dessert at all.

Catholics, in turn, experience their own frustrations with what is sometimes perceived as the Protestant’s selective application of the theory of doctrinal development. On the one hand, the theory is dismissed as an unprincipled way to account for the lack of explicit testimony in either Sacred Scripture or early Church history for some essential Catholic doctrines. But on the other hand, some of these same objectors begin to sound like development theorists when attempting to account for the continuity, or at least congruence, of Protestantism with the historical Church. Something like this seems, at first glance, to be going on in “The Lure of Rome” podcast. After dismissing the Catholic appeal to development as a desperate and transparent gloss of “radical” changes in the Church, the professors went on to account for the classical Protestant doctrine of justification relative to the testimony of the ancient Church, which they admit lacks “repeated, clear articulations of 16th century Protestant doctrine of justification,” by claiming that the early Church’s doctrine of grace “resonated in many of its parts” with the later teaching of St. Augustine, which in turn is supposed to be amenable to Protestant soteriology. Thus, something like Protestantism is supposed to be implicit in parts of the testimony of the Fathers, such that the Reformers had as least as much of a claim to the mantle of antiquity as did Tridentine Catholicism. [6]

However, after some consideration of the professors’ manner of appealing to the Fathers, I have come to the conclusion that they are not actually employing a theory of doctrinal development. Rather, they are attempting to find a point or points of contact in the early Church Fathers sufficient to guarantee that the essence of the Protestant churches, or of some subset of these churches, can be found not only in the New Testament, but also in the early Church, and perhaps even in the medieval Church. Such similarities are supposed to be sufficient to establish the identity of the Protestant churches with, if not the historical Church, at least the true Church throughout history. Thus, proceeding upon Luther’s maxim that the doctrine of justification is the article by which the Church stands or falls, if one can find here and there, prior to the Reformation, certain claims and practices which jibe or are at least not inconsistent with the Protestant doctrine of justification, then one can reasonably conclude that the true Church might have existed at those times, although she exists more perfectly at later times, i.e., in the Protestant churches after the Reformation. The possibility that the true Church has existed throughout history is supposed to hold even if the doctrine, organization, and forms of worship and devotion of the historical Church, taken as a whole, are very different from the doctrine, polity, and piety of the Protestant churches.

Thus, Clark and Godfrey are attempting to maintain a middle position between Spirit-guided-development-in-continuity ala St. Vincent of Lerins and John Henry Newman on the one hand, and outright [explicit] ecclesial deism of the Restorationist sort on the other hand. So they take a view in which the gist of the Gospel, as understood by Reformed Protestants, and with it the Church, can be glimpsed here and there in history as a more or less distinct property which identifies the species, ecclesia Christi. But this method of locating the true Church requires the professors to be highly selective in their appropriation of the past, which renders their appeals to history circular, and distorts by decontextualization the select teachings to which they appeal as precedents. If one considers only that testimony of the historical Church that is consistent with Reformed theology, then it will seem possible for the Reformed churches or some select sub-set of such churches to have existed, in kind, as the true Church of history. But this is an obvious instance of special pleading. The entire data set needs to be considered, in context, before one can claim identity with the something that actually existed as the Church in pre-Reformation history. Additionally, it seems reasonable to ask why the historical Church should be measured by the standard(s) of Reformed theology, rather than vice versa. [7]

Contrary to the ecclesial ontology implicit in the professors’ method of locating the Church in history, we have seen that, from a Scriptural point of view, the Church is not like a species, but like a substance, in particular a living body. But this implies that the Church is visible. In consequence, we can, with Newman, locate her in space and time by tracing her “external continuity of name, profession, and communion.” Locating the Church’s identity-in-continuity-through-history, proceeding from Christ, through Peter and the Twelve, is how one identifies the true Gospel, because the true Gospel comes to us from Christ, through the Apostles, in the Church, which is visible, like unto a body. Yes, there are developments in the Church’s understanding of revelation, but whenever some such development comes to be articulated by the Church in a doctrinal definition, we know that the definition is leading us into a fuller apprehension of the truth, precisely because it is an expression of the mind of the same Church that Christ established and preserves as the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The alternative, which no one seems to like but which Protestants cannot seem to avoid, is Solo Scriptura.

VI. The Nature of the Body

Catholics concede that the Scriptural description of the Church as a living body is something of an analogy, a form of sound words that truly but imperfectly conveys a mysterious truth. More specifically, or more literally, Catholics believe that the Church is one visible society (CCC 771), having an essential purpose (CCC 759) and structure (CCC 765), that is not reducible to the sum of its parts (CCC 835). In his encyclical on the mystical Body of Christ, Pope Pius XII distinguished this Body from both a physical and a moral or political body:

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

For this reason We deplore and condemn the pernicious error of those who dream of an imaginary Church, a kind of society that finds its origin and growth in charity, to which, somewhat contemptuously, they oppose another, which they call juridical. But this distinction which they introduce is false: for they fail to understand that the reason which led our Divine Redeemer to give to the community of man He founded the constitution of a Society, perfect of its kind and containing all the juridical and social elementsnamely, that He might perpetuate on earth the saving work of Redemptionwas also the reason why He willed it to be enriched with the heavenly gifts of the Paraclete. The Eternal Father indeed willed it to be the “kingdom of the Son of his predilection;” but it was to be a real kingdom, in which all believers should make Him the entire offering of their intellect and will, and humbly and obediently model themselves on Him, Who for our sake “was made obedient unto death.” There can, then, be no real opposition or conflict between the invisible mission of the Holy Spirit and the juridical commission of Ruler and Teacher received from Christ, since they mutually complement and perfect each otheras do the body and soul in manand proceed from our one Redeemer who not only said as He breathed on the Apostles “Receive ye the Holy Spirit,” but also clearly commanded: “As the Father hath sent me, I also send you”; and again: “He that heareth you heareth me.” (Mystici Corporis Christi, 64, 65; cf. Pope Leo XIII, Satis Cognitum, 10.)

It does not automatically follow from the Catholic’s conception of the Church as a society that every change in that society is a change for the good, i.e., an authentic development rather than a corruption. But on the Catholic understanding of the nature of the Church, not only is development acceptable, it is to be expected, and those particular developments that are definitive teachings of the Church are to be received with the full assent of faith, as being the correct interpretation of divine revelation, authoritative and irreformable. Newman wrote that the theory of the development of doctrine is “an hypothesis to account for a difficulty.” (If this description alone renders the theory suspect for some, they should remember that the same thing can be said of gravity.) The difficulty to which Newman refers is precisely that to which the professors point: the lack of explicit testimony in antiquity for some doctrines that the Catholic Church considers to be essential, as in part of the deposit of Faith, and for those peculiar liturgical, disciplinary, and devotional practices that pertain to the essence of the Faith, as this is understood by the Catholic Church. Conversely, the difficulty for Protestants is how to accept any doctrine defined by the Church as anything other than a mere interpretive opinion which can legitimately be discarded by talented and well-educated Bible scholars whose exegetical conclusions are not consistent with the doctrines of the Church. The professors seem not to consider, in all their talk of the changes in the Catholic Church, that that Church accepts as irreformable the doctrinal decrees of all the Ecumencial Councils, going back to and including Nicea. These doctrines do represent developments, but they are not up for debate.

Much of what the Protestant perceives to be the magical production of pumpkin pie, a veritable transubstantiation of doctrine and discipline, the Catholic receives as authentic developments in the Church’s understanding of the original deposit of Faith, even where these are not simply logical deductions from the deposit, just as the developments that constitute the growth of a body are authentic expressions of its essence, though they are not logical deductions from a finite set of facts enumerated in an empirical account of its existence at some previous point in time.

On the Catholic view, the universal Church does not exist after the manner of an abstract entity, such that one should look for a more or less perfect instantiation of the species ecclesia Christi here and there throughout time and space, and set about reforming or reproducing the Church according to the image of the most favored instance. This is not to say that the Church cannot be reformed according to timeless truth, only that the Church herself is not merely a timeless truth, and her historical existence cannot therefore be understood as the iteration of an idea, e.g., locating the true Church by locating the true Gospel. Particular instances of development that cause the most trouble for non-Catholics ought to be accounted for on a case by case basis, and the Church should certainly be defended from charges of contradiction. But the phenomenon of development is in general explicable when we consider that Christ founded a visible Church, a society that is explicitly likened to a body, having an inherent principle of motion, including the power to bind and loose, whereby the whole body grows and develops in unity, according to its God-given purpose (Ephesians 4:11-16).

VII. Conclusion

We have not even begun to explore the theory of doctrinal development, so to assess whether and in what form and to what degree it is successful. At some point, we hope to do this at Called to Communion. [8] For now, I will conclude with two simple suggestions: (1) Catholics cannot in good conscience wield the theory like a magic wand, which with an elegant wave and a few muttered words renders any doctrine “historical” and “implicit in the original deposit of faith.” We must actually show how the theory makes more sense of the relevant data than does any alternative explanation. (2) Critics of the theory of doctrinal development need to get right down to it and examine actual explanations and applications of the theory, preferably those versions that are widely accepted. To this end, there is no better place to begin than the locus classicus, Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. As for the podcast that prompted this post, I will only say further that I share the professors’ interest in the phenomenon of conversions to the Catholic Church, though of course my understanding of its source and significance is fundamentally different from their own.

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[1] The claim that episcopal government is not native to the Church that Christ founded has been addressed in several places on this website, including Bryan Cross’s overview of Apostolic Succession and Tim Troutman’s article on Holy Orders.

[2] Tim Troutman discusses the earliest Christian liturgies in his post and accompanying podcast, Christian Worship in the First Century.

[3] See The Church Fathers on Transubstantiation for evidence that the early Church believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. See Section IV of “Holy Orders and the Sacrificial Priesthood” for evidence that the early Church understood the Eucharist to be a true sacrifice.

[4] Even though many modern Catholic church buildings, ceremonies, and appointments rival their Evangelical counterparts for bland and boring iconoclasm, there remain in Catholicism those traditions, still represented in her organically developed rites and uses, variously inscribed in her abiding material heritage, and ever alive in the Church’s collective memory, which offer encouragement and consolation to those not determined to be dismayed. The living memory of Catholic tradition, though it may balk at more modern arrangements, is not a mere wistfulness. This memory resides in human persons, alive, active, and able to impose the Church’s liturgical and aesthetic heritage upon the stuff of earth, thus giving new, concrete expression to “the beauty of holiness” in keeping with Catholicism’s long tradition. Just in my own vicinity, several examples of this sort of thing come immediately to mind; for a few depictions, along with some excellent explanations, see here, here, and here.

[5] Mutually exclusive claims to be the one Church founded by Christ do not in themselves constitute proof that Christ did not establish one visible Church that has endured, undivided, through time. One need not adopt an alternative ecclesial ontology, according to which the Church is not a visibly unified body enduring through history, in order account for Orthodoxy as a Church or collection of churches not in full communion with the Catholic Church. It is true that the exclusive claims of both Catholicism and Orthodoxy are the occasion, for some, of an epistemological quandry: “Which of these ancient churches is the Church founded by Christ?” Since one cannot be in full communion with both the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, one must choose between them or else abandon either history (i.e., remain Protestant) or the historical orthodoxy of the first millennium (i.e., become Nestorian or Monophysite). Suffice to say, for our purposes here, that the historical continuity with Christian antiquity enjoyed by Orthodoxy does not include full communion with the Successor of St. Peter in Rome. The unique significance of communion with the Roman See is the subject of Bryan’s article, The Chair of St. Peter.

[6] As a matter of fact, the early Church Fathers did not stint in their teaching on salvation. In his article, Tradition I and Sola Fide, David Anders notes: “Although the Fathers rarely employed the term ‘justification,’ they wrote extensively on sin, forgiveness, redemption, and the conditions of eternal life.” David argues that the early Fathers’ clearly and repeatedly attested doctrine of salvation is not consistent with the Protestant doctrine of justification, particularly as this is held by Reformed Protestants. The teaching of St. Augustine is no exception to this rule, being explicitly inconsistent with essential features of both the Protestant doctrine of grace (mere favor) and the Protestant doctrine of justification (mere imputation).

[7] The answer to this question will involve close consideration of the authority of the Reformed confessions; cf., Westminster in the Dock: Reflections on the Peter Leithart Trial.

[8]  The Orthodox Church is well-known for its conservatism, which is supposed by some to be inimical to the theory of doctrinal development. However, as Daniel Lattier argues in “The Orthodox Rejection of Doctrinal Development” (Pro Ecclesia 20:4 [Fall 2011]: 389-410), there simply is no Orthodox consensus on the theory of development. Lattier also argues that “Newman’s understanding of doctrinal development is in fundamental harmony with the Orthodox understanding of Tradition” (Ibid. 390). This article warrants careful consideration and comment, which we hope to provide in an upcoming post.

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  1. This is a beautiful article.

    One additional point is that the data of antiquity is sparse — it is almost certain that the vast majority of what was written has been lost, and that much of what was lived and believed was never written in the first place. In light of this sparseness, arguments that the data do not contain sufficiently explicit references to the precise definitions of transubstantiation, the papacy, etc before, say the late 300s, are completely useless arguments from silence. They tell us nothing either one way or another. Give me the same sample size from 30 A.D. to 330 A.D. that we have from 330AD through 630AD, and then we can talk clearly about development on subtle issues from the very early church to the church of late antiquity. But, with the data as it stands, all we can say is: (1) as soon as the data set gets rich in the late 300s, it looks quite obviously non-protestant even on subtle issues; (2) no one during that time complained that the obviously “Catholic” teachings were corruptions; (3) many people at the time did explicitly and implicitly state that these “Catholic” teachings had always been taught; and (4) the sparse data from the first 300 years do not by any means contradict what was so clearly taught in the late 300s and beyond (unless, again, one is to abuse the statistically impossible argument from silence in that sparse data).

    In light of the above, the protestant approach to the data of antiquity is very inadequate in comparison to the Catholic one. There is a deep sense in which the majority of the data is Catholic. There is a deeper sense in which the Catholic church has had the confidence to be intellectually honest about the sparse data, applying arguments from silence when and where the data itself permits it, and ignoring silly arguments from silence where the data itself do not. I think this intellectual maturity is what many converts notice, even if they can’t explain it in words; to compare the Catholic embrace of the “mean” of history with the Protestant attempt to find a tiny niche in antiquity to call its own, is an eye-opening experience.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  2. Excellent piece!

  3. K Doran,

    Thanks for the comment. Great point. In the first section, I just added a link to Tim’s post, Christian Worship in the First Century, which makes a similar point with reference to the Church’s liturgy.

    Paul,

    Thanks man. I am glad that you liked it.

  4. K Doran,

    …arguments that the data do not contain sufficiently explicit references to the precise definitions of transubstantiation, the papacy, etc before, say the late 300s, are completely useless arguments from silence.

    Your point is crucial and devastating—thank you for sharing it! And Preslar, this is a very bright light you’ve published.

    Praised be Jesus Christ!

  5. I swam the Tiber in 94. I always find the explanations they give are sometimes downright silly. My Dad’s pastor once wrote that we like red robes. Red robes? Really? What they don’t understand is that we converted because we believe it’s true. I never set out to be Catholic. I just wanted to win an argument. When I realized Jesus DID set up the Catholic Church I had to join.To ignore Christ’s Church was to ignore Christ and my upbringing told me to obey. My love of vestments, incense, Marian processions, chant, pretty statues, ancient icons, His Mother, adoration, and confession came later.

    Besides I like gold vestments better than red. :)

  6. Note: Please let me know if any of you are not seeing the video just below the second paragraph in the opening part of this post. One reader just informed me that only a blank space shows up here. I have checked it on my computer, in chrome, firefox, and explorer, and the video shows up fine. However, the post on my mobile feed, via facebook, lacks the video. I don’t know how to fix that, but the video is really a wonderful testimony to Newman’s Catholic piety–he celebrated Mass up to and including Christmas Day of his 89th year–and I would not want anyone to miss it. If you are missing it, again, let me know, or consider accessing the post in a different mode or browser. Thanks.

  7. fwiw, does not show on iPad2 but does show on Motorola Droid…

  8. K Doran wrote:

    I think this intellectual maturity is what many converts notice, even if they can’t explain it in words; to compare the Catholic embrace of the “mean” of history with the Protestant attempt to find a tiny niche in antiquity to call its own, is an eye-opening experience.

    What you have just written is absolutely crucial. The Catholic approach to the patristic data is capable of accounting for all the doctrines of the fathers, including and especially, those few patristic works to which Protestants sometimes appeal as a means of legitimizing the doctrinal basis for schism – such as Augustinian doctrines on grace, free will, or justification. Doctrines which, upon examination in context (whether according to individual work or the wider Augustinian corpus), turn out to be entirely Catholic – Tridentine-compatible no less! Hence, even those select Augustinian passages in which Protestants think they possess something like a home field advantage, only appear as such to the degree that Protestants carefully avoid surveying the wider explicit, overt, Catholic Augustinian landscape. Inevitably, when an inquiring Protestant reads wider and deeper within the Augustinian corpus, he begins to sense quite clearly that Augustine is an ‘away game’ for Protestantism. That’s what happened to me. But that was only the first shock wave.

    The patristic fathers (East and West), including St. Augustine, explicitly affirm gads of Catholic and proto-Catholic doctrines which most Protestant don’t care to touch with a ten foot pole, such as: apostolic/episcopal succession, Petrine authority, a ministerial priesthood, baptismal regeneration, sacramental confession, the Real Presence in the consecrated host (with plenty of explicit examples of how the host itself was worshiped, adored, protected, etc – which betokens transubstantiation), the restriction of the power of Eucharistic consecration to the ministerial priesthood, veneration and prayers asked of deceased saints and martyrs, monasticism, the value of consecrated virginity, the sinlessness and perpetual virginity of the Mother of God, and the list goes on – all in the very centuries in which many of the fundamental creeds which most Protestants embrace (such as Nicaea and Chalcedon) were formulated and ratified!

    In other words, the Catholic approach to the Patristic data has a way of accounting for all the data – including that small subset of texts which Protestants apply to themselves (at least those Protestants concerned to show some doctrinal basis for the Reformation in the patristic record). By contrast, the Protestant approach makes very selective reference to a quite small subset of patristic passages (mostly St. Augustine) to shore up support for a few distinctive 16th century Protestant doctrines (which Protestants stipulate as “essential”, make or break, doctrinal matters based on a private reading of Scripture), while often ignoring the elephant in the room; namely, the enormous body of texts adverting to Catholic doctrine and ecclesiology circulating everywhere during the Patristic age. If a Protestant reads deep and wide in the patristic literature, yet remains Protestant (assuming it is a firm, permanent decision, and not a Tiber or Bosporus swim-in-progress), his decision to remain Protestant almost always reduces to one of three causes:

    1.) He holds to a theory that the testimony of the fathers is hopelessly corrupt due to widespread doctrinal apostasy and “catholicizing” taking place VERY early (almost immediately) after the apostles. Here he faces two problems. Firstly, dubious dependence upon the argument from silence, whereby he stipulates that the “real” doctrine and structure of the primitive church was basically akin to his own Protestant congregation based on question-begging scriptural interpretation combined with relative post-apostolic documentary silence from say 70ad to 200ad (depending on one’s assessment of the authenticity and dating of the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch); but where the first actual post-apostolic records which do emerge from the earliest centuries are characterized by Catholic, and catholicizing, doctrinal and ecclesial notes. Secondly, if he adheres to some rule of faith derived from an eclectic selection of the doctrinal formulations promulgated within the early baptismal formulas and/or the first few ecumenical councils, he seems to be adverting to something like an ad hoc approach to doctrine, since he embraces some doctrines advanced within early formulas or by “ecumenical” gatherings of bishops (who understood themselves to have doctrine-promulgating authority through apostolic succession via ordination), while rejecting the wide array of Catholic-like doctrines held, taught, and practiced among the very same faithful and bishops responsible for the creeds and formulas he deems orthodox!

    2.) He dislikes the Catholic (or Orthodox) Church to such a degree that, despite the ubiquity of Catholic doctrine and ecclesial organization within the patristic period, he unabashedly admits that he is ad hoc with regard to his embrace of certain creedal doctrinal formulations or the ratification of the canon, over against all the Catholic doctrines held and taught during the very same period.

    3.) He recognizes the inherent problems and inconsistencies involved in 1 & 2, but for family or career, or some other set of situational reasons, cannot bring himself to follow where the data (and he might admit, the logic) leads.

    Accordingly, one common reason that people end up converting to the Catholic Church after reading deeply in the fathers is because adoption of any of the above 3 options strikes them as contrary to personal integrity. I don’t mean to say that all persons who read the fathers deeply, yet remain Protestant, lack integrity. For example, a Reformed theologian, working within the ambit of a Reformed university and faculty, might take the “wide and early corruption” view (option 1) toward the fact of widespread Catholic doctrine and ecclesiology embraced by the fathers, without feeling the force of the two problems I raised in relation to that stance. The widespread embrace of the “early corruption” view – as a matter of course – by his overall tradition and especially by his colleagues and peers, can blind him to the inconsistencies which might seem obvious to another sort of Protestant who has a less entrenched attachment to a cherished doctrine (say sola fide) or ecclesiology (say Presbyterian polity), or even a lessened general animus toward all things Catholic. Still, for those who do leave Protestantism after encountering the fathers, it is very often nothing less than a re-affirmation of Newman’s oft-repeated quip: “to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant”.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  9. Wilkins! Christ is born among us! (Two more days of Byzantine Rite Christmas Season.) Well, neither does that video show on my Kindle Fire. Motorola Droid wins.

    Annie, I like gold vestments too. In fact, I loved all that stuff before I believed.

  10. K Doran.

    Good point. It also interests me when certain Protestant apologists seek to topple the papacy, for example, by citing a particular scholar (or several scholars) that argue based on the missing data from the first two centuries and a ‘filling the gap’ methodology that the early church was presbyterian or baptist in polity and that the monoepiscopy was therefore some kind of corruption…but when those same exact scholars use the same exact methodology to challenge, say, Pauline authorship of a particular epistle those same Protestant apologists argue that the scholar is wrong based on methodology.

    We need to remember that the era in question is not bursting with extant data speaking directly on some of these questions. However, when the data does begin to emerge it is clear that the apostolic faith all along was…well, Catholic.

  11. Very well said Andrew.

    I listened to “The Lure of Rome” and also “The Lure of Orthodoxy” on their site. One distraction to me was that they cannot bring themselves to say the word “Catholic” *gasp!* when referring to the Catholic Church or its bishops. This shows pettiness I think. Another gaping hole was that no mention of Called to Communion was made. This site is not only specifically aimed at the Reformed (which should fall right in line with their topic), but it has lots of success in its stated mission. also the 3 men in these podcasts have all either had articles written about them here, interacted with the articles, or have interviewed CTC contributors. Why not at least mention that? Hmm.

    As a new(ish) convert to Catholicism and a former Reformed layman, here are my 2 beefs with these podcasts. (Many of the same arguments are put forth against Orthodoxy as you can imagine, so this is not necessarily off topic.)

    1. The mention of “highly educated scholars” who decided to kick start the Reformation to bring things back to the bible. The whole time they were describing the motivations of the Reformation, all I could think was “Oh , you mean like that educated scholar who wanted to be more biblical named Arius?” Why was he wrong and the Reformation right?
    I can show you a educated well-meaning scholar for any position you want to name. I can show you debates between Westminster West Reformed Theology and other Reformed ministers that more than cross the line of being intramural. So don’t “highly educated scholar” me. The elephant in the living room is “Ok then, where is the Church? Who has the authority in your Reformed world?” And for that question, these men had no answer. I mean NO answer.

    2. The arbitrary way they refer back to the early church. One second they refer back to the fathers to defend their position (Christology), the next they criticize the fathers and boldly say they got it wrong (justification and images). So was the early church authoritative or not? If we get to pick and choose, how do we know what to pitch and what to throw? Who decides that? I guess “educated scholars” from the Reformation period get to decide? Why? So many unanswered questions.

  12. David,

    To be fair, a 40 minute podcast is bound to leave many questions unanswered. I have not listened to the whole of “The Lure of Eastern Orthodoxy” podcast, just the first five minutes or so.

    It could be that Clark and Godfrey had CTC and similar ventures in mind, but I suppose that they wanted to stay at the level of generality in commenting upon converts.

    There is some irony in the appeal to human talent and scholarship in connection with the Reformation, which was to supposed to be, in part, a return to reliance upon the grace of God, rather than human abilities and works.

  13. From the standpoint of technology, one of the biggest “lures of Rome” today is the fact almost anyone can do their own research online. This creates a very unique situation in Christian history, for no longer is someone limited geographically for their access to a library or articles, which were probably was like very sparsely stocked to begin with. (Thank you NewAdvent, Catholic.com, and CTC.) The result is that now like never before in history are ‘intellectual conversions’ happening at this large rate and who make up a larger percentage of average joe Christians. Newman and GK Chesterton were famous because they had the education and access to the resources to do the homework, most everyone else simply couldn’t do that kind of research – now we have the equivalent of numerous Newmans and Chestertons, many with a blog or webpage! It wasn’t the priests or bishops who got the word out to most converts today, instead this was largely a grass-roots, Holy Spirit driven plan.

    Turning this over to have a look at Clark and Godfrey, they are ‘old’ men, part of the previous generation. They don’t understand technology in so far as it is used to spread information in the ‘digital age’. This is not bad, but it’s just to say they grew up during the time when you were born into a given denomination and stayed there. There was no such thing as the internet, and thus no networking of well-informed Christians who saw good evidence for Rome. They’re still using Windows 3.1 so to speak for their theological operating system – now we have cellphones far more advanced than that (i.e. forums and blogs). And to compound that problem, since Protetantism is by nature an unstable platform, and no amount of patches can correct it, Protestantism naturally devolves into doctrinal relativism as doctrines continue to be declassified from “essential” and reclassified as “non-essential”. This means now the mass majority of Protestants are not strictly affiliated with a core set of beliefs, but more or less loosely align with a give local community, and thus more likely to be exposed to various thoughts. The “classroom” today is now the internet.

  14. Nick,

    The Internet has certainly been a boon for the Church, bringing crucial resources (church documents, etc.) and important discussions (blogs and other social media) right to individual inquirers, in the privacy of our homes, for relatively little cost (socially or financially).

    I do not think that Clark and Godfrey are behind the times on this count, though. The fact that they put out a podcast, on a seminary website devoted to such productions, is evidence that they are “with it” as regards the new media. In fact, until recently Dr. Clark maintained his own blog, which was technically superb, and constantly updated.

    So far as I can tell, the Reformed world is tapped into the Internet Age. There are countless individuals with Calvinist-themed blogs, promoting their version of Christianity, and many of these constantly interact with Catholics and critique Catholic claims. Additionally, there are several conglomerate-type Reformed sites, which feature the occasional musings of well-known pastors and academics. Just off the top of my head, three visually attractive sites, with impressive contributors, come to mind: Ligonier Ministries, The Gospel Coalition, and Reformation 21.

    The Internet is certainly a classroom, but I don’t think that it is yet the classroom. Those at CTC and elsewhere who are or have been a part of academia can vouchsafe for the enduring and irreplaceable role of the professional intellectual, a class to which Clark and Godfrey certainly belong, and the traditional classroom, with all of its attendant benefits.

    At its best (in my opinion), the Internet can make the considered works of such folks, whether in the lecture hall or in print, available to a wider audience. I don’t think that we have numerous equivalents to Newman and Chesterton writing blog posts and such, but thank goodness we do have the works of Chesterton and Newman available online!

    There is a seductive immediacy to blogging and such activities, but there is no replacing the steady, quiet, time-consuming work of the intellectual who devotes his working life to acquiring, sharing, and even expanding the content of human knowledge. God bless them all.

    Of course, Catholics are correct to claim that the Church’s knowledge of divine revelation is not reducible to merely human knowledge, acquired through human work. There is another, more mysterious dimension to the way that the Body of Christ apprehends and expresses the mind of Christ, such that the Church’s authority is of a different order than academic authority, though of course it is not unrelated to rational inquiry.

    But enough of this ruminating response to your really good point about the wonderful world-wide web.

  15. Just wrote with an eye on this topic.

    A few questions:

    1. How does it follow from the fact that Christ did institute a visible church that said church cannot suffer (visible) disunity?

    2. Does it follow that saying the visible church can suffer from an essential or ontological rift necessarily suggest to an ecclesial deism? It seems to me while our ecclesiology ought not be deistic, it neither ought to be deterministic.

    3. Should Catholics give special weight to the first 7 ecumenical councils as the proper starting point for union/communion/reunion? Why or why not?

  16. Hello Andrew,

    When I spoke of them being “behind the times,” I’m not saying they don’t know how to use modern technology, what I’m saying is that their apologetics methodology and thus their use of modern technology is not on par with many great (even average) online Catholic resources. Having a blog or podcast doesn’t translate into much if you’re not sharing the best arguments and best evidence out there, and especially if you don’t host a comment box or forum for much needed feedback (both opposing and supporting the topic under discussion). The result is that someone with credentials can potificate on a blog or podcast, and even unconsciously mistake that for an actual argument, but the caliber of modern Catholic apologetics doesn’t allow insufficient arguments to slide.

    This is precisely why you made this post commenting on their podcast, not to say they are bad men, but that their arguments are often very deficient and do reflect an apologetics mindset from a pre-digital age. Their “lure of Rome” podcast was, unfortunately, pretty facile and filled with inaccurate comments about what Rome really teaches (e.g. Godfrey saying a Pope pointed to himself and said “I am tradition” and later saying that “the Pope doesn’t preach” and that the early church didn’t use instruments because they didn’t use a pipe organ in worship – all that’s embarrassing). Such comments would never be made if they were up to speed with the best argument out there. Now days bad arguments get swatted down in the comment box, rendering such potificating passe and inadequate. And now days apologetics sites – if they want to be recognized – must strive for credibility (which only comes from good and fair arguments).

    As you know, it is a crucial benchmark for modern apologetics that the decisions of Councils and Patristics be incorporated in any argument – this is by definition the way we keep an argument “historical” – yet the Councils and Fathers are almost entirely ignored (and sometimes even ridiculed) by modern Protestant figureheads (including Clark and Godfrey). This crucial data is something the ‘older’ generation doesn’t get and yet what Catholic apologetics thrives upon. I can ask any question and find a list of quotes from Fathers and Councils that speak on that issue – this is a very “luring” aspect of Rome that Protestants lack. Clark and Godfrey will never go there, and numerous converts like Dr David Anders will say once you do go there then you’re automatically on the path towards Rome.

    Dr Clark’s blog articles (when he had a blog) have been discussed on CTC multiple times, and other places, have been shown to be a mixture of good and bad arguments. Often when speaking on Catholic subjects, it is not uncommon to misunderstand and thus misrepresent Catholicism, yet unfortunately there often seems Clark and others simply repeat past errors rather than simply google and see if they’ve been addressed and how. I’m continually bracing for a certain massive earthquake that is going to hit Protestantism any day now that folks like Clark and others refuse to take seriously.

    As far as individual Reformed Protestants with blogs interacting with Catholic claims, I try to keep an eye on a few popular ones, but I too often see the same misrepresentations and same misinformation being spread. Sites like Ligonere and Reformation21 don’t even allow comments, meaning any unfair or inaccurate claim gets to stand unopposed (e.g. remember when RC Sproul Jr said it didn’t matter that Sola Scriptura wasn’t taught in Scripture? – people had to come HERE to CTC to address the issue). I’m sure we can agree there is more pontificating than anything going on in those sites, and it’s very dangerous because often their credentials are taken as guarantees their comments are accurate.

    I strongly agree with you that we should never be ignoring or downplaying the importance of personal study, even in a classroom, but the fact is the best study can only come from having access to the best resources. If you’re taking a course on Church history at an accredited Protestant institution and the course glosses over the first 1500 years, that’s a very bad thing. If your professors in class are saying the Pope doesn’t preach, the Pope says “I am tradition” as a trump card, and other such nonsense, then you as a student are being jipped and misled.

  17. Nick,

    Oh okay. I understand your point, and your analogy, better now–thanks for clarifying!

    I agree that there is a risk that comes with the obvious advantage of making claims in this very public forum. With a larger and more diverse audience, one can expect more critical feedback than in a relatively small setting peopled by largely sympathetic listeners.

    So we had better be prepared to back up our claims with reason and evidence (and to retract the ones that have been refuted–never a fun thing to do)!

  18. Nick,

    You used the word “pontificating” in a negative sense, can a Roman Catholic really do that?! I thought the RCC loved pontificating :)

  19. Hey Nick,

    Just a minor comment about a couple of facts. You’re right that the comment that the pope doesn’t preach is wrong and a little weird for how obviously wrong it is. But I’ve never heard it denied that Pope Pius IX did say, “Tradition? I am the Tradition!” to a Cardinal who dissented from Vatican I. (But I get the impression that it’s an apocryphal accretion that he also added “io sono la Chiesa.” I could be wrong here.) Also, my understanding is that instrumental accompaniment is rather a latecomer in Christian liturgical worship. Even in the late 13th century, for example, St Thomas can say what he says in ST II-II.91.2 obj/ad 4.

    John

  20. Chris,

    Good to see you here. I’ll try to be brief, in response to your questions. Others are of course welcome to chime in.

    1. How does it follow from the fact that Christ did institute a visible church that said church cannot suffer (visible) disunity?

    The indivisibility of the visible Church does not follow from the premise, taken by itself, that Christ instituted a visible Church. It follows from the premise that the Church that Christ instituted cannot perish, together with the premise that the nature of this Church is to be understood after the manner of a living body. A living body is visible, and for that body to suffer visible disunity in itself (i.e., decomposition) is for it to have perished. Of course, it is possible for a part of the body to be lost, and for the body, though wounded, to survive (this is how Catholics understand schisms). But that which has been separated is, by definition, no longer a part of the body, which retains its visible unity.

    2. Does it follow that saying the visible church can suffer from an essential or ontological rift necessarily suggest to an ecclesial deism? It seems to me while our ecclesiology ought not be deistic, it neither ought to be deterministic.

    It is true that many things perish, including human beings (physically and spiritually), and yet we (rightly) refuse to jump to deistic conclusions, nor do we jump to deterministic conclusions whenever a thing persists in being, or when a soul is saved. The specific difference, with respect to the Church, is in her very nature (mysterious as that it is). It is not deterministic for a thing to act in accordance with its nature, though it would be a kind of deism to suppose that it so acted apart from the sustaining power and presence of God. Now, the nature of the Church is to be the mystical Body of Christ, the present form of the kingdom of God, the pillar and foundation of truth (etc).

    Unlike individual persons, including persons in a state of grace, the Church does not have free will in the sense of an inherent power by which she, the body as a whole, can choose to reject God’s grace, precisely because Christ is the head of the Church, which is his mystical Body, and the Holy Spirit is likened to the soul of the Church. Yes, Christ is also the brother and intimate friend of persons in a state of grace, and the Holy Spirit indwells such individuals, but the Church, unlike those individuals, has no nature apart from grace. A person can fall from grace and so be separated from the Holy Trinity, and still exist as a human being, but the Church cannot fall from grace and still exist as the Church. This does not imply that she is a divine person, only that it is her nature to be holy; i.e., sanctified, set apart for the salvation of souls.

    To maintain that the visible, universal Church can be visibly divided implies either (a) that it can perish, in which case the head has dispensed with the body, the Holy Spirit has departed from the whole Church, and Christ has divorced his bride, or (b) the one head can have multiple bodies, in which case the Holy Spirit is set against himself, and Christ is a polygamist. I reject both alternatives, maintaining instead that, although there have been many schisms from the Church, Christ in fact did establish one visible, universal Church, and this Church cannot be visibly divided, either in the sense of being destroyed or in the sense of being split into two or more visible, universal Churches. To maintain the contrary position, in the first form, is a kind of ecclesial deism, while the second form might be better dubbed “ecclesial promiscuity.”

    3. Should Catholics give special weight to the first 7 ecumenical councils as the proper starting point for union/communion/reunion? Why or why not?

    Everyone should give everything due consideration and proper estimation. Those churches, ecclesial communities, and individuals who accept without reservation the doctrinal decrees of the first seven ecumenical councils should rejoice in this area of agreement. Furthermore, this concord should propel us to further unity, which will involve seeking out the principled reason for our unreserved acceptance of the doctrinal definitions of these councils.

    Sorry if those answers come across terse and dry. That is the effect of applying my head to difficult matters, and trying to be succinct.

  21. RefProt,

    Only if the Pontiff’s the one doing it. Then we love it. Otherwise it’s tragically ironic and annoying ;-)

    John

  22. Chris,

    I just realized that my response to your third question is sort of a dodge. Sorry. I guess that I am just not sure what you mean by “special” weight, so I do not know how to answer the question.

    Andrew

  23. Chris,

    I appreciate your questions, and I read your post at your site. I’ve always appreciated your tone and attitude, and I’m glad to see you here.

    1. How does it follow from the fact that Christ did institute a visible church that said church cannot suffer (visible) disunity?

    We would want to be careful here, right? I think this question makes sense only in an ahistorical context. Ironically, this is the exact opposite of what you claim in your post–which precipitated these questions. Your point (if I understand it correctly) is that the history of Christianity evidences “visible disunity”, and that the RC vision–a la CTC–simply cannot account for the historical reality of what has actually transpired in history.

    However, I would turn that on its head. If there is such thing as “Church” and schism from that Church, then disunity would be impossible–in the sense you are implying. The creed reads: “One, Holy…”. The Church receives her divine unicity from Her Lord, as a gift. This unicity is also manifest in and through her Catholicity and Apostolicity. Hence, when someone ceases to be joined to the Apostolic and Catholic Church (schism from), he or she ceases to be a part of that which is One. That person cuts himself off from the visible body.

    This is important if one is to grant that Christ established a “visible” Church. As a Catholic, I am well aware of the internal wounds that her members bring upon her. Some, by their actions, have already cut themselves off from the visible body. Others persist in her, yet wound her through what they do or fail to do (me included). Nonetheless, we are in communion with the visible (this not that) Church Jesus established. If such ecclesiology is impossible–on your view–a visible church is a shibboleth. Or, we should grant the Montanists and Donatists some kind of place in the “visible church”. When you move the borders in that way, you open up the possibility that the “visible Church” is indistinguishable from the invisible church, which makes it not visible. If it is not visible, then Christ did not establish a visible Church, or His visible Church has failed.

    2. Does it follow that saying the visible church can suffer from an essential or ontological rift necessarily suggest to an ecclesial deism? It seems to me while our ecclesiology ought not be deistic, it neither ought to be deterministic.

    If the visible Church can suffer an “ontological” anything, than she ceases to be what she is. A change in essence or being implies the ceasing of that which was and the becoming of that which was not. Deism and determinism are two extremes, but one must not reject both and in so doing reject the divine telos of the Church. Moreover, one must also not reject the words of Christ’s promise (“to lead into all truth”) and–more importantly–the promise of His Spirit. In a way, determinism and deism both suffer the same error; they are impersonal. But, God has revealed himself in the person of Christ. He left the Church with the person of the Holy Spirit. Both lead us to the person of the Father. And the Church is made up of persons. That is why deism and determinism are erroneous–they are impossible. This means that God intimately works in and through the frailty of human agents to bring about his purpose of a Church–of which the gates of hell will not prevail and a Church that is visible and can discipline and teach its members. For such a Church to exist without visible disunity is a supernatural sign of its creation–and its telos in creation. It is not the creation of human hands, but of the personal God Himself.

    3. Should Catholics give special weight to the first 7 ecumenical councils as the proper starting point for union/communion/reunion? Why or why not?

    This seems ad hoc. Could you explain why only 7? (same basic question as Andrew’s)

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  24. Brent,

    Just a note on the following bit from your comment:

    If the visible Church can suffer an “ontological” anything, than she ceases to be what she is. A change in essence or being implies the ceasing of that which was and the becoming of that which was not.

    The visible Church can “suffer” (in that she has the potential to receive) an ontological change, i.e., a modification in her being, without ceasing to be what she is. Growth or development is a kind of ontological change, involving various modifications of a being over time without loss of essence or identity. Thus, not every change in a being (ontological change) is a change in essence. The latter involves the addition or loss of a substantial form, whereby a thing comes to be, or ceases to be, the kind of thing that it is. But not every formal modification of a being involves the addition or loss of a substantial form. Many ontological changes flow from the essence (e.g., a baby elephant developing tusks), but do not themselves constitute a change in essence or identity (the tusked elephant is still an elephant, and still the same elephant as the non-tusked elephant). Other ontological changes do not flow from the essence in this way, but still occur and do not constitute a change of essence or identity (e.g., a grey elephant might spend too much time in the sun, and become rather bleached, thus acquiring the quality of whiteness). I like elephants.

  25. Andrew,

    We agree. Thanks for clearing up that distinction (essential vs. other types of change).

  26. Thank you for the article. Unfortunately for me, I was unable to get more than a few minutes of the opposition podcast, but then that is water over the dam.

    It occurred to me early and repeatedly that, per the minister who was credited with the call leading to the podcast, Calvinism is experiencing a real problem with the loss of highly educated theologians and pastors, people who have a genuine desire for the truth. One could make a virtual litany of those who swam the Tiber not only from Calvinism but from (so far as I can tell) every other Christian religion.

    I doubt that they did it for the aesthetics since a lot of parishes are virtually barren of Catholic art; or even for the beautiful liturgy, because many are appallingly poor. It appears that the Truth and the truth (the Person and what He set in motion) are responsible for their swim.

    Thanks be to God and thanks for the article.

    dt

  27. Andrew and Brent, thanks for your responses. They are deeply appreciated. I’ve a few thoughts in return (numbers correspond to questions above):

    1. (Andrew) I’m stretching the analogy, to be sure. But I’m wanting to suggest that the visible body is suffering from an open wound. She needs that finger over there. She’d walk much better without that limp caused by that missing big toe, etc. And it would be better for the missing part (which is not wholly lost) to be reattached. She may have retained her visible unity, but, God have mercy, she looks like a quadruple amputee!

    (Brent) What I attempted to say in the post in question I don’t think stands in contradiction to my question. I can grant that visible unity is what God wants from us. I cannot grant, however, that that is what he has received from us. No doubt, as you, Andrew, and many others note, we start at fundamentally different starting points: amputated or severed members are always in schism from from Rome; I agree in principle with the first part, but no doubt disagree when it comes to defining what—or better—who the church is that’s suffering the schism.

    2. (Andrew) While I find some agreement regarding what’s said about the nature of the church here, I’m not surprised by the overall vision laid out, because it trucks in an uncomfortable dualism: “the Holy Spirit is likened to the soul of the Church.” (In contradistinction to Lumen gentium 2.9?)

    I’d suggest rather a kind of monism, that the church is a concrete, ontologically real union of the church with Christ. Thus, I don’t understand the difference between the church as an institution and “the empirical community of men, women and children called into being through the proclamation of the Gospel, indwelt by the Holy Spirit in whom [they are] united to Christ and through him joined to God” (to quote Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith). In other words, it’s rooted in the Holy Trinity and it’s one living soul, the body of Christ, “due to a real participation in him who is consubstantial with God the Father.” So members of the church are united with Christ just as he is united with the Father. “Hence whatever the church does from beginning to end is done ‘in the Son and the Father and the Spirit’” (Torrance again).

    Construing the church in dualistic terms, then, may be guilty of the Apollinarian heresy on the one side and the Macedonian heresy on the other. In the former, in the incarnation the mind of God was said to take the place of the human mind of Jesus. For the latter, the Holy Spirit was said to be ultimately a creature and separate from the essence of the Holy Trinity. Thus, if you say that the Holy Spirit is the soul of the church, perhaps you’re inadvertently saying that either the Spirit replaces the soul of the church or the Spirit is itself a creature (and not because the church is a mere creaturely institution—far from it! But it is what it is not through nature but through adoption and grace effected through the gift of the Spirit who comes to dwell in us as he dwells in God.)

    All this to say that to suggest that the visible, universal church suffers open wounds through its visible disunity does not fall victim to either ecclesial deism or ecclesial promiscuity, insofar as that Scylla and Charybdis are rendered moot given the description of the church offered above (by Torrance, which is perhaps more in line with LG 2.9?).

    (Brent) Because of Matthew 16:18, I must say that the current failure (in this specific matter) of Christ’s visible church will not be final; its telos will be upheld (which is where I was going in my post with respect to praying the Creed in hope). But I must also suggest that what Christ returns to (a visibly unified body or a wreck) depends largely on the church. The same holds true, incidentally, with respect to what kind of world our Lord returns to (largely converted or about to kill us all).

    3. Perhaps I can be allowed this one, little ad hoc hypothesis. I don’t think what I’m saying above relies on it, but the way forward might. Also, let’s keep in mind that ad hoc hypotheses aren’t necessarily false—where would, e.g., our theories of general relativity be without them?

    I’ve posed this question before, and (iirc) Bryan sufficiently challenged it by (1) reinforcing the concept of schism from the Catholic point of view; and (2) picking at the historical assertion undergirding it. We went back and forth on it at St. Joseph’s Vanguard. Though in the end I remain unconvinced that the idea must be scrapped, I learned from the argument.

    Instead of rehashing any of that here, I’ll just try to clarify why I brought it up in the first place.

    My recent blog post didn’t come out and say it (having, as it does, multiple ecclesial audiences in mind), but here it is: I think the onus is on Rome to lead the way and, indeed, to effectuate re-communion (as LG 1.8 says). That’s what I appreciate about the stated principle of CtC.

    The best way forward in this matter, and, indeed, the most honest way toward healing this open wound, it seems to me, is to start with the first seven ecumenical councils. Not only would the Orthodox be served well in this, but a great many (and increasing number) of Protestants too.

    The reasons are: (1) the first seven contain the great pillars of the faith; (2) the first seven have the benefit of being deemed immediately binding by the worldwide church (a need that all the Bellarmine’s in history cannot revise away); (3) they were thus deemed because the first seven teach what had been handed down in tradition from the fathers (scripture included under this rubric). By definition, not the same could be said for all subsequent councils.

  28. Chris,

    Two quick questions, if you don’t mind, on your third point.

    1. Do I take it that you’re down with the teaching of Nicaea II, that sacred images, “whether these are icons of our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, or our spotless Sovereign Lady, the holy Mother of God, or the holy angels and holy and venerable men,” should be venerated by Christians?

    2. As your point that the first seven were “deemed immediately binding by the worldwide church,” how would you respond to, say, Oriental Orthodox when they loudly clear their throat at this assertion?

    Other than that, carry on with Andrew and Brent.

    best,
    John

  29. Chris,

    1. To assess the extent and the practical results of the Church’s wounds from schisms, we would first have to specify the referent of “the Church.” Of course, I mean by that the Catholic Church, and though I agree that she suffers due to past and present schisms, she does not appear to me as a quadruple amputee, as evidenced by her enduring doctrine, continuance in the means of grace, and abiding government, together with the allegiance of hundreds of millions of souls all over the world, and her continued mission to the nations.

    Schisms, beginning from the Apostles’ time and continuing to the present (e.g., from the Judaizers to the SSPX), have not triumphed over the essential unity of the Catholic Church. Does the Church suffer harm, both from within and without? Yes. I am not trivializing these wounds. Does the promise of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit slacken or abate due to human sin and error? No. Let us not trivialize the integrity and endurance of the Church, in an effort to account for, mourn, and seek to redress the enduring effects of the perfidious actions of men.

    2. You wrote:

    …I’m not surprised by the overall vision laid out, because it trucks in an uncomfortable dualism: “the Holy Spirit is likened to the soul of the Church.” (In contradistinction to Lumen gentium 2.9?)

    Any ontology which posits the existence of both immaterial (e.g. God, angels, forms) and material realities is a kind of dualism, but no Christian should be uncomfortable with this. (The word “dualism” can carry various kinds of baggage; suffice to say, the sacramentalism of the Catholic Church, together with the influence of St. Thomas Aquinas, and through him Aristotle, does not make for a particularly dualistic approach to reality in general or the Church in particular.) The teaching of Pius XII regarding the Holy Spirit as the soul of the Church is not in contradistinction to anything that I can find in the section of Lumen Gentium to which you refer. Perhaps you could be more specific? For ease of reference, here is the most relevant bit from my quotation of the Pope’s encyclical:

    There can, then, be no real opposition or conflict between the invisible mission of the Holy Spirit and the juridical commission of Ruler and Teacher received from Christ, since they mutually complement and perfect each other—as do the body and soul in man—and proceed from our one Redeemer who not only said as He breathed on the Apostles “Receive ye the Holy Spirit,” but also clearly commanded: “As the Father hath sent me, I also send you”; and again: “He that heareth you heareth me.” (Mystici Corporis Christi, 64, 65; cf. Pope Leo XIII, Satis Cognitum, 10.)

    You wrote:

    Thus, if you say that the Holy Spirit is the soul of the church, perhaps you’re inadvertently saying that either the Spirit replaces the soul of the church or the Spirit is itself a creature (and not because the church is a mere creaturely institution—far from it! But it is what it is not through nature but through adoption and grace effected through the gift of the Spirit who comes to dwell in us as he dwells in God.)

    I am not inadvertently saying that the Holy Spirit replaces the soul of the Church, because the Church, unlike an individual human person, does not have a natural soul. So there is nothing for the Spirit to replace. The Church is like a body, having an invisible as well as a visible principle of unity, and to this extent the Holy Spirit, the invisible principle of unity, is like the soul of the Church. The Spirit’s presence in the Church does not imply that the Spirit is a creature, any more than does the presence of the Spirit in a human being imply that the Spirit is a creature.

    All this to say that to suggest that the visible, universal church suffers open wounds through its visible disunity does not fall victim to either ecclesial deism or ecclesial promiscuity, insofar as that Scylla and Charybdis are rendered moot given the description of the church offered above (by Torrance, which is perhaps more in line with LG 2.9?).

    This is because your description of the visible, universal Church renders it indistinguishable from an invisible, universal Church, with visible members and denominations:

    I’d suggest rather a kind of monism, that the church is a concrete, ontologically real union of the church with Christ. Thus, I don’t understand the difference between the church as an institution and “the empirical community of men, women and children called into being through the proclamation of the Gospel, indwelt by the Holy Spirit in whom [they are] united to Christ and through him joined to God” (to quote Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith).

    (See Bryan’s article, Why Protestantism has no “visible catholic Church”, for explanation of my claim preceding this quote.)

    3. On this point, I’ll just refer back to my previous comment, in which I affirm, as a prudential practical step, the strategy of starting with what we (whoever the “we” might be, in a given context) already have in common. As to your claim that Councils subsequent to Nicea II were not deemed binding by the worldwide Church, as not having been handed down by Scripture and Tradition, I’ll be content to wait for your answer to the second question posed by John S.

    Andrew

  30. Chris,

    I can grant that visible unity is what God wants from us. I cannot grant, however, that that is what he has received from us.

    That is the point of the ecclesial deism charge. We don’t believe God wants visible unity form us, and then looks to see what he’ll get from us. We believe He gave, established, founded a One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. That Church has visible unity because it has received it as a gift from God. NOT because it is possible by the mere contrivance of men.

    but no doubt disagree when it comes to defining what—or better—who the church is that’s suffering the schism

    Again as I said before:

    If such ecclesiology is impossible–on your view–a visible church is a shibboleth. Or, we should grant the Montanists and Donatists some kind of place in the “visible church”. When you move the borders in that way, you open up the possibility that the “visible Church” is indistinguishable from the invisible church, which makes it not visible. If it is not visible, then Christ did not establish a visible Church, or His visible Church has failed.

    I think the onus is on Rome to lead the way and, indeed, to effectuate re-communion (as LG 1.8 says). That’s what I appreciate about the stated principle of CtC.

    I agree. But, I’m afraid that it will happen two ways. The other will be the doctrinal, moral and ecclesial collapse of protestant communities. That, I’m afraid, will only make it more apparent who is in schism from who. For it is when the gates of hell prevail, we learn the real from the imposter. Not because of her members, but because of the Spirit promised to one and not to the other.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  31. I have been following this item on and off when I came into C2C today and saw the new article about an OPC pastor becoming Catholic. What a juxtaposition. It appears that Scott Clark and Robert Godfrey are not having the kind of success that they were aiming for. I share something with Professors Clark and Godfrey because I was once on the wrong side of this argument. Perhaps they’ll be joining us?

    Cordially,

    dt

  32. Much of the original argument assumes that the development of doctrine is official Roman dogma. It is not. It was a clever idea of Newman’s (and if you want to see a bitter Newman, read Frank Church’s unassailable bio of Newman). In fact, Bellarmine–Newman is a girl scout compared to him when it comes to Bellarmine’s stature as protestant slayer– rejected the notion of the development of doctrine, and even attributed it to Protestantism. (Curiously, Bellermine’s feast day is no longer a day of holy obligation. Why is that?)

  33. Donald,

    The professors were aiming to dissuade Protestants from becoming Catholics. It is probably impossible to tell what kind of success they are having, but we can assess their claims and arguments against the Catholic Church, and try to respond. We can also rejoice whenever someone, Protestant, Orthodox, or unchurched, enters into full communion with the Catholic Church. I hope that someday these professors will likewise come home, to our great joy and benefit–and theirs.

  34. AL,

    I am not sure that the professors’ argument assumes that DD is official Catholic dogma. If memory serves, they seem merely to suppose that most Catholics today, including members of the Magisterium, accept DD as a way to account for the history of doctrine, believing that this way is both compatible with Catholic dogma and more successful than alternative theories.

    I have never heard of Frank Church or his biography on Newman, but it would indeed be remarkable if it manages to be “unassailable.” I don’t particularly want to see a bitter Newman, or an any particular kind of Newman. I want to see Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, as he was in life. I also want to ask for his intercession in death, believing that his prayers avail much.

    Newman was neither a girl scout nor a protestant slayer, nor a particularly bitter man, so far as I can tell, from his books and letters and the accounts of others. He was a lot of things, misunderstood and suspected both by Protestants and some of his fellow Catholics, but in the end, vindicated by the Church.

    I don’t know much about the Feast Day of St. Robert Bellarmine, but I do know that it was never a holy day of obligation!

  35. AL,

    I think it’s reasonable to say that Newman advanced and clarified our notion of doctrinal development, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that the idea originated with him.

    Hold fast whatever truth you have been able to grasp, and attribute it to the Catholic Church. Reject what is false and pardon me who am but a man. What is doubtful believe until either reason teaches or authority lays down that it is to be rejected or that it is true, or that it has to be believed always. [St Augustine, Of True Religion 20; quoted in Augustine: Earlier Writings, p. 235]

    Augustine writes that there are some subjects about which the truth may be uncertain but which the Church may one day declare to be either true or false by exercise of its authority. It seems pretty clear that he expected the Church to clarify things over time, and that this would involve the formulation of new dogmas.

    Accordingly we must conclude that, as regards the substance of the articles of faith, they have not received any increase as time went on: since whatever those who lived later have believed, was contained, albeit implicitly, in the faith of those Fathers who preceded them. But there was an increase in the number of articles believed explicitly, since to those who lived in later times some were known explicitly which were not known explicitly by those who lived before them. [St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II q. 1 a. 7.]

    Aquinas affirms that the number of articles of faith which we profess explicitly has grown over time. In the same article he also quotes Pope St Gregory the Great saying essentially the same thing.

    I wouldn’t argue if someone claimed that Newman’s theory differs in details from what these Doctors of the Church wrote. My point is only that it was understood long before Newman’s day that the articles of faith have grown in number over time, so that it seems unfair to speak of him as an innovator when he seeks to understand how this came to pass.

    Fred

  36. Hiya. I’m aiming for brevity.

    John S., #28, Yes (1), this Protestant, being of the Anglican sort, is an avowed iconodule. It is not a regular personal practice, but I have no qualms with it. And (2), I know this may sound arbitrary, but in all 7 councils, the Pentarchy (Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem) were either present or later ratified a previous council. But isn’t this question increasingly moot as the Orientals near full communion with the Orthodox? Or at least signify general christological agreement with both Rome and the East?

  37. Chris (#36),

    I’ll be brief, too.

    (1) Cool. Though, the syntax of your sentence suggests that “being of the Anglican sort” naturally results in being “an avowed iconodule.” But certainly many Anglicans are not, what with the 22nd of the 39 Articles and all that. Just out of curiosity, are you a Tract 90 guy, or what?

    (2) So you’re saying that the Pentarchy is (was?)…what? The touchstone of orthodoxy? Is it obsolete? Forgive me my density, but I don’t get it. Personally, I tend to think of the Pentarchy as a canonical arrangement, totally fine in itself, that made sense in the political context of the “ecumenical” Roman Empire, but that eventually came to be conflated in potentially harmful fashion with the older notion of Apostolic Sees. And no, I don’t think it’s moot, though my Coptic Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox friends and I are encouraged and hopeful about recent ecumenical developments.

    A new one: (3) How do you or would you go about convincing other Protestants of the legitimacy and authority of the Seventh Ecumenical Council? (This, by the way, is an honest question.)

  38. Chris,
    -The Oriental Orthodox do not accept any ecumenical councils beyond the first three.

    -Depends on what you mean by “nearly in full communion.” Any “agreements” in the recent past have mostly been exchanges of ecumenical gestures and niceties. The Oriental orthodox have not repudiated the “Robber council of Ephesus” so they are as much “nearly in full communion” as any other body with apostolic succession is with another.

  39. Andrew #29. Thank you for your measured response.

    1. You wrote (again, numbers correspond to those above): “Let us not trivialize the integrity and endurance of the Church, in an effort to account for, mourn, and seek to redress the enduring effects of the perfidious actions of men.”

    Absolutely. Let’s not also trivialize the enduring effects of the perfidious actions of men by narrowly defining unam in order to make sense of those actions. But am I going against the grain here? Against the principle perhaps exemplified in St. John’s “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us”?

    2. The questions revolving around metaphysical dualism or monism (and I’m no philosopher) unsettle me. It’s a rock and a hard place, and yet I lean in the direction of a qualified monism. All material things are contingent upon the (immaterial) Divine; nothing can (or ought) to be considered, in the abstract, apart from this “life support.” Ending rabbit trail now.

    To say that “St. Thomas Aquinas, and through him Aristotle, does not make for a particularly dualistic approach to reality in general or the Church in particular” I think is to grossly understate the problem (even if I’m personally conflicted about the nature of Thomas’ nature/grace schema). To conceive of the church having the Holy Spirit as its soul betrays an unnecessary and unhelpful dualism. Unavoidable, really. And thus so are, potentially, the errors mentioned above (Apollinarian and Macedonian), if the more wholistic view of the nature of the church seemingly propounded in Lumen gentium is upheld.

    The only reason I brought those up was to ask about the potential antinomy between that (dualistic) vision and the one proffered in Lumen gentium. It’s the absence of previous centuries’ dualistic notion of the church in LG that is telling. Even more so, it’s the notion that Catholics are “in many ways…linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian” (2.15), that undoes the old dualism. How can a church who considers its soul to be the very Spirit of God speak of those who, “though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter,” are “in some real way…joined with [Catholics] in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power” (2.15) as “Christian”? I suggest that it cannot, unless the Holy Spirit is he who “vivifies” (2.8) the church and is, indeed, nothing less than her Lord. Not her (Platonic) “soul” but the very one who indwells her and in whom she is united to Christ and through him joined to God, rooted and contingent and dependent upon the Holy Trinity, a living soul, the body of Christ, due to a real participation in the Son who is consubstantial with the Father (to invoke Torrance again).

    You might respond that the two are not mutually exclusive; I would respond that if this Dogmatic Constitution of the Church considers people outside her fold capable of being “honored with the name Christian,” then you may have to reconsider whether or not the Church of Rome has faithfully enfleshed—embodied—what it means to be unam (over the centuries that presided over her greatest schisms).

    The church is a person, utterly dependent and contingent upon her triune Lord. Body+Breath of Life=Living Soul. The soul, biblically understood, is the whole person, and thus I daresay it’s not been helpfully construed over the past several centuries. It seems to me that Lumen gentium can say the new things (for Rome) that it says about the nature of the church because it moves away from the dualistic vision that it was beholden to for so long.

    In short, retaining as I do the necessity of the church to be one and thus visible, I cannot be saddled with destroying the notion (as many Protestant admittedly do), even if I must still answer the “ecclesial deism” charge, which I will attempt to do in brief (I hope!) in response to Brent.

  40. So, then, Brent #30, here we go:

    You wrote, in response to my suggestion that what God wants from us (ecclesiastically) isn’t what he has received from us, that this “is the point of the ecclesial deism charge. We don’t believe God wants visible unity from us, and then looks to see what he’ll get from us.”

    I challenge you to name some things that were decreed absolutely by God (when it comes to his creation), without any expectation of meeting certain conditions on our part, without any response on his part to intervening historical contingencies. Even if you were able to answer that question with certitude (not yet knowing ‘as we are known’), the list would be short indeed. Taking our cue from the Sacred Scriptures, we see that even those decrees (oracles, prophecies, apostolic utterances, etc.) that appear at first glance to be absolute, they are nevertheless laden with conditions (when dealing with humankind in particular).

    I submit that the same holds true with respect to the people of God and their calling to be one.

    And there’s nothing deistic about this whatsoever. It doesn’t even relate to what deism is, namely, that God simply “looks to see what he’ll get from us,” that he does not intervene in human affairs, as if he designed and built and kicked off this whole thing called church and then stepped aside to let it run on its own (which, again, as Bryan points out in his post on this subject, is a proper critique of how many Protestants think in this matter).

    What I’m describing is quite down toward the opposite end of the spectrum, and, if anything, can be taxed with placing too much emphasis on the immanence of God in relationship to his creation. I’m talking about a God who called out of the massa perditionis a Christ (the eternal Son of God who took upon himself our nature), in whom people are united (through baptism and faith), which people are then called to be what they are. Being thus made posse non pecare they are given the tasks laid out in various places throughout the Scriptures of embodying what it means to be corpus Christi, and, by virtue of the indwelling Spirit of God, are thus able to do so. In doing so, they falter, they err, and all the while their loving and patient God struggles with them, responding to them, and continually goads them on toward the unity (of will and purpose and substantiality) that is shared among the Godhead, the great Three in One.

    The question I’m begging here (among others, to be sure), and for which I do not have a clear answer, is: Was the church ever visibly one? (You raise a similar question, Brent, in #30 above). Well, from the perspective of those not Catholic, there was a time when it certainly appeared to be more visibly unified that it is now (the point to which I’m alluding when speaking of the Pentarchy). Heretics, so long as they do not repent of their heresy, do not have a place in the church (but, as I’m beginning to clarify my views on the binding nature of the first seven ecumenical councils, I’m also therefore questioning whether or not a group can be labelled heretical these days, if their teachings/life do not fall under the condemnation of those councils—unless all the current communions of christendom who stand in succession [let's shelf for now the whole Branch Theory thing] declare said group to be heretical).

    Can the church be unified in any sense beyond visibly unity? Only loosely, and it must never be construed as ideal, an end in itself (and justified as such). I say yes, in a qualified sense, because those who receive the meal Jesus gave us (esp. those in a communion that stands in succession) are those who, while many, are one body, for they all share one bread one cup (you parking-lot Anglicans around here will recognize the language).

    Nevertheless, I am suggesting that Christians, with respect to the church’s mark of visible unity, are in FAIL mode (though I have hope that this won’t always be the case). And still, I agree with you, Brent, that “the doctrinal, moral and ecclesial collapse of protestant communities” is not just coming, but has been with us for some time, and will be revealed more clearly the closer the Catholic Church comes to effectuating reunion.

    I leave behind a prayer that prays against the reality of this Open Wound Ecclesiology:

    Father, we pray for your holy Catholic Church;
    That we all may be one. (BCP, PoP, III)

  41. Chris,

    First, thank you so much for your thoughtful response. I wish this conversation could happen in person over a beer or coffee. Though, illness keeps me in bed at this moment, so I’m not sure I would be the best table-mate.

    First, I think you are right to notice division in Christianity. I am a witness to that as well. As a Catholic, we still spend an entire week praying specifically for Christian unity. So what gives? If we are “praying for Christian unity”, is not the Church one?

    In your post at your blog (of which this conversation evolved), Bryan Cross has responded to you well. In particular when he said:

    You seem to think that the fact of “schism from” the Church is incompatible with the divine protection of the Church’s unity. But that would only follow if the Church were less united after a “schism from” the Church than before. However, from a Catholic point of view, the Church itself loses no unity when a member or group of members leaves the Church. The Church retains its three bonds of unity: unity of one faith, unity of sacraments, and unity of government. The persons who separate themselves from the Church through schism lose unity with the Church, because they lose participation in the Church’s divine unity. The Church herself, however, loses no unity. That unity remains in her, and if these persons were to be restored to full communion with her, they would enjoy again a participation in that divine unity, not because Christ would have to bring more unity down from heaven, but because it was there continually in the Church, and enjoyed by all those in full communion with the Church. So in this way, the “perpetual divine protection of the unity and orthodoxy of the church” is fully compatible with the realities of the church’s history

    and

    Finally, you say, “But whence the credo? How can we pray, “I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” if it doesn’t quite exist? With hope.” The problem is that nobody in the first millennium and a half thought that way, as if the entity described in the Creed, with her four marks (for locating her), was only a future hope, and not a present reality. The Church and her sacraments (summed in the following line: “and in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins”) are present; Christ already founded a Church located by those four marks. To interpret this line of the Creed (i.e. I believe in one, holy, …) as an affirmation of a future hope, and not as referring to a present reality, is to deny this line of the Creed, because it has never meant that, nor does it mean that. In order to affirm the Nicene Creed, you must believe that the one, holy and catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded, present exists.

    I will let Bryan’s words stand for my own. I will only seek to comment on your question:

    Was the church ever visibly one?”

    That is a good question, and the answer depends on the vantage. My point when I mentioned ecclesial deism wasn’t to imply that you deny the immanence of God, but rather that you miss the point of him founding a Church. From the beginning, there were those who were “with them” and those who “went out from them”. That distinction marks two realities. Jesus prayed that “we would be one” while simultaneously founding One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Thus, to be one, there is a way provided by God. It is not merely for us to get together and figure out “how are we going to do this?”. Instead, from the beginning, God provided a way for Christian unity. He established a Church on Apostles, entrusted them the deposit of faith, gave them the Holy Spirit to lead the Church into all truth, and they passed that ministry off to their successors. And, yes, St. Peter is the principle of that unity.

    Has there always been those who “called upon the name of the Lord” but who, unfortunately, “went out from them”? Sure. But, that does not change the reality of the Unity of the Church (as Bryan points out). It is precisely in that visible unity that the path to the unity we pray for can be achieved. Without that pre-existing unity, the way out is truly a deistic one. God has not provided a way, and we are left to our own contrivances.

    In a sense, as Newman and other’s accounts of the history of the early church evinces, we have always been in FAIL mode. Nonetheless, the Church Jesus founded has never been in FAIL mode. Which side of the history are we on? I think it is when the gates of hell prevail, when a sect dies and the Church continues on, that we learn who She is, Who is with Her, and the difference between schism and branches.

    Hey btw, if you are Anglican, there is a great personal ordinariate for you! St. Peter has flung open the door to the hospital, let’s heal the wound!

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  42. Chris D. said: “I am suggesting that Christians, with respect to the church’s mark of visible unity, are in FAIL mode.”

    Let me throw out some of my laymans thoughts here Chris. If your suggestion is correct, Then the creed (One Holy…) would be wrong? And Christs words to Peter would be wrong about hell not prevailing against the Church? And His prayer for Peter for his faith to not fail? I mean, if the Church cannot at this moment be described as being a unity of one, then hell has prevailed, and the creed is false and Christianity is shown to be false.

  43. I wish this conversation could happen in person over a beer or coffee.

    Seconded.

  44. David Meyer #42:

    Good question. Trying not to step in it here. It’s certainly not the case that the creed is wrong, not least if there was a time when the church was one. (I do understand the implication, namely, that if visible unity is one essential mark of the church, then it appears that essential thing has changed—and can a thing that has undergone an essential change still be that thing?)

    My only recourse is to suggest that the church herself is in process, and thus her Lord along with her engages, and responds to, this process. Only God is sure; all else is subject to change. And I think this is what God himself chose to get into. Think of it in these terms (provided you don’t have an immediate allergic reaction): What will the church evolve to be?

    Put differently, David, so far as this world and our finite perspectives are concerned, Christianity, with all its divisions, worldly alliances, demagoguery, and heterodoxy, does indeed look false.

    I of course don’t think it is, but therein lies my hope, which brings us back around to the creed. There is a unity, entailed in the creed’s language, that is yet retained (again, in the language of Lumen gentium: “though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter,” are “in some real way…joined with [Catholics] in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power”).

    We who are not of you are “joined” in some “real way” to you. And the locus of that union? The Holy Spirit himself. Nevertheless, it is not God’s ideal for his church, for it’s an open wound.

  45. Chris,

    I still haven’t had the opportunity to fully consider (though I have read) your most recent comments about the unity and wounds of the Church in the wake of schisms, but I do want to cite Section IV from Dominus Iesus, in light of your reference to Lumen Gentium. I still want to revisit that, but in the meantime here is an authoritative statement that seems relevant, both as a clarification of LG and to this discussion in general:

    IV. UNICITY AND UNITY OF THE CHURCH

    16. The Lord Jesus, the only Saviour, did not only establish a simple community of disciples, but constituted the Church as a salvific mystery: he himself is in the Church and the Church is in him (cf. Jn 15:1ff.; Gal 3:28; Eph 4:15-16; Acts 9:5). Therefore, the fullness of Christ’s salvific mystery belongs also to the Church, inseparably united to her Lord. Indeed, Jesus Christ continues his presence and his work of salvation in the Church and by means of the Church (cf. Col 1:24-27),47 which is his body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-13, 27; Col 1:18).48 And thus, just as the head and members of a living body, though not identical, are inseparable, so too Christ and the Church can neither be confused nor separated, and constitute a single “whole Christ”.49 This same inseparability is also expressed in the New Testament by the analogy of the Church as the Bride of Christ (cf. 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:25-29; Rev 21:2,9).50

    Therefore, in connection with the unicity and universality of the salvific mediation of Jesus Christ, the unicity of the Church founded by him must be firmly believed as a truth of Catholic faith. Just as there is one Christ, so there exists a single body of Christ, a single Bride of Christ: “a single Catholic and apostolic Church”.51 Furthermore, the promises of the Lord that he would not abandon his Church (cf. Mt 16:18; 28:20) and that he would guide her by his Spirit (cf. Jn 16:13) mean, according to Catholic faith, that the unicity and the unity of the Church — like everything that belongs to the Church’s integrity — will never be lacking.52

    The Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is an historical continuity — rooted in the apostolic succession 53 — between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church: “This is the single Church of Christ… which our Saviour, after his resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care (cf. Jn 21:17), commissioning him and the other Apostles to extend and rule her (cf. Mt 28:18ff.), erected for all ages as ‘the pillar and mainstay of the truth’ (1 Tim 3:15). This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in [subsistit in] the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him”.54 With the expression subsistit in, the Second Vatican Council sought to harmonize two doctrinal statements: on the one hand, that the Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, and on the other hand, that “outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth”,55 that is, in those Churches and ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church.56 But with respect to these, it needs to be stated that “they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.57

    17. Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him.58 The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches.59 Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church.60

    On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery,61 are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church.62 Baptism in fact tends per se toward the full development of life in Christ, through the integral profession of faith, the Eucharist, and full communion in the Church.63

    “The Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection — divided, yet in some way one — of Churches and ecclesial communities; nor are they free to hold that today the Church of Christ nowhere really exists, and must be considered only as a goal which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach”.64 In fact, “the elements of this already-given Church exist, joined together in their fullness in the Catholic Church and, without this fullness, in the other communities”.65 “Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.66

    The lack of unity among Christians is certainly a wound for the Church; not in the sense that she is deprived of her unity, but “in that it hinders the complete fulfilment of her universality in history”.67

    Footnotes:

    (47) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 14.
    (48) Cf. ibid., 7.
    (49) Cf. St. Augustine, Enarratio in Psalmos, Ps. 90, Sermo 2,1: CCSL 39, 1266; St. Gregory the Great, Moralia in Iob, Praefatio, 6, 14: PL 75, 525; St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III, q. 48, a. 2 ad 1.
    (50) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 6.
    (51) Symbolum maius Ecclesiae Armeniacae: DS 48. Cf. Boniface VIII, Unam sanctam: DS 870-872; Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 8.
    (52) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 4; John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, 11: AAS 87 (1995), 927.
    (53) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 20; cf. also St. Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, III, 3, 1-3: SC 211, 20-44; St. Cyprian, Epist. 33, 1: CCSL 3B, 164-165; St. Augustine, Contra adver. legis et prophet., 1, 20, 39: CCSL 49, 70.
    (54) Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 8.
    (55) Ibid.; cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, 13. Cf. also Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 15 and the Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 3.
    (56) The interpretation of those who would derive from the formula subsistit in the thesis that the one Church of Christ could subsist also in non-Catholic Churches and ecclesial communities is therefore contrary to the authentic meaning of Lumen gentium. “The Council instead chose the word subsistit precisely to clarify that there exists only one ‘subsistence’ of the true Church, while outside her visible structure there only exist elementa Ecclesiae, which — being elements of that same Church — tend and lead toward the Catholic Church” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Notification on the Book “Church: Charism and Power” by Father Leonardo Boff: AAS 77 [1985], 756-762).
    (57) Second Vatican Council, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 3.
    (58) Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae, 1: AAS 65 (1973), 396-398.
    (59) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 14 and 15; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter Communionis notio, 17: AAS 85 (1993), 848.
    (60) Cf. First Vatican Council, Constitution Pastor aeternus: DS 3053-3064; Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 22.
    (61) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 22.
    (62) Cf. ibid., 3.
    (63) Cf. ibid., 22.
    (64) Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae, 1.
    (65) John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, 14.
    (66) Second Vatican Council, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 3.
    (67) Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter Communionis notio, 17; cf. Second Vatican Council, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 4.

  46. Thanks for this, Andrew. Bottom line: even a stopped clock is right twice a day?

    I’ll seek to digest it more fully in the days to come. I’m all for slow conversations; so, at your leisure.

  47. Andrew,

    I’m addressing this comment here as it seems to be as relevant a post as any, but please feel free to redirect if this is better discussed elsewhere.

    I have long pondered development of doctrine versus contradiction of doctrine (at least as far as my layman’s ponderings will take me). As Protestant apologists are wont to point out, any historical contradiction between doctrines infallibly defined would be a real problem for the Catholic authority claim. I have attempted to approach each case of supposed contradiction with an open mind, recognizing that atheist apologists use the same sort of ammunition against the authority of the Bible.

    With this backdrop, I have been following with interest the current issue of divorced and remarried Catholics, and how this will be dealt with during the upcoming synod on the family. It seems that some cardinals are pushing for “doctrinal development” that would allow for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Eucharist (I’m thinking particularly of Cardinal Kaspar). Cardinal Muller’s response suggests that he would not consider this to be a valid development, but rather a contradiction of two millennia of church teaching on marriage and the Eucharist. If the synod allows for this change, how am I (and how do you) discern if this is a valid development of true doctrine or a contradiction? I know I am dealing in hypotheticals at this point, and this question may end up being irrelevant, but the broader question is central to me as I consider the Catholic authority claim.

    Thanks

    Burton

  48. Burton, (#47)

    I won’t presume to speak for Andrew, but the Church cannot contradict her previous and present teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. Any authentic development of the doctrine must retain that truth. Any proposed ‘development’ that rejects or denies that truth is not a valid development of doctrine. I’ve laid out a good bit of the evidence for the indissolubility of marriage from the Tradition in “What Therefore God Has Joined Together: Divorce and the Sacrament of Marriage.” See there the section on the Council of Trent, and especially the 7th Canon of the 24th Session. That’s infallible, and therefore cannot be nullified, retracted, or rescinded. If you’d like to discuss the marriage question on that thread, feel free.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

    Update: See the comments on this topic by Robert Fastiggi, Ph.D. professor of systematic theology at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, MI.

  49. Bryan,

    Thanks for the response and the link to Dr. Fastiggi’s piece on the subject. The issue I am primarily wanting to discuss is how the Catholic Church uses to concept of doctrinal development and the implications this has for authority claims. In his concluding paragraph, Andrew graciously acknowledges that Catholics should not use doctrinal development as a sort of magic wand. If the fall synod allows remarried Catholics to receive communion, and if this is justified as a valid development, then I would view this as a major “magic wand moment” and it would for me seriously undermine the Catholic claims of ecclesial authority.

    The claim that the Catholic Church cannot contradict her previous and present teaching would only be valid if you start with the assumption that the Catholic Church in fact is who she claims to be. For those who start with that assumption, might it not be more difficult to discern actual doctrinal contradiction if it happens? That is why I asked Andrew how he would discern true development from contradiction if the fall synod decides to change the church’s practice for remarried individuals seeking to receive communion.

    Thanks,

    Burton

  50. Burton (re: #49)

    If the fall synod allows remarried Catholics to receive communion, …

    Remarried Catholics can already receive communion: i.e. when one’s spouse dies, one can remarry and receive communion. So if you mean “If the fall synod declares that married Catholics who contract a ‘civil divorce’ and then a ‘civil marriage’ with another person while their spouse is still alive, and engage in sexual relations with that person are not committing adultery …” then my reply to you is that the Church does not have the authority to revoke or rescind its doctrine concerning the indissolubility of marriage.

    The claim that the Catholic Church cannot contradict her previous and present teaching would only be valid if you start with the assumption that the Catholic Church in fact is who she claims to be. For those who start with that assumption, might it not be more difficult to discern actual doctrinal contradiction if it happens?

    This is just a subtle ad hominem, i.e. Catholics are more likely to be blind to actual doctrinal contradictions. I recommend that we avoid all that sort of thing, because it is always so easy in this way to discredit those who disagree with us by claiming that they are blind or stupid, etc. Catholics could say the same thing to Protestants about problems with Protestant doctrines, and where would that get us? Nowhere. Trading personal attacks is worthless; they cancel each other out, and only detract from the possibility of fruitful dialogue. Hence it is better to forgo the bulverism route, and just stick to the evidence and argumentation.

    If the Church were (per impossibile) to declare this Fall that marriage is now dissoluble, and that persons living in a second ‘marriage’ while their spouse is still alive are not living in adultery, then you would know that just about everything I’ve claimed about the Catholic Church’s identity and infallibility has been falsified.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  51. Bryan,

    Your reformulation of my hypothetical for remarried Catholics is exactly what I meant, so thanks for clarifying. I do see the subtle ad hominem in the second sentence of the latter block quote. While I think it is generally true that we have a harder time seeing potential errors in our own central doctrines, that certainly doesn’t apply only to Catholics and isn’t all that relevant to my question – I do apologize for letting that slip through.

    If the fall synod does not declare marriage to be now dissoluble, but does declare that married Catholics who contract a ‘civil divorce’ and then a ‘civil marriage’ with another person while their spouse is still alive, and engage in sexual relations with that person can, as a matter of pastoral care and discernment, receive communion after an appropriate penance (but who still engage in relations with their new “spouse”), would that also falsify your claims regarding Catholic ecclesial authority?

    I would guess that those within the Catholic hierarchy who want to change the Church’s teaching on human sexuality would do so in a subtle manner under the banner of pastoral concern, not with direct calls for a break with established doctrine. You can hear this language from some of the cardinals who are calling for a change in church practice without calling for a change in doctrine, but wouldn’t this amount to the same thing?

    I am not trying to establish some sort of “gotcha” from a possible outcome of this fall’s synod. I have been closely following the statements of various bishops and cardinals on these issues and related issues throughout the current pontificate. I just can’t figure out where the Catholic Church is going with all of this, and the seemingly blatant contradiction between doctrine and practice, and between the statements of various bishops and cardinals is downright frustrating. I am trying to discern my own path through all of this (authority claims and historical doctrinal consistency are critical issues for me in this effort) and the hierarchy has been making this job a bit tougher of late.

    Burton

  52. Burton (re: #51)

    If the fall synod does not declare marriage to be now dissoluble, but does declare that married Catholics who contract a ‘civil divorce’ and then a ‘civil marriage’ with another person while their spouse is still alive, and engage in sexual relations with that person can, as a matter of pastoral care and discernment, receive communion after an appropriate penance (but who still engage in relations with their new “spouse”), would that also falsify your claims regarding Catholic ecclesial authority?

    If by “appropriate penance” you mean something that involves turning away from living in adultery, then no; that would be in continuity with the Tradition. But if by “appropriate penance” you mean anything that does not include turning away from living in adultery, then yes, that would be a rejection of the received Tradition.

    I would guess that those within the Catholic hierarchy who want to change the Church’s teaching on human sexuality would do so in a subtle manner under the banner of pastoral concern, not with direct calls for a break with established doctrine. You can hear this language from some of the cardinals who are calling for a change in church practice without calling for a change in doctrine, but wouldn’t this amount to the same thing?

    Of course no one would call for a break with established doctrine. And changes in Church practice are possible, as you know. But you need to distinguish between those sorts of changes in practice that would not contradict doctrine, and those sorts of changes that would contradict doctrine. So long as that distinction is conflated, the worry about changes in practice is understandable, but groundless. Once you make that distinction, however, then you can acknowledge the possibility of changes in practice without thereby being open to changes that contradict doctrine.

    I just can’t figure out where the Catholic Church is going with all of this,

    That’s because you’re not the Holy Spirit. Hence the need for faith. (See “The Papacy and the Catholic Act of Faith,” where I wrote about the unique act of faith we make as Catholics, in God’s guidance of the Church and her Magisterium.)

    and the seemingly blatant contradiction between doctrine and practice,

    To which contradiction, precisely, are you referring?

    and between the statements of various bishops and cardinals is downright frustrating. I am trying to discern my own path through all of this (authority claims and historical doctrinal consistency are critical issues for me in this effort) and the hierarchy has been making this job a bit tougher of late.

    Having a good bit of Church history under your belt is the cure. It has always been like this. Always. There is always controversy, even among bishops and Cardinals. Read the accounts at every ecumenical council; at each one controversy and internal disagreement and debate abound. If the Church were going to contradict herself, or compromise the Tradition, it would have happened a long time ago. The miracle is that the Tradition is preserved and developed intact, in spite of these sorts of disagreements. But, the Tradition is not the present poll of opinions among the bishops when they disagree about some matter. Nor is the Magisterial teaching of the Church the present disagreement among the bishops. The Tradition on this subject is located in what the Church has always taught; see the link in comment #48 above. And the future Magisterial decision (assuming that there is one) resolving the disagreement must be / will be in agreement with that Tradition, even when/if it develops the authoritative doctrine handed down in Tradition.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

    Update: Cardinal Burke recently discussed this with Raymond Arroyo:

    See also the interview with Cardinal Caffarra, the comments by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the comments by Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, and the piece by Juan José Perez Soba titled “Renowned Theology Scholar Issues Strong Critique of Cardinal Kasper’s Speech on Marriage.” See also Cardinal O’Malley’s “The Church Will Not Change Her Teaching on Marriage.” See also Prof. John Rist’s “Remarriage, Divorce and Communion: Patristic Light on a Recent Problem.”

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