The Canon Made Impossible: Ehrman, McDowell & an Unlikely Agreement

Feb 20th, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

The following is a guest post written by Brent Stubbs, re-presenting material originally appearing at his blog, Almost Not Catholic. Brent majored in theological-historical studies with a minor in law at Oral Roberts University. His studies emphasized pre-Nicene and late Protestant Church history. Under the Reformed tutelage of Dr. Daniel Thimell–professor, former pastor, author of “God, Grace, and the Gospel”, and co-author of Christ in our Place: The Humanity of God in Christ for the Reconciliation of the World –he developed a strong affinity for Reformed theology during his undergraduate studies, even visiting Kirk on the Hill Presbyterian Church (EPC), an almost unthinkable move for a lifetime Pentecostal. After college, he taught Bible and history at a few different Christian high schools. During that experience he became more viscerally aware of the panoply of theological opinions within Christendom and the strong implication, or rather lack thereof, with regards to truth. During this time of theological consternation, he obtained a Masters in Business Administration and left teaching to work in private industry and subsequently–and at the prompting of a friend–began exploring the claims of Catholicism. That journey eventually led him to the University of Dallas and their graduate philosophy program where he was trying to “fill in the gaps” and answer the question: “What is the difference between my subjective understanding of Catholicism and a Protestant’s claim to theological knowledge?” (Cf. The Tu Quoque.) In 2008, he and his wife and then 3 children (now 4 + 1 on the way!) entered into full communion with the Catholic Church.

I. Same Team: Fighting the Abuses of Higher Criticism


The Stubbs Family

In this essay, I will show that although Protestants and Catholics share common interest contra the secular exegetes who desire to undermine the innerancy of Sacred Scripture, certain Protestant theories of the canon, by denying the authoritative agency of the Church in the formation of the canon, follow a very similar script to that of the secular exegetes who deny the divine agency of Christ and His Church.1 This becomes an oddly shared assumption between evangelical Protestants and secular exegetes — an unlikely agreement. Moreover, without the authoritative agency of the Church, the events of history leave us with no canon, and “inner witness” theories leave us without a credible one. Thus, the canon is made truly “impossible.”

Most Protestants love Jesus. These Protestants are “Jesus people,” and this love for Jesus gives them something in common with Catholics.2 Catholics, as the people who partake of Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity, cannot help but be endeared to them. Enter Bart Ehrman. A seeming enemy of both Jesus-loving Protestants and Catholics alike, Ehrman and his associates attempt to “debunk” the Sacred writings that we both hold in high regard. Much like the Jesus Seminar, Ehrman believes that through textual criticism and the historical critical method, he can prove the Bible to be an unreliable source and therefore not a supernatural book.3 Ehrman wields what he thinks are devastating blows to Christianity’s claims about Scripture. At this time, I will only mention that there is strong evidence to combat his arguments. Nevertheless, we can set those arguments aside and proceed having in our mind the obvious theological tension between Ehrman and evangelical Protestants.4

Thus, the Catholic Church and most Protestants are on the same team regarding the problems with the abuses of the historical-critical method. We both object to Ehrman’s claim that modern science disproves much of the New Testament. His position unnecessarily forces him to conclude that the Biblical witnesses could not have seen what they said they saw, and thus that they did not intend to convey what they apparently meant to convey. Conversely, the Catholic and Protestant approach to the texts does not close us off to the possibility of the supernatural. But in addition, the Catholic ‘approach to the text’ is altogether different from that of the historian looking back 2,000 years. We as a community extended through time from the day of Pentecost to the present, were there when the events happened, and bring these events forward to the present as a living memory preserved in our community in the form of Sacred Tradition.

II. History Will Not Give You A Canon

The Sacred Tradition is revealed and handed down within history, but is not the same as history. Unlike the Sacred Tradition, natural history does not require an infallible Magisterium to be understood or known with the certainty proper to our natural cognitive ability. History is not revealed religion but instead is something we can apprehend through the right use of our reason. History is the unfolding of and subsequent record of reality, not the in-breaking of the divine through accommodation and condescension as is the case for revealed religion. An article of faith and an article of history require different evidence and different authorities for that evidence, and that fact draws out the epistemological differences between history and theology (e.g., St. Mark and an eye-witness to a car accident). Of course, as I said, articles of faith come to us in history, but the fact that St. Mark said such-and-such at time “x” is different than the article of faith to which he gives witness. For example, the fact that Christ rose from the dead is a part of history.5 His descent into Hades and His sacrifice in the heavenly realm is not.

What does this have to do with the canon — as my title alludes? The canon is relevant because any student of ecclesial history, employing the right use of reason on the evidence from the early Church, must acknowledge that there was not consensus regarding the canon in the early Church. For example, Melito’s list excluded Esther. Origen is suspicious of James, II Peter, II and III John. Cyril of Jerusalem and Gregory of Nazianzus exclude the book of Revelation in their New Testament lists. 1 and 2 Clement were read in the liturgies of the early Church for some time.6 The book of Hebrews was called into question and a third letter to the Church in Corinth was revered in the East as canonical until as late as the fourth century.7 Lastly, we must admit that some canonical lists in antiquity provide us a 22-book N.T. canon while others do not. All of this without even mentioning the spurious and wildly redacted canonical lists of various sects!8 Thus, no list or set of lists in the historical writings of the early Church sufficiently corroborates a Protestant or Catholic canon in such a way as to necessitate the assent of the intellect.

In turn, it cannot be argued that the canon of Scripture comes to us as a fact in the same way as “the sky is blue” or “George Washington was our first president.” No, both of those latter facts are easily confirmed either through direct sense experience or indisputable historical evidence preserved by credible witnesses. Further, one cannot arrive at an article of faith — the canon being one such article — by using reason alone. An article of faith is a gift of grace. Thus, to receive it, grace must build upon nature (reason), so that the dogma we receive is not against nature nor is it merely the by-product of it. This particular type of argument was seminal during the Counter Reformation. If, as the Protestants claimed, the Magisterium of the Church was not needed as the “ground” for dogma, and reason was tainted by sin, how could Scripture alone plus reason alone get one to pure, undefiled Christian dogma? So in the case of the canon, if the historical record does not evidence consensus until the mid-fourth century, and none of us individually has been promised infallible judgment, what are we to think of the Christian canon?9

III. From Historical Fact to Subjective Fiction

In the face of the traditional view of the relationship between Church and dogma, Magisterial Reformer, John Calvin, decided to dismiss the Catholic view in favor of what he would call the “inner witness.”10 In the Institutes of the Christian Religion, he writes:

Therefore, illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else’s judgment that Scripture is from God; but above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men. We seek no proofs, no marks of genuineness upon which our judgment may lean; but we subject our judgment and wit to it as to a thing far beyond any guesswork! (book I, ch. 7)

Notice that Calvin, like Ehrman, denies the agency of the Church (“our own nor by anyone else’s judgement”) in discerning the canon. We trust the canon not because God worked through the Church. We trust the canon because we feel it in our soul, before God alone. This reminds me of St. Francis de Sales’ words in Controversies:

Now let us see what rule they have for discerning the canonical books from all of the other ecclesiastical ones. “The witness,” they say, “and inner persuasion of the Holy Spirit.” Oh God, what a hiding place, what a fog, what a night! (Ch. V)

Calvin wants us to believe that the Spirit gives us an inner witness. Yet, where was this inner witness for the first four centuries of the Church? Why do not all of our canonical lists agree? We admit that St. Jerome was at first hesitant about the deuterocanonicals, but latter he defended them.11 Did he lose and then gain the Spirit? Did he have and then dispossess it? Surely we must believe — in view of the “inner witness” theory — that no one in all of patristic history had the Spirit!

So, how shall we proceed? At this point, we should admit that the canon is not and cannot be a mere “fact of history.” The evidence is such that reasonable men, apart from faith, will agree to disagree. Why? Because the facts themselves do not warrant one particular position over another. Thus, reason alone leaves the canon open. Similarly, the “inner witness” theory leaves the canon to subjective speculation. Why? Because it would seem that if the theory were to work at all, it should at least work best in the patristic period — when the Spirit was “fresh off the presses” so to speak. Even if we do not grant that period some special status, the vast array of canon theories amongst believers throughout all of ecclesial history, even among Reformers,12 makes the “inner witness” an apparently unattainable anomaly. Therefore, the only other option is the authorized agency of the Church guarding, clarifying, and providing an authorized determination of the Tradition regarding which books are sacred and which are not.

Fast forward a few hundred years. As I mentioned, some Protestants — like Ehrman and company — deny the supernatural agency of the Church in the determination of the canon in order to preserve their theory of Christian history which excludes the possibility of a divinely authorized, infallible Church.13 Starting with a theory — that the canon was already settled well before the Church “spoke”14 or that Christ must have implied what it was, they go on to do the same thing to the reality of the history of the canon that the Jesus Seminar types do to the Person of Christ. The Jesus Seminar and Ehrman reject “who” Christ is. Those who reject the Church’s role in defining the canon reject “who” She is as well. In other words, because Ehrman is committed to a scientistic, materialist worldview, he will not allow the evidence to point to a divine Christ. So, too, the Protestant — deeply committed to a theory of ecclesia that excludes the possibility of her exercising divine authority — puts forward claims that will not allow the evidence to point to a divinely authorized Church. For both, it is like watching a mime stuck in a fictitious box. It is clear that there is a way out, but the actor seems unwilling to do the obvious. For example, Micheal Vlach, Ph.D., a Professor of theology at Master’s Seminary, argues that we must distinguish between the canon’s nature and the canon’s discovery. He cites an argument made by James White that he thinks illustrates this point:

“I have written eight books. The action of my writing those books creates the canon of my works. If a friend of mine does not have accurate or full knowledge of how many books I have written, does that mean there is no canon of my books? No, of course not. In fact, if I was the only one who knew how many books I had written, would that mean that the canon of my books does not exist? The point is clear. The canon is one issue, and it comes from God’s action of inspiring the Scriptures. Our knowledge of the canon is another. Our knowledge can grow and mature, as it did at times in history. But the canon is not defined by us nor is it affected by our knowledge or ignorance.” (James R. White, The Roman Catholic Controversy, Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1996. p. 94)

White and Vlach are right that all truth exists in the mind of God. No true existing thing has existence apart from God. However, almost everything we know, we know not because God knows it, but because God has used something or someone to communicate it to us. Through nature we know certain eternal qualities of God. Through the Church, we know the truth of Christian dogma. It is fine to assert that God knows the canon, but the question is how do we know the canon? That is the important question if the canon is to function at all as a dogma for Christians. Moreover, the Church must be a trustworthy conduit of this fact, in the same way that nature must be a trustworthy conduit of the eternal attributes of God. If not, St. Paul is wrong to tell us that natural theology portends the knowledge he claims for it. Of course, nature does in fact communicate what he claims regarding the eternal attributes of God, and, similarly, the Church (as St. Paul also claims) is the “ground and pillar of truth.” Thus, Valch and White unnecessarily divorce the canon from its epistemic conduit. This unnatural dislocation is motivated, no doubt, by Valch and White’s insistence that no authoritative Church is necessary to know the canon. Yet, such a dislocation makes certain knowledge of the canon impossible or merely subjective at best.

We might also turn to popular evangelical apologist, Josh McDowell, for an example in his book Evidence that Demands a Verdict, where he argues that the Church did not define but rather perceived or recognized the canon. This seems like a step in the right direction inasmuch as it is the Church, and not each individual, but of course we would want to ask how and who acted to perceive and recognize the canon, and what would motivate us to care that they did so. Further, it is not clear how this definition does not necessitate a Catholic view of the Church — one that McDowell would no doubt reject. 15 This particular view necessitates a Catholic notion of the Church because if the “who” and “how” were not divinely granted grace to perceive the canon, we are left with the epistemic despair of something approaching R.C. Sproul’s “fallible list.”16 In reply, McDowell might say that this is a grace given to all the faithful, and therefore doesn’t require a special charism given to the Magisterium. However, this is problematic on at least two levels. First, on the level of the individual, this is as specious as the “inner witness” theory — only at a grand scale. Also, considering various “Christian” groups who would appose the Protestant canon — even, for example, Catholics — it suffers from the “No True Scotman” ad hoc fallacy:

1. All Christians are given a grace to recognize the Protestant canon
2. Brent is a Christian; he does not recognize the Protestant canon
3. Therefore, Brent is not a true Christian

Second, on the level of the community, the canon is a part of the Sacred Tradition of the Church. For that reason, the Magisterium is required as the authoritative steward — to determine what in fact constitutes authentic Christian Tradition. In this way the Church does not “create” Sacred Tradition, in much the same way that She is not the author of Scripture. It is her role to interpret, to “canonize” so to speak, the Sacred Tradition in such a way as to say “this” not “that” is included therein. If, however, McDowell grants the Catholic Church only this one infallible perception and reception, it would be ad hoc to do so. There would be no good reason not to attribute this grace to the Catholic Church’s other dogmatic decisions. Instead of either option, his argument does not address the question of agency — who receives or recognizes the canon — which is at the heart of the Catholic position.

McDowell might argue here, pace Catholicism, that at the time of the canonization of the New Testament, the Church was unified, unlike today. However, such an argument would suffer from negligent handling of the historic facts of that time on at least two counts. First, if we place the official canonization date in the early-fourth century — excluding earlier dates because of a lack of consensus or dogmatic action of the Church, at that same time Donatism and Arianism are in full swing. This is hardly a picture of a “unified Church” in the sense that an evangelical would qualify.17 Also, the Arian canon of Scripture was acutely different from the canon used in the Catholic Church.18 Second, the historic record simply does not evince that the various churches throughout Christendom were using all and only the same books. Thus if one abandons the authority of the Church to circumscribe, defend and interpret the deposit of faith, one is left with only two other options: either an ad hoc decision or the “inner witness.” One fails the mark of reason, the other the mark of faith.

IV. Different Teams: An Unlikely Agreement

What are the implications of such arguments to the credibility of Christianity and what is the relationship to Ehrman? First, Ehrman and the Jesus Seminar types are thinking within the theory-paradigm of higher criticism. They reject the authority of God’s divine agent — the Church — to canonize Scripture. For those in that camp, the canon does not rest upon the authority of Christ’s presence in His Church — mediated through His Apostles and their successors. On their view, no such authority can exist! No, under Erhman’s theory, the canon must be known like any other historic fact (like “George Washington was our first president”). Thus, Ehrman arrives at a much different canon than the Christian one, not because he ignores historic facts but because he includes those facts (e.g., the lack of consensus) while rejecting the authority of the Church. This is motivated by a commitment to a theory that excludes the work of the Holy Spirit through the agency of the Church, and such a movement necessitates a position that leaves the canon question open.

Similarly, some Protestants are committed to a theory-paradigm that excludes the possibility that God used the Church authoritatively — forming an unlikely agreement with Ehrman’s camp. So, on the one hand Catholics and Protestants are on the same team — defending the inspiration of Scripture and attesting to the historical reality of the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, on the other, the Protestant who does not recognize but even rejects Christ’s authority mediated through His Apostles and their successors (the ones with the keys of the kingdom) encourages what I believe to be an intellectual quagmire that bolsters Ehrman’s right to put forward a mythic view of Christianity. Why? Because Ehrman understands that reason alone will not get you to dogma — that is why he has none. From there he makes an intellectual leap that makes Christianity out to be merely a personal and psychological catharsis. This mythic view of Christianity is only perpetuated when the rule (canon) of Scripture finds its final ground in the subject’s intense experience of God (à la Calvin).

“What a hiding place, what a fog, what a night!”

V. Why We Trust “The Canon”

In truth, history does not give us either a Protestant or Catholic canon. The Church does. Her actions are not a-historical, but neither are they merely the work of an historian. Having the “mind of Christ” and the Divine paraclete given to “guide into all truth” of the “things that are to come”19 , the Church faithfully guards the deposit of faith — in history — and when prompted, defines those dogmas which act as boundary markers of orthodoxy.

The Christian canon does not act like the “rule” (the meaning of the word “canon”) of the Iliad, as if the textual analysis that would lead one to circumscribe what is and is not a part of Homer’s epic poem could also lead one to what is and what is not God’s Holy Writ. A method to circumscribe the Illiad is not sufficient to circumscribe Sacred Scripture. While an academic panel may suffice for the Illiad, no such panel has the authority or divine guidance to lead us to a “Christian canon” worth trusting. This notion certainly is not foreign to the Protestant faith. As a Protestant, I accepted that the gospel of St. Matthew is supernatural while at the same time acknowledging that God used St. Matthew to write it. I did not trust St. Matthew’s gospel because God dropped it out of the sky or because my heart burned within me when I read about Jesus’s genealogy in Matthew chapter one. In a similar way, as a Catholic, I trust the canon of Scripture I have because it came to me by way of God’s working through His Church. It is the Church’s signature–so to speak–that is at the bottom of the table of contents. Invested with divine authority and guaranteed divine guidance, She has led the people of God into the truth regarding the dogmas of the faith throughout time. One such dogma is the canon.

Lastly, and to draw an analogy, Christ is trustworthy because He is God not because our senses can perceive that He is. Faith is not against reason or our senses, but the faith is not a by-product of rational process alone. No, it is precisely when St. John the Baptist said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” that men and women were compelled to exercise the virtue of faith and believe in that which they could not see. This faith is not against reason (e.g., history affirms the reality of the resurrection) but also is not grounded purely in reason. So, too, the Scriptures receive their authority directly from God. Yet, just as we perceive the Father through the Son, so too do we in the age of the Church perceive the Son’s working to bring about a canon of Scripture through His Church empowered by the Holy Spirit, the one called along side to help (παράκλητος-paraclete). This does not detract from God’s glory. On the contrary, it proclaims and affirms His divine plan to build a Church, a family, against which not even the gates of hell will prevail, and Who would be a sign to the world of the eternal reality of the Kingdom of God.

  1. I should note, that when I say ‘canonize,’ I do not mean to imply that the Church imbues particular books with the quality of inspiration. God does that. Instead, like all doctrine, I mean that the Church has been authorized by God to determine, to interpret what in fact God has done. In this case, it would imply that the Church would declare “these” and “not those” books are to be read in the liturgy, studied for doctrine and venerated as a part of Christian piety. []
  2. See Dr. Michael Liccione’s guest post here that distinguishes between two species of Protestants. []
  3. For a discussion of how the historical critical method can be used for the glory of God, see Verbum Domini. []
  4. The point of this post is not to combat Erhman’s particular arguments. For an accessible and academic treatment of the topic, see Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. You can find a number of YouTube video responses to Ehrman by Norman Geisler and William Lane Craig here. See also http://ehrmanproject.com/index. []
  5. I do not mean to imply that the resurrection is a natural act. I only mean to imply that it is an act that is subject to public scrutiny. We have a record of those who witnessed His death and we have a record of what He said after He resurrected. On these facts alone is the resurrection properly understood as a part of “history.” []
  6. Clement of Alexandria actually called 1 Clement Scripture. See “The Church History of Eusebius,” book 3, Ch.16. []
  7. Canon of the NT: Its Origin, Development, and Significance, by Bruce M. Metzger, 1997. []
  8. See the Nag Hammadi Corpus. []
  9. See CCC paras. 120 & 1117. []
  10. “John Calvin on the True Method of Giving Peace to Christendom and Reforming the Church,” in Tracts and Treatises in Defense of the Reformed Faith, by John Calvin; trans. Henry Beveridge. Vol. 3. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1958 (reprinted from Calvin Trans. Soc., Edinburgh, 1851), p. 267. []
  11. Against Rufinus, 11:33 [AD 402]. []
  12. See Luther’s Antilegomena. []
  13. See former Roman Catholic Williams Webster’s essay here, where despite casting aspersions on the Catholic canon, his very evidence casts aspersions upon a Protestant one. You can also find a list of essays here from various Protestant scholars discussing the canon in a similar way. See especially Professor Micheal Vlach, Ph.D’s article, “How We Got Our Bible.” (I. Introduction of Canonicity, Sec. C). Also, see James R. White, The Roman Catholic Controversy, Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1996. Lastly, for a perspective that admits that the canon is not closed see this guest post by Lutheran Josh Strodtbeck. []
  14. ibid. []
  15. See CCC, para. 1117. []
  16. For a more thorough discussion of Sproul’s view found in Scripture Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine, see Tom Brown’s analysis in Sect. 3 of “The Canon Question.” []
  17. In a Catholic sense, unity is achieved through communion with Christ through His Apostles and their successors in union with the Chair of St. Peter. For the evangelical argument, unity would have to mean a lack of “sects” or “branches” as there are today. However, the Donatists would have to be described as a branch in evangelical ecclesiology. See St. Optatus on Schism and The Bishop of Rome. []
  18. You can find a discussion of the Arian canon here. []
  19. John 16:13, D-R. []
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  1. Dear Brent,

    Thank you for this article. Everything regarding Church authority, the inspiration of scripture, and canonization are the most important things to decipher on this journey,and seems to be the apex from which everything else hangs, unless there is something that I’m not getting, so I appreciate these topics being addressed. I’m angry though, that I am having to go this route all on my own. Don’t Reformed seminaries let students turn in papers like this? Surely, if everyone read these kinds of arguments they too wouldn’t be able to resist the pull either?! I believe that I have good reason to move towards Rome; if not,won’t someone please come out and stop me?! Damn this whole miserable experience. The costs are enormous! In my circumstance, I am already getting a cold shoulder from people that mean the most to me all because they say that I am denying the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unless, I am completely mistaken about the Holy Spirit bearing witness with my spirit, I can attest to my deep love for the Lord Jesus Christ. Deny the Gospel they say? From my perspective when I heard the words of life, I didn’t have a working definition of the Gospel, I just “believed”. Did my conversion happen later when I became Reformed and was told what the Gospel really was?

    Believe me, I want assurance of entering Heaven, but assurance necessitates that I preach the gospel to myself, because it is not written on my heart. This seems to me, epistemically impossible, but hey what do I know. Will I really have to stand before the Lord as before a judge and tell Him what I believe? Is it necessary that I recount to God “how” I am in right standing before Him? Can’t God tell whether or not I am relying on my works if, according to the Reformed schema, I must remind myself that I must not attach anything else to my faith, not even love? On Judgement Day will I have to inform The Father that I seek no other advocate besides The Son? If I do something loving or kind to a fellow human being I am conflicted with feeling good that I have actually done something helpful to sensing a flame of anger shooting from the eyes of Christ as if I’m robbing Him of His atoning sacrifice. How is this assurance or comfort? For a moment I feel good then I feel worried, that maybe for just a minute, I looked to my own works. If I navel gaze, it’s not my fault.

    “During that experience he became more viscerally aware of the panoply of theological opinions within Christendom and the strong implication, or rather lack thereof, with regards to truth.”

    Just like you, Brent, I have been questioning what differentiates my belief from denominations and cults, and I feel very uneasy that we Protestants have cherry picked from RCC unable to foresee the huge gaps that we would have to work to fill in. I can ask all day long why God makes this whole thing so difficult, but then I’d have to ask why Jesus spoke in parables, and why the way is narrow and only a few will find it. I don’t like exclusive language, but I’m subject to it. I don’t understand, but I must seek the light while I can.

  2. Dear Alicia,

    You are right that these issues are the “apex from which everything else hangs”. Before I was Catholic, I thought of them as Catholic ghosts in the Protestant machine. You said something similar:

    I feel very uneasy that we Protestants have cherry picked from RCC unable to foresee the huge gaps that we would have to work to fill in.

    To your last words, all I can offer is my continued prayer.

    Seeking to end the 490+ year separation,

    Brent

  3. Dear Alicia,

    It’s good of you to comment, and may God strengthen you during this journey. You have my prayers.

    I believe that I have good reason to move towards Rome; if not, won’t someone please come out and stop me?! Damn this whole miserable experience. The costs are enormous!

    I prayed constantly, longingly, that the Holy Spirit would stop me from becoming Catholic if the move was the drastic train wreck my Reformed faith said it was. I prayed that constantly, with tears in my eyes. “Show me the truth, Lord! May I be nothing but faithful to Your will!” It was a miserable, tiring experience. But the rewards are huge, especially the rewards of receiving the Eucharist and being united in prayers with the faithful, one body, one loaf.

    As for the costs upon your human relationships, remember Matthew 19:29.

    And every one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting. (Douay-Rheims)

    Share with us often how things are going!

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  4. Just wrote an argument from the complexity of scripture and yet a Baptist claims such Catholic apologetics don’t work on him. Then he goes on to question the solidity of canon, which, as the last thing I wrote in response, seems to me to only improve my case — any help?

  5. Ubiquitous,

    Isn’t the agreed upon criteria for the NT canon, books written by an eye witness of Jesus or someone who knew an apostle? I know this begs the question as to why this criterion. Your article does convey that “some authority is needed even on a practical level”,as you say so that we can have a starting point to start jamming in our square pegs. You and the Baptist are difficult to follow, but I did notice that you didn’t address his question about the morality of the Inquisition as it must have come from the pope during the time. Or are we back to the Euthyphro problem? Clarity please.

  6. Rather than fisk comments, it’s better to get at the nut of the matter, which was and remains the approach to scripture. The Inquisition is a red herring — like all red herrings, we must catch one, clean it, fry it and eat it before we can get around to why it is the way it is. It’s the sort of distraction which requires so much prep time we’d never get around to anything else.

    This is to say: There are plenty of resources which deal with the Inquisition, so let’s not derail Brent so early on that we never talk about how to approach the canon.

  7. Alicia,

    I so understand your dilemma(s). I have come to see that faith is not truly faith apart from love (shown by our acts of compassion), as St. James implies. Belief alone is not enough. The demons believe and tremble. It must be mixed with love…and hope, as St. Paul teaches in I Corinthians 13. It is not faith “alone”. The Lord Himself declares that at the last judgement He will separate the righteous from the wicked based on their acts of mercy. What we do as believers matters. We are saved to do good works. To obey the Lord is to do good works. And we know that He gives us the grace to do every good thing we do. In Him we live and move and have our being.

    The Catholic Church has a better grasp on this. I find that she keeps the proper balance.

    Tom,

    I don’t know if you remember me, but I used to comment on your Ecumenicity blog before you became Catholic. I just wanted to tell you that I am once again moving toward the Catholic Church. I am no scholar like so many of you, but I learn so much reading here. Thanks for all you guys do. It is a great service to Christ.

  8. Dear Alicia (#5),

    Yes, please go to that linked article and take up (there) points not related to Brent’s article (specifically, the Inquisition).

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  9. Hello Kim!

    Of course I remember you from my Ecumenicity days. I hope that things are going well with your family, and that you will be strengthened by God’s grace at this difficult time of discernment. Lent is coming — an excellent time to take yourself to a spiritual desert and seek the will of God.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  10. Thanks, Tom. My husband has given me permission to go forward, but he’s not with me. I pray that that changes, though. It’s hard doing it alone. My 18 yo son is open to the Catholic Church as he has already seen the problematic issues within Protestantism in his short lifetime. I’ve encouraged him to read here, so we’ll see.

  11. Thank you Tom. You’re right and so is The Ubiquitous. Sorry Brent, didn’t mean to steal your glory at all. I will fish for red herrings( if they are really distractions from Papal infallibility) on the Ubiquitous’s blog. I sincerely liked and gleaned much from your article, though. Thanks again.

  12. Brent,

    Let me begin by pointing out misrepresentations of Calvin’s view:

    In the face of the traditional view of the relationship between Church and dogma, Magisterial Reformer, John Calvin, decided to dismiss the Catholic view in favor of what he would call the “inner witness.”… Notice that Calvin, like Ehrman, denies the agency of the Church (“our own nor by anyone else’s judgement”) in discerning the canon. We trust the canon not because God worked through the Church. We trust the canon because we feel it in our soul, before God alone.

    While there are differences on how Calvin viewed the relationship of the church and dogma than the Roman Catholic Magisterium, it is not true that Calvin, like Ehrman, denies the agency of the Church. Or that, Calvin denies that God worked through the Church and that it is only to our feeling that we trust the canon. This is a gross misreading and misrepresentation of Calvin. One has only to read the Institute book 8, 12, The Unvarying Testimony of the Church to the Scripture

    History Will Not Give You A Canon???

    If this is the case, then no individual can know the canon for even those who rely on a certain Infallible Magisterium to tell them what the canon is, would still find the decisions of that supposed Infallible Magisterium in HISTORY. An individual has to search from HISTORY which decisions, which lists, which councils, which church he would have to pick and choose and follow. History therefore has sufficient data to tell anyone what is the Canon… Otherwise, Brent, your own position is self-defeating.

    From Historical Fact to Subjective Fiction

    Again, Brent, you have to realize how self-defeating is your position. You said,

    In truth, history does not give us either a Protestant or Catholic canon. The Church does.

    But wait a minute. As a fallible individual, didn’t you surf through historical records, interpreted historical data to arrive at this conclusion? Which Church Brent? The modern Roman Catholic Church at Trent? See, your fallible search for the canon is the same methodology you apply for your search for the “people” who you regard as “infallible” to tell you the canon! You are guilty of the same subjectivism you throw at anyone who doesn’t buy your “infallible” guide because in the final analysis your decision to follow your Magisterium is not infallible. So how are you in a better position than a protestant who looks at history and the evidences we can find there to give support of the current canon that we believe in VERSUS your methodology on relying (fallibly) to your chosen Magisterium? Nothing.

    Regards,
    Joey

  13. Alicia said:

    Don’t Reformed seminaries let students turn in papers like this? Surely, if everyone read these kinds of arguments they too wouldn’t be able to resist the pull either?! I believe that I have good reason to move towards Rome; if not,won’t someone please come out and stop me?!

    Much of the Reformed response to the flow of Reformed becomming Catholic is, in my experience, damage control that is more interested in stearing people away from Rome as a goal than really addressing the issues brought up on places like Called to Communion.
    As far as “the pull”, this website will do it. The truth is infective. I stumbled on this website by pure chance as a conservative PCA guy in Feb. of 2010, and by December I was in the Church. I got much of the same comments form family and friends that you have… “you have lost the gospel”, “you never understood Reformed theology”, etc.
    The vast majority of friends and family never even took the time to read even one article or book I recommended, and made almost no effort at all to keep me from making the move to the Catholic Church. That surprised me a lot. It is as if once I gave the Church the benefit of the doubt and a fair shake, I was sort of written off.

    Keep seeking Alicia. You will be in my prayers this Lent.

    David Meyer

  14. […] out Brent Stubbs’ article at Called to Communion that explains the unexpected similarity between Bart Ehrman and Protestant apologists on the […]

  15. Kim, my story sounds sort of similar to yours. I was feeling the pull of the Church (due in no small part to this site), and my husband was tolerant but not happy. I was praying the rosary daily, and I made his conversion one of my intentions. He very unhappily came with me to Mass for a few months beginning in May 2010. I told him after awhile that I wanted to go through RCIA and told him that I didn’t expect him to attend it. I was okay with his holding back. He decided he would come with me, with the full understanding that being part of the class didn’t obligate him in any way. So in late August 2010 we began RCIA. He dutifully went through a few of the rites, but he was still resistant. I just kept praying my rosary and didn’t talk much about it.

    By God’s grace, he came to the point that he couldn’t remain Protestant and later that he had to be Catholic. It was AMAZING! We entered the Church together at Easter Vigil 2011, and now he’s a devout, faithful Catholic. (Our first child was baptized a week later, and our second child a few weeks after his birth late last year.) God is so faithful.

    I encourage you to pray your heart out for your husband’s conversion. My husband went from “Anglican is as far as I’ll go” to a regular recipient of the Sacraments over the course of a year. Miracles happen!

  16. Ubiquitous,

    I do not think CD-Host is a Baptist. I think he is an agnostic/atheist who was once a Baptist and argues against believing in God whether as a Baptist or a Catholic.

  17. Thank you, LawWife, for your encouragement. It is very much appreciated. I am praying for him, but I will bump it up. God is faithful and I need to keep seeking Him for this. It means a lot to me.

    Brent, I’m sorry I kind of dragged the comments in a different direction. I do find your post helpful and am working to digest all that you said. It’s quite a meal! ;)

  18. The Bible is like our Lord Jesus Himself. Fully a product of God and of human history.

    That is how God reveals His will in this world.

    We don’t have to have every jot and tittle tied up with a bow and dropped from Heaven, as the fundamentalists…and we don’t have to throw the whole thing overboard, as the liberals.

    The Bible is God’s infallible Word and our source for all matters in faith and life. That’s the Lutheran perspective.

    Thanks.

  19. To be fair, it is possible to use History as a witness, but it comes at a price…you have to have a much smaller canon that excludes any book or part of a book that was not accepted universally. That means, out with the Book of Esther. Away with Hebrews and Revelations. Begone “God forgive them because they do not know what they are doing” at the cross and the woman caught in adultery. To be perfectly honest, you’d even need to limit your Old Testament to the 5 books of Moses due to the Sadducees and the New Testament to Gospel of Matthew due to the Ebionites.

    Of course, that’s a pretty small Bible, but you do have some wiggle room to include other books…call this a “second canon” which includes books that were almost universally accepted. This “second canon” could still be called inspired, but it wouldn’t carry the weight of the “6 primary books of the Bible” and couldn’t be relied upon for doctrines, at least church dividing doctrines. So the “6 primary books of the Bible” have essential doctrines and other books have non-essential doctrines

    Note, I’m playing devil’s advocate and am fully Catholic, but I am trying to look at it from the purely objective secular perspective on history that is not trying to either discredit the Bible or trying to make the case of the Catholic/Orthodox Church. Objectively speaking, the only true Christian alternative to the Catholic/Orthodox Bible is the above Bible.

    Logically speaking, if you can’t trust the Catholic/Orthodox Church for the Old Testament canon, you can’t trust them for the New Testament canon. And if you can’t trust the Jews of the time who rejected Christ, you can’t trust the canon handed to their decedents either, especially since the Jews of the time had at least 3 “Old Testament canons” floating around. If you want to be faithful to God but distrust his Church (both the “apostate Catholic Church” and the “adulterously apostate Jews”) you have to cut away all potential “corruptions” to the Bible advocated by his Old Testament Church of Israel and New Testament Church of Catholicism/Orthodoxy and stick to what you can be sure of.

  20. Alicia and Kim,
    I will pray for you both as well. My wife and I will be received into the Church this Easter and we are coming from a Reformed background. I thank God that my wife and I were on the same page during our discernment period and were completely united when time came to make a decision to end our protest and join the Church founded by Christ. We had many mixed reactions when we finally told our friends and church family and it was not an easy time but the price is more than worth it. I think the main issue is that Protestants completely misunderstand the Catholic Church and what She teaches, I certainly did. But for me, once it was revealed that the Emperor (sola scriptura) had no clothes (what constituted ‘scripture’ could not definitively be known), as Brent points out wonderfully in this article, the gig was up. Peace on your journey!

    Shalom,

    Aaron Goodrich

  21. […] of the Canon, the authority of the Church, and the problems with Protestant views of Scripture: The Canon Made Impossible Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  22. Dear JoeyHenry,

    My piont to compare Ehrman and Calvin was not to say that Calvin has the same view of the Church as Ehrman. I’ll grant you that Calvin has a high(er) view of the Church than Ehrman or most evangelicals for that matter. My point was to note a shift, one you notice when you say:

    While there are differences on how Calvin viewed the relationship of the church and dogma than the Roman Catholic Magisterium

    So, it would be incumbent upon you to show, not just cite, how this:

    Add, moreover, that, for the best of reasons, the consent of the Church is not without its weight. For it is not to be accounted of no consequence, that, from the first publication of Scripture, so many ages have uniformly concurred in yielding obedience to it, and that, not withstanding of the many extraordinary attempts which Satan and the whole world have made to oppress and overthrow it, or completely efface it from the memory of men, it has flourished like the palm tree and continued invincible. Though in old times there was scarcely a sophist or orator of any note who did not exert his powers against it, their efforts proved unavailing.The powers of the earth armed themselves for its destruction, but all their attempts vanished into smoke. When thus powerfully assailed on every side, how could it have resisted if it had trusted only to human aid? Nay, its divine origin is more completely established by the fact, that when all human wishes were against it, it advanced by its own energy. Add that it was not a single city or a single nation that concurred in receiving and embracing it. Its authority was recognised as far and as wide as the world extends – various nations who had nothing else in common entering for this purpose into a holy league. Moreover, while we ought to attach the greatest weight to the agreement of minds so diversified, and in all other things so much at variance with each other – an agreement which a Divine Providence alone could have produced – it adds no small weight to the whole when we attend to the piety of those who thus agree; not of all of them indeed, but of those in whom as lights God was pleased that his Church should shine.

    …undermines my claim that Calvin dislocates the authority of the canon (Not Scriptures, per se; See also footnote #1.) as a dogma from the Church in a way like (not the same as) Ehrman.

    I would like to consider the rest of your comments generally. I’m glad that you bring up this conversation, since you should note that the distinction I want to make and which you do not make was for me seminal to coming into the Catholic Church.

    In what you claim is a “self-defeating” position, it would appear to me that you employ sophistry. However, I don’t think you are a sophist nor did you intend to employ sophistry. I think the distinction I made more than once — which you did not mention at all and would appear that you either missed or glossed — is not clear in your mind. For if it were, you would not say things like:

    As a fallible individual, didn’t you surf through historical records, interpreted historical data to arrive at this conclusion? Which Church Brent?…

    The Sophists argument was that because the world was in flux — constantly changing — one could not have knowledge in the traditional philosophic sense (that sense being that knowledge — scientia — was of those universals that do not change). However, Plato and Aristotle both reject the Sophists because we do have knowledge — even certain knowledge. So, I reject prima facie that simply because we are all fallible we cannot have certain knowledge. However, there are different types of knowledge, and while the status of the knower does not change (fallible), the status of the knowledge known does change — predicated on both the type of knowledge and the method for obtaining that knowledge. All knowledge is personal. All knowledge, however, is not subjective. If, in my argument, I was saying that a Catholic — in lieu of the Magisterium — becomes a different kind of knower than a Protestant, then I would be making a distinction without a difference because certainly we are both fallibe. So, my distinction has nothing to do with the knower. We both must personally know everything it is that we know — for no one else can know it but you or I if we know it! So rather my distinction deals with the type of thing known and the “how”, or namely the method for obtaining that type of knowledge. For both of us, we are certain of a lot of things, so I’m hopeful there is a way out of what appears the possibility of total epistemic despair.

    Thus, let me ask you a question. This is an important question to help further our dialog. I’m not dodging your comments, but rather want to establish a shared premise to make our dialog fruitful. In fact, I am very hopeful that this question will do just that because I think we share in common three premises but only disagree about one. Here’s the question:

    Please exlpain the difference between each proposition and the methodology for obtaining certain knowledge of each.

    1. The sky is blue
    2. All cows are cows
    3. George Washington was the first president of the USA
    4. The canon of the Bible is closed and is 73 books.

    Thanks again for bringing up this most important topic!

    Peace in Christ,

    Brent

  23. Alicia et al,

    I was moved by your open expression of frustration and anguish. For a decade I have prayed for wisdom and discernment and courage over these difficult matters. If I didn’t know about God’s longsuffering and great mercy, I’d swear He is sick of me praying the same prayer for so long. How certain must I be to be willing to lose peace and spiritual unity in my marriage? If I am called as a husband to lay myself down self-sacrificially for my wife, might that include laying down this long term draw toward Rome? Have I really honestly assessed any underlying motives that are not of God, but of me? etc, etc, etc. Groanings too deep for words.

    Burton

  24. Burton et al,

    If it is any consolation, I pray for you every night (during the time of prayer intentions at our family altar, each of us gets to give some personal intentions). So I ask the Lord:

    “Dear Lord Jesus, I ask that we all would continually convert to you. May all of those outside of your Church, in their pursuit of you, find their way home to your Church.”

    Then I say:

    “Let us pray to the Lord”

    Then me, my wife and our 3 little kids says:

    “Lord, hear our prayer.”

    God love you!

  25. Dear Steve,

    You said:

    We don’t have to have every jot and tittle tied up with a bow and dropped from Heaven, as the fundamentalists…and we don’t have to throw the whole thing overboard, as the liberals. // The Bible is God’s infallible Word and our source for all matters in faith and life.

    Your last sentence there contradicts your first, the tied-up-with-a-bow sentiment. If we are all to conclude and agree with sola scriptura, then we’ve pretty well tied up the canon issue and biblical theology with a nice bow. The difficulty lies in how one goes about defining the scope of the canon, and by what authority one asserts that all of the texts in the canon are infallible, and by what authority one asserts that the canon’s authority is exclusive of all others, for matters of faith and morals. There’s no tidy-bow way around this problem for the Protestant. It sits there in the room with you, hoping you won’t notice it.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  26. The difficulty lies in how one goes about defining the scope of the canon, and by what authority one asserts that all of the texts in the canon are infallible, and by what authority one asserts that the canon’s authority is exclusive of all others, for matters of faith and morals.

    Yes, this is the crux of the matter. And we have to keep riding on this train until we get an answer. Thankfully, there IS an answer. :)

  27. Thank you, Aaron and Brent, for your prayers. I’m sure they are being fruitful. While my husband isn’t currently open, my son is. Who knows what God may use to bring my husband in? Just so thankful that I can share my discoveries with my son. He’s only 18, but very wise for such a young man. We’ve had some wonderful discussions.

  28. Steve Martin,

    The Bible is like our Lord Jesus Himself. Fully a product of God and of human history.

    Actually, and with a much more workable analogy, The Church is like our Lord Jesus Himself: Fully God and Fully Man. It’s the human nature of the Church that gets us all hung up — but that has been in purgation for 2,000 years. The only problem is The Church gets a new crop of people every generation — people like me. In fact, it was the well-trained Bible scholars of Jesus’s day who completely missed Him.

    We don’t have to have every jot and tittle tied up with a bow and dropped from Heaven, as the fundamentalists…and we don’t have to throw the whole thing overboard, as the liberals.

    Amen! The only option left is Catholicism! Because everyone really believes in the Development of Doctrine.Sola scripture is a fundamentalist principle. It is fundamentalist because it rejects development of doctrine.

    The Bible is God’s infallible Word and our source for all matters in faith and life. That’s the Lutheran perspective.

    The Bible is God’s inspired and inerrant Word. The Church is His infallible agent/conduit for truth — not each individual Christian’s mind.

    God bless,

    Brent

  29. Tom,

    No contradiction there.

    God is more than capable of accomplishing His perfect will in a book that is finite.

    Our Lord was fully man, wasn’t he? Yet fully God.

    The finite contains the infinite.

    It may seem like a contradiction to our human reason. But as believers we know better.

    Thanks, Tom.

  30. […] Canon Made Impossible: Ehrman, McDowell & an Unlikely Agreement – Brent Stubbs, CTC […]

  31. I was felt the “visceral awareness” as the introduction said, “of the panopoly of theological opinions within Christendom”, and this is jarring to say the least. Today,in fact, the JW’s were walking our neighborhood and when I saw them I was again conscious that from their perspective they are convinced of what they believe, so much so that they knock on doors to tell others. Interiorly, from their opinion of truth, the world looks a certain way and they are propogating what they believe and then they relax back as the ones who are in the know, and they feel sorrowful that anyone not of them is lost if they don’t repent before The Great Tribulation. They even have some of Christianity’s categories, language and they use scripture to back up their beliefs. Here is a quote from a JW website, “A person should make sure that his beliefs can be supported by the Scriptures, for there is only one true faith. Ephesians 4:5 confirms this, mentioning ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism’.” I had never been mindful of this worrisome dilemma before because I believed that I had Jesus and the Holy Spirit because, ” No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” 1 Cor 12:3. The JW had cast their fishing lines out there and failed to connect with the second person of The Holy Trinity. Something else took their bait when they prayed, and we Protestants readily admit that the JW’s are sincere, but” they are sincerely lost”(in Bible Answer Man language). We are so certain that they are terribly mistaken that we would never join their church. We know better, we know more, we have more light of the truth.

    This made me wonder how much dilution Christianity can take before there is nothing left? Orthodoxy stands outside of us and tells us what we must believe about the Christian faith in order to be Christ’s. We recite the creeds in our Reformed church, and I thought everything would pass the test of orthodoxy, but the RC church says, “No, Protestantism has cut itself off by deciding what it believes is orthodox, otherwise we wouldn’t be split. We did anathemize them”. My denomination can shake its head at the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and argue from scripture to show them where they are wrong, but it can also trump them by telling them that their beliefs are not within the pale of Christianity by appealing to a Catholic counsil where some heresy was, thankfully, defeated. I like running back to safety. Its like having a body guard all the time. It seems to me that what is orthodox has been decided on by a prior Magisterium that, by the Holy Spirit and without error, was able to dicepher from the scriptures up to, at least, Chalcedon, and we Protestants count on it being correct. What will we do if the church was mistaken at Trent and how will we know absolutely? Who else can interpret, decide and dictate unless they have wisdom and authority?

    Kim, I wish we could contact each other. We might live close enough to visit. I will pray for you. We have similar situations

  32. Alicia, I’m in North Georgia. I’m including a link to my faith blog with this comment.

    I’ve been perplexed by the same things you have. So many thinking they’ve got “the truth” and yet…no cohesion of beliefs. It’s maddening. The solution to the problem seems to be to go back in time and see what we find. I think that’s a fairly common road we all walk and why we are also now looking at the Catholic Church.

  33. Kim,
    You said:

    The solution to the problem seems to be to go back in time and see what we find.

    But beware! As Blessed John Henry Newman once famously said: “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” ;-)

    Shalom,

    Aaron Goodrich

  34. But beware! As Blessed John Henry Newman once famously said: “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” ;-)

    Oh, I know! lol I’m pretty much a goner, but I still struggle with it all. A paradigm shift isn’t easy to adjust to when it will change your whole life. I’ve spent the last almost 5 years, off and on, looking into this. In fact, it was Bryan Cross, Tom Brown and Tim Troutman who helped me early on via their own blogs. Then they formed this site which is also a huge blessing. I appreciate the cordial tone and the long-suffering efforts of the crew here. Even rude commenters are treated respectfully.

  35. Kim said:

    Oh, I know! lol I’m pretty much a goner, but I still struggle with it all. A paradigm shift isn’t easy to adjust to when it will change your whole life.

    As one third stage Chestertonian, to apparently another, I believe that these changes will for the good. The deacon who is teaching our RCIA class has said several times that God is renewing the Church with converts!

    Blessings,

    Mike

  36. Kim (re:#34),

    You are right– coming to the Catholic Church (and actually becoming Catholic) is, indeed, a “paradigm shift,” and it *will* change your whole life. It’s all for the better though. Even if you lose many friends, as I have, sadly (and I really messed up my earthly career life in Protestant ministry too)… becoming Catholic is a still “whole life change” for the better. I am reminded of that fact every time that I go to the Sacrament of Confession/Penance, I am reminded of it at Mass, and I am very much reminded of it when I read the Bible and the Church Fathers, and I see that they go hand in hand. I can tell that you are counting the cost about becoming Catholic. I’m happy to tell you that it is worth any cost that you have to pay. Yes, the Church has her problems, even serious scandals. I don’t want to downplay the problems in the Church. However, as a “revert” after several years in (sometimes quite anti-Catholic) Protestantism, I now cannot imagine myself being anything other than Catholic Christian.

  37. Mike and Christopher, thanks for the encouragement. It is comments like yours that help me when I get a bit fearful about this direction I’m heading in (fearful because of the changes it makes in my life on every level). Were it not for all the happy ex-Protestant-now-Catholics I run into I would be far more hesitant to move forward. I feel like I’m in some kind of race and you all are cheering me on at the finish line. Okay, smarmy visuals, I know, but so be it. God bless you all.

  38. Kim (re#37):

    I feel like I’m in some kind of race and you all are cheering me on at the finish line. Okay, smarmy visuals, I know, but so be it. God bless you all.

    I Corinthians 9:24 _ “Know you not that they that run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize ? So run that you may obtain.”

    Your visuals are quite Biblical : ) Run, girl, run!

    God Bless,
    Frank

  39. Frank, you’re smarmier than me. lol Thanks and God bless.

  40. Dear JoeyHenry and all,

    So as not to appear obtuse, I will now add to my comment #22 and answer my question to get the ball rolling.

    First, the distinction I make between Calvin and the Catholic Church — and what exactly is detailed in this article — is one between the meaning of “Church” and the relationship between the canon and canonization. The “consent” of the Church is merely Calvin’s way of saying that “those in whom as lights God was pleased that his Church should shine” attested to the canon that Calvin asserts (admitting that some disagree). Thus, “Church” functions in Calvin’s theology as a placeholder for (my words) “all those who have been given the “inner witness” that attest to (my) canon”–at least in this instance. However, I’m not sure that Calvin even has the canon in mind. Rather, he is thinking more about the authority of the Scripture, per se, but that is not my point (see footnote #1; see also Institutes Book 1, Ch.8, 1 “authority of Scripture”). Follow the argument of Book 7 all the way through to my quote.

    So, I asked:

    Please exlpain the difference between each proposition and the methodology for obtaining certain knowledge of each.

    1. The sky is blue
    2. All cows are cows
    3. George Washington was the first president of the USA
    4. The canon of the Bible is closed and is 73 books.

    1. We know this through empirical observation.
    2. We know this through an act of the intellect via abstraction from a sensible (no innate triangles in my world). In this case, I’m acknowledging the law of identity. A = A.
    3. Through examination of historical evidence grounded on credible testimony (rational assumption of an honest record of facts obtained through #1)
    4. The Church.

    If I use the process for #1 on the canon, I must acknowledge that there are Bibles with shorter and longer lists (there is empirical evidence for that). Thus, #1, although a process that can give me certainty about whether or not a coffee cup is in front of me right now or not, cannot get me the canon. Nonetheless, #1 will make me certain enough — despite my fallibility — that I should push, rather than pull, a door.

    #2 won’t work to get me a canon. Case closed. It will get me to metaphysical truths — despite my fallibility — that I can be certain of. For example, I am certain that “to be burned” is not the same as “to not be burned”. I do not need to be burned (#1) to know that.

    If I use the process for #3, I won’t get a canon. Why? Because the historical evidence, alone, does not warrant one version of the canon over the other. That was the point of my post. In fact, Ehrman et. al. get us to the thing most approaching the “historical canon”–if such a thing could exist. If history won’t get us a canon, what will it get us? I think from the historical record, we can establish with certainty that Jesus existed. However, and I hope you agree, history cannot establish the fact that Jesus died on the Cross for our sins.

    #4- This is where you and I disagree. So, when you say:

    If this is the case, then no individual can know the canon for even those who rely on a certain Infallible Magisterium to tell them what the canon is, would still find the decisions of that supposed Infallible Magisterium in HISTORY.

    That is a red herring. No where do I say history does not bear witness to the Christian religion. That is why I said this in my article:

    An article of faith and an article of history require different evidence and different authorities for that evidence, and that fact draws out the epistemological differences between history and theology (e.g., St. Mark and an eye-witness to a car accident). Of course, as I said, articles of faith come to us in history, but the fact that St. Mark said such-and-such at time “x” is different than the article of faith to which he gives witness. For example, the fact that Christ rose from the dead is a part of history.5 His descent into Hades and His sacrifice in the heavenly realm is not.

    Let’s consider the canon of the Bible. I go to pick up my Bible, knowing that it is there because I see it (and for a thing to be there it cannot also not be there). In this case I’ve just employed two powers of the intellect, and I have certainty in the knowledge those two methods provide me. In a way, by properly using the intellect, I have overcome my own fallibility. I could, in the same situation, correctly pick up my Bible 1,000,000 times. Good. Of course, you can see that if I tried to empirically prove — alone — a fact in history I would have problems. This would be an abuse of the intellect (commonly known as scientism) So, I then open up the Bible and notice a table of contents. I think, “how did that get there?”. So, I study it out and write this little article (at least the first part). In this case, historical study serves me well. I know everything I evidence here with certainty based upon a rational assumption that people record what they see — and what they see is true.

    But…how do I get to dogma? This is where it gets fuzzy for the Protestant. What method does the Protestant employ? How does he know “x”? Again, I am in no way requiring that you or I become different types of knowers. A man who tries to count sticks in front of him with his eyes closed is just as fallible as the man who counts them with his eyes open. The difference is not the man but the method. You say sola scripture. I say, the Church. You say, which Church? I say, the Church Jesus founded. You say, “well how do you know which Church”. I say, “motives of credibility“.

    The same motives of credibility also help me look at the Old Testament and find Christ.

    Once I find Christ and His Church the game changes.

    Method A:

    1. The Church- defines dogma, I assent to it out of obedience to Christ. The grounding, so to speak, of the dogma is in the mind of the Teaching office of the Church–which is the mind of Christ (“ground and pillar of truth”)

    2. sola scripture- dogma comes directly from Scripture. No Church is free from error. Therefore, pure dogma resides in that interoperation by which the individual becomes convinced is the most “Biblical”. The ground, so to speak, of the dogma is in the individual. He believes because he believes.

    Instead, the Catholic says, “look not at my sins but at the faith of your Church

    If the rest of our methods for obtaining knowledge looked like sola scripture, balls would fall to the ground 1 in 3 times. All cows would not be cows. Etc. But, balls fall to the ground every time, all cows are cows and Jesus is consubstantial with the Father. The last one, because Christ–through His Church–authoritatively tells me so. She does so upon the authority of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Moreover, that “Church” is not something that I discover merely in history (although She is there), but rather discover as a person–present even now in the world as a sign of contradiction and hope; a true “witness” to Christ’s enduring presence in the world and the power of the Holy Spirit to teach “all things” and to “bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you” (John 14:26).

    That is good news! We are not alone. We have been given a Church that was established by Christ, built by Christ, filled with Christ, empowered by His Spirit, fed by His flesh and blood, nurtured by His Sacred Word, carried on in His Sacred Tradition and quietly watched over by His Mother. Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord!

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  41. Mr. Stubbs,

    Do you believe that the canon is a Divine-Apostolic or Ecclesiastical article of faith ? I mean, are the names/ contents of the books delivered by the Apostles or proposed by the magesterium with infallible power to judge. Since we don’t have the autographa, how do you that the names of the books are not actually inspired ?

  42. Dear Eric,

    First, please call me Brent. I thought for a moment that my father had made his way into this combox! Though, I’m a southerner, so it doesn’t offend me in the least. : )

    Would you mind elaborating on the distinction in your mind between Divine-Apostolic vs. an Ecclesiastical article of faith? Could you give me an example of an article of faith in your Christian tradition that is “Ecclesiastical” but not “Divine-Apostolic”?

    As to your autograph question, I’m not following where you are headed with it either. The content of the New Testament was first a part of the Sacred Tradition of the Church. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the authors of the New Testament wrote many works that we revere as Sacred Scripture. The canonization of Scripture was the process by which the Church–in order to protect the Sacred deposit of faith–closed the canon, delineating what was and what was not inspired Scripture. In this way, the Teaching Office (Magisterium) of the Church did not sprinkle magic inspiration dust on the Sacred texts,. However, she did bind the conscience of the faithful that these books and no other are the texts to be read in the liturgy, venerated, etc. Nonetheless, even today, I receive the Sacred Scriptures through the Church. The Scriptures are not a personal letter to me, but a public letter to His Church of which I am a member.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  43. Brent,

    I’m partial to Dixie and imitating your Father may make us brothers ! Pope Pius IX in his profession of faith at Vatican I recognized Apostolic and ecclesiastical traditions.

    …Apostolic and ecclesiastical traditions and all other observances and constitutions of that same Church I most firmly accept and embrace….

    Msgr. George Agius wrote the following in his book, Tradition and the Church:

    It is true that only the Divine or Divine-Apostolic Traditions contain in themselves the revealed word of God and constitute the object of our Faith, but it is not less true that all Simply-Apostolic and Ecclesiastical Traditions are based on a supernatural power and authority. This supernatural authority or power is itself a revealed truth. It must therefore be obeyed. “He that heareth you, heareth me, and he that despiseth you despiseth me.” (Luke 10:16).

    Delineating these traditions is important to ecumenical dialogue with non-RC and RC Traditionalist. The reason I asked is because of the confusion one finds in RC apologists when explaining tradition and canon. More often than not, these traditions are blended together without critical examination. Regarding the canon,
    it is said that the names or designations of each book, along with the actual texts, should be closed. It is said that the canonical list is not inspired because no list is found in the actual inspired texts. I’m offering for anyone to consider the possibility that the names and designations of the texts, such as Matthew or Hebrews, were assigned by the original authors and are inspired. All disputes on the canon throughout church history presuppose the unquestioned correspondence between the “names” and “text”. If what I offer is true, then this would weaken RC arguments for the necessity of church authority and tradition binding of consciences. God would be binding with the Scriptures whenever an ecclesiastical canon is composed. Did the authors assign the current names in the originals ? I am aware that this doesn’t answer the canonical disunity question, but it does touch the key elements related to any answer.

    In Christ alone,
    Eric

  44. Dear Eric,

    Brother! Thanks for the conversation.

    Everything a Catholic must believe is found in the Apostolic deposit of faith, but Ecclesiastical traditions are certainly the treasures of the Church and worthy of our pious regard. For example, the Holy Rosary would be one such Ecclesiastical tradition.

    The reason I asked is because of the confusion one finds in RC apologists when explaining tradition and canon.

    What confusion? Do you think my argument is that the canon is an Ecclesiastical tradition? It is not, nor was that my argument. My argument is that in order to get to a dogma of the faith, the canon being one such important dogma, one must have the Church to infallibly interpret the Apostolic deposit. The canon serves as a good conversation piece since obviously a list of books is nowhere to be found in the “Bible alone”.

    Nonetheless, even if I grant–which I can and would–that the names of each book of the New Testament were given directly by the author, written maybe at the beginning or end of each original autograph, that gets one nowhere closer to a canon than before. The historical problems I bring to bear in this article still stand. The problems with “inner witness” still stand. The more, my footnote #1 acknowledges that the inspiration of each and every text comes from God–to the author–and then received by the Church. The Church’s act of canonization, or any of its dogmatic actions for that sake, is simply to say “this” not “that” is what is contained in the Apostolic Deposit of faith. Such actions bind the conscience and ground the dogma in the Church–i.e., “the ground and pillar of truth”. Of course, this does not mean that Truth comes from the Church, no more than the truth of God’s eternal attributes comes from nature. All truth comes from God, yet he so deigns that nature participates in communicating his Truth. So, too, the Church, His supernatural creation, participates in a unique and profound way for the Christian.

    Let me put it another way. If I didn’t write one single book in my library, did not give any of the books their titles, knowing those two facts would get me no closer to knowing the total number of books in my library than if I didn’t know those two facts.

    Pax Christi,

    Brent

  45. Brent,

    I have observed a relation between Thomistic metaphysics and your resolution of the canon problem. The mind of God, the mind of Christ, and the mind of the Church (magisterium) are identical regarding the canon of scripture. The creator of the canon through the mediator of the canon into the conduit-or-receiver of the canon. The mind of the Holy Spirit brings it to remembrance. In the realm of experience and history, the canon is multiple, dispersed, disintegrated in individual books, matter without form. The magisterium, through a dogmatic act provides the unity for the multiplicity; It provides the form for the matter. What does it look like ? It is a composite of the individual inspired books and the unifying uninspired canonical list. The dogmatic act brings them together by using the first principles (law of identity, law of contradiction, grace in the supernatural order). But to avoid having the canon ” frozen in four minds”, the magisterium informs the individual books with a canonical list. The other members of the Church have the canon without subjecting it to individuality or elevating private judgement. I guess this is a debate about the formal sufficiency of scripture and its self-attesting, self-identification ? Why does this scheme relegate the inspired to the irrational and the uninspired to the rational ? No, thank you for the conversation :)

    May Christ be served.
    God Bless,
    Eric

  46. Dear Eric,

    You said:

    The mind of God, the mind of Christ, and the mind of the Church (magisterium) are identical regarding the canon of scripture. The creator of the canon through the mediator of the canon into the conduit-or-receiver of the canon.

    God/Christ would be the same mind. The Church would have the mind of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Each individual Christian would receive the canon from the Church, thus the Church would be the conduit — so to speak — for dogma (the canon being one such dogma).

    But to avoid having the canon “frozen in four minds”, the magisterium informs the individual books with a canonical list.

    What do you mean by “four minds”? Also, I’m not sure how the Church “informs the books”. I can see, however, how she informs the faithful. You might also say she en-forms the canon.

    I guess this is a debate about the formal sufficiency of scripture and its self-attesting, self-identification ?

    Yes, it is. As you’ve noted, the Sacred Deposit of faith — both in Scripture and Tradition — is materially sufficient. The Church acts as the agent by which the Holy Spirit moves to “form”–so to speak–infallible dogma. The canon is the result of one such dogmatic action of the Church. The reason why it functions as a kind of “Protestant hanging-chad” is that unlike the contents of each book in Scripture, the canon is something that happens outside of the content of any one, particular book in Scripture. See also “St. Thomas Aquinas on the Relationship Of Faith to the Church“.

    Why does this scheme relegate the inspired to the irrational and the uninspired to the rational ?

    It does not. In fact, it does the opposite. It properly grounds the species of knowledge in reality via the appropriate epistemic method — the formal aspect. When one knows the formal aspect, he knows the causes and thus his knowledge is rational. In other words, in my comments above, I note that certain knowledge is known, properly, through sense. Other knowledge is known, properly, through acts of the intellect (e.g., metaphysics). Sense knowledge is not irrational, but it is not intellectual in the classical sense of what that means. Historical knowledge is not empirical, but that does not mean that it is irrational. However, it would be irrational to try to acquire historical knowledge only through empirical methods.

    This “hierarchy” of knowledge builds its way to theology–the highest of all sciences. That is why St. Thomas says (in the article I linked to):

    The reason of this is that the species of every habit depends on the formal aspect [ratione] of the object, without which the species of the habit cannot remain. Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church. Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Sacred Scripture, has not the habit of faith, but holds the [other articles] of faith by a mode other than faith. If someone holds in his mind a conclusion without knowing how that conclusion is demonstrated, it is manifest that he does not have scientific knowledge [i.e. knowledge of causes], but merely an opinion about it. Summa Theologica II-II Q.5 a.3

    Before I was Catholic, and before I understood these concepts, I had a growing suspicion — a la Protestantism — that faith was irrational. How could so many trained, well-intended, prayerful men disagree so fundamentally about dogmatic theology — given a 2,000 year head-start? Imagine such confusion in any other species of knowledge? Much less the knowledge that leads men to eternal life. What I realized is that Protestantism dislocates dogma from its proper formal cause: the Church. Left to ourselves, all we get is opinion because we must now act as the formal cause.

    So, far from irrational, theology requires that we “love God with our mind”. In fact, it is illogical to base faith upon private, individual interpretation because such is the opposite of faith — it is judgment (see, again, the linked article). To know the causes (God, inspired Sacred Deposit, the Church, God), is to have rational knowledge. The writings of Jacques Maritain helped me tremendously in this area.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  47. Dear Brent,

    I read your responses but I wasn’t able to respond due to other priorities. However, let me go back to your original statement regarding Calvin’s view. You said:

    Notice that Calvin, like Ehrman, denies the agency of the Church (“our own nor by anyone else’s judgement”) in discerning the canon. We trust the canon not because God worked through the Church. We trust the canon because we feel it in our soul, before God alone.

    I pointed out that Calvin did not hold to this position. In fact, Calvin endorses many external evidences that an individual can appeal to to gain sufficient certainty regarding the Scriptures (this includes the canon issue as the canon is a function of Scripture). Included in these external evidences was his appreciation of the witness of the church. He viewed the agreement of different persons, groups and nations on the canon as a matter of divine providence. The “consent of the Church” is one of the greatest evidence that an individual can appeal to. Thus, it is not true that Calvin denies the agency of the church in discerning the canon. However, these external evidences which individuals can appeal to will not satisfy the hearts of the inquirer. Only the Spirit can command the heart to hear the voice of Christ proclaimed in the recognized canon. Thus, our confession says:

    We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture, and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole, (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts.

    In other words, there is no question that the witness of the visible church recognizing the canon is the greatest evidence one can appeal to if one should want to have sufficient certainty on the “scope of the whole.”But, it is not, ultimately the greatest evidence for a christian individual compared to the witness of the Holy Spirit that convinces him/her to listen to the voice of Christ in the pages therein.

    So I get into the heart of the matter as you proudly endorse the idea that History can’t give us the Canon as this would ultimately lead to subjectivity. If it is true that ecclesial bodies (councils) defined the canon, one cannot ignore the fact that deliberations in these councils appealed to history in order for them to decide which is which. It is not as if the lists dropped down from heaven when they gathered. On the other hand, a 21st century believer, if his epistomology endorses an infallible teaching office to tell him what is the canon would require him to go look into the historical data to know the decisions of that office that he relies on. There is no escaping that in order to have knowledge of the canon, one has to access History and interpret it no matter what method is employed.

    Please note that the canon and the individual’s recognition of the canon are two distinct yet inseparable topics. One is a theological inquiry but the other is a historical inquiry. The canon did not exist simply because an ecclesial body says so. The canon exists because God inspired men to write Sacred Scripture. Whether or not any ecclesial body or individual recognized the canon does not affect the fact that the canon exists. So our question is, if the canon exist how do we (as fallible individuals) recognize it?

    Per my understanding of your methodology, your way of knowing the canon as a fallible individual is to know the “church” that Christ founded. Of course, this already involves subjectivity as you have to interpret what you meant by the word “Church”. You have to interpret historical, scriptural and theological data to decide that the Council of Trent is the true ecclesial body that defined the canon and therefore you won’t question what they have to say. Now my question is, are you in a better boat than the protestant? My honest answer is no. Ultimately, your appeal would be just like the protestant next door in which you hope that the Holy Spirit guided your efforts to recognize the “church” which you make for yourself your “infallible guide” to know the canon.

    In my case, I do not deny that my recognition of the canon may be deficient as I am fallible. But to the best of my knowledge, I have examined relevant history and the people who bore witness to the canon. The historical data for me is sufficient to erect grounded arguments for the 27 books for the New Testament and 39 books for the Old Testament. In the case of the NT, in my own research, there are four books which were listed as canonical by early witnesses which is not in the NT today. They are the Shepherd of Hermas, The Apocalypse of Peter, The Epistle of Barnabas and The Epistle of Clement. Major catalogues up to the eight century either did not include these books as canonical or were outrightly mentioned as non-canonical. Only the Epistle of Clement did not obtain a denial from the major catalogues and was mentioned as canonical under the Syrian Church (Apostolic Canons). However, all major catalogues except what I mentioned earlier did not contain the letter indicating that this letter did not enjoy as much authority as the NT. Reading it, it doesn’t carry the same apostolic tone as the rest of the NT. The 27 books enjoyed greater acceptance and no denial from major catalogues including the antilegomena. In the end, I have deep experience of devotion as the Spirit convince and is convincing me of the voice of Christ in these books. There is no experience I have that rivals what I felt when reading the NT.

    The canon exists whether or not I fully recognize it. God is the author of the canon and fixed in God’s perspective. However, like you, I know I am not alone in my efforts to fallibly recognize the canon. He revealed it to his church catholic in different periods and circumstance and localities and race. His church are composed of people who struggle to recognize the canon in their zeal to hear the voice of Christ. I am part of that church and struggle with them. Our struggle is connected by history and amazingly each book bears testimony in the heart of the church (whether individually or expressed in ecclesial bodies) that the canon has been known and proclaimed and used by the church catholic to hear the voice of Christ and carries with it the full power of the King of Kings. Doctrines tumble and fall without the Scriptures as one of witness said, “For concerning the divine and sacred Mysteries of the Faith, we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures: nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument. Do not then believe me because I tell thee these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures. (Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1845), “The Catechetical Lectures of S. Cyril” Lecture 4.17.)”

    Regards,
    Joey

  48. Dear JoeyHenry,

    Thanks for your comment. Would you explain what you mean by “sufficient certainty” in appealing to external evidences as it relates to what you mean by “Only the Spirit can command the heart to hear the voice of Christ proclaimed in the recognized canon”?

    You said:

    I pointed out that Calvin did not hold to this position…….In other words, there is no question that the witness of the visible church recognizing the canon is the greatest evidence one can appeal to if one should want to have sufficient certainty on the “scope of the whole.”But, it is not, ultimately the greatest evidence for a christian individual compared to the witness of the Holy Spirit that convinces him/her to listen to the voice of Christ in the pages therein.

    This entire section was addressed in my comment #40 where I said:

    First, the distinction I make between Calvin and the Catholic Church — and what exactly is detailed in this article — is one between the meaning of “Church” and the relationship between the canon and canonization. The “consent” of the Church is merely Calvin’s way of saying that “those in whom as lights God was pleased that his Church should shine” attested to the canon that Calvin asserts (admitting that some disagree). Thus, “Church” functions in Calvin’s theology as a placeholder for (my words) “all those who have been given the “inner witness” that attest to (my) canon”–at least in this instance. However, I’m not sure that Calvin even has the canon in mind. Rather, he is thinking more about the authority of the Scripture, per se, but that is not my point (see footnote #1; see also Institutes Book 1, Ch.8, 1 “authority of Scripture”). Follow the argument of Book 7 all the way through to my quote.

    See also Bryan Cross’s article “Why Protestantism has no “visible catholic Church”.

    You then say:

    So I get into the heart of the matter as you proudly endorse the idea that History can’t give us the Canon as this would ultimately lead to subjectivity.

    That is not my argument. I can be certain of many facts from history. I am certain of all of the facts from history that I footnote in Section II of this paper. I am certain that George Washington was the first president. I am certain that my wife was born in South Florida.

    one cannot ignore the fact that deliberations in these councils appealed to history in order for them to decide which is which

    Appealing to history and coming to a fact by history are two different things.

    It is not as if the lists dropped down from heaven when they gathered.

    Agreed.

    On the other hand, a 21st century believer, if his epistomology endorses an infallible teaching office to tell him what is the canon would require him to go look into the historical data to know the decisions of that office that he relies on.

    What do you mean by “epistemology endorses”?

    There is no escaping that in order to have knowledge of the canon, one has to access History and interpret it no matter what method is employed.

    I disagree. I don’t have to have knowledge of history to trust the canon I have today. Couldn’t someone trust the canon without knowledge of history? In fact, don’t most Christians trust that they have the right books in their Bible without any recourse to history? We might also think about another doctrine — that Christ is consubstantial with the Father — this way. We don’t believe that doctrine simply because it is talked about in history. In other words, history alone won’t give me that fact (dogma) the same way it will give me the fact that it was talked about at “x” time.

    Please note that the canon and the individual’s recognition of the canon are two distinct yet inseparable topics.

    Yes, I noted this distinction and rebutted it in Section III (in reference to the James White quote).

    One is a theological inquiry but the other is a historical inquiry.

    This seems to be confused. Learning dogma would be a theological inquiry for us. The canon as knowledge proper to God — and not as we know it — would be nothing more than knowledge proper to God who is omniscient.

    So our question is, if the canon exist how do we (as fallible individuals) recognize it?

    Yes, that is the point of my article.

    You have to interpret historical, scriptural and theological data to decide that the Council of Trent is the true ecclesial body that defined the canon and therefore you won’t question what they have to say.

    This has been dealt with specifically by Bryan Cross in his article “Tue Quoque”. I also address some of the nuances of what you imply in my most recent comment to Eric (here) and also in my comment to Daniel (here).

    Only the Epistle of Clement did not obtain a denial from the major catalogues and was mentioned as canonical under the Syrian Church (Apostolic Canons). However, all major catalogues except what I mentioned earlier did not contain the letter indicating that this letter did not enjoy as much authority as the NT.

    A student of history would say from your evidence that history does not get you to one canon. It gets you to multiple canons. History will, however, get you to the fact that George Washington was the first president of the USA. History will not get you to two first presidents.

    Reading it, it doesn’t carry the same apostolic tone as the rest of the NT

    First Clement certaintly has “Apostolic tone” — all of the literature on Clementine theology talk about his “authoritative tone”. Romish even. Also, imagine that 1 Clement had been included in your Bible for your entire life. Do you think that might have naturally persuaded you that it was “apostolic”?

    There is no experience I have that rivals what I felt when reading the NT.

    I agree. But, I would be careful to note that Mormons have an “incredible and unrivaled feeling” when they read the book of Mormon. Thus, experience is not enough to ground the canon.

    He revealed it to his church catholic in different periods and circumstance and localities and race. His church are composed of people who struggle to recognize the canon in their zeal to hear the voice of Christ. I am part of that church and struggle with them. Our struggle is connected by history and amazingly each book bears testimony in the heart of the church (whether individually or expressed in ecclesial bodies) that the canon has been known and proclaimed and used by the church catholic to hear the voice of Christ and carries with it the full power of the King of Kings.

    Is “church” and “ecclesial bodies” the same on your view? Is one visible, and the other not?

    Doctrines tumble and fall without the Scriptures

    I agree, but I would add that when the deposit of faith found in Sacred Scripture and Tradition is dislocated from the Church Jesus founded, doctrines really begin to tumble and fall and spin out of control. We are now 490 years into that experiment.

    See also from St. Cyril (source):

    “But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that ONLY, which is now DELIVERED TO THEE BY THE CHURCH, AND which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures.” Catechetical Lectures 5,12

    “Learn also diligently, and FROM THE CHURCH, WHAT are the books of the Old Testament, and WHAT are the books of the NEW” ibid 5,33

    “These mysteries which the CHURCH now explains to you who are passing from the ranks of the catechumens….” ibid 6,29

    To show Cyril has different understandings of the word “proof”:

    “So, therefore, you have the PROOF from Scripture: [Cyril cites Daniel 9:25]…For the present, then, you have this PROOF of the time, though the weeks of years foretold in Daniel ARE INTERPRETED VARIOUSLY.” ibid 12,19

    “Our teaching is no invention on our part, but derived from the Sacred Scriptures, particularly from the prophecy of Daniel just read….According to the TRADITIONAL INTERPRETATION of the Fathers, this is the kingdom of the Romans [referring to Daniel 7:23].” ibid 15,13

    “To prevent some in ignorance from thinking, because of the different titles of the Holy Spirit, that these are different spirits and not one and the same (and One only), the Catholic Church has provided for your SAFETY in the TRADITIONAL CONFESSION OF THE FAITH, which commands us to ‘believe in one Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who spoke by the prophets…'” ibid 27,3

    “The word itself and the title of ‘Spirit’ are applied to Them in common in the Holy Scriptures, for it is said of the Father; ‘God is spirit’ [Jn 4:24], as it is written in the Gospel according to John; and of the Son: ‘A spirit before our face, Christ the Lord’ [cf. Lam 4:20] as Jeremia the Prophet says; and of the Holy Spirit: ‘but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit’ [Jn 14:26], as it has been said; YET the ORDER OF THE CREED, if devoutly understood, EXCLUDES the ERROR of Sabellius.” ibid 27,34

    “Faith in the resurrection of the dead is a central precept and teaching of the holy Catholic Church….” ibid 28,1

    “Now then let me finish what still remains to be said for the Article, ‘In one holy Catholic Church,’ on which, though one might say many things, we will speak but briefly. It is called Catholic then because it extends over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other; and because it TEACHES UNIVERSALLY AND COMPLETELY [Jurgens translates “infallibly”] ONE AND ALL THE DOCTRINES which ought to come to men’s KNOWLEDGE, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly; and because it brings into subjection to godliness the whole race of mankind, governors and governed, learned and unlearned; and because it universally treats and heals the whole class of sins, which are committed by soul or body, and possesses in itself every form of virtue which is named, both in deeds and words, and in every kind of spiritual gifts.” ibid 18,22-23

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  49. Brent,

    Let me step up to the net and try to spike the ball. The first paragraph of the essay reveals the entire story. That story is a collection of arguments that are simply impenetrable and totalitarian (not political or pejorative). It is encapsulated by the word “impossible”. This word is worse than the dreaded anathema. I take it to mean the same as unbelievable or unworthy of belief. There are two ways to stop a Totalitarian; you can annihilate it or overcome it with a greater Totalitarian. I offer the the Triune God of the canonized Scriptures recognized by the Westminster confession of Faith.

    Ultimate Presupposition:

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made: without him nothing was made that has been made…The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us…yet all who received Him….he gave the right to be called children of God…

    Presupposition by implication:

    1) This writing is the inspired scripture
    2) God testifies to its truth
    3) 1) and 2) are required to know or prove any event of history, reason, logic or what is “possible or
    impossible”
    4) 1) ,2) and 3) are required for knowledge of all or any part of scripture
    5) the canon is a fact of history prior to any ecclesial-dogmatic act
    6) Darkness, under the providence of God, prevents each and everyone from having the full canon simultaneously

    Ecclesialogical objectivity:

    1) Christ is the head of the invisible catholic church consisting of the whole number of the elect.
    2) Christ is the head of the visible catholic church under the gospel.
    3) Unto this visible church Christ has given the scriptures.
    4) This church is sometimes more or less pure and visible.
    5) The full canon fluctuates in this “more or less” scenario.
    6) The RC church is a visible church with the full canon plus non-canonical books. Impurity by addition.
    7) Any church under the WCF is pure regarding the full canon.

    Theo-redemptive subjectivity:

    I am elect and predestinated unto adoption in Christ Jesus through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has witnessed, conjoined with the scriptures, to my spirit that I am a child of God. Eternal glory is His promise to me. This testimony can not be challenged without plunging into absurdity. You must agree and join me or deny by bringing a charge against God’s elect.

    The spiritual man judges all things and is judged by no other.

    In Christ alone,
    Eric

  50. Eric,

    A spike (i.e., asserting your own position) is not particularly convincing (though it might be emphatic) when the net has been removed (i.e., when the disputed point is asserted as a presupposition). That sort of thing doesn’t count as “stepping up to the net,” no matter how hard you hit the ball. My advice is to try again, this time interacting with Brent’s argument (as you have done previously).

    Andrew

  51. Eric,

    That story is a collection of arguments that are simply impenetrable and totalitarian. It is encapsulated by the word “impossible”. This word is worse than the dreaded anathema. I take it to mean the same as unbelievable or unworthy of belief. There are two ways to stop a Totalitarian; you can annihilate it or overcome it with a greater Totalitarian. I offer the the Triune God of the canonized Scriptures recognized by the Westminster confession of Faith.

    Calling an argument totalitarian is ad hominem. An argument cannot be totalitarian. I imagine a statement without an argument could be viewed as question begging. However, an argument that says something is unbelievable or unworthy of belief (under certain conditions), and then makes an argument for such a position is not question begging. That is what I did.

    1) This writing is the inspired scripture

    I agree, but I do not agree that Jesus is the same thing as the Bible.

    2) God testifies to its truth

    Okay…

    3) 1) and 2) are required to know or prove any event of history, reason, logic or what is “possible or impossible”

    Not true. An atheist can know that the first president of the United States of America was George Washington. He can reject 1 and 2 and still know or prove any event of history, reason or logic. However, an atheist cannot know or prove any fact of theology by history, reason or logic alone. Nor can a Christian.

    4) 1) ,2) and 3) are required for knowledge of all or any part of scripture

    I’m not sure how this adds much to 3, but…

    5) the canon is a fact of history prior to any ecclesial-dogmatic act

    No. Unless you are trying to say that it is a fact in the mind of God before any ecclesial-dogmatic act. If so, we’re cool.

    Let’s think about another type of fact. That tomorrow you will do “x”. God already knows “x”. However, you don’t know “x” until you do “x”. This knowledge comes to you through sense experience, not because “God bares witness in your soul” that you did “x”.

    6) Darkness, under the providence of God, prevents each and everyone from having the full canon simultaneously

    This is a non-sequitur. None of it follows from 1-5. Further, nowhere in Scripture (according to your sole rule) does it say that “Darkness, under the providence of God, prevents each and everyone…”

    Is this also true for transubstantiation? What about infant baptism? Couldn’t I just claim the same for these “facts of history”?

    Ecclesialogical objectivity:

    1) Christ is the head of the invisible catholic church consisting of the whole number of the elect.

    Okay…

    2) Christ is the head of the visible catholic church under the gospel.
    3) Unto this visible church Christ has given the scriptures.
    4) This church is sometimes more or less pure and visible.
    5) The full canon fluctuates in this “more or less” scenario.

    I don’t understand how 2-5 relate to each other. How would I know if I were in the visible or invisible church? Would I “more or less” know? How does this relate to you saying you [know] “you are elect and predestinated unto adoption in Christ Jesus through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has witnessed, conjoined with the scriptures…”

    Also, how do you respond to my arguments in Section III which address your claim?

    6) The RC church is a visible church with the full canon plus non-canonical books. Impurity by addition. Any church under the WCF is pure regarding the full canon.

    Both of those are assertions without any argument. That is what you claim I am doing, but that is what you have done. Moreover, this article is not to deny you your personal, subjective, ecstatic experience with God. Rather, it is to question the ground of your dogma.

    Respectfully,

    Brent

  52. This a not-comment comment – intended to get me onto the mail-list for comments for this post (haven’t found any other way to do it!).

    jj

  53. Andrew,

    There is more than assertion here because Brent responded in serial fashion. A mere assertion would have been dismissed quickly. Interaction with any argument takes place at various levels. Initially, I entered into his world of presuppositions and assertions to find clarity and potential weaknesses. You should have accused me of being too complimentary when I admitted that his arguments were “impenetrable”. This exchange, rather all exchanges with RC, must reach the level of presupposition. Brent made an evaluation about what was “impossible” at the theoretical and experiential levels, so I’m pushing the issue back to underline assumptions. His arguments have forced me to reach this new level because, given his underline commitments, his case is tight and plausible. Dare I say convincing.

    Eric

  54. Eric,

    You wrote:

    There is more than assertion here because Brent responded in serial fashion. A mere assertion would have been dismissed quickly.

    Your string of propositions may have amounted to some kind of argument, but not the kind in which the relevant conclusions follow from the premises, as Brent pointed out. This leaves you with only assertions, regarding the point at hand (the adequacy of the Protestant way of discerning the canon of Sacred Scripture).

    Your wrote:

    This exchange, rather all exchanges with RC, must reach the level of presupposition. Brent made an evaluation about what was “impossible” at the theoretical and experiential levels, so I’m pushing the issue back to underline assumptions.

    I agree that we need to discover and evaluate those foundational matters that are presupposed by other matters that we want to discuss, especially where there is disagreement concerning the latter. However, the underlying matters in this case are not necessarily assumptions, nor do they need to be presupposed in the sense of being merely stipulated in order to know anything at all.

    You wrote:

    His arguments have forced me to reach this new level because, given his underline commitments, his case is tight and plausible. Dare I say convincing.

    In that case, you should either accept Brent’s position, or else show where his case breaks down (whether at the level of the argument made in the post, or at the level or his “underline commitments”).

    Either way, I am butting back out, and will resume my role as silent spectator to this exchange. Thanks for the response to my initial comment.

    Andrew

  55. @Eric, #49:
    I’ve been following your exchange/thoughts with some interest. Having something perhaps interesting to say, I’ll now throw my own thoughts out there. You can, as usual, consider and evaluate for yourself whether they’re sensible (Hopefully they are, but I’ve taught too much to know that sometimes when I think I’m being perfectly clear and comprehensible, my students have disagreed. Ah well, such is the nature of communication. :-)

    I’ve done some graduate work in philosophical epistemology which is, it seems, directly relevant to your “Presupposition by implication”. Interestingly enough, a former pastor of mine in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church has said things which sound the same as the sort of argument you’re presenting here. So, at the very least, know that what you’re saying isn’t so “out there” that other people haven’t thought it themselves. I can’t say I find the kind of argument you’re offering convincing, though, and I thought I’d briefly mention why.

    (If you already know what follows, pardon the repetition.) Since at least the time of Plato, philosophers have understood knowledge to require three jointly necessary and sufficient conditions: justification, truth, and belief. Put less pretentiously, to accurately say that one “knows” X (say, that it is now raining outside), one must believe that it is now raining outside, one must have some justification for the belief that it is now raining outside, and it must be a true belief (that is, it must actually be raining outside now). When all 3 of these conditions are met, one has knowledge. (OK, thanks to Gettier whether or not justified true beliefs constitute knowledge has gotten messy, but for our purposes I think that controversy is irrelevant).

    Your position, I take it, has implications for the justification precondition for knowledge. Specifically, let’s take the “George Washington” example and see how it would seem to go through your “Presupposition by implication”. Suppose there is an atheist and he is considering the proposition “George Washington was the first president of the United States of America”. An atheist, of course, rejects your “ultimate presupposition”. As far as justified true beliefs go, then, the atheist does have a belief (He really does believe that GW was the first president) and it is a true belief (since GW was, in fact, the first president). But, since the atheist rejects the ultimate presupposition, this kind of view entails that his belief is not justified. It was at this point that it sounded similar to what my former pastor said – Atheists can believe that murder is wrong, or that GW was the first president, and those beliefs are true – but that ultimately they don’t have the right sort of presuppositions necessary to justify their beliefs. Thus (my pastor said), atheists cannot “know” anything (and you say something very similar: that atheists [and anybody else rejecting the ultimate presupposition] cannot “know…any event of history, reason, logic or what is ‘possible or impossible'”).

    As I said before, I find this a radically implausible viewpoint to hold. Among other things, it entails that my atheist professors (of which there are many) do not know when America was founded or who did the founding (historical events), they do not know the laws of non-contradiction or modus ponens (which are truths of reasoning/logic). But it gets worse – under this kind of epistemology my atheist professors don’t know who their children are, don’t know who their parents are, don’t know if they’ve gotten married and, if so, to whom (since these are all facts which are inextricably linked to historical happenings). It’s unclear to me whether or not you think atheists can know (in the sense of “have justification for their true beliefs that”) the sum of 2 and 2 is 4, or know how many sides a triangle has, or know whether or not any bachelors are married.

    My former pastor, at least, thinks that every single belief an atheist has is not justified and, as such, the atheist does not and could not know anything. Fortunately he didn’t put this philosophy of his into practice! (Can you imagine trying to have a conversation with someone who believes this if one were an atheist? Whatever the atheist says, the automatic comeback is “Ah, but you don’t actually know that unless and until you become a Christian!”) I’m unsure whether or not you think every single belief an atheist has is unjustified, but it seems to me that the overwhelming majority of true beliefs that atheists have are, on your view, not knowledge.

    Incidentally, this kind of strong presuppositional view that (somehow?) grounds a rejection of Catholicism has the following “interesting” implication (an implication which is, I think, false). Say that I am a Christian today and thereby have justified true beliefs (and thus can “know”) that GW was the first president and that I have a son. Imagine tomorrow I become an atheist (totally and sincerely repudiating Christ). On this strong presuppositional view, now I no longer know those things (because my presuppositions are now messed up). But of course it is mysterious to me why changing my religious beliefs prevents me from knowing (say) that I have a son or various historical facts about GW – if any two beliefs are independent, what I believe about God and who was the first president would seem to fit the bill. And yet this presuppositional view entails that they’re actually not independent in the way they plainly are.

    Now, as I said, there are some who do accept this strong presuppositional view of knowledge. But for my money, it leads directly to two absurd consequences (without passing go and without collecting $200). First, it entails that atheists do not know things which they plainly do know (like who the first president of the US was). Second, it entails that changing my religion has justificatory entailments for topics and beliefs which have nothing to do with one’s religion (like, say, who the first president of the US was). This leads me to conclude that this super strong presuppositional position cannot be correct – but of course your mileage may vary. Does this all make sense? Hopefully it was at least of some help in illuminating what this kind of view entails and why I think its entailments show it to be false. I’d best get back to work – blessings on all!

    Sincerely,
    Benjamin

  56. @Benjamin Keil #55:
    I thank you for this which has helped to clarify things for me. I was Reformed for twenty years, and a self-declared disciple of Cornelius Van Til. I remember arguing that at bottom no man could know anything unless he started from the presupposition of the truth of the Christian (and, I thought, that had to mean the Reformed Calvinist) faith. I remember once, nearly thirty years ago, raising the question of the canon with my minister, and with his brother, another Reformed minister. They looked puzzled for a moment. Then one of them said, “I suppose you just have to presuppose it” – and moved on, as though, clearly, it was not an issue for them. There was a great deal of argument at the time – the 1980s, it was – to the effect that to try to bring arguments for the existence of God, or, indeed, for the (Reformed) Christian faith was just wrong. By doing so, you were ceding the ground to the opponent. The man who wanted justification for these things was really trying to find reasons not submit to God. One Reformed theologian – I have forgotten who – was effectively excommunicated by us precisely because he thought you could argue for the Christian faith.

    When, in 1994, I was in the throes of what ended up being my becoming a Catholic, I read Ronald Knox’s Belief of Catholics – and read, really considering them for the first time, the arguments of Thomas Aquinas for the existence of God. It was revolutionary. I was liberated (I can hear my Reformed pastor shaking his head and saying, “Yeah, that’s right, John! You were liberated. You wanted to be liberated – from God!! You wanted to serve a God of your own making!”).

    I became a Catholic at the end of reading that book – but have not read such a clear analysis of the – to me, impossible – implications of ultra-presuppositionalism.

    Presuppositions absolutely must be exposed – but, because we are made in the image of God, with real intellect, will, and memory, and because God Himself is revealed in the things He has made – the atheist can and does have true knowledge – and can, and does, reason himself into worship of the true God – and can, and does, reason himself to the point of a moral certainty of the truth of the Christian – and Catholic! – religion – and can, and does, seek with a true heart the gift of theological faith that God can give him.

    jj

  57. Brent,

    Would you explain what you mean by “sufficient certainty” in appealing to external evidences as it relates to what you mean by “Only the Spirit can command the heart to hear the voice of Christ proclaimed in the recognized canon”?

    I am not sure what explanation you are looking for.

    This entire section was addressed in my comment #40 where I said:

    First, the distinction I make between Calvin and the Catholic Church — and what exactly is detailed in this article — is one between the meaning of “Church” and the relationship between the canon and canonization. The “consent” of the Church is merely Calvin’s way of saying that “those in whom as lights God was pleased that his Church should shine” attested to the canon that Calvin asserts (admitting that some disagree). Thus, “Church” functions in Calvin’s theology as a placeholder for (my words) “all those who have been given the “inner witness” that attest to (my) canon”–at least in this instance. However, I’m not sure that Calvin even has the canon in mind. Rather, he is thinking more about the authority of the Scripture, per se, but that is not my point (see footnote #1; see also Institutes Book 1, Ch.8, 1 “authority of Scripture”). Follow the argument of Book 7 all the way through to my quote.

    See also Bryan Cross’s article “Why Protestantism has no “visible catholic Church” .

    I have to raise the objection because of the statements asserted in your original post: “Calvin, like Ehrman, denies the agency of the Church (“our own nor by anyone else’s judgement”) in discerning the canon. We trust the canon not because God worked through the Church. We trust the canon because we feel it in our soul, before God alone.” Based on my reading of Calvin, this is not his view. And I think I have made my point clearly. You can not accuse Calvin of putting aside the witness of the Church precisely because his view on the nature of the Church is different from yours. I will not delve into discussing about the nature of the church and how it is visible as this is not the topic here.

    You said, “I’m not sure that Calvin even has the canon in mind. Rather, he is thinking more about the authority of the Scripture, per se.” Well, Brent, you must have known that for Calvin, the canon is simply a function of Scripture. Where there is Scripture there is a canon and thus he did not argue for the authority of Scripture as if it is distinct from the Canon of Scripture.

    Now, a simple question has to be asked. Did Calvin, like Ehrman, deny the agency of Church in discerning the canon. Answer? No. He did not deny it (even the consensus reached by the old councils) but rather placed (rightly) placed those evidences in perspective. I refer you to Calvin again:

    Yet of themselves these [proofs] are not strong enough to provide a firm faith until our Heavenly Father, revealing his majesty there, lifts reverence for Scripture beyond the realm of controversy. Therefore Scripture will ultimately suffice for a saving knowledge of God only when its certainty is founded upon the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, these human testimonies which exist to confirm it will not be vain if, as secondary aids to our feebleness, they follow that chief and highest testimony. But those who wish to prove to unbelievers that Scripture is the Word of God are acting foolishly, for only by faith can this be known. (Institutes, I, viii, 13)

    Once we have embraced it devoutly as its dignity deserves, and have recognized it to be above the common sort of things, those arguments – not strong enough before to engraft and fix the certainty of Scripture in our minds – become very useful aids. What wonderful confirmation ensues when, with keener study, we ponder the economy of the divine wisdom, so well ordered and disposed…. (Institutes, I, viii, 1)

    I hope this is clear. The witness of the church (and other evidences) throughout history is important but it is the final domino that makes an individual bow down to accept the Word of God. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that any man (sinful and fallible) recognizes and accepts the Scripture as the Word of God.

    That is not my argument. I can be certain of many facts from history. I am certain of all of the facts from history that I footnote in Section II of this paper. I am certain that George Washington was the first president. I am certain that my wife was born in South Florida.

    And this is not my argument too. I am not talking about George Washington in my argument but how we can (given than we are fallible) look at history to give evidence to the Canon. The inquiries are different in nature for the search of historical data that George Washington was the first president is not preceded by a theological conclusion. However, if for any reason finding out the first president we have other premises preceding our historical search such as, “The first president of America should be listened because his words is the source of eternal life” then that’s a different story. You then have a theological statement not evidenced from historical data. To say that George Washington is the first president is not enough. That statement must have a basis. If CNN told us that indeed George Washington was the first president, the discovery of CNN did not make that statement true. It is true whether or not anyone from history acknowledges it. However, any inquirer can demonstrate by the records of the past. But, are you really absolutely sure of your conclusion? Since, the inquirer cannot observe the past and has no direct access of past events he has to rely on logical and practical evidences. But he cannot reach absolute certainty because the data he receives are subject to his interpretation and the question whether all data have been examined by the inquirer remains.

    Appealing to history and coming to a fact by history are two different things.

    How so?

    I disagree. I don’t have to have knowledge of history to trust the canon I have today. Couldn’t someone trust the canon without knowledge of history? In fact, don’t most Christians trust that they have the right books in their Bible without any recourse to history? We might also think about another doctrine — that Christ is consubstantial with the Father — this way. We don’t believe that doctrine simply because it is talked about in history. In other words, history alone won’t give me that fact (dogma) the same way it will give me the fact that it was talked about at “x” time.

    This is the highlight of the discussion. Do you really endorse the idea that knowledge of the history canon is not needed if one seeks assurance of its reliability? This already speaks volumes of your position. Note that we are not inquiring whether or not there is a canon. The canon in itself is a theological assertion which is proven not by historical deduction. When we say that God inspired the Apostles to deliver his message and doctrine for his followers, this is a theological assertion. Just like the statement that Christ is consubstantial with the Father, the reality of this is not settled by a search in the historical data alone. In other words, whether or not someone in history discovers the doctrine, it remains true. But if one seeks assurance on the existence and scope of the doctrine, then the historical data adds to that certainty as the inquirer can investigate different data and arguments for and against it.

    Yes, I noted this distinction and rebutted it in Section III (in reference to the James White quote).

    Did you really rebut it? I don’t think so. In fact you agree with the distinction made. The difference is that our view accounts for the instrumentality of the stream of history (pros and cons) as the means that God uses for any individual to reach the conclusion on the scope of the canon. The fact is White did not insist that “that no authoritative Church is necessary to know the canon.” However, White and others (including myself) insist that no ecclesial body gave authority to the canon as the canon is a function of Scripture. Scripture is not authoritative because a certain ecclesial body says so. Scripture’s authority comes from God and a church’s recognition (or lack of recognition) of it does not add to or lessen its authority over the universal church. But as to knowledge of the canon and its scope, history is accessible in which the records of Christians and group of Christians witnessing to the canon can be examined. I just have to ask one thing before I leave this topic: Before any ecclesial body (for you the Council of Trent ended the debate on the scope of the canon) do you think the Scriptural authority (which naturally includes its scope) did not function as a dogma in the early formation of Christianity?

    This has been dealt with specifically by Bryan Cross in his article “Tue Quoque”. I also address some of the nuances of what you imply in my most recent comment to Eric (here) and also in my comment to Daniel (here).

    I don’t think so. As a fallible individual can you really have knowledge on the scope of the canon without recourse to history? Has that been answered? Did you really escape the hurdle of subjectivity in knowing the scope of the canon by choosing for yourself (fallible as you are) an infallible guide to tell you the scope of the canon? Do you really have a greater certainty on your knowledge of the canon than the protestant next door? Because Brent, in actually, you are only as certain as your own fallible assumption that Trent possess infallibility that settles the canon issue.

    A student of history would say from your evidence that history does not get you to one canon. It gets you to multiple canons. History will, however, get you to the fact that George Washington was the first president of the USA. History will not get you to two first presidents.

    Precisely because history tells you that some books were accepted and some books were rejected, one can examine the arguments of both sides. If someone claims in history that George Washington is the first president then the basis of that assertion finds its ground in the historical record. What if someone did make a claim that there were two presidents in history? How do you know now which is correct? Would you choose for yourself an infallible guide to tell you the answer?

    First Clement certaintly has “Apostolic tone” — all of the literature on Clementine theology talk about his “authoritative tone”. Romish even. Also, imagine that 1 Clement had been included in your Bible for your entire life. Do you think that might have naturally persuaded you that it was “apostolic”?

    Really? Have you really read it? Did you not get the sense that the letter was written long after the Apostles were dead? And that the presbyters are second generation presbyters (meaning they were not the presbyters appointed even when the Apostles were alive). The dependence of canonical NT to gain acceptance of his admonition flourished. Do you really believe in the existence of the Phoenix? I am not sure we are reading the same document. Even if it were included in my Bible, I would know from history the pros and cons of inclusion and exclusion of this book. Does it naturally persuade me? Perhaps yes and perhaps no.

    I agree. But, I would be careful to note that Mormons have an “incredible and unrivaled feeling” when they read the book of Mormon. Thus, experience is not enough to ground the canon.

    I do not argue that experience is enough to ground the canon.

    I agree, but I would add that when the deposit of faith found in Sacred Scripture and Tradition is dislocated from the Church Jesus founded, doctrines really begin to tumble and fall and spin out of control. We are now 490 years into that experiment.

    Perhaps we should discuss the nature of the church that Christ founded and apostolic tradition. I love to discuss whether Christ really established a church headed by a Holy Father who seats at Rome and whether apostolic tradition is composed of revelations defined by an ecclesial body which have no historical and scriptural data but should be imposed by all Christians (such as the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary). Let’s see if Cyril really sides with the RC position on this matter. But this should be another topic, noh?

    Regards,
    Joey

  58. John,

    I am quickly responding what you say about a man “reason[ing] himself into the worship of the true God…and to the point of moral certainty of the truth.” This statement truly lays a precarious and tenuous foundation compared to all that the Scripture tells us about becoming regenerated (born again) in order to believe in God. Your position and handling of the Christian faith would have a man “father” his own faith, or beget himself unto belief. Scripture teaches us that “Unless a man is born from above he cannot see the kindgom of God.” (John 3) Never does Scripture teach us that a man can “reason himself” unto God. It does tell us that we suppress the truth in unrighteousness, however (Romans 1, of course).

    Scripture continually portrays men as reasoning from God (presupposing Him), never finding Him in “the futility of their own thinking.”

    If your reasoning “saves you”, than you would have to admit that “greater reasons or reasoning” would ‘unsave you’, so to speak. It is just a matter of hearing ‘better reasons’ to convince you of something else, whether it be unbelief or Islam or Mormonism of whatever. Reason basically rules in your position. It is a matter of mustering the greater reasons for anything. As such, you are still open to other religions or belief systems, if only they can give you greater reasons. Correct? How could it be otherwise?

    To be sure, the God to which the Bible testifies gives us a greater certainty and greater force unto salvation and worship of Him than our reasoning (He is that force and certainty, itself). For the believer, He is the cause of our belief, ability to reason concerning Him, and salvation in Him and the growing certainty thereof. Let’s believe Him, and go from there. He is our source of new life, not ourselves (our own reasoning).

    Reason is a tool for the saved in God, but never the foundation of salvation.

    “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3

    Hope that is reasonable.
    Matt

  59. @Matt #58:

    To be sure, the God to which the Bible testifies gives us a greater certainty and greater force unto salvation and worship of Him than our reasoning (He is that force and certainty, itself). For the believer, He is the cause of our belief, ability to reason concerning Him, and salvation in Him and the growing certainty thereof. Let’s believe Him, and go from there. He is our source of new life, not ourselves (our own reasoning).

    Absolutely. That is what I meant by distinguishing here between ‘moral certainty’ and ‘theological faith:’
    and can, and does, reason himself to the point of a moral certainty of the truth of the Christian – and Catholic! – religion – and can, and does, seek with a true heart the gift of theological faith that God can give him.
    I can – indeed, must – have moral certainty in order to act. That moral certainty itself is given to me by ‘prevenient grace’ – God helping the unregenerate to understand these things – but it is reasoning, nonetheless, albeit reasoning under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Theological faith is a gift of God and is a certainty based on God’s witness to Himself entirely.

    Regarding this:

    Reason is a tool for the saved in God, but never the foundation of salvation.

    I agree with the first clause, and also with the second if, by ‘foundation,’ you mean ‘that which I rely on for theological faith.’ But what I was taught by my hyper-presuppositionalists was that I could not use reason at all in convincing myself that there was a case for God in the first place – nor, for the matter of that, in trying to persuade others of God. To do so was to ‘prove’ that an idol existed, not God. When I had been a Christian for 15 years I experienced a deep attack on my faith. When I went to my pastor to talk about it, he told me that I was trying to avoid believing in God, that there were no intellectual difficulties about believing in God, and that I was trying to cover up my secret sin. This was not that helpful :-)

    jj

  60. @Matt #58 – PS:

    If your reasoning “saves you”, than you would have to admit that “greater reasons or reasoning” would ‘unsave you’, so to speak. It is just a matter of hearing ‘better reasons’ to convince you of something else, whether it be unbelief or Islam or Mormonism of whatever. Reason basically rules in your position. It is a matter of mustering the greater reasons for anything. As such, you are still open to other religions or belief systems, if only they can give you greater reasons. Correct? How could it be otherwise?

    Absolutely – if I thought that my reasoning saved me. I do not in the least think such a thing. I meant only that I could use reason to understand that God exists (as St Paul tells me in Romans 1 – from the ‘things that are made’). My faith is itself a gift of God. I am not a Christian simply because reason tells me it is true – but reason does tell me that the Christian faith is true, and I can use reason to try to persuade others that the Christian faith is true.

    Nevertheless, I do not for a moment suppose that unaided reason will make a Christian out of anybody. Reason, aided by the witness of the Spirit (which is invisible and intangible), can bring a person to the point of sufficient certainty that the Christian faith is true that he now knows that he must make a decision. In that decision lies his eternal salvation. That the decision is both absolutely free and absolutely the sovereign will of God. I am not a Pelagian; neither am I a hyper-Calvinist. It is both/and, not either/or.

    jj

  61. Brent,

    You wrote:
    However, an argument that says something is unbelievable or unworthy of belief (under certain conditions), and then makes an argument for such a position is not question begging. That is what I did.

    You never begged the question. You have relied heavily on the metaphysical and epistemological assumptions prevalent in RC thought. This is not to say we don’t share some of these assumptions. I just want to push it back to ultimate presuppositions. The totalitarian charge is meant to say “total system” with out any breaks. Two things are brought forward; The events of history and inner witness. If my position is to hold, then I must show how each of these are at least possible ways to arrive at the canon. What I believe is most important is to show how the Church is not necessary as you present it. Each of these are ways that God reveals and testifies (Psalms 24:1, Rom 8:14-16). If the authoritative agency of the Church is absent, then the canon is made truly impossible. It prevents God from even having a thing that self-attests, save the Church, with any significance.

    Refutation of I:

    No real complaints here. Move over ! You are taking up to much space on the boat :)

    II:
    Dogmatic assumption from Vatican I:

    The same Holy mother Church holds and teaches that God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason : ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.

    Since human beings are totally dependent on God as their creator and lord, and created reason is completely subject to uncreated truth, we are obliged to yield to God the revealer full submission of intellect and will by faith.

    These quotes cause you insist on the distinction between faith and reason, articles of faith and articles of history, grace and nature, history and theology. The reason-history-nature set is worse off than you thought. The ” natural power of human reason” has not been able to reach God, the source and end of all things, with certain knowledge after the fall. As I pointed out in my comment God-Word of God made all things. This god of reason and the God of the bible are not the same. Every supposed proof offered by reason alone must assume the truths found in the scripture to make its case. When reason used cause-effect and principle of remotion to reach the unmoved mover, it also concluded that this mover was a simple unity of existenceless-thought-thinking-itself . By doing this, it also prevented this unity from having any diversity in or with its simplicity. This prevents the tri-personal diversity of God from being grafted on this god of reason. The notion of “effects” is not what fallen reason says it is. Fallen reason does not regard them as created like the Christian. Since holy mother church promulgated this theological falsehood it can not qualify as a “ground” for dogma concerning the canon. I disagree with some books in Rome’s canon but hold the following:

    These books the Church holds to be sacred and canonical not because she subsequently approved them by her authority after they had been composed by unaided human skill, nor simply because they contain revelation without error, but because, being written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and were as such committed to the Church.

    It is enough to show that Rome doesn’t qualify. It is more plausible and biblical to say that darkness and light commingle in the believer under God’s providence in recognizing the canon. Rome’s dogma only compounds the problem by introducing another different canon. Consider how the early Church could have the entire scriptures committed to it from the beginning, but lack canonical certainty for its members until the dogma. All the examples provided from the early church only prove that Rome was derelict in her mission by leaving the early church with canonical uncertainty. If Rome is not derelict, then neither is God.

    You wrote:
    Not true. An atheist can know that the first president of the United States of America was George Washington. He can reject 1 and 2 and still know or prove any event of history, reason or logic. However, an atheist cannot know or prove any fact of theology by history, reason or logic alone. Nor can a Christian

    I’m challenging the dialectic in event of history and fact of theology. The scripture says that through Him all things were made. All things are theological in the sense that they are created and operate within providence. They are revelational and self-attesting. A narrow view of theology as speculative science resulting in dogmas is stopping you from taking it to an ultimate level.

    All men know God (Rom 1)
    Atheists are men
    Atheists know God
    therefore, atheists have knowledge.

    Does an atheist know old George the same way you do ? Knowing George to be a creature is what separates you and the atheist. You both know George in the same way, as an event of history, because “all things are made through Him”. Sense perception and earthly witnesses have support from the metaphysic of creation. In turn, this metaphysic is based on the Creator-creature distinction, two-kinds of being. The metaphysic, act-potency-nonbeing, Rome adopts is arbitrary and not created if it depends on reason alone. Monism is at the root. The monistic assumption causes you to see the church as a necessary mind legislating reality, “this or that”, and gives the principle of unity for contingent facts. The truth of John I is assumed by the Christian, with regenerated reason, due to its self-attesting character apart from church authority. Seeing the force of this point will drive anyone to the Scripture as a bases for canon. At least a starting point.

    III.

    This section shows dangerous tendencies. Here you come close to calling good “evil” and exerting totalitarian pressure. My Theo-redemptive subjectivity was designed to push the antithesis for who is on the side of God.

    You quote Francis:
    Now let us see what rule they have for discerning the canonical books from all of the other ecclesiastical ones. “The witness,” they say, “and inner persuasion of the Holy Spirit.” Oh God, what a hiding place, what a fog, what a night! (Ch. V)

    Even if Calvin did not have the Holy Spirit or inner witness, that doesn’t change the possiblity that the Holy Spirit could do it. How can the one who made the mouth and spoke by the prophets not give a clear testimony of the scriptures in the inner man ? Francis equates the Holy Spirit with obscurity. Good is now evil.

    You wrote:
    Moreover, this article is not to deny you your personal, subjective, ecstatic experience with God.

    This comes very close to Francis. How do you know a charge against God’s elect is not occurring ?

    Visible disagreements between supposed believers is very helpful to your argument at this point. Since you have agreed to Ecclesiological Objectivity # 1, then would you please show how your visible perfect society corresponds ? My #1 and #2 assume (sorry it was unstated) a fluctuation in continuity-discontinuity, so this invisible/visible relationship is the condition where God has committed His scriptures. Even Vatican II sees this lack of perfect correspondence. If anything, my model does justice to the canonical facts of history

    IV:

    This section shows variations of the same theme.

    V:

    Why do I trust the WCF canon ?

    The authority of the Holy Scriptures, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God. WCF Ch I IV

    This is how they were committed to the Church. I am a graced subject of history, under God’s providence, knowing the scriptures with certainty. The objective texts and inner witness of the Holy Spirit has given full assurance. Let us say for the sake of argument that I confess the truth on this point. Rome has made a theological judgement about me when it labels non-RC as separated brothers and/or pertinacious heretic. Being elect escapes both and reveals Rome as a schismatic or an enemy bringing a charge against God’s elect ! Reunion will require major changes from Rome.

    Sincerely,
    Eric

  62. JoeyHenry and Eric,

    Thank you both for taking the time to write so much in response to my article. I will respond to both of your comments as soon as possible, but given the prayerful season we are in, my ongoing recovery from minor surgery, my very hectic work schedule, and attending to 5 family members with one on the way, it may take a while.

    I appreciate your patience. If anyone else wishes to reply, please feel free. If I think someone else’s response covers the base, I’ll just reference that comment and hop over it in mine. : )

    Peace to you both on your journey,

    Brent

  63. @ John (#’s 59 and 60).

    John,
    I appreciate much of what you say and generally agree with your measured perspectives. I align myself with Reformed Evangelicalism (Calvin for the more – ahem – reasonable ;-). To be sure, extremes are necessary to avoid all around. While I affirm and am convinced that Scripture shows all to come from God (“Everything is from Him and through Him and to Him”, etc), I do believe that we must actually believe in Him freely (having been set free in rebirth, but all the same). There is also a more progressive freedom that we come into upon choosing Him more and more. In the midst of all this, we experience and come to know it is because “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” that we know and are alive in all this. It is ‘monergistic’ before it is synergistic. I am convinced of that.

    It goes on and on. God works it all, and we participate in it fully alive in Him, knowing His quickening grace and Spirit. He is the foundation of it all (never our will, we all know what we want to ‘freely’ choose apart from Him giving us a new nature!! Yikes and then some!!)

    Sounds like we both believe in God – not our “free will” or reason or choices as ultimately determining our destiny and salvation. Doesn’t mean we don’t use what God has given us, but you know what I mean.

    Going back to your first response (#59) concering the man that spoke to you in the midst of your spiritual crisis. I know that there are some that get really provincial and intoxicated with those “presuppositional” teachings that are big via Greg Bahnsen, Van Til, etc. There is some merit to those teachings, to be sure, but it does sound like your would-be counselor was lacking wisdom and grace. To be sure, we could reduce all doubts and dark nights of the soul to “rebellion against God.” However, that does not seem to be gracious, charitable and kind to the one who is suffering from legitimate doubts. Sounds like you experienced one of the “counselors of Job” there (his counselors kept thinking it was all because of Job’s sin and never comprehended that God was sovereignly allowing Job to merely suffer to refine his faith). Hopefully the pastor you spoke with has matured since then.

    All the same, peace to you,
    Thank you for the exchange,
    Matt

  64. @Matt #63 – thanks, wish we could sit down face to face for an hour or so – I think we might find one another interesting. My feeling is that a great deal of dispute amongst Christians boils down to linguistic problems rather than substantive ones. The substantive ones are real – and fundamental! – but often get lost in the language differences.

    I agree that God’s election of us is primary – and monergistic in some senses – yet … well, you saw what I said. I must choose.

    My “life’s verse” seems to me to put both sides of it strongly – Philippians 2:12-13 – “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do, for His good pleasure.”

    I am inclined (unlike some of the authors on this blog :-)) to be in agreement with Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange – and he claims to be correctly interpreting St Thomas Aquinas. Both sound – in this matter of election – pretty close to Calvin (the actual Calvin, which is not to say all of his followers!).

    jj

  65. JJ,
    So much does depend on straightening our verbal difficulites, to be sure. And fundamental differences are real and substantive. Fortunately God rules over all things sovereignly. Believing in Him, we know He will sanctify His people in His time. I believe God’s ‘theology’ is perfect – so refer all to Him, according to the faith they have been given.

    My life verse would be from Paul also, but from another book – Romans (quoted in part earlier): “Who has ever given to God that God should repay him? For everything is from Him and through Him and to Him, to Him be the glory.” Romans 11

    I like this verse because it reminds me that my salvation and all is from God fully. Even my new will was given me from above (“every perfect gift is from above” – James). I do believe that once God regenerates the Christian, the believer can *only* choose to believe. That’s a good thing. (just like when God gives a human lungs, they can only breathe; gives them ears, they can only hear, etc…)

    This helps me to believe more in God, and not in God and me. My salvation is contigent on the Lord, not the Lord and my choice. Why mingle gold with straw? Water with mud?

    Why are we as Christians able to say that “we are saved” with confidence and growing certainty? Because we believe that our salvation is contingent on Christ, His promises and activity. Only then, foundation in place, do we really begin to persevere.

    I think it comes back to foundations (the Lord Himself, His righteousness, justification, salvation, etc). I hear that call to persevere, but only after I hear the Gospel and promises of the living God for me. That is not ‘pretty’ good news, the “gospel of maybe”. It IS Good News, the gospel of yes and amen.

    Take care,
    Matt

  66. Brent,
    You have been very generous with your time. May God bless your health and family.

    Eric

  67. Dear Joey,

    For ease of the discussion and to make sure we stay on topic, let me note that I think we are discussing two subjects that relate to my article:

    1. Calvin’s view of the relationship between Church and canon
    2. The epistemological grounds one can hold to the dogma of the canon

    On #1, your contention is that I misread Calvin because Calvin does say that the Church had a part to play in the development of the New Testament canon. You say this because I said:

    Calvin, like Ehrman, denies the agency of the Church…

    Interestingly enough, #1 and #2 interconnect, and they interconnect because of your notion of what you called “the final domino” in relationship to a Christian having warrant to believe the canon or any other Christian dogma for that matter.

    You contend that simply because I hold to a different notion of Church than Calvin, I cannot then claim that Calvin does what I say he does. However, if in the “domino effect” whereby I as the knower know dogma — in this case the canon — the Church is dislocated as authoritative agent of dogma, then Calvin’s move is like Ehrman’s. The Church has no agent authority, she is merely that group, that ecclesial communion whose views and opinions express my views and opinions. It is an ad hoc, after the fact, choice of who constitutes as “Church” when “Church” is only a place-holder for “that ecclesial community that agrees with me”. So, that is why I asked for a clarification about what you said, and you replied:

    I am not sure what explanation you are looking for.

    What I don’t understand is how in the “domino effect” what weight is given the domino marked “Church” and “who” constitutes “Church” on that domino? I wonder this because you said that I could (1) gain “sufficient certainty” in appealing to external evidences and (2) “only the Spirit can command the heart to hear the voice of Christ proclaimed in the recognized canon”. So, which is it? Do I know the canon with sufficient certainty by external evidences or do I know the canon because Christ proclaims “these books and no other” in my heart? Or is it both, and if both how do they relate to each in the “domino effect”? In other words, if the Church says 73 books, but my heart says 68, does my heart always get the last domino?

    Then regarding historical knowledge you said:

    Since, the inquirer cannot observe the past and has no direct access of past events he has to rely on logical and practical evidences. But he cannot reach absolute certainty because the data he receives are subject to his interpretation and the question whether all data have been examined by the inquirer remains.

    I reject the idea that I cannot have certainty regarding historical facts. Such certainty we might call “moral certainty”, but it is certainty nonetheless. You are right, though, that such certainty is not the certainty of faith. The point of me bringing up “George Washington was the first president” is that no one argues for anything else because the historical evidence demands only one possible interpretation. In contrast, the history of the canon does not demand the same necessary historical conclusion. It would be irrational for someone to hold that someone else other than George Washington was the first president of the USA, but it would not be irrational for someone to hold to a different canon of Scripture than a Catholic one. Which is the point of my distinction between “appealing to history” and “coming to a fact by history”. In the case of a Christian dogma, one can certainly appeal to history, but as you note, it is the “final domino” that makes the fact “come to be” — so to speak — so history cannot get you to dogma.

    Do you really endorse the idea that knowledge of the history canon is not needed if one seeks assurance of its reliability?

    No. My point was only to say how most Christians live, not to establish the duty of any person who wants to be learned in their faith. So, I think we agree with each other here, let’s proceed.

    Before any ecclesial body (for you the Council of Trent ended the debate on the scope of the canon) do you think the Scriptural authority (which naturally includes its scope) did not function as a dogma in the early formation of Christianity?

    I don’t reject that Scripture was always a part of the authoritative structure of the Church. I just also see that Tradition and the Teaching office of the Church (Magisterium) were always also means by which the Holy Spirit led His Church into all truth.

    Did you really escape the hurdle of subjectivity in knowing the scope of the canon by choosing for yourself (fallible as you are) an infallible guide to tell you the scope of the canon? Do you really have a greater certainty on your knowledge of the canon than the protestant next door? Because Brent, in actually, you are only as certain as your own fallible assumption that Trent possess infallibility that settles the canon issue.

    First, this line of argument seems short sited. Are you no better off epistemologically because you chose Christ over ________ (you fill in the blank)? I think you would argue that there is evidence that warrants you trusting Christ over _________ , and that evidence puts you in a different epistemic boat than the person that chose ___________. The next move is more difficult. How do you get to Christian dogma? Do you choose a Church that agrees with you or do you choose a Church and then conform your beliefs to Her. In one move, the knowledge you would have would find its “final domino” in you, the other in the Church. So, we can see on these two possibilities that there is a difference with a real distinction. The distinction would be the causal relationship between dogma and Church (See also “St. Thomas Aquinas on the Relation of Faith to the Church“.

    So, am I no better off because I could make a mistake in discerning which is the Church Christ personally founded who promulgates infallible dogma? On one level, I’m bound to agree if that means that in the end you and I have to both make a personal decision. We cannot escape that. However, I can personally jump off a cliff and you can personally watch me and we are obviously both not in the same boat. Thus, we would have to look into the objective quality of our decisions. For a more thorough discussion regarding the epistemological differences I recommend Dr. Liccione’s guest post “Mathison’s Reply to Cross and Judisch: A Largely Philosophical Critique” and my comment in the thread.

    I love to discuss whether Christ really established a church headed by a Holy Father who seats at Rome and whether apostolic tradition is composed of revelations defined by an ecclesial body which have no historical and scriptural data but should be imposed by all Christians

    If you want to discuss development of dogma, Marian dogmas or Tradition, I’m sure you can find an article in the index to your liking. For now, I recommend we just cover the topics that seem relevant to this thread. Though as a note, no Catholic dogma has “no historical and scriptural data”.

    Pax,

    Brent

  68. Dear Eric,

    I think I want to push pause on our conversation. You seem, like Matt, to be arguing within a presuppositional framework. However, in order for us to ever agree on a conclusion, we would need to agree on the premises. I think discussing presuppositional apologetics in this thread would only derail it (especially if we did so with the care it deserved — see Benjamin’s comment). So, I will let your comment stand as the last one in our discussion on this thread. However, I will recommend this short read that raises some questions/problem with regards to a presuppositional framework. Please note the difference between a transcendental argument and a demonstratio quia.

    Lastly, I hope you can understand that I came to my distinctions well before I ever read a Vatican document. So, I think the distinctions are understood via a demonstratio quia, especially as we examine the difference between a preamble of faith and an article of faith (or any other species of knowledge for that matter).

    Pax

  69. Brent,

    You are very gracious. Thanks for your time. Perhaps we will find more common agreements on a future post. Thanks for the link.

    Eric

  70. Matt (re:#65),

    I hope that you don’t mind if I comment on your response to John Thayer Jensen, as it strikes many chords with me. For years, I was a passionate adherent of the “five points of Calvinism,” as a particular understanding of the Gospel– which I took to be *the* most purely *Biblical* understanding of the Gospel. I won’t get into debating whether that is actually the case, here, at least at this particular point in time.

    (The short answer is that I would probably agree with John Thayer Jensen, in his agreement with St. Thomas Aquinas and Reginald Garrigou-Larange, *as* I tend to think that their arguments are well-supported by the Biblical data. You might find their writing on God’s sovereignty and predestination to be very interesting. You might even agree with much of them!)

    Back to the main reason for my comment– I greatly resonate, from my memories of what I believed in those years, with your sense of peace about knowing that you are saved. I no longer believe that one can know with *certainty*, in this life, that one is “permanently saved, full stop”– as mortal sin is always a possibility for us in this life– but I resonate with the sense of peace that comes from your theological beliefs, because I used to hold them myself. (I also wouldn’t want to return to those beliefs, as I no longer believe that they are Biblically true, but I digress.)

    At a certain point in my Biblical reading and theological thinking (i.e. just before I formally returned to the Catholic Church), I noticed something about my years as a Calvinist that I had not previously noticed. The entire time that I was a “five-point Calvinist” Christian– again, for years–, all of my friends in that theological stream (who, really, were most my friends, *period*, at that time) seemed convinced that I was saved. Most of the time, I was fairly sure that I was saved, given that I trusted in Christ alone, and also had many other signs of being “elect”– and I did experience a sense of peace and happiness about about my election and salvation.

    However, when I began to reach the Biblically-based conclusion that not only was Luther wrong on forensic justification, and that Calvin wrong on certain of the five points, the Catholic Church began to seem, somewhat frighteningly to me at the time, like a “live option”– as in, I might actually have to eventually return to her. I really did not want to do this, given that for an appreciable amount of time, I had been *very* convinced in my Calvinism and also, as I mentioned, most of my friends were Calvinists. My personal angst of that time is not my point here though.

    My point is that for years, my Protestant friends (and the Calvinist ones in particular, who, again, comprised most of them) were quite convinced that I was saved– to the point that I was put in charge of evaluating evangelistic material, for a Protestant ecclesial body, to ensure that it was “rightly Biblical,” i.e. in line with the general theological thinking of Calvin’s part of the Reformation. I was also fairly sure, a good part of the time, that I was saved (though I did have some doubts about the validity of my truly being “saved,” at times, due to my recurring struggles with certain sins).

    Basically, I (much of the time, at least, though not all), and every Christian who knew me, seemed quite happy to affirm my personal, eternal salvation. When I returned to the Catholic Church though, it was a different story for most of my Protestant friends– and understandably so, given that the previous two ecclesial bodies, of which I had been a member, respectively, taught that Catholicism is a “false gospel of works-righteousness.”

    Now, not only were most of my friends *not* sure that I had been saved for all of those years, but they questioned, and seemed very much to doubt, my eternal salvation at the present time. In a nutshell– seemingly, to them, my eternal salvation, which, up to that point, they had warmly affirmed, now appeared to be a several-years-long illusion.

    In their apparent thinking, not only had I been deceiving them about my trusting in Christ alone, and therefore, being saved– but first and foremost, I had actually been deceiving *myself* for all those years, thinking that I was of the elect, when, in reality, given that I had just returned to a “false gospel of works-righteousness,” I might well *not* be a member of the elect… and thus, not eternally saved at all but a reprobate.

    Obviously, I don’t agree with my friends’ thinking. While I do not not to have claim *absolute certainty* of my eternal salvation, I *do* trust in Christ alone for my salvation, as that is what the Sacred Scripture (the Bible) and Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church both teach.

    However, to most of my Calvinist friends, all that they once believed about me, in terms of my being permanently, eternally saved, is now very much in doubt. To them, I also seem to have been deceiving myself.

    At most, I realize now, I was basing my own assurance of salvation on “God’s grace alone, through (my) faith alone (which came from God alone), in Christ alone,” in the “right, Biblical” understanding– that of justification by faith alone, with works existing as mere evidence of my already having been justified and saved by God.

    However, in light of my coming to embrace a *different* view of justification (the Catholic one, which I do truly believe is the teaching of Scripture), to most of my Calvinist friends and to myself, all of my former “peace” and “assurance” and “happiness” at being saved were seeming illusions and possible deceptions– both to them and to myself.

    Matt, my sincere question to you, in this comment, is this– how truly solid is an assurance (or a “growing certainty,” in your words) of one’s salvation, if, after *many years*, that very assurance can possibly turn out to have been an illusion, both to others and to oneself?

  71. P.S to #70: Matt, I’m not implying that I am now actually a reprobate– just that I appear to have been wrong in my former assurance of being *permanently, irrevocably* saved.

    Also, I apologize for my wordiness in some of these comments! Succinctness can definitely be a virtue– and I am definitely a work in progress, there, and in many other ways! Still, God is faithful! :-)

  72. Christopher (#70):

    Back to the main reason for my comment– I greatly resonate, from my memories of what I believed in those years, with your sense of peace about knowing that you are saved. I no longer believe that one can know with *certainty*, in this life, that one is “permanently saved, full stop”– as mortal sin is always a possibility for us in this life– but I resonate with the sense of peace that comes from your theological beliefs, because I used to hold them myself. (I also wouldn’t want to return to those beliefs, as I no longer believe that they are Biblically true, but I digress.)

    Interesting point that you make here, Christopher. I distinguish: I cannot know for certain that I will be saved, but I can moral certainty – because I believe the Church – that I am.

    What I mean is this. At the moment I am confident that I have no unconfessed mortal sin. I believe in my heart all that the Catholic Church proposes. I hope for Heaven. I have at least some degree of charity – which I know not only by my actions but my compunction when I fail in charity.

    So that if the lightning bolt comes down (I hope after I have finished posting this comment :-)), then right now I am saved.

    To be sure, I could be self-deceived. It is, in principle, possible that I have no charity in my heart, that my faith is, in fact, dead. This is true. But when I was a Protestant, I realised one day – some twenty years before I became a Catholic – that we Protestants distinguished between real and false faith – much as Christopher’s friends now doubt the genuinness of his pre-Catholic faith, since he appeared to have denied it by becoming a Catholic.

    So self-deception means that, short of a private revelation from God – which only the person to whom the revelation is made can know – short of that, no one can know with absolute certainty that he is saved now.

    But I have moral certainty of my present salvation.

    The New Testament uses all three tenses about salvation: we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved.

    For what it’s worth, just a thought that came to me when I read your paragraph above, Christopher.

    jj

  73. John (re:#72),

    Yes, I agree completely with all that you wrote in your comment– I can have moral certainty of my present salvation. If I continue in trusting Christ alone, and in listening to and obeying (living out) His Church’s teaching (through Scripture and Tradition), and if I avail myself of the Sacrament of Confession when needed (at least once a year– for me, it is more like every two weeks or so), then I can have a strong, confident hope that I *will* be saved. This is “running the race”– and it is possible to be disqualified, as St. Paul writes, but God gives us so many means of grace in the Church that we have no excuse not to run and not to win the prize. He has saved us, He is at work in us now, saving us, and He wants us *to be* saved. He is not waiting for our slightest weakness to send us to Hell. He is the God who loves us so much that He gave His Son up to torture and death for us. *That* is how much He wants us to be saved. Isn’t it amazing?

  74. Hey Brother Brent

    Long time! Hope all are well in your tribe. I committed to studying God’s Word and related matters more during Lent. I just read your piece on the canon and found it quite interesting. Several questions occurred to me as I went along which I am curious about. I’ll just list them out and wait for your response when you get a chance:

    1. In the early church, before the canon was settled, was there more than one faction that was considered “the Church”? When I say “faction”, I mean a group espousing a particular canon. So, for example, Group 1 and Group 2 are both part of “the Church”, while Group 1 considers books A, B and C to be the canon and Group 2 considers books C, D and E to be the canon. Was this ever the case?

    2. If I remember correctly, the deuterocanonical books were not officially adopted into the canon until Trent, though they were included informally, if that’s the right word, on and off since Jerome. Am I remembering correctly?

    Blessings
    Curt

  75. Curt,

    Brother! The tribe is well but restless. Goes with the territory. Hope this comment finds you well also.

    1. From the evidence there were certainly different groups within Christendom espousing different canonical lists. Nonetheless, there was One Church. Hence, the need for the Church to act dogmatically to end the confusion as to what constituted the canon.

    2. Yes, you are remembering correctly.

    When the Church defines a dogma, whatever she defines she does so because it is the faith of the Church. Therefore, we can say that the Church always believed in the canon she holds today, but — like all doctrine — it wasn’t until it (the canon) was sufficiently challenged that the Church acted in the best interest of the faithful. In other words, the liturgical life of the Church passes off the faith brilliantly (e.g., the deuterocanon was read in the liturgy for over a millenia without rebuke), but in rare instances in history, the Church has acted to protect the deposit of faith against those for whom the ordinary way of learning is not enough (i.e., the heretic).

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  76. […] of Scripture. Protestants make historical arguments in support of their canon. Catholics point out how these cannot actually give them their certainty needed to believe their canon is correct, but when […]

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