Joshua Lim’s Story: A Westminster Seminary California Student becomes Catholic

May 27th, 2012 | By | Category: Featured Articles

This a guest post by Joshua Lim. Joshua graduated this Spring from Westminster Seminary California, where he earned his MA in historical theology. He was born and raised in the PCUSA. He spent a few years in college as a Baptist before moving back to a confessional Reformed denomination (URCNA) prior to entering seminary. He was received into full communion with the Catholic Church this year on April 21st, the feast day of St. Anselm. He plans on continuing his studies in systematic theology.


Joshua Lim

It is hard to pinpoint any single factor that led to my conversion. Before coming to an actual decision point, I had never considered Catholicism to be an option for anyone in search of truth; even when I was most open to it, I would have sooner turned to agnosticism than to Rome. And yet, here I am, a Roman Catholic — and a happy one, at that.

In order to understand why I converted to Catholicism, it is perhaps best to begin with my move from broad evangelicalism to a more traditional expression of Protestantism. I was born and raised in the Presbyterian church. During high school, thanks to one devoted pastor, I began to study the Bible seriously and ended up leaving the Presbyterianism of my youth and becoming a Baptist. The Baptist church I subsequently joined was generally Calvinist and was composed of college students and young adults who were very fervent in their devotion to the Lord. The pastor and elders highly emphasized sola scriptura, community, holy living, revival, and missions. Doctrinally, there was no commitment to any traditional symbol of the Protestant faith, simply a brief ‘statement of faith’ as found on most conservative evangelical church websites. While theology was prized, there was, in my opinion, an anti-intellectual ethos, and the study of too much theology, which was often held in contrast to the Bible, was sometimes frowned upon. This stemmed, in part, from an identification between one’s interpretation of scripture (in this case, the pastor’s) with scripture’s ‘plain meaning.’ The sacraments, which were called ‘ordinances’ — the former term being far too Catholic — were celebrated three times a year and most of the sermons were typically centered around individual piety. Despite the relatively small size of the church, or perhaps because of it, there was a sense that, in many ways, we were the only truly biblical church. Every other church erred in some way or another, and even those who were seemingly close in  terms of doctrine and practice were never fully embraced — and this unspoken suspicion tended to be mutual.

Over time, I began to grow uncomfortable with the arbitrariness of such a small and isolated church structure (the pastor seemed to have as much authority as the pope); this, combined with my own Luther-like angst caused by the almost solely sanctification-driven sermons (as well as a youthful zeal on my part) ultimately pushed me toward the more traditional Reformed expression of Protestantism. By the end of my junior year in college, I had read through books like Calvin’s Institutes, Zacharius Ursinus’s Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, and even Herman Bavinck’s four-volume Reformed Dogmatics; I was also beginning to delve more deeply into Reformed covenant theology. Eventually, through the writings of Geerhardus Vos and Meredith Kline, I ended up rejecting Dispensationalism; further study led me to the writings of Michael Horton, who emphasized the centrality of the preached Word as well as the regular administration of the Sacraments (which were, in good Protestant form, two: baptism and communion). I came to greatly appreciate the sacraments as well as the liturgical form of worship in contrast to the often inconsistent and subjectivistic tendencies of the majority of evangelicalism. Moreover, my law-induced angst was alleviated by the gospel of free justification sola gratia et sola fide. Rather than being moved from fear of the law (proving that I truly was ‘truly elect,’ as it were), I was, at least conceptually, moved by gratitude out of my free justification to obey the Law with joy and freedom; I found a greater sense of the objectivity of Christ’s historical accomplishment on my behalf–something that I had not appreciated until I encountered the doctrine of justification in the Reformed confessions.

Yet, it was not very long until my Nietzschean drive for truth was left desiring something more. During my senior year of college, I somehow decided to read through Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. I was aware of Van Til’s severe criticisms of the innovative Swiss theologian, yet I found myself drawn to him as he was and in many ways continues to be the Reformed theologian of modernity. Barth’s version of Reformed Protestantism differed substantially from what I was accustomed to in the Reformed symbols. Though Barth vehemently denounced Catholicism, I still found a certain Catholic tendency, an ecumenical spirit, if you will, throughout his work. It was his writing that gradually opened me up to actually listen to opposing views; not in such a way that made me invulnerable to criticism–reading opposing views through my own lenses–but rather attempting to understand each view according to its own perspective and presuppositions. I also began to read the Bible in this way; rather than interpret the text in such a way so as to accommodate a certain notion of justification sola fide, I tried to understand how other traditions understood Scripture; and I often found these competing interpretations to be, in their own right, very compelling.

This, no doubt, left me highly dissatisfied with the Reformed confessionalism that I had come to love. The appeal to Protestant ‘tradition’ on the one hand, against the broad evangelicals, and to sola scriptura on the other, against Catholics, seemed to place confessional Reformed theology in a highly precarious position. In seminary, I would often hear invectives against the anabaptist impulse in much of Evangelicalism–what the anabaptists allegedly lacked was the tradition that Calvin and Luther as well as the many other Protestant Scholastics had never intended to let go of; what’s more, almost every problem with contemporary evangelicalism as well as modernity was genealogically traced back, never to the magisterial reformers, but those all-too-easy-to-blame, anabaptists. While I initially believed these narratives to be true, it became harder for me to see such distinctions as anything but an arbitrary defense mechanism. It seems almost impossible to deny that certain impulses within anabaptism sprang up from ideas latent in Luther’s own magisterial reformation.

Against this anabaptist problem, the proposed ‘Reformed’ solution was quite simple: the Reformed confessions had to be restored to their proper place. Yet, it was unclear how such a recovery could not immediately devolve into the in-fighting typical of Reformed denominations (indeed, it seems impossible to even get to the point where such a devolution could occur). At least on this point, it seems that Charles Finney had a degree of truth on his side: the confessions do seem to function, at least in practice, as something like a ‘paper pope.’ It is either this, or the confessions hold no authority at all. The via media, that Reformed churches and their confessions only have a ‘ministerial’ authority does not solve anything since it is unclear what this even means, as is only more evident in controversies in P&R denominations that ceaselessly result in more and more denomination splits. If the confessions do not have, at least in practice, the same authority as the Magisterium, it does not seem that they have any authority at all. The moment someone disagrees with the confession or a given interpretation of the confession on biblical grounds, they no longer need to submit themselves to that governing body. In other words, one can consistently use Luther’s “Here I stand” speech in order to avoid church discipline–and it would be hypocritical for any Protestant denomination to condemn one who appeals to his own conscience and Scripture. And that this has actually happened throughout history is not difficult to substantiate.

These irresolvable doubts led me to the slough of despond. On the one hand, I could not return to broad Evangelicalism because of its naive biblicism (condemned both by confessional Protestants as much as by Rome), but on the other hand, I could not remain a confessional Reformed Christian. Barth was of little help here. His constant criticism of all human knowledge, a consistent overflow of the Protestant notion of total depravity mixed with Kantian skepticism, led to a point where no one church or person could be trusted–for God is ever the Subject and can never be made into an ‘object’ that is controlled by man. Though Barth was undoubtedly reacting to the Protestant Liberalism of his time, his own christocentric solution only held things in abeyance without giving a permanent solution. Ultimately, by insisting so heavily on the event character of revelation, the focus on the actual content of revelation itself could only be blurred. As one Catholic theologian put it, Barth’s  “insistent cry of ‘Not I! Rather God!’ actually directs all eyes on itself instead of on God. Its cry for distance gives no room for distance.”1

Rather than turn to that dreaded Catholicism, the epitome, it seemed to me, of all that I had grown tired of in Protestantism, I was gradually led down a deeper path of agnosticism. Ludwig Feuerbach’s critique of religion, that it was simply man speaking in a loud voice seemed unavoidably true. It is not simply that Reformed Christianity is wrong and some other denomination is right, or even that all denominations are right; rather, if one small group of Christians could claim to have the truth to the exclusion of some or many others, and if this boiled down to an arbitrary construct of a man’s or a group of men’s imaginings (i.e., their interpretation of Scripture), then I could no longer believe that any Christian denomination had the truth. Moreover, I could only believe that this sort of arbitrary selection of dogma could only be what has occurred throughout the history of Christianity. In other words, the truth of Christ’s deity, of the Triune nature of God, the two natures of Christ, etc. were all only a matter of human debate (all of which were ultimately determined by different men vying for political and social power). In other words, the Liberal protestants were at least right about something, ‘orthodoxy’ has been and will forever be hopelessly arbitrary. To disagree with this and remain a ‘confessional’ Protestant is the greatest hypocrisy.

Needless to say, by the time I entered seminary, I was somewhat disillusioned by Protestantism as well as Christianity. I was hanging on by a thread and found myself constantly searching for reasons to pray or even believe that this version of Christianity was the version of Christianity. Though I was initially convinced that the Protestant Scholastics held the answer to modern Protestantism’s ails, I gradually realized that even with the revered Protestant Scholastics, a sense of arbitrary human invention, as much as it was despised, was still conspicuously present–simply saying that one holds God’s word over and against human invention doesn’t get rid of the very human aspect of asserting such a human belief and statement. Martin Luther and John Calvin went from looking like heroic men of God to men who were victims of their own delusion; though they believed themselves to be sent by God, it seemed that they were just two more men who were ‘reforming’ a church according to their own interpretations of Scripture formed by the philosophies and culture of their time. If all men are, as Luther and Calvin interpret Scripture to say, helplessly corrupt and depraved, how can I trust anyone? Why should I trust what Martin Luther says that the Bible teaches, or what John Calvin says the Bible teaches or any of the Reformed confessions, for that matter? Is it not the height of naiveté, even hypocrisy, to believe that everyone is totally depraved and yet continue to trust that any human interpretation of Scripture is somehow guaranteed by the Holy Spirit? Is it not more honest to say, with Nietzsche and Foucault, that all men are simply driven by a will to power? And if this is true, no human institution including the allegedly ‘ministerial’ denominations of Protestantism can be trusted because they are simply structures through which those having power can manipulate and control those who do not–indeed, this remains one of Protestantism’s perennial assaults on Rome.

The feeling of regret that many claim accompany those who decide to enter the Catholic Church (how Newman allegedly felt) is what I experienced after I had become Reformed. What is somewhat ironic is that with the disappointment following one’s journey into any Protestant denomination, one encounters those who appeal to the fact that the church is always in via, on the way, and therefore no matter what disappointments one encounters, one should remain faithful to Christ’s church. Yet, along with this admonition there is also the Protestant conviction that one should not remain in any church that does not have the marks of the true church: the preaching of the gospel and the proper administration of the sacraments. It was during this time, while I sought to remain faithful to my local Reformed church, that I encountered a measure of difficulty attempting to convince some close friends, who did not feel that they were receiving what they should have from this particular church, to remain in it. My Reformed belief in the relative importance of the visible church was in conflict with the Reformed emphasis on the importance of one’s individual conscience. Thus, while I wholeheartedly agree with the sense of importance attached to remaining accountable to a visible body, to feel this way as a Protestant seems to be entirely contradictory. Luther felt that it was necessary to separate from the Catholic Church, Zwingli from Luther, the Anabaptists from the Magisterial Reformed, the Calvinists from Arminians, and on and on–all on the conviction that I have the correct interpretation of Scripture: “Here I stand, so help me God.” In other words, I am able to understand and deal with imperfect Christians and an imperfect local body only from a Catholic perspective–where the objectivity of the Church is not dependent on the pastor’s ability to preach a sermon, but on the real presence of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Any sort of corruption one finds in the Catholic Church is found outside the Catholic Church as well. The question is whether the Church remains who she is no matter how those who constitute her visible body fail and err.

It is impossible to live in any sane manner with such suspicions and doubt as I had; and, admittedly, I have found few, save perhaps Luther, who suffered from such intense suspicion as I did. Yet, I did not have either Luther or Calvin’s confidence to trust my own interpretation of Scripture above that of the myriad of opposing interpretations. I knew as a matter of fact that if I had somehow encountered Methodism or Pentecostalism in a notable way prior to being ‘convinced’ of Reformed theology, I would have read the biblical text in a significantly different way, and would most certainly have been convinced of the veracity of that interpretation over the Reformed one. Simply attributing my ‘correct’ view to God’s grace seemed far too simple and easy, not to mention the fact that most groups, Calvinist or not, make this same appeal – “Lord, I thank Thee that I am not like them.”

So what could I do? My foot had almost slipped, I was on the brink of giving up on Christianity altogether. Even though I wanted to believe that it was all true, I simply could not bring myself to do so. Every time I attempted to pray to God, I could not help but feel somewhat embarrassed and ashamed for thinking that I would be heard. I tried to appreciate the gospel of justification; the fact that my salvation was not based on any of my own effort or works, but over time it became harder and harder to delineate between God declaring me righteous through the ministry of the Word each Sunday, versus me simply trying to convince myself psychologically that things were OK. When my professors or the minister would point to the benefit of the Lord’s Supper, it was hard to convince myself that it had any value since it was the visible Word, but nothing more or less than that. Yes, one is strengthened in faith by partaking of the Lord’s Supper–but it is not literally Christ’s body and blood, only sacramentally so, which is only further explained through vague terms such as ‘sacramental union,’ which no one actually seems to know the meaning of, only that it is neither Catholic nor Zwinglian. Issues such as this caused me to question the notion that confessional Reformed Protestantism was somehow more ‘traditional’ than broader evangelicals. If there was historical continuity with the early Church, for instance, it seemed to be purely superficial. Yes, the sacraments were celebrated, baptism was administered to children, but the reasons why they were celebrated or administered differed substantially from that of the early Church. In other words, even if there was seeming continuity with tradition, the reasons behind such a continuity were just as innovative and arbitrary as the rest of evangelicalism.

It was during this time of doubt that I came across a few Catholic theologians at a conference on Protestant and Catholic theology. These were not the first Catholics that I had met; prior to this encounter, I had dialogued with a rather intelligent Catholic (though he knew very little about Reformed Protestantism–which, at the time, enabled me to ignore his arguments) at a nearby coffee shop over a span of about two years. Moreover, there were constant online debates with Catholics on different blogs that I participated in. Yet, perhaps because of my realization of the shortcomings of Reformed theology, it was at this point that I tried to really understand Catholic theology from a Catholic perspective — as much as this was possible for someone who was raised to distrust Catholicism. Through something of a providential meeting, I was able to sit down and talk to Dominican friars; I posed questions regarding nature and grace, the ascension, the Creator-creature distinction, as well as historical questions (e.g., the Avignon papacy)–I basically brought up the key problems with Catholicism that I had learned about in seminary; much to my surprise, the Dominican friars answered my questions in a more than satisfactory manner and, as it became evident through the duration of the conference, presented a very compelling understanding of nature and grace and, concomitantly, theology and philosophy.

During the several months following this conversation, I kept in touch with these theologians and they provided answers to my numerous questions. For the next five months or so, I buried myself in books, Catholic and Protestant. I carefully read Peter Martyr Vermigli’s work on predestination and justification; Vermigli was an Augustinian friar prior to his conversion to the Protestant movement, and so his book represented something of a final vestige of hope. To my surprise, I came away from the book even more convinced of the truth of Catholicism. I read Heiko Oberman’s work on the medieval nominalism of Gabriel Biel and its immense influence on Luther’s theology. Through my study, I realized that much of my doubt and skepticism stemmed from certain philosophical assumptions that I had unwittingly adopted regarding knowledge of God and reality through Luther’s theologia crucis–and much of the philosophical issues that I had stemmed from my understanding of theology’s relation to philosophy. The inextricable link between philosophy and theology became evident to me. One cannot have a ‘pure theology,’ just as one cannot simply believe the Bible without simultaneously interpreting it; philosophy will always be there whether one acknowledges it or not–and those who claim to have no philosophy in distinction from their theology must necessarily elicit a certain sense of suspicion, much like the suspicion aroused by fundamentalists who claim simply to be reading the Bible.

It was during this time that I found a source of intellectual solace in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas. I had already been introduced to him a year before and had taken a class on him in seminary; at this point, I had already read through a quarter of his Summa Theologiae (through which I was disabused of the notion that Aquinas was doing ontotheology), but I was still somewhat suspicious of his view of grace and the Law. Nevertheless, I decided to give it another go and read the Summa Theologiae straight through. In St. Thomas I discovered a much more compelling reason to believe in God, and the Angelic Doctor’s careful delineation between what could be known by nature (e.g., God’s existence) and what could only be known through grace helped me to re-assess my now receding skepticism (which, going farther back than Kant, was ultimately grounded in Luther’s allergy to the deus nudus that all the Scholastics were allegedly trying to get an illicit glimpse of via philosophy). Along with Luther’s distinction between a theologia gloriae and a theologia crucis, went the notion of justification sola fide as well as the doctrine of sola scriptura. Only through nominalist philosophical lenses, it seemed to me, could justification be conceived of as something purely extrinsic (resulting in a view that the Christian was simul iustus et peccator). In other words, in the same way that Reformed theologians typically accuse the Church Fathers of being unduly influenced by Greek philosophy, I found that the Reformers were guilty of adopting, in an even more uncritical fashion, the philosophy of their time without any sense of open acknowledgement; on the contrary, they ignored their assumptions and identified their interpretation of the Bible with the Bible–against the ‘speculations’ of the medieval theologians.

Moreover, I realized that many of the positive impulses that I had discovered in Reformed theology were found in exceeding measure in the Catholic Church. Contrary to the claim that the Catholic Church (or Eastern Orthodoxy) represents something of an extreme to which people merely seeking unwarranted certainty go to (painting the Reformed church as something of a via media– a claim made by Anglicans and Methodists as well), I found that the Catholic Church tended to provide a much more balanced and consistent approach to Scripture as well as Tradition. Moreover, the problem of individualism pervasive in evangelical theology, or the vague community-centered ecclesiology of more emergent churches, there seemed to be the proper balance, not in Reformed theology which only seemed to combine the two resulting in a conglomeration of people who each considered themselves to be experts in theology in contrast to ‘broad evangelicals,’ but in the Catholic Church: plurality in unity. Far from the One sublimating the many, I found that the confession of One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church entailed a true sense of unity as well as a true sense of distinction between each member of the Church.

Moreover, I was surprised to find very little, if any, signal of that pride stemming from works-righteousness that Luther and the Reformers had warned against. Yes, these people believed that they had to cooperate with God’s grace, but this did not mean that Christ was somehow less necessary or that their works were somehow the cause of God’s grace. These were Christians who confessed at every celebration of the Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” Any sign of that Judaizing tendency of boasting before God was absent.

After spending several months meeting privately with a Norbertine Father, I was recently received into the Catholic Church. Throughout this journey I have come to appreciate and love the Catholic Church. As many Protestants warn, there are certain difficulties that the Catholic convert must necessarily face. The contemporary Catholic Church in America is far from perfect. Liturgically, there are, at least in Southern California, very few parishes that celebrate Mass the way Catholics should; there are numerous liberal Catholics who don’t submit to the Magisterium (to the delight of Protestants), the list seems endless. But none of this is actually new for the Church; things have always been so. These issues have not moved me from the conviction that the Catholic Church is the true Church; on the contrary, they have only increased my faith that this must be the true Church. If Christ could continue to work to build his Church with such a history of failings on the part of the laity, various priests, bishops, and even popes, surely this Church must be sustained by God himself; despite the passage of over two millennia, the Church continues to hold and to teach in substance what it has always held and taught. Unlike much of Protestantism which no longer believes what even the magisterial Reformers once held to be fundamental tenets of the faith (Trinity, inerrancy, etc.), the Catholic Church remains unmoved, not by virtue of her own strength, but by virtue of the grace of the Holy Spirit preserving the Church. Though I was initially turned off by the fact that most Catholics don’t know as much as I would like them to (ultimately, due to my own pride), yet I am constantly humbled by the devotion of seemingly simple Catholics whose love for the Lord and faith in his presence in the Eucharist manifest true child-like faith. On more than one occasion I have been moved by the idea that were Christ here today, these would be the people who would follow him without food or drink in order to hear his teaching and receive his flesh and blood without question or doubt. Though I once criticized these foolish sheep from a distance, I am glad finally to be considered one of them.

  1. Balthasar, The Theology of Karl Barth, p. 84. []

587 comments
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  1. Thank you, Joshua.

    About thirty years ago, after long discussions with some wonderful Dominicans and some also wonderful Evangelicals, in a time of great spiritual tumult, I arrived at the intuition that I could either be a Catholic or a nihilist and could be nothing in between — either everything mattered or nothing did.

    It was a very different path than you took, and given your vast reading of primary sources was a path that the Lord knew I was ill equipped for, but we both seem to have arrived in the same place and substantially for the same reasons.

    Welcome!

    Steve

  2. Dear Joshua,

    Thank you for your story! I am a baby Catholic revert (as of Easter this year!) and really connected with your journey- the appeal of the solid, intellectual Reformed tradition, the growing doubts and the flirtation with liberal Protestantism. But praise God for bringing so many of us Home!

    My favourite bit is when you said that, “I am able to understand and deal with imperfect Christians and an imperfect local body only from a Catholic perspective–where the objectivity of the Church is not dependent on the pastor’s ability to preach a sermon, but on the real presence of the Lord, Jesus Christ.”

    That’s something I needed to remember today when I want to despair over Catholic sermons – whether practically incomprehensible due to a thick accent or seriously impractical because we are neither taught nor exhorted to do *anything*. But I think I need to be praying for a less pridefully intellectual faith (which I totally have!) and a more child-like faith in my Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God, truly present in the Eucharist.

    Incidentally, does anyone have any good tips or links for dealing with the “post-conversion” stage?

    Thank you again Joshua for this reminder. May God bless you and keep you,

    Laura

  3. Dear Laura,

    That’s an interesting idea, to discuss ‘post-conversion.’ I suspect it would be a more subjective narrative than the description of the conversion [or reversion] itself. Still, it could be a worthwhile endeavor!

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  4. Joshua, I really enjoyed your story. I too could identify with much of it, especially what you said here: “If one small group of Christians could claim to have the truth to the exclusion of some or many others, and if this boiled down to an arbitrary construct of a man’s or a group of men’s imaginings (i.e., their interpretation of Scripture), then I could no longer believe that any Christian denomination had the truth.”

    My conversion process took years and finally reached full communion with the Church this past spring. For me, the issue of sola scriptura was what drove me home. In short: I came to reject it. This left me in serious despair and most certainly on the brink of agnosticism. It was very disorienting. Praise God for reeling us both back in!

  5. Dear Joshua,

    Thank you for this excellent retelling of your story, and welcome Home.

    Fred

  6. Steven, Laura, Christina, and Fred,

    Thank you all so much for of your encouraging words. It is so good to be home!

    Joshua

  7. What a journey you have already travelled! I hope you’ll keep us apprised of your future plans. Your ‘mustard seed’ faith makes mine seem like an underachieving speck in the wind. God is so good, when we are simply willing to accept truth.

  8. Joshua,

    I am so thankful God brought you to the Catholic Church. Great testimony.

    Ad gloriam ecclesiae!

  9. “Liturgically, there are, at least in Southern California, very few parishes that celebrate Mass the way Catholics should;”

    This really resonated with me. Even in my (at least by heritage) very Catholic city, where one is seldom more than a five-minute drive from a Catholic church, this is an issue. I’m profoundly grateful, of course, that I’m able to receive the Eucharist no matter where I receive It, but the liturgy really does matter. Have you ever assisted in the Extraordinary Form (ie, Latin) Mass or an Anglican-Use Mass? Both are very beautiful and reverent. Convent Masses and seminary Masses are sometimes open to the public too. Those might be worth a try. I guess as far as assisting in local parish Masses, all we can do is be as prayerful and reverent as we can be, and keep praying that every Catholic liturgy comes to reflect the awesome event that is happening therein!

    Well, welcome home, Joshua, and God bless you!

  10. Josh,
    Thanks for telling your story. Welcome home!

    Br. Raymond, OP

  11. Joshua, It is to bad your church experience (lousy) caused you to seek those things you felt missing in your life. My testimoney is the same but opposite. This or the catholic church is not your home. I am glad the Lord brought you to Christ first, other wise you would still be lost.

  12. Joanne, Joshua, et. al.

    I’m a convert as well (2009) and just moved from a great and faithful parish to a new community across the country where there are some serious problems: inviting lay people to say the words of consecration, confusing the Persons of the Holy Trinity with some modalist/functional/genderless/”progressive” replacements (ex. “Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier”), and various strange dictated hand gestures. While I share in your appreciation of the Mass as distinct from the personalities and shortcomings of any particular priests, I’m curious what the responsibility and the protocol is for the lay person in this circumstance. How can I help? I hesitate to bring my ecclesial consumerist past into the Catholic Church and just find a neighboring parish with priests faithful to the Church. I’d appreciate if someone could point me in the right direction. Thanks.

  13. Mr. Lim,

    I enjoyed your story and welcome to the Catholic Church! Could you explain the concept of simul iustus et peccator and how it is different from what Catholics believe? (or provide a resource?)

    Thanks

    RV

  14. Joshua,

    On another note, Joshua, can you share what role the Eastern Orthodox Church played in your journey, if at all? I see a common theme here for converts (of which I am one)…

    1) Growing dissatisfaction with the Protestant paradigm from philosophical, historical, and theological grounds.
    2) Seeing theological nihilism/liberalism/agnosticism or a historical (EO or RC) Church as the only consistent answers
    3) Choosing between RC or EO
    4) Writing your testimony for an RC or EO blog, depending on #3. ;)

    I understand this isn’t the focus on CTC, but it’s probably the most common question I get from my Reformed and Evangelical friends. Roughly, how did you work through #3?

  15. Thank you, everyone!

    Mike (re: #11),

    I’m actually quite thankful for my experiences within various Protestant communities precisely because they caused me to pursue the truth, ultimately leading me to the Catholic Church, which is Christ’s Church.

    Rodolfo (re: #13),

    I do think there is a way to understand simul iustus et peccator that is more consistent with Roman Catholic theology. The simul, in this case, would not be referring to the Christian’s being altogether righteous and sinner in one and the same way, I think this would be contradictory. Rather, the Christian often stumbles and falls and must continue to grow in grace and faith throughout this Christian life. In this sense, we are justified, but we also continue to wrestle and struggle with sin, gradually overcoming it through the grace of our Lord received through the sacraments. Does this answer your question? Hans Urs von Balthasar does discuss this at some length in his book on Barth, and I’m sure Johannes Adam Mohler discusses this somewhere in his monumental book, Symbolism. I imagine the Joint Declaration would also provide some insight, in this regard:

    Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification

    Eva Marie (re: #14),

    One of my former pastors converted to Eastern Orthodoxy and was excommunicated for it. I have an immense respect for the Eastern Orthodox tradition and have found, on my way to Rome, that the two traditions share a great deal (this is often overlooked by Protestants who seek an ally in the East). Due to this fact, I do not like to engage in polemics against the East. I would say that it is ultimately the Petrine office that did it for me. As St. Ambrose remarked: “Where Peter is, there is the Church.” Having said that, however, I do hope and pray for reconciliation between East and West.

    With regard to your troubles at your local parish, I would try contacting your bishop and letting him know of what’s going on. The great thing about the internet is that it’s not very difficult to find out what is and is not licit within the Liturgy. I have found Fr. Z’s blog to be a great practical help with these questions. It seems that your experience is, unfortunately, not uncommon. Others here will likely have better advice…

    Here’s a link to his blog:
    http://wdtprs.com/blog/

  16. Thank you for this, Mr. Lim. I identify with just about everything you have written here (though for me, not at the seminary level–just junior year of college) except for having come to rest my feet in the Catholic Church. I still have a monstrous doubt that Catholicism could actually be true, although there are beginning to be fewer and fewer things outside it and Nietzsche for me. Mostly, I fall into the radically skeptical division, but Thomas Aquinas does keep me attracted…and I still follow this site.

    Thanks again.
    Sarah

  17. Welcome home, Joshua. It seems that you had to dodge some hungry sharks while swimming the Tiber. Grace has brought you thus far. Rejoice!

    Best,
    Mike

  18. Sarah (re: #16):

    Have you read Ed Feser’s book on St. Thomas? That and The Last Superstition were quite helpful for me. They did not convince me of the verity of the Catholic faith (that’s not the stated intention of either of the books), but they provided a more or less stable philosophical ground upon which to think through my radical skepticism. If you haven’t already, I would strongly recommend both books.

    Michael (re: #17):

    Thank you! I’m looking forward to wading in calmer waters very soon…

  19. (re: #18):

    No, I haven’t read either of those books, but will look them up.

  20. I enjoyed your story Joshua. I am a new Catholic myself, baptized and confirmed this Easter. I come from a Mormon background, but I like to read about conversions from other religious traditions as well. I also enjoyed Feser’s The Last Superstition. Have you read anything by David Bentley Hart (Eastern Orthodox)? His book The Doors of the Sea on the problem of evil has some rather harsh words for Calvinism.

  21. “I hesitate to bring my ecclesial consumerist past into the Catholic Church and just find a neighboring parish with priests faithful to the Church”

    Joshua gave some good suggestions as to how to address this problem. Having said that, I’m a lifelong Catholic and I haven’t been in my territorial parish in years. Among other problems, the kneelers in the church were removed in the 1980s. While I understand your inclination to stay and try to improve things, I think it’s okay to go where the Mass is offered reverently. It’s also important (for me at least) to go where the church interior is as it should be, eg, tabernacle in the center of the altar.

    I’m wondering too, Eva Marie, do you wear a chapel veil? I started a few years ago. I was the only woman in the parish I was going to at the time who wore one. (And I would imagine in a parish such as the one you describe, YOU would be the only one wearing one!) Now a few women at that parish do. I felt extremely self-conscious at first, but I love wearing a chapel veil (I feel that it’s just more reverent in the presence of the Eucharist) and I think that when women do wear a veil, it reminds people that the Mass is an awesome mystery and the sanctuary of the church is a sacred place.

  22. Jason,

    So your skeptical and inquiring spirit has led you from Baptist to Reformed and now to Roman Catholic. But what is to stop you now from using the same methodology on Roman Catholicism itself and being forced to move onto something else? As I read the liberal and ultra-conservative types of Catholics I find that they have done just this. Have they not just taken the same sort of tactic that you took to get to your brand of Roman Catholicism and used it to get to a different version of Roman Catholicism, or to EO, or to something entirely different? What is the difference between your brand of skepticism and that of someone to the left or right of you along the what seems to me to be the very broad spectrum of Roman Catholic thought?

    I understand that for the time being you have found peace where you are at right now, but what would you say to someone else who let’s say has read the ECF’s and found that their skeptical and inquiring spirit has lead them away from what the current Magisterium holds to?

    If the confessions do not have, at least in practice, the same authority as the Magisterium, it does not seem that they have any authority at all. The moment someone disagrees with the confession or a given interpretation of the confession on biblical grounds, they no longer need to submit themselves to that governing body.

    OK, so the moment a Roman Catholic decides that he/she does not believe in papal infallibility or whatever other doctrine, they do something similar, don’t they? They declare that the current pope and cardinals are in error and outside of historic Christian teaching on the matter. So how has Trent, or any other specifically Roman Catholic statement of the faith, bound them if they feel free to reject it if they disagree, other than the fact that they in most cases don’t formally leave the RCC?

  23. Phil (re: #20):

    I have not read that book, but I have read The Beauty of the Infinite, as well as Atheist Delusions. He’s probably not the most tame critic of Calvinism… He is an interesting thinker.

  24. Phil (re: #20):

    By the way, congrats and welcome to the Church! From one new convert to another! :)

  25. I am so sad to hear this. My heart is truly grieved. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

  26. Andrew (re: #22):

    You write:

    OK, so the moment a Roman Catholic decides that he/she does not believe in papal infallibility or whatever other doctrine, they do something similar, don’t they? They declare that the current pope and cardinals are in error and outside of historic Christian teaching on the matter. So how has Trent, or any other specifically Roman Catholic statement of the faith, bound them if they feel free to reject it if they disagree, other than the fact that they in most cases don’t formally leave the RCC?

    A Roman Catholic has submitted to an external authority (i.e., the Church) as established by Christ. A Protestant, on the other hand, has submitted to his/her own interpretation of Scripture. The moment a Catholic disagrees with the Church, he goes against Christ’s own authority. Is he free to do this? Of course, but he will be going against his own identity as a Christian. The moment a Protestant decides that he doesn’t want to submit to a given church, he simply goes to a different church that agrees with his own interpretation of Scripture. He does not cease being a Protestant, because Protestantism is founded upon private judgment. In other words, a Protestant who refuses to submit to any external authority other than himself is a consistent Protestant. A Catholic who refuses to submit to the Church is not a Catholic, but a Protestant.

    If I decide that the Catholic Church is ‘not for me,’ and go elsewhere, I suppose that will simply reveal that I never actually stopped being a Protestant…

  27. Dear Eva Marie (#12),

    I agree with Josh’s response to your concern about liturgical abuses at your parish. You should inform your bishop, as he very likely does not know this is occurring. They have a lot on their plate, so would be blessed by receiving this information.

    You are not being a consumerist. I’ve spoken with a few priests about the issue of attending the parish in which your house is located. The advice I received was that my obligation was to my bishop, not to the nearest parish priest. (However, that parish priest has an obligation for the souls within his parish.) It is not a consumerist approach to pick a parish within your diocese that is healthy for your soul. Your obedience is to the bishop in any case.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  28. @ 15

    Thanks for sources and yes that does help answer my question.

  29. Andrew (#22)

    So your skeptical and inquiring spirit has led you from Baptist to Reformed and now to Roman Catholic. But what is to stop you now from using the same methodology on Roman Catholicism itself and being forced to move onto something else?

    Andrew – I wonder if, on reflexion, you mightn’t consider this a little unfair. I don’t see anything sceptical in Joshua’s story – enquiring may either be seeking to find out what is wrong with something, or to find out what is right and whether that led to something else.

    Eighteen and a half years ago, when I told my Reformed pastor that I had decided I must become a Catholic, he had the same reaction. I had, indeed, come from nothing at all, through Baptist beliefs, evangelical beliefs, Reformed (in his sense) beliefs, Reformed (in what would eventually become the Federal Vision sort of belief), and was now Catholic. In a few years, he said, he expected me to be a Muslim.

    It hasn’t happened and won’t. I am home now. You can tell when you are. I share many of the complaints about sloppy Catholicism that some of the traditionalists have. If there were an Extraordinary Form Mass in my community, I might attend it. There is not, in our small town. There is only the parish.

    But looking for the truth is the opposite of scepticism. The sceptic thinks he is looking for the truth; he is actually wanting to possess the truth – rather like Adam and Eve in the Garden.

    And I don’t think it is fair to accuse Joshua of scepticism.

    jj

  30. Honest question: How does a RC Christian reconcile the several places where RC teaching clearly contradicts Scripture? While I abhor the lack of unity between Rome and Protestantism (and within Protestantism between denominations), my conscience simply won’t permit me to submit to teaching that clearly contradicts Scripture. I feel forced to choose between the lesser of the two evils.

    Also, I don’t think the dichotomy referenced by Joshua L. above is legitimate. As a Protestant, I have not submitted merely to my own interpretation of Scripture and not to an external authority. I perceive myself as submitted to both, and certainly to the external authority of the church as it exercises its authority under the authority of Scripture. Sola Scriptura does not mean that we Protestants believe that Scripture is the only authority, but that it is the final authority. We all, Protestant and RC alike, appeal to Scripture, tradition and experience in the formation and practice of our theology.

    Thanks in advance for the help with my initial question.

  31. [Justin]

    Does your church teach we are justified by faith alone in clear contradiction to the New Testament?

    “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

    Everyone interprets Scripture so as to resolve any apparent tensions between various Bible verses. That’s why we have a teaching Church. Every heretic throughout the ages has appealed to Scripture and has argued that their version of the gospel was the only one consistent with it. I’m a former Mormon missionary and as crazy as it may seem, they truly believe that the Mormon gospel is the only one that can make sense of the Bible and that traditional Christianity contradicts scripture.

  32. Justin (re: #30):

    Is there a specific example you have in mind? I’m not aware of any RC teaching that contradicts Scripture.

    You write:

    As a Protestant, I have not submitted merely to my own interpretation of Scripture and not to an external authority. I perceive myself as submitted to both, and certainly to the external authority of the church as it exercises its authority under the authority of Scripture. Sola Scriptura does not mean that we Protestants believe that Scripture is the only authority, but that it is the final authority. We all, Protestant and RC alike, appeal to Scripture, tradition and experience in the formation and practice of our theology.

    The question is not what one perceives to be the case. Of course, from a Protestant’s perspective submission to one’s own interpretation of Scripture is submission to the Word of God. My main point is that the distinction between ‘only authority’ and ‘final authority’ is, in practice, purely nominal. If you disagree with your elders on a given interpretation of Scripture, and you are convinced that you are correct, you would not submit to that body. In this sense, for the Protestant, the church only has as authority if the individual is already in agreement with that particular body. It’s hard to see how this is real authority. If you’re ‘excommunicated’ from one church for ‘heresy’ you can simply go to another protestant body that doesn’t regard that teaching as heretical and remain a consistent, bible-believing Protestant.

    If I, as a Catholic, disagree with the Magisterium of the Church in interpreting a given passage of Scripture, I must submit to the Church since she was established on the foundation of the Apostles by Christ himself. In other words, there is here an authority that is not contingent upon my agreement, but is objectively Christ’s authority–whether I agree with it or not.

    I hope this is helpful…

  33. Justin (#30):

    Honest question: How does a RC Christian reconcile the several places where RC teaching clearly contradicts Scripture?

    As Catholics, we believed that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. So of course we’re not about to believe anything we see as contradicting Scripture. The difference between you and us is one of interpretation: As you interpret Scripture, Catholicism contradicts Scripture; as we interpret Scripture, Catholicism does not contradict Scripture. So the questions which should really be asked is: How would one tell whose interpretation is correct?

    As you survey the landscape of Protestantism, I’m sure you see countless denominations distinguishable from each other partly or wholly in terms of how differently they interpret Scripture. And in Protestantism, there is no overarching authority to determine which among those divergent interpretations is correct. So if you want to be a Protestant of some sort, you have to say either that your favored interpretation of Scripture is the most rational on scholarly grounds, or that the Holy Spirit has enlightened your and your church’s hearts more than others about the interpretation of Scripture. Either way, you will find plenty of Protestants, not just Catholics, who will disagree with you. Are you prepared to say that you and your set are smarter and/or holier than everybody who disagrees with you? I sure hope not.

    Catholics don’t have that problem. We believe that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, and that she teaches with his authority. Thus when teaching with her full authority, she is divinely preserved from error. We don’t have to imagine that we, or the bishops for that matter, are smarter or holier than others in order to justify our interpretation of Scripture. We just submit to the Church Christ founded.

    Best,
    Mike

  34. Justin,

    Thanks for posting. You wrote:

    How does a RC Christian reconcile the several places where RC teaching clearly contradicts Scripture?

    Of course, we Catholics deny that Catholic teaching contradicts scripture when scripture is rightly handled. But that returns us to the problem of interpretive authority. Still, could you spell out what perceived contradictions you have in mind?

    You also wrote:

    I perceive myself as submitted to both, and certainly to the external authority of the church as it exercises its authority under the authority of Scripture. Sola Scriptura does not mean that we Protestants believe that Scripture is the only authority, but that it is the final authority.

    Scripture is a text and does nothing all by itself. Its function as an authority of any sort, is always and everywhere carried out within the context of human reader(s)/interpreter(s). Hence, your statement imports a crucial hidden clause and can be recast as follows for the sake of clarity:

    I perceive myself as submitted to both, and certainly to the external authority of the church as it exercises its authority under the authority of Scripture [as interpreted by myself or some other person or set of persons]. Sola Scriptura does not mean that we Protestants believe that Scripture [as interpreted by myself or some other person or set of persons] is the only authority, but that it is the final authority.

    Now if the ultimate interpretive source is yourself, then it is clear that whatever “other” authority is recognized, it is subordinate to, and can be cast off, if you become sincerely convinced that your personal interpretation of scripture is in conflict with any secondary/subordinate authority source(s).

    This would seem to be the default Protestant position, wherein personal scriptural interpretation is enshrined as the ultimate arbiter of doctrinal truth or falsity, in keeping with Martin Luther’s famous:

    “Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

    If, on the other hand, the ultimate interpretive source is some other person or persons such that you would always submit your personal interpretive notions to the correction and discipline of said person or persons; then you are behaving in a very Catholic sort of way, and the question becomes this: “on what grounds do you accept the authority of said person or persons to override/correct your personal interpretive convictions”? Catholics are clear about those grounds.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  35. Justin (#30),

    I relate to your questions. I asked the exact ones a couple years ago before my conversion. You said:

    my conscience simply won’t permit me to submit to teaching that clearly contradicts Scripture.

    Good. You should never go against your conscience. And Catholic teaching does not require you to. However, it does ask you to make a distinction. It asks you to distinguish between a rightly formed concsience and a malformed one, or at least to admit the possibility of the two. I am sure you can think of examples of people whose conscience won’t permit them to do something you know to be the right thing.
    I think in fairness you must admit the possibility that your conscience is not properly formed when it comes to Catholicism.

    Honest question: How does a RC Christian reconcile the several places where RC teaching clearly contradicts Scripture?

    Let me reverse the question:

    “Honest question: How does a sola scriptura believing Christian reconcile the several places where his teaching clearly contradicts Scripture?”

    My guess is that you would answer something like “my teaching doesnt contradict scripture so I dont need to reconcile it.”

    And that is the answer of the Catholic as well. It is nearly self evident that the authority of who is doing the interpreting is the real issue. The Catholic sees you as doingthe interpreting. So what you simply see as “scripture” we see as “your interpretation of scripture”.

    So perhaps you would need to take your issues one by one and find the answer. This site is good for that. Lots of smart guys with what is most likely the best Catholic answer for any contradictions your conscience currently sees. Believe me, there are answers. And in fairness, you should hear the answer from a good source, and give the source the benefit of the doubt you would want for yourself, before you come to the broad conclusion that there are contradictions between scripture and Catholic teaching. I was a very anti-Catholic Reformed PCA Christian. Some of my concerns with Catholicism were valid, some were not. In the end, the valid ones ended up not disproving that the Catholic Church is what she says she is. A lady with a torn dress is still a lady.
    The key is attempting an understanding Catholic doctrine in the way that Catholics understand it, and avoiding straw men. As an example, when I was a Presbyterian I had been told dozens of times that the Catholics re-sacrificed Christ in the mass (RC Sproul says this constantly). But when I heard Catholics explain- in their own words- what they believed was happening in the mass, I felt more than a little cheated by the charachterization I had been led to accept. Whether the mass is true or false, I had been led to believe a straw man argument, which is not good for me or for RC.

    So I suggest you bring your concerns up one at a time on this site (perhaps in appropriate articles) and perhaps at least some of them could be cleared up.

    As for only/final authority, I totally get the distinction that is seen withing Reformed theology. But this article
    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/11/solo-scriptura-sola-scriptura-and-the-question-of-interpretive-authority/
    showed that it is not a principled distinction.

    P.S. I just saw the other responses from Joshua, Mike, and Ray, who beat me to the punch. Feel free to ignore my comment and respond to them. (they are the the guys that can give you the straight dope, authenticly Catholic answers).

    David Meyer

  36. Mara’ (re #25),

    You wrote:

    I am so sad to hear this. My heart is truly grieved.

    That can be a natural reaction to news like this. I don’t want to speak out of turn, but your comment reminded me of some things in my own experience, which I want to share.

    Philosopher (and fellow Catholic) Frank Beckwith once wrote about how certain views, although known and to some degree understood, for one reason or another are not a “live option” for a person. When someone we know adopts a view that is simply not a “live option” for us, we often experience pain, beyond the pain of a mere disagreement. Protestants sometimes feel this way when someone close to them, or somehow influential in their lives, converts to Catholicism. Not only do we not agree with their decision, the thing decided upon is reckoned to be fundamentally and even obviously contrary to the true and the good, such that it does not merit serious consideration, and we are pained that someone close to us could not only consider it, but “fall” for it.

    Nevertheless, the Catholic faith is peculiarly apt to appear on the Protestant’s horizon as a thing worth considering. Usually, though, it doesn’t appear all at once as a fully-wired, live option. What often happens is that Catholicism is somehow brought into orbit with one’s Protestant world; we become consciously aware of it, this awareness sometimes waxing, sometimes waning; annoying, infuriating, intriguing, disturbing. There are many ways to live with this awareness, and some fewer ways to account for the juxtaposition of Protestantism and the Catholic Church. But the relation is undeniable.

    When I told my family and friends about my decision to become Catholic, some of them expressed feelings similar to yours. In some cases, this was because the Catholic Church was beyond what they were willing to consider, in itself and on its own terms. I can only hope that my own witness, in the manifold senses of that term, can in some way help Catholicism to become a “live option” for them–something worth considering. There are so many factors at play in this transition, that I do not for a moment suppose that simply bringing the subject up often enough, or arguing for the conclusion eloquently and forcefully enough will suffice.

    Still, one of the purposes of this website, which now happily features Joshua’s article, is to serve as an open invitation to consider the claims of Catholicism, which involves, for much of our audience, sifting through those claims relative to the doctrinal position(s) of Protestantism, particularly Reformed Protestantism. This invitation extends to you, Mara’. We don’t want you to remain grieved over Joshua’s story. Even if the Catholic Church is not now a live option for you, she makes claims that are relevant to everyone who confesses that Jesus is Lord, and it would be well to reckon with those claims, and the arguments made in support of them.

    Andrew

  37. @Andrew Preslar

    I appreciate your words immensely. It resonates much with my experience over the last 6 months, especially the influx of differing emotions. Comments like yours and posts like Joshua’s are very encouraging to someone crossing the Tiber.

    I will also say (and have wanted to say many times) that arrogant, condescending remarks from the reformed crowd do themselves no favors to those considering Catholicism (not referring to any comments here in particular). Unfortunately, I have friends that are included in that group that now have no words for me at all because I didn’t heed their warning.

    Thanks again for your testimony.

  38. Joshua (re: 26),

    A Roman Catholic has submitted to an external authority (i.e., the Church) as established by Christ. A Protestant, on the other hand, has submitted to his/her own interpretation of Scripture.

    I just don’t see how that this is a fair assessment at all. From the Protestant standpoint you are begging the question. When you submit to your external authority you are submitting to your interpretation of what this authority ought to be.. But you are assuming your interpretation to be true, are you not? I look at the same historical data that you do and I come to a different conclusion. For instance, I don’t find anything either in the Scriptures nor in the early centuries of the Church that sounds anything like RCC ecclesiological beliefs at the time of the Reformation. And as I pointed out, many intelligent Catholics to the left and right of your look at the same historical data and come to very different conclusions than you have concerning the authority of Rome. Who is to say that you are right and they are wrong? It would seem that the same spirit of skepticism that got you to where you are now might serve you well again. Given your spirit of doubt and skepticism that caused you concern with conflicting Protestant interpretations of Scripture, why would you have no concerns with conflicting Catholic (and EO and other non-RCC) interpretations of the history of the Church?

    I don’t want to want to dismiss the testimony of your spiritual journey as insignificant. These stories are always valuable. But I just don’t see that you have given us anything substantively different in terms of how you arrived at Roman Catholicism when compared with stories from those of have left Roman Catholicism. It’s all boils down to personal interpretation. The only real question for me is the appropriate data that is to be interpreted and the methodology by which we do the interpreting.

  39. Welcome to the faith, Joshua. I know some of the Norbertines down in Southern Cal. What a great order.

  40. Andrew McCallum (re: #38)

    See “The Tu Quoque,” which addresses that objection in some detail.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  41. John (re: 29),

    Joshua talked about doubt and skepticism as leading to his crisis in faith before coming to Catholicism. I hope I’m not reading anything unnecessarily humanistic into what he is saying, I’m sure he will let me know if I am. And I don’t think some degree of skepticism as Joshua describes it is bad. There is an appropriate sort of skepticism towards our respective traditions. But as you allude to, it has to stop somewhere or we end up in paganism or atheism or goodness knows what else. My point concerns the appropriateness of such skepticism by the Roman Catholic when confronted by those within the Catholic tradition that have come to different interpretations of the same data.

  42. Andrew M, (re: #38)

    You wrote:

    And as I pointed out, many intelligent Catholics to the left and right of your look at the same historical data and come to very different conclusions than you have concerning the authority of Rome.

    Many “intelligent” people come to the conclusion that God does not exist, that Jesus was merely a good man, etc. And yet we (and you) believe that God does exist, that Jesus is God, etc. So, the fact that many intelligent people come to a different conclusion is in itself insufficient to justify skepticism about the existence of God, the deity of Christ, and likewise, about the Catholic Church being the Church Christ founded. Furthermore, many “intelligent” people become Catholic. But we do not determine truth on this question simply by counting noses; the question depends on other evidence.

    Who is to say that you are right and they are wrong?

    Those given the divine authority to speak for Christ and His Church, with His authority. Namely, the Magisterium of the Church Christ founded. What you’ve done here is ask a question that Catholics can answer, and that you cannot answer. And that only further supports the Catholic position. Protestants must never ask the “Who is to say” question, on pain of immediate self-refutation, by demonstrating the internal inadequacy of the Protestant paradigm vis-a-vis the Catholic paradigm.

    It would seem that the same spirit of skepticism that got you to where you are now might serve you well again.

    You didn’t want him to be skeptical when he agreed with you concerning Reformed theology prior to his conversion, but now that he disagrees with you, you want him to be skeptical. That seems to me to be not very subtle manipulation, of the Nietzchean sort. People who have evidence sufficient to justify skepticism concerning some matter do not need to exhort others with whom they disagree to skepticism about that matter; they need only present the evidence demonstrating that skepticism is due concerning the matter. Resorting to exhortation is typically a sign that the interlocutor lacks such evidence. And again, that only strengthens Joshua’s case.

    One reason to be skeptical of your position can be shown by your refusal to answer certain crucial questions that anyone considering the Catholic-Protestant question needs to answer. See my dialogue with you in comments #100-#158 of Jeremy Tate’s post “Reflections – Graduating Catholic from a Reformed Seminary.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  43. Andrew (re: #38):

    The skepticism that led me from the Protestant tradition arose from that Protestantism itself. In other words, I didn’t convert because I compared the two traditions and thought that Catholicism was relatively better than Protestantism. I didn’t leave Protestantism because of Catholic arguments or because I was attracted to the Catholic Church–I just found no way to know, as a Protestant, what the truth actually and authoritatively was.

    As a Catholic, and as someone who values philosophy as a preambula fidei, I value man’s ability to know general truths about God naturally. But this notion of philosophy and theology are, in my opinion, neither consistent with a Calvinist view of human depravity, nor Luther’s suspicions of a theologia gloriae per his Heidelberg Disputations. Obviously, a mere natural knowledge of God is insufficient in itself to save man, but I do think it enables one to more properly conceive of faith as a trust in that which is supernatural (which includes articles of faith such as the Trinity, or even the confession of one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church)–this demarcation is important to avoid skepticism.

    Now in terms of the interpretive dilemma that you pose, I would only say this: the Catholic must make the same decision as Jesus’s disciples when they were called to follow him. Did the disciples use their own private judgment in deciding to follow Christ? Of course they did. But once they submitted to Christ they let go of their own private judgment. When he told them that they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood, they did not leave him because of this hard teaching. So even if I grant that there is an element of private judgment involved in becoming Catholic, it’s still qualitatively different from the way in which private judgment is viewed in Protestantism, since any ‘hard teaching’ can be avoided by re-interpretation rather than submission.

  44. @Phil, the justification passages are pretty neatly reconciled by Protestants by appealing to the differing pastoral concerns of Paul and James, respectively. Paul, addressing those who thought that justification was by works, emphasized that justification was in fact by faith alone; James, addressing those who thought that since one was justified by faith alone that good works were superfluous emphasized that one would not be (finally) justified w/o good works. Personally, I think that some of the Protestant-RC rancor over justification is semantics. I affirm that justification is by faith alone; I also affirm that w/o good works one cannot be saved – not b/c the good works are meritorious, but b/c the lack of good works confirms that the person wasn’t justified to begin with.

    @Joshua, some of the contradictions that come to mind would be clerical celibacy in light of 1 Timothy 4:1ff, 1 Cor. 9:5; the assertion that the Virgin Mary was sinless and should be worshiped/venerated, prayed to, etc.; praying to saints; purgatory; indulgences; Protestants (myself included) see no biblical substantiation for any of these. You wrote: “If you disagree with your elders on a given interpretation of Scripture, and you are convinced that you are correct, you would not submit to that body.” This is untrue depending on what we’re talking about – if it’s some non-essential matter, e.g., the supra-/infra-lapsarian debate, we can kindly disagree without parting ways. If it were over some essential matter, e.g., the deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, or virtually anything stated in the Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed or Athanasian Creed, then, yes, I would leave. And no, you can’t just “jump ship” for another body of Protestant believers if you’re excommunicated. Even if another body admits you to its membership, the prior excommunication would stand whether recognized by the individual (or his new church) or not. Finally, just for the sake of my own understanding, it sounds like you’re saying that as a RC you have to agree with every last jot and tittle of RC dogma. Do I understand you correctly? If so, is Tom Brown (above) out of line to advise his sister to seek out a parish that is healthy for her soul, to the exclusion of those she deems “out of line” with what she thinks they should be doing at Mass?

    @Mike, I agree that within Protestantism there are widespread interpretations of Scripture. However, I think there’s sanity in the statement, “In the essentials, unity. In the non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.” While I differ with brothers and sisters from other denominations over non-essential matters, I still consider them brothers and sisters due to our agreement on the essentials (again, I’d define essentials as the truths spelled out in the historic creeds of the Church). I am not at all prepared to say that I’m smarter or holier than any of them. In fact, I’m certain that’s completely false. That said, for the sake of my own conscience I must align with the denomination whose teaching as a whole most closely corresponds to Scripture.

    @Ray, the grounds upon which I accept the authority of the elders in our denomination to override/correct my personal interpretive convictions is our common consent to the Confessional Standards to which we subscribe. I’ve also vowed to submit to the government and oversight of the Church. That said, I again get the impression that from your perspective any dissent on any issue (however peripheral) signifies either rebellion on my part or deficiency in the theological formulation of our denomination. Do I understand that correctly?

    @David, I gladly admit the possibility of a malformed conscience; given my affirmation of total depravity I try always to look at myself with suspicion. I have no interest in erecting straw men and am very interested in getting good answers from thoughtful RCs. I agree – a lady with a torn dress is still a lady. I just happen to see most Protestant churches as a part of the lady rather than as anathematized or, at best, estranged from the lady. Thank you for your advice about seeking answers to my questions individually as they arise. As time permits, I have interest in doing just that.

  45. If you were on the brink of agnosticism, and you joined the Catholic Church because it did a better job of convincing you, I wonder if your faith in Christ is purely on an intellectual level, and you are only looking for faith in religion itself. If you are looking to be convinced of God, I wonder if you have a saving faith that is based on the conviction of sin and a supernatural changing of the heart. If you became dissatisfied in the reformed church and you identified the congregation as The Church, then you have a wrong definition of what the Church is. The Church is comprised of individual born again believers of Jesus Christ. If Christ is in you and Christ is in me, then we are both a part of the Church, no matter our congregation or denomination. The “american church system” I believe is not what Jesus called the Church to be. The scriptures only referenced city Churches, meaning, everyone who is a born again follower of Jesus living in one city, would be called as the Church of that city, ie, the Church of Laodicea, the Church of Ephesus, etc. Jesus’ last prayer was that we would be one as He and the Father are one, so I don’t believe the denominations and the different congregations are the ideal Church system of the scriptures, shown in the book of Acts. But does that mean we should throw out the baby with the bathwater and reject one faulty religious system for another? From what I read, it seemed like you were searching for answers from man rather from God, and all you did was trade in one religion with another and are looking for an identity in man’s religion rather Jesus Christ alone.

  46. Hello Joshua,

    Do you remember me from the IustitiaAliena chats about a year and a half ago? With Peter, Inwoo, etc, all had a good time, even though we didn’t see eye to eye. You’ve made quite the turn around since then. Glad to see your story!

    (I’m not sure if my last comment went through, so I’ll try again with this.)

  47. Joshua L.
    You say:
    I just found no way to know, as a Protestant, what the truth actually and authoritatively was.

    Could you say that you don’t know as a liberal who reject the foundation as scripture, or as one who hold scripture as the foundation of doctrine?

    Would human depravity be a matter of morals rather than that depraved humans can’t get anything right? Could Barth be wrong on that?

    Would equating the following of Jesus with following Rome could be likewise reason by Mormons of the following of Jesus and the LDS church? Leave your mind at the door?

  48. James (re: #45):

    I joined the Catholic Church because I became convinced that if Christianity is true, then there must be a way to know and submit to its truth in a more than intellectual manner. In other words, there must be a historical and visible Church that is in substantial continuity with the Church from her inception at Pentecost, through the Early Church Fathers, through the Medieval and Reformation era, until today. Christ, after all, promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church. Therefore, it was incumbent upon me to submit myself to that Church, just as the disciples, once they found the messiah, submitted to him.

    You write:

    If you are looking to be convinced of God, I wonder if you have a saving faith that is based on the conviction of sin and a supernatural changing of the heart. If you became dissatisfied in the reformed church and you identified the congregation as The Church, then you have a wrong definition of what the Church is. The Church is comprised of individual born again believers of Jesus Christ. If Christ is in you and Christ is in me, then we are both a part of the Church, no matter our congregation or denomination.

    First, I know of other Protestants who are vehemently anti-Catholic who would disagree with what you write about the Church. Second, I believe that in order to be saved, I must have faith in Christ, not simply a conviction of sin or a ‘supernatural’ changing of the heart (indeed, I would not know how to be certain that my heart has really ‘changed’). I love Christ and so I joined the Catholic Church because it seems that being Catholic is the only consistent way to be a Christian. Moreover, I find it interesting that you question whether I am truly saved, and then proceed to say that the Church is comprised of those in whom Christ dwells. But here’s my problem: on what grounds should I accept your interpretation of the Bible? If even Protestants disagree with you, Protestants who I regard as committed to the gospel, why should I trust that your definition and understanding of the Church is right and everyone else is wrong?

    Jesus’ last prayer was that we would be one as He and the Father are one, so I don’t believe the denominations and the different congregations are the ideal Church system of the scriptures, shown in the book of Acts.

    Jesus prays for visible unity, and this is a unity based upon truth, “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” A purely invisible unity renders our Lord’s prayer senseless.

    Finally, you write:

    From what I read, it seemed like you were searching for answers from man rather from God, and all you did was trade in one religion with another and are looking for an identity in man’s religion rather Jesus Christ alone.

    You would have me betray Christ himself and entrust myself to your interpretation of Scripture. In this sense, what you demand that I do is no different from what you’re accusing the Catholic Church of doing. As I see it, it’s not the Catholic Church vs. the Bible, it’s your individual interpretation of the Bible vs. the Church that Christ has instituted.

  49. Peter (re: #47):

    You write:

    Could you say that you don’t know as a liberal who reject the foundation as scripture, or as one who hold scripture as the foundation of doctrine?

    If I understand your question correctly, I would say that as a Protestant who believed in inerrancy and infallibility, I could not know in any absolute manner what Scripture taught. Because a text always needs an interpretor and when biblical scholars are disagreeing about just about every single passage, especially the important ones, I did not know who to trust. Sure, I know Greek and Hebrew, but it takes more than an elementary knowledge of the languages to know who is right or wrong.

    Would human depravity be a matter of morals rather than that depraved humans can’t get anything right? Could Barth be wrong on that?

    Morality cannot be separated from the intellect, “they suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Leaving Barth out of the picture and just taking Calvin and Luther, I still don’t know how you can trust anyone especially them. Why are they exempt? Because they interpret Scripture correctly? According to whom? In other words, who gets to judge who is right and wrong when we are all fallen (both morally and intellectually).

    Would equating the following of Jesus with following Rome could be likewise reason by Mormons of the following of Jesus and the LDS church? Leave your mind at the door?

    It’s possible. I wouldn’t call it leaving one’s mind at the door, but if that’s what you want to call ‘leaving everything and following Christ,’ you’re free to do so. Mormons and the LDS, like Protestantism, arose much too late to make any legitimate claim to being the Church Christ instituted…

  50. Nick (re: #46):

    Thank you. I remember our discussions; things have certainly changed since then.

  51. “Therefore, it was incumbent upon me to submit myself to that Church, just as the disciples, once they found the messiah, submitted to him.”

    Why not do what the disciples did and submit directly to Jesus Christ himself? (i agree accountability and fellowship is important…BUT…) Jesus alone is the model Christian. He lived a life of the full gospel ministry and gave us power and authority to do the same and even greater works. Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus and not the traditions or the doctrines of men.

    “But here’s my problem: on what grounds should I accept your interpretation of the Bible? If even Protestants disagree with you, Protestants who I regard as committed to the gospel, why should I trust that your definition and understanding of the Church is right and everyone else is wrong?”

    I agree, herein lies the problem. Without looking to man and whether or not someone agrees or disagrees with me (because there will always be groups who agree and groups who disagree), lets just read the scriptures by itself and see what it says clearly.

    1 Cor 12-31. We as individuals make up the body of Christ.

    “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church.” Col 1, 17. Jesus Christ is the head of the body, the Church, which we are individual members of.

    “After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.” Eph 5, 30. The Church is the body of Christ consisting of members.

    “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” 1 Cor 3, 16. We are God’s temple and the holy spirit dwells in us.

    “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18, 20. Even the gathering of 2 or 3 is Christ among us, his Church.

    etc, etc. Men interprets the scriptures. But just reading it without the opinion of men, even myself, what do you take out of this?

    “Jesus prays for visible unity, and this is a unity based upon truth, “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” A purely invisible unity renders our Lord’s prayer senseless.”

    The truth is Jesus Christ. The truth is He came in the flesh, lived a perfect, sinless, obedient life, voluntarily went to the cross in our place, took upon himself the full wrath of God, died, was raised again in the flesh forever defeating death and Hades, and ascended to the right hand of God the father. Whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. If you genuinely believe in this and have put your faith in Jesus Christ, and I as well, no matter our stance in the secondary issues, you are my brother and we are of the same body. The same Church under the head of Jesus Christ.

    “You would have me betray Christ himself and entrust myself to your interpretation of Scripture. In this sense, what you demand that I do is no different from what you’re accusing the Catholic Church of doing. As I see it, it’s not the Catholic Church vs. the Bible, it’s your individual interpretation of the Bible vs. the Church that Christ has instituted.”

    No, absolutely not. All I want is for you to seek Jesus Christ through the scriptures and not seek above this the interpretations of men, myself or any man’s religion.

  52. James,

    I don’t mean to horn in on your conversation with Joshua (he says as he goes ahead and horns in), but your remarks remind me a great deal of myself when I was an evangelical. Specifically, I remember the consternation — even exasperation — with people who didn’t see things the way I did, and the way you do, because it all seemed so clear. The reason, I want to suggest to you, that it seems so clear is because you take the framework in which you think for granted to such a degree that it is virtually invisible as a framework. The components of this framework would include, based on what you’ve written thus far, (1) the truth of scripture, (2) the canon of scripture, (3) the “religion”-“relationship” dichotomy, (4) the insinuation that Jesus Christ being Truth somehow makes doctrine unimportant, (5) the logical order Christ–>believer–>church rather than Christ–>Church–>believer, (6) the identity of “essentials” vs. “non-essentials.” The list could go on and on — those are only examples that spring to mind. For now, I simply want to encourage you to spend some time examining — I mean really examining — the reasons and/or assumptions that lie behind each of those. I don’t tell you immediately to abandon your framework, but only to begin to identify it as a framework, and thence to interrogate its soundness.

    best,
    John

  53. James (re: #51):

    You write:

    All I want is for you to seek Jesus Christ through the scriptures and not seek above this the interpretations of men, myself or any man’s religion.

    I appreciate that you desire this and I have no doubt that you are being sincere. I also desire this for you and for everyone else–this is precisely why I joined the Catholic Church.

    God bless you.

  54. Justin,

    You ask, “How does a RC Christian reconcile the several places where RC teaching clearly contradicts Scripture? ”

    Let me propose some distinctions between four ideas:

    (1) What the Bible actually says
    (2) What some people think the Bible says
    (3) What the RCC actually teaches
    (4) What some people think the RCC teaches.

    Catholics would say that you are operating under #’s 2 and 4, while Joshua is operating under #1 and 3.

    Distinguishing between these four things makes all the difference in furthering these discussions.

  55. Justin (#44):

    You write:

    I agree that within Protestantism there are widespread interpretations of Scripture. However, I think there’s sanity in the statement, “In the essentials, unity. In the non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.” While I differ with brothers and sisters from other denominations over non-essential matters, I still consider them brothers and sisters due to our agreement on the essentials (again, I’d define essentials as the truths spelled out in the historic creeds of the Church). I am not at all prepared to say that I’m smarter or holier than any of them. In fact, I’m certain that’s completely false. That said, for the sake of my own conscience I must align with the denomination whose teaching as a whole most closely corresponds to Scripture.

    You deny that you’re any smarter or holier than any of your “brothers and sisters from other denominations.” You say you consider them brothers and sisters “due to our agreement on the essentials.” You then say: “I’d define essentials as the truths spelled out in the historic creeds of the Church.” Very well then: why should we accept that definition? Because it’s yours? What authority do you have? Lots of Protestants disagree with you about what “the essentials” are. If you’re no smarter or holier than they, why should we believe you instead of some of them?

    Perhaps you’re just appealing to the authority of “the Church” If so, I would ask: Which church? Yours? Why should we accept its authority? And if something more than yours, what is that “more”? And why should we accept your account of it, as distinct from, say, mine?

    You insist that you “must align with the denomination whose teaching as a whole most closely corresponds to Scripture.” But how would you know which teaching most closely corresponds to Scripture? By your own judgment? But if you deny you’re any smarter or holier than other Christians who disagree with, what makes your judgment more reliable than anybody else’s? It’s no good saying you submit your judgment to that of “the Church,” because you’ve already decided to identify the Church” as that body of people “whose teaching”–in your judgment–“most closely corresponds to Scripture.”

    Don’t you see the vicious circularity of your position?

    Best,
    Mike

  56. Dear Joshua,

    My favorite part was the end:

    yet I am constantly humbled by the devotion of seemingly simple Catholics whose love for the Lord and faith in his presence in the Eucharist manifest true child-like faith. On more than one occasion I have been moved by the idea that were Christ here today, these would be the people who would follow him without food or drink in order to hear his teaching and receive his flesh and blood without question or doubt. Though I once criticized these foolish sheep from a distance, I am glad finally to be considered one of them.

    It was simple Catholics who made me consider the claims of the Church in the first place. Blessed Mother Teresa did more to sustain me through doubt than any intellectual did, and I say that as someone who is grateful for receiving years of much undeserved help from intellectual Christians.

    Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

    Sometimes our confidence in our own human wisdom is precisely what is keeping us from God. What is weird is that in accepting Christ and his Church, we then turn around and grow in true wisdom, in a way that subsumes everything that was good and true about our old imperfect human arguments, without contradicting them, but perfecting what was missing in them. I have consistently found that if I want to think clearly, I need to pray and receive the sacraments and believe and trust in God. Apart from Him, there is no clear thought; one can scarcely call what remains thought at all. But with Him I can even be wise by human standards, and yet transcend them still.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  57. Andrew M (#38):

    Addressing Joshua, you wrote:

    …many intelligent Catholics to the left and right of your look at the same historical data and come to very different conclusions than you have concerning the authority of Rome. Who is to say that you are right and they are wrong?

    The answers that Joshua and Bryan have given you ought to suffice. But as I’m pretty sure that neither you nor the other Protestants here will see it that way, I want to augment them here.

    “Intelligent Catholics” who come to reject Rome’s claims to authority are materially heretical and thus, objectively speaking, no longer in full communion with the Church. That bishops or popes rarely rule formally to that effect in the case of particular individuals is unnecessary and, in many cases, would actually be counterproductive. But such Catholics have put themselves in the same position as Protestants, intellectually speaking, because the logic of their position is the same as that of Protestantism. They can no longer answer the question you’ve posed to Joshua, because they have rejected the one authority that could answer the question if they would but have it so.

    On the other hand, Catholics like Joshua, me, and the authors of this site needn’t be troubled by the question. For whether or not any particular individual’s reading of history suffices to convince him of the Catholic Magisterium’s claims for itself, the fact is that his acceptance of those claims gives him a principled way to distinguish his own opinions from divine revelation–and that fact is itself a good reason to accept those claims. Rejecting that way of making the distinction leaves one with only ad hoc and provisional ways of making it. In short, it leaves one only with human opinions, not divine authority. So IF there is a principled way of making the distinction in question, it’s the way that Catholics who are loyal to the Magisterium make it. And while that by itself does not prove the Magisterium’s claims for itself, it does indicate that some such claims are necessary if we are to transcend mere opinion.

    I doubt, of course, that such an argument would weigh any more with you now than it’s done in the past. It’s long been evident to me that you don’t think we can, as believers, transcend mere opinion. Progress will only have been made when you see why that is a fatal problem with your position.

    Best,
    Mike

  58. Justin (#30)

    How does a RC Christian reconcile the several places where RC teaching clearly contradicts Scripture?

    Justin, clearly the RC Christian doesn’t think there are any places where RC teaching clearly contradicts Scripture.

    There are, to be sure, places where Protestants think they understand Scripture and think they understand RC teaching and think there is a clear contradiction. Those three ‘thinks’ are the problem.

    jj

  59. Andrew (#41)
    It is true that Joshua talked about doubt and scepticism – but he understood those attitudes to be the Protestant attitudes he had acquired. I took your comment as rooting those attitudes in Joshua himself. I apologise if that was not what you meant. I took Joshua as having approached Catholicism precisely because he had rejected doubt and scepticism.

    I have often been accused of credulousness by my Protestant friends; never of doubt and scepticism :-)

    jj

  60. Justin,

    You wrote:

    That said, I again get the impression that from your perspective any dissent on any issue (however peripheral) signifies either rebellion on my part or deficiency in the theological formulation of our denomination. Do I understand that correctly?

    Nothing I wrote had anything to do with assessing whether you are rebellious or not, or whether your denomination’s theological formulation(s) are deficient. Further, whether or not a doctrine is “peripheral” is, itself, a fundamental doctrinal question. Nevertheless, to save time, simply restrict the consideration to some doctrine which you consider to be non-negotiable (perhaps the Reformed understanding of Justification??).

    Either your private interpretation of Scripture regarding the nature of such a doctrine trumps your commitment to your current ecclesial community – should they come to hold an incompatible view – or it does not. If so, then the gesture of respect or submission to your current ecclesial community (and/or its creedal formulation) is superficial and you remain the ultimate arbiter between orthodoxy and heterodoxy.

    If, OTOH, you would submit your own interpretive convictions regarding a central doctrinal matter to the correction of your ecclesial community, the question remains as to what grounds you have for investing them with such authority. Noting that the community itself appeals to a creedal symbol formulated in the past merely pushes the question back one step, but does not resolve it.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  61. Dear Fr. Bryan,

    Thank you! The Norbertines are quite wonderful.

    K. Doran,

    Amen! I used to think that Mother Teresa was going to hell because she believed in ‘work righteousness.’ This is actually what my bible study teachers told me growing up. But whenever I heard of her or saw her on TV, I could not believe it. Her life exudes true beauty and Christ-like love. It is truly humbling.

  62. Hi Justin.

    You wrote.,, Mike, I agree that within Protestantism there are widespread interpretations of Scripture. However, I think there’s sanity in the statement, “In the essentials, unity. In the non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.”

    Could you give me a list of what your denomination consider “essentials” and the “non – essentials”in the Christian faith. It should not be difficult for you if there is indeed a dividing line between essential and non-essential. Thank you.

    Blessings
    NHU

  63. [...] http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2012/05/joshua-lims-story-a-westminary-seminary-california-student-… [...]

  64. @NHU, Here are the questions for admission to membership:
    1. Do you acknowledge yourselves to be sinners in the sight of
    God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save
    in His sovereign mercy?
    2. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God,
    and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him
    alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?
    3. Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon
    the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as
    becomes the followers of Christ?
    4. Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and
    work to the best of your ability?
    5. Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline
    of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?
    Affirmative answers to those questions would cover the barest essentials.

    @Mike, I disagree that there are Protestant Christians who would disagree on the essentials laid out, e.g., in the Apostles’ Creed. If they deny those basics they are not Christians. “The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture” (WCF I.X). This is why I can affirm the early creeds of the Church – they were patently in keeping with Scripture. Subsequently, the church added doctrines and decrees that were so contrary to Scripture that they drove not one or two, but whole hordes of Christians to protest and plead for reform in the face of the Church’s abuses. In a very real sense, I am submitted to the authority of the Church of which Christ is King and Head. I simply perceive the Protestant Church to be at least as much the Church as the RCC is.

  65. Joshua,

    Very well communicated piece. Thank you.
    You said: “If all men are, as Luther and Calvin interpret Scripture to say, helplessly corrupt and depraved, how can I trust anyone? Why should I trust what Martin Luther says that the Bible teaches, or what John Calvin says the Bible teaches or any of the Reformed confessions, for that matter? Is it not the height of naiveté, even hypocrisy, to believe that everyone is totally depraved and yet continue to trust that any human interpretation of Scripture is somehow guaranteed by the Holy Spirit? Is it not more honest to say, with Nietzsche and Foucault, that all men are simply driven by a will to power? And if this is true, no human institution including the allegedly ‘ministerial’ denominations of Protestantism can be trusted because they are simply structures through which those having power can manipulate and control those who do not.”
    This does leave a person despairing, doesn’t it? Ironically you had no other place to go yet it was the place where all the others had come from.

    I read Richard Neuhaus’s conversion story and he said that he woke up the day after being received into full communion with the Church and that he no longer wondered where he was supposed to be; he was home. He said that the language of “coming home” wasn’t really supposed to be used in order to convey a more eccumenical spirit, but that he couldn’t help feeling that he was finally, home.

    Blessings!

  66. Mike (re: 57)

    ….whether or not any particular individual’s reading of history suffices to convince him of the Catholic Magisterium’s claims for itself, the fact is that his acceptance of those claims gives him a principled way to distinguish his own opinions from divine revelation–and that fact is itself a good reason to accept those claims.

    I won’t argue that Catholicism has a sort of “ready-made answers in the back of the book” solution to theological debates. Judaism in Jesus’ time had the same sort of solution. The Pharisees could trace their spiritual succession to Abraham and since God was faithful to His covenant people it was argued the authority of the Sanhedrin was not to be questioned. There was a “principled distinction” that could be drawn based on the human authority that God had ordained. And in modern times I cannot argue with the Jehovah’s Witnesses that they have a sort of “principled distinction” as well. They have a human court of authority that they can appeal to in order to definitely determine truth from error. Would you say that the system of the Pharisees and the JW’s has an advantage because of this ability to appeal to a human court that can render definitive judgment for the faithful? I’m not try to equate Catholicism with the Pharisees or the JW’s, only to point out that your yearning for the principled distinction is only good if it’s a principled distinction that God has ordained.

    It seems to me that either God did ordain the kind of human certitude that you long for or He did not. If He did not then the fact that you feel that there is insufficient epistemological certainty is immaterial. I’ve pointed out in the past that the lack of the kind of certitude that you posit in the Magisterium does not make Christianity unworkable. It just means that you need to accept that God can and does work through a fallible Church. I would argue that God can and does work through the Scriptures to extend His Kingdom without any appeals to a infallible Magisterium. When Athanasius challenged the Arians of perverting God’s truth he told them that they had twisted the plain meaning of Scripture. Of course the Arians laughed at that statement. You might argue that Athanasius’ contention left no clear answer on the Trinity until Roman ecclesiology had developed to an extent to define the matter de fide. But this would ignore the fact that the Scriptures (mediated by the Church as this institution is defined in Scripture) has been used to convince countless millions of the truth of this doctrine. God is perfectly capable of converting the whole world to the truth of this and any other doctrine without any infallible human standard. You may feel on shaky epistemological ground without such an authority but it seems to me that this is a reflection of your expectations rather than any argument for a human authority as such is conceived by Rome. Either God intended for a system that you propose or He did not. And If God has used His Word to convince millions of people as to a given truth, these people’s God-given knowledge is not “opinion” just because there are some or many others who God has not revealed Himself to. You are constantly trying to look at the matter as if we humans must have tools at our disposal to make binding judgments on the beliefs of every human being on the planet, at least on de fide issues. But what if God never intended us to make such judgments (I would like to suggest that since there is not even a hint of an infallible Roman Magisterium in Scripture nor one practiced in the early centuries of Christianity that it’s at least a reasonable supposition). Athanasius was content to proclaim God’s Word and let God do His work without appealing to an infallible bishop or Church. And God did do His work. But what of the fact that many others read the same Scriptures and rejected the doctrine of the Trinity? Why should this lack of consensus necessarily cause us alarm if God’s truth is being proclaimed? Your “solution” is to propose an infallible human court to judge the world, right? But when and where did God ask His Church to do this?

    Joshua (re: 43),

    As a Catholic, and as someone who values philosophy as a preambula fidei, I value man’s ability to know general truths about God naturally. But this notion of philosophy and theology are, in my opinion, neither consistent with a Calvinist view of human depravity, nor Luther’s suspicions of a theologia gloriae per his Heidelberg Disputations. Obviously, a mere natural knowledge of God is insufficient in itself to save man, but I do think it enables one to more properly conceive of faith as a trust in that which is supernatural (which includes articles of faith such as the Trinity, or even the confession of one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church)–this demarcation is important to avoid skepticism.

    Philosophy has a necessary role I fully agree. I don’t think there is any problem with stating this and affirming a Calvinistic understanding of human nature. Not sure about your point on Luther. And I’m not sure what this natural knowledge of God will do more than what will be done in a human to whom God has revealed supernatural things. But I think that crass humanistic skepticism can be avoided in non-Christians via common grace and an understanding of natural verities.

    On hard sayings, we all of those to deal with – you are dealing with a Calvinist here!

  67. Joshua,

    Welcome home!

    The statement that struck me most was, “My Reformed belief in the relative importance of the visible church was in conflict with the Reformed emphasis on the importance of one’s individual conscience.” My mind quickly flashed to the moment in history you eluded to, Luther’s famous words at the Diet of Worms, “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.” I couldn’t help but wonder how often Sacred Scriptures tell us our consciences are an authority in knowing the teachings of Christ? I don’t recall any…

    Though I am a cradle Catholic, I have had much reason to dwell on the division between Catholics and other Christians, and in that process I had to learn why it was I remained Catholic. Your thought process describes much of my own, and eloquently so. Thank you for sharing with us.

    God Bless!
    – Adrienne

  68. Joshua L.

    Thanks for making your points more clear. I think I understand your points better.

    Wouldn’t you say the same about your knowledge of the RCC teach as well. Even though you learned latin. How are you to know all the teaching of the RCC with “absolute manner”? I am to learn with the best of my ability the Bible, and you are to do so with the Bible and now you added all the decrees of the RCC.

    I think I was trying to say that the fallen state is true of everyone under sin, so I effects all of humanity. I would have to say that morally and intellectually are included under sin. So I would have to agree with you there. However, does that mean that human can’t get anything right? Does that mean that they can’t read? It seams to me that people are able to know the meaning of words, even though they may suppress it. On the other side. The Pope and all his people are humans too, are they not? As you put it, “Why are they exempt?” You may say that God granted them exemption, but how are you to know that that is true that they are exempt? You as an individual is casting your faith, without “absolute manner” of knowledge that they are exempt.

    You said ‘leaving everything and following Christ,’ as if that is following RCC. Do you really think that the RCC is the same as Jesus? Maybe you are confusing the RCC with Jesus just a little. That is offensive to anyone who is a worshiper of Jesus. Yes, I am saying that if you are a follower of Jesus, that should offend you.

    I don’t know if you know the LDS all that well, but I think they hold that Jesus came back to reinstitute their church thus Latter Day Saints. Protestantism, by terms is NEW, but it is the group that holds to the gospel. Considering it another way, the gospel was in eclipse fro hundreds of years, and when there where lights that shown, the RCC killed them, lastly God raised a Luther under the conviction of the Law, and searched scripture for peace with God, and RCC was not able to kill him, though they wanted to. At Trent the RCC broke off from the gospel of grace for a system of earning merits by the means of her. If we follow the gospel teaching from the Bible, and which church has it, then you are only left with the fact that RCC is a late comer as Trent was a response to the Reformation.

  69. Peter, I’m new here and may not be entirely caught up, but can you share any evidence of your claim that Christians with the true gospel were killed off by the Catholics, until Luther? When was the gospel lost? You seem to argue this is distinct from LDS, but it sounds a little too similar. Do you have more historical evidence to back your claims than the LDS?

  70. Peter (re: #68):

    After long arguments on Facebook, it seems we are arguing here as well… Hopefully communication will fare a little better than before.

    You write:

    I think I was trying to say that the fallen state is true of everyone under sin, so I effects all of humanity. I would have to say that morally and intellectually are included under sin. So I would have to agree with you there. However, does that mean that human can’t get anything right? Does that mean that they can’t read? It seams to me that people are able to know the meaning of words, even though they may suppress it. On the other side. The Pope and all his people are humans too, are they not? As you put it, “Why are they exempt?” You may say that God granted them exemption, but how are you to know that that is true that they are exempt? You as an individual is casting your faith, without “absolute manner” of knowledge that they are exempt.

    My point is that it is impossible to know the truth from a Calvinist perspective, since everyone is totally depraved. And yes, this includes the popes ‘and all his people,’ from a Calvinist’s perspective. I am not a Calvinist and so I don’t follow the manner of thinking that you describe. I think you fundamentally misunderstand my point. This is a problem that the Calvinist, who believes in total depravity, has, not the Catholic.

    You write:

    You said ‘leaving everything and following Christ,’ as if that is following RCC. Do you really think that the RCC is the same as Jesus? Maybe you are confusing the RCC with Jesus just a little. That is offensive to anyone who is a worshiper of Jesus. Yes, I am saying that if you are a follower of Jesus, that should offend you.

    I never said that the Catholic Church was identical to Jesus; only that following Christ entails following the Church he established, which is the Catholic Church. It would certainly offend me if someone told me to follow a church that was not founded upon Christ and the apostles under the guise of obeying Christ–this is what I was doing as a Protestant.

    You write:

    I don’t know if you know the LDS all that well, but I think they hold that Jesus came back to reinstitute their church thus Latter Day Saints. Protestantism, by terms is NEW, but it is the group that holds to the gospel. Considering it another way, the gospel was in eclipse fro hundreds of years, and when there where lights that shown, the RCC killed them, lastly God raised a Luther under the conviction of the Law, and searched scripture for peace with God, and RCC was not able to kill him, though they wanted to. At Trent the RCC broke off from the gospel of grace for a system of earning merits by the means of her. If we follow the gospel teaching from the Bible, and which church has it, then you are only left with the fact that RCC is a late comer as Trent was a response to the Reformation.

    How do you know Luther was raised by God himself? And on what grounds do you say that this or that is the gospel when so many others disagree with you? This narrative is extremely distorted and on your grounds, the rest of the Church Fathers were equally ‘late comers,’ even though the Reformers did not exist until 1500 years after the Church. I don’t grant that the Protestant notion of justification sola fide comes from the Bible, so your narrative simply does not convince me at all. I think a more historically compelling narrative is one in which the Church held to one thing (namely, not justification by faith alone), and when that teaching arose in Protestantism, it was rightfully condemned by the Church according to what she had taught since her inception. This is what happened at Nicaea and at Chalcedon, and this is what happened at Trent.

  71. Alicia,

    Thank you! Hopefully you’ll be on this side of the Tiber soon. :)

    Adrienne,

    Thank you for your kind words!

  72. [...] overdue in calling to your attention Joshua Lim’s article at Called to Communion, in which he describes his conversion to the Catholic Church. I commend it [...]

  73. Peter,

    Josh’s question is simple, yet important: “How do you know Luther was raised by God himself?” I would add, how do you know that Luther isn’t a false teacher? How do you distinguish between true and false teachers without recourse to yor own personal interpretation of scripture?

  74. #66 Andrew,
    You said:”It seems to me that either God did ordain the kind of human certitude that you long for or He did not. If He did not then the fact that you feel that there is insufficient epistemological certainty is immaterial. I’ve pointed out in the past that the lack of the kind of certitude that you posit in the Magisterium does not make Christianity unworkable. It just means that you need to accept that God can and does work through a fallible Church. I would argue that God can and does work through the Scriptures to extend His Kingdom without any appeals to a infallible Magisterium.”
    I do not agree that it is immaterial that a person should have epistemological certainty. I would ask if you have you followed this thought through? If you are a person who has come to hold( for whatever reason you have certainty in this regard) that it is important to receive the word and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, how do you choose which of the Protestant and Reformed denominations utilize these two means of grace most biblically? Is the body and blood “more real” in Lutheranism than in Calvinism? It may not make Christianity unworkable, but it would open the possibility that there was not even a need for distinctions among the Protestant denominations, and therefore, every disagreement that you might have with an opponent who holds an equally plausible opinion would become of no practical value. This would escalate the epistemological uncertainty, pushing one to the bounds of ecclesial agnosticism. I believe that Protestants cannot decry, “Big bad Institutional church at Rome”, and then inconstantly start their own institutions that constrain congregants into submission under their own formularies. I have no substantive way to discern whether or not I might be sitting in a Mormon church, if I didn’t attend a church that was positively catholic(in some apostolic way) in its doctrine and creeds.
    On the other hand, wouldn’t it be marvelous that God really did mean to institute a visible and continuing church on earth, so that we have another place to lay our faith? If you think this might be equivalent to putting our trust in a Jim Jones type of scenario, I admit the possibility does hang, but this would be the same for any organized religion, and so one would be forced again to either take their bible and read it for themselves without any community, which we know is not biblical, or to start their own sect which has been done and will continue to be done over and over again.

  75. Hi Justin,

    Your # 64. As a Catholic I could answer in the affirmative to all 5 questions you asked but it still would not tell me what the essential and the non essential beliefs of Christianity are. What you have stated is only part of the truth as stated in the Catholic Church.

    1) I acknowledge myself a sinner and have no hope of salvation save through God’s mercy.

    2) I rely on Jesus Christ as my saviour

    3) I rely on the Holy Spirit to affect a change in my life to become more Christ like.

    4) I promise to be a support to the Church in Her worship and work with Her to the best of my God given ability.

    5) I promise to submit myself to the AUTHORITY of government of the Church and Her discipline

    As you can see these are the precepts of the Catholic Church and taken from Her own teachings. ( see the Catechism of the Catholic Church) but you still have not given me a list of what you believe is essential or non- essential. If you truly believe the 5 points that you have given me, why are you not a Catholic? If the so called “reformers” had submitted themselves to the AUTHORITY of the Church in the first place there would be no Protestants and we would not be having this discussion. The truths of Protestantism are the truths they kept from the Church at the time of the so called reformation.

    Why would I submit to part of the truth when I can have it all?

    Blessings

    NHU

  76. [...] the Church on the Feast of Pentecost. He presents his story anonymously here. The other is of a Joshua Lim, who graduated this Spring with an MA in historical theology from Westminster Theological Seminary [...]

  77. Eva Marie

    I thought it was common knowledge that was martyrdom of John Huss, before Luther. The Lollards, and Waldensians suffered under the hands of Rome. There are numbers as hight as 150 million people killed by Rome. They where trying to kill Luther as well, but he was protected by Fredric the Wise. W. E. H. Lecky says:

    “That the Church of Rome has shed more innocent blood than any other institution that has ever existed among mankind, will be questioned by no Protestant who has a competent knowledge of history. The memorials, indeed, of many of her persecutions are now so scanty, that it is impossible to form a complete conception of the multitude of her victims, and it is quite certain that no power of imagination can adequately realize their sufferings.” — “History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe,” Vol. II, p. 32. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1910.

  78. Congratulations Joshua and welcome home. I thank God for the way he continues to bring men of good will into communion with the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church instituted by Christ.

    Let me share a few thoughts here.

    “Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another. . . . [it holds that] Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy.” Blessed John Henry Newman 1879. (Convert to the Catholic faith from Anglicanism)

    The reformation gave every individual the right to make “it” (the bible) say whatever struck their fancy. Evidence for this is found in the fact that the Lord’s Supper was always considered the actual body and blood of Christ from the Last Supper onwards, yet the reformers said that this long held truth was not Truth. How can a 1500 year old belief suddenly be discovered to be wrong? If protestants believe this then they believe that the Church was mistaken right out of the gate, which bodes poorly for the belief that Christ would give us his Holy Spirit to lead us into all Truth.

  79. Joshua,

    Welcome home!

    Peter #77,

    Besides resting upon a secondary and shaky history of the Spanish Inquisition, Lecky’s work (you can follow the link to his actual book online) (A) presumes to ascribe a “murder toll” approaching almost half of the world’s population in the 15th century and (B) equates the Church for civil governments because of the obvious influence of the Church in Western society at large. (To use a contrary example: Just because Protestantism influenced American government does not mean that Protestantism is responsible for American foreign policy). That being the case, (A) represents a gross exaggeration, and (B) represents a gross misunderstanding.

    For anyone interested, you can find a Catholic response to this canard and a list of resources here. Since this list does not include anything by the late, great, Warren Carroll, I would be remiss to exclude his The Glory of Christendom, 1100-1517: A History of Christendom (vol. 3).

    To somehow tie this into the thread at hand, I will say that it was the smoke screen of canards, misnomers, and half-truths about the Church that became for me a “motive of credibility” for entering Her. As I read Blessed Newman, I remember being arrested with the thought of how the early Church (first 5 centuries), in a similar fashion, struggled with the canards, misnomers, and half-truths about her beliefs, practices and history that littered society.

    The similarities are more than just coincidence.

  80. Peter,

    I am a protestant and not Catholic, BUT you either have to believe all Catholics are going to hell or some are going to wind up in heaven. If they are all going to hell, blast away brother, but if there is a chance that any are going to Heaven than we have an obligation to consider that maybe they are part of the Bride of Christ whcih Jesus died for and longs to see pure and spotless. We should consider that Jesus is longing to return for a pure spotless Bride and should ask what we can do to bring that about. Is pure and spotless the splintered mess we see? If not, how can we work to bring about reunification?

    We can not have a pure spotless Bride without reunification.
    We can not get to reunification without forgiveness.
    For that matter, you can’t get to heaven without forgiving anyway.
    Dredging up how many of who killed who 3 centuries ago isn’t going to get us anywhere.

  81. Alicia said in #74: I do not agree that it is immaterial that a person should have epistemological certainty.

    Alicia,

    I may not have stated it very well, but what I was trying to say is that sometimes we want more certainty than what God has granted us. I remember a friend of mine joking once that it would be nice if God would just leave a message on her answering machine telling her what to do with her life. That would be great, I would have to admit. But then we human beings just don’t get that kind of certainty, at least not in this lifetime. So how much certainty are we supposed to have in God’s plan? That’s a question that Catholics and Protestants and EO answer somewhat differently. I was suggesting to Michael that it may be the case that Catholics are expecting more certainty in terms of some questions than what God has promised. I’m firstly making the case that a human authority that binds all Christian congregations together and speaks finally and decisively on de fide matters was unknown in the teaching of the Scriptures and the writings of the earliest centuries of Christianity. And yet Christians still managed to work in God’s kingdom without such notions. One EO scholar once said that in the first few centuries of Christianity biblical exegesis was probably the only theological method in use, and the authority of Scriptures reigned supreme. There was no appeal to an infallible Magisterium and yet nobody worried about insufficient certainty. And then secondly related to this first point, I am arguing that the lack of the kind of de fide and equivalent levels of certainty that were defined by the Scholastics does not relegate theological debate to matters of mere opinion. To pull that previously mentioned example, the lack of an appeal to an infallible Magisterium did not reduce the Trinitarian and the Arian positions to irresolvable opinions, although I suppose someone witnessing these debates might have incorrectly come to that conclusion.

    I understand that this problem of a perceived shaky epistemological foundation is part of why a good many Protestants begin to look to Catholicism. The vast majority of Reformed folks who think through these issues of authority, revelation, etc don’t experience such intellectual crises, but there are those minority like Joshua who do. The reason why they do when so many don’t really intrigues me.

  82. Josh

    You write:
    After long arguments on Facebook, it seems we are arguing here as well… Hopefully communication will fare a little better than before.

    I thought this forum maybe more useful for you, and the kind of place you rather talk in. But as you know, I rather talk in person. People get a little abusive on the keyboard. Though, I will sound a little strong in my comment here, because I am not talking about some impersonal subject, but the confusion that is resulting in apostasy and I am concern from the heart. I really mean that. I would just not waist my time, if I don’t care.

    You write:
    This is a problem that the Calvinist, who believes in total depravity, has, not the Catholic.

    Oh, so Catholics reject the depravity of humanity–that sin affects every aspect of a person? Doesn’t Rome hold to the sinfulness of humans and fallen in sin from birth? What does the Bible Teach on the matter? Romans 8:7-8 says, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” You claim that sin, inhibits humans of being able to understand the Bible, but where is that in the Bible? If that was the case, How was Jesus able to hold the Jewish leaders accountable to the OT? They did not know the Bible as they SHOULD, but the point is Jesus expected them to know the scripture. Was Jesus wrong to expect them to know the scriptures?

    Jesus say, “have you not read… ” expecting that they should have known from the reading of the OT. Matthew 22:31; Mark 12:26

    If Jesus was right in saying that they should have known the teachings of the Bible, and should have known Jesus in searching scripture. Was Jesus wrong in expecting them do known scripture?

    The Bible is words on a page. If you are able to respond to my comment here, then you are able to read text, and are able to know what the author is saying to you. You ability to write back in response is proof that your claim that sin inhibits our ability to know the teachings of the Bible to be false.

    Maybe Barth was wrong?

    You write:
    I never said that the Catholic Church was identical to Jesus; only that following Christ entails following the Church he established, which is the Catholic Church. It would certainly offend me if someone told me to follow a church that was not founded upon Christ and the apostles under the guise of obeying Christ–this is what I was doing as a Protestant.

    I would submit to you that you are doing that by going into Rome that does not have the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus did not die so as to make an institution in Rome where people can work for grace and still die without being perfected, but He died so as to save, redeem a people for himself, and make his save people into a church body. It was not a institution that the Lord died for, but His elect people. He died so as to save by his own blood, he secures their salvation. Jesus is able to give peace with God to repentant sinners. Which is not had by the meriting system of Rome; die impure and suffering in purgatory.

    A follower of the Roman system of merit can’t say with Paul in Romans 5:5 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, WE HAVE peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace IN WHICH WE NOW STAND.” Peace, true peace with God, that does not fluctuate in war, but to be justified through faith, we stand in this peace as a continued relationship in Jesus. The RCC’s system of merits is nowhere found in Romans, and the word of God says that we have peace with God, having been justified through faith. It is not meriting grace, by RCC’s sacraments. A person is said declare by God to be justified through faith alone, not by works of men, but by the work of Jesus.

    You write:
    How do you know Luther was raised by God himself? And on what grounds do you say that this or that is the gospel when so many others disagree with you? This narrative is extremely distorted and on your grounds, the rest of the Church Fathers were equally ‘late comers,’ even though the Reformers did not exist until 1500 years after the Church. I don’t grant that the Protestant notion of justification sola fide comes from the Bible, so your narrative simply does not convince me at all. I think a more historically compelling narrative is one in which the Church held to one thing (namely, not justification by faith alone), and when that teaching arose in Protestantism, it was rightfully condemned by the Church according to what she had taught since her inception. This is what happened at Nicaea and at Chalcedon, and this is what happened at Trent.

    You really think Rome taught Marian Dogmas since the time of Jesus? You really think that Rome has one set of universal Dogmas that is the same current all the way back to Peter? That is Roman myth, not history. Just look at the political infighting now. And all those years when the office of the papacy was bought and sold. Your view of history comes across a little simplistic. Had you questions on this, I am sure Scott Clark can help you out.

    Galatians 2:16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

    A person is justified through faith in Jesus, apart from human works. Rome condemned the Grace of God for not including works. Rome condemned the gospel because it reduced Rome’s power to manipulate the people with sales of indulgence.

    Well, Luther was not killed by Rome, and his recovery of the Gospel from the Scripture–the Gospel changed the world. But he was a tool in the Lord’s hand, I care not for the worship of men and to propped men up. As was Wycliffe, and Huss, in their days, thought the latter Rome killed, and the former they mutilate and scattered his bones. I don’t find many who disagree with me on the issue of the gospel, but for the cults and others false churches. The Gospel, Josh, the Gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus alone, not by means of popes and sacraments of men, but faith in Jesus alone gives the believing sinner peace with God. The baptist, reform or not agrees with that. The Protestants all agree with the Gospel. That is why they are Evangelicals. If the Gospel is preached in the church, that is a true church. Rome does not have the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It has a man made system of working for grace–what a distortion to the very word grace. It is an insult to the grace of God. You are mistaken to think in terms of “the Protestant notion”. I care not for Luther, or for Popes as you do. I care for the gospel of Jesus. I hold to the gospel because it is the only hope for humanity on the finish substitutionary atoning death of Jesus that does and will in fact save those Jesus died for. It is MY only hope. You are mistaken at the very heart of your study you are to find Jesus in the scriptures, if I maybe frank with you, I keep hearing you say according to this or that view. You maybe able to repeat their views, but even as you have said you have lost the text of the Bible. Wasn’t seminary education to teach you the text of scripture, rather than teach you paradigms of men’s opinion? Since you lost the scriptures themselves, you lost the heart of what you were studying. It is in scripture that you should find Jesus, and yet with all so many opinions of men, you lost the ability to know the Bible. That is so pitiful. If one can’t read the text of the Bible, how is one to see Jesus in the text? So pitiful in deed. All you are left with is the opinions of men. Even as Jesus said to the Pharisees: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” Go to Jesus. Jesus alone is salvation for the guilty sinner. Jesus saves. Not foolish Roman systems of meriting grace–what an insult to Christ who saves perfectly by his blood. Not to popes, for we are not to have any earthly man as our spiritual father Matthew 23:9, People of God, your father is in Heaven.

  83. Jeremiah,

    Does Rome preach the gospel?

  84. Joshua:

    I enjoyed greatly your account and will pray for you on your journey to Christ (it is just beginning). The Lord has given you a great gift (I marveled at how deeply you’ve considered these mysteries and at the acuity of your reasoning — you would make a natural Dominican!) and I will pray for your continued growth in the spirit.

    May God bless you and may you be a great blessing to His Church.

  85. Andrew (#66):

    Addressing me, you wrote:

    Would you say that the system of the Pharisees and the JW’s has an advantage because of this ability to appeal to a human court that can render definitive judgment for the faithful? I’m not try to equate Catholicism with the Pharisees or the JW’s, only to point out that your yearning for the principled distinction is only good if it’s a principled distinction that God has ordained.

    Having and deploying a “principled distinction” between divine revelation and human opinion is a necessary condition, not a sufficient condition, for actually preserving and transmitting divine revelation as distinct from human opinion. So, while I don’t believe such a distinction was as clear in the Pharisees, or is as clear with the JWs, as you suggest, they do have something necessary which your church most assuredly does not. The question for the uncommitted rational inquirer is what else is necessary, so that all that’s necessary adds up to what’s sufficient. I have made that case elsewhere, and Joshua adumbrates some of it in his post. Your objections do not address it.

    It seems to me that either God did ordain the kind of human certitude that you long for or He did not. If He did not then the fact that you feel that there is insufficient epistemological certainty is immaterial. I’ve pointed out in the past that the lack of the kind of certitude that you posit in the Magisterium does not make Christianity unworkable. It just means that you need to accept that God can and does work through a fallible Church.

    That misstates the issue just as thoroughly as you have done for years. I do not “long for human certitude” in matters of faith; I do not expect or seek human certitude even in most matters of knowledge; for in this vale of tears, people can and do know many things about which they fail to experience a feeling of certitude. So it comes as no surprise to me that deploying Catholicism’s “principled distinction” between divine revelation and human opinion does not give one “human certitude” that everything the Church teaches is true; it merely affords us a principled way to distinguish the object of the unreserved assent of faith from the object of a provisional assent of opinion. Your theological epistemology so obscures that distinction as to render it inapplicable. But making the Catholic’s unreserved assent of faith is a choice that depends more on grace than on human reason, which latter only supplies arguments that are plausible without compelling assent. So the degree of subjective certitude one has about that object of faith will vary with one’s experience, understanding, and temptations.

    If God has used His Word to convince millions of people as to a given truth, these people’s God-given knowledge is not “opinion” just because there are some or many others who God has not revealed Himself to….Why should this lack of consensus necessarily cause us alarm if God’s truth is being proclaimed? Your “solution” is to propose an infallible human court to judge the world, right? But when and where did God ask His Church to do this?

    It utterly astounds me that, after several years, you have yet to appreciate the force of Newman’s elementary point: “No revelation is given, unless there be some authority to decide what it is that is given.” Thus, treating “Scripture” as “the Word of God” is at most a plausible opinion, unless the body of people who wrote, used, collected, and certified those writings as the Word of God had divine authority to do so. That latter question is the one needing to be answered first, which is why I proceed as I do, and precisely why it would be idle at best to seek proof in Scripture by itself that the Catholic Church is that church. On the Catholic account summarized in Dei Verbum §10, Scripture, Tradition, and the teaching authority of the Church stand or fall together; the first two give the third its rationale, and the last is the authentic interpreter of the first two. Accordingly, to make the kind of inferential move your question invites would totally beg the question.

    Come to think of it, that’s exactly what you’ve been doing pretty much since Day One….

    Best,
    Mike

  86. Peter,

    Sorry to butt in, but I just want to make one point. You wrote to Joshua in #82:

    The Bible is words on a page. If you are able to respond to my comment here, then you are able to read text, and are able to know what the author is saying to you. You ability to write back in response is proof that your claim that sin inhibits our ability to know the teachings of the Bible to be false.

    You are comparing a monologue to a dialog. They couldnt be more different. Just because we can read text does not mean we automatically know what the author is saying. Otherwise why the differences in interpretation of scripture? And the proof you give is actually proof against your argument. You describe Joshuas “writing back” in response as proof that he understands. Actually what is happening is the process of dialog, where he and you can write back and forth until both sides are 100% understood. The ability (and necessity) of “writing back” and forth in order to clarify positions and come to undestanding prove that more than a monologue is necessary between you two, and it also shows that more than just writing is necessary for the Church. A living interpreter will always be necessary. The sheer amount of differnet interpretations among Protestants should also be enough to convince us that more than the monologue of scripture is necessary for us to understand what it is saying.

    Acts 8:30-31
    Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

    Bryan Cross explains this quite well in another place on this site:

    if you ask me to clarify something I have said, and then you still need further clarification, you can ask for it, and, because I can hear you and understand you and have memory and communicative ability, I can provide it. And if you need still more clarification you can ask me for it, and I can provide it. So long as I remain alive and conscious and capable of communication, I can provide interpretive self-clarification. That’s what I mean when I say that persons have unlimited potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification. We can get to the point where you say, “Are you saying x?” And I can reply, “Yes”. And that point, with respect to that question, the hermeneutical spiral comes to an end.

    Books do not have unlimited potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification. And because books don’t have that, they cannot function as interpretive adjudicator when there are competing interpretations facing the Church: each side can appeal to the book to support its own position, and without a magisterium, the disagreement can be a perpetual deadlock or impasse. But a living magisterium can not only adjudicate an interpretive dispute, it can also provide clarification regarding previous statements or judgments it has made. That is why having a living magisterium does not leave us in the same epistemic quandary that we would be in if we had only a book and no interpretive authority.

    This is what has made it possible within the history of the Catholic Church for theological disputes to be resolved. The reason the Church is not still wrestling with Arianism and Nestorianism and Monophysitism, etc. is precisely because she could speak definitively and authoritatively in condemning them. But the Bible alone could not do that. Because the Bible does not explicitly address those questions, persons on both sides could and did appeal to the Bible to defend their interpretation. And so a living personal divinely authorized voice was necessary in order to provide the authoritative interpretive decision in those cases.

    Peace to you,

    David Meyer

  87. Justin (#64):

    You wrote:

    I disagree that there are Protestant Christians who would disagree on the essentials laid out, e.g., in the Apostles’ Creed. If they deny those basics they are not Christians. “The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture” (WCF I.X). This is why I can affirm the early creeds of the Church – they were patently in keeping with Scripture. Subsequently, the church added doctrines and decrees that were so contrary to Scripture that they drove not one or two, but whole hordes of Christians to protest and plead for reform in the face of the Church’s abuses. In a very real sense, I am submitted to the authority of the Church of which Christ is King and Head. I simply perceive the Protestant Church to be at least as much the Church as the RCC is.

    In that one paragraph, there are so many problems that I hardly know where to begin. So here I’ll just confine myself to an observation and a suggestion. The observation is that there is no such thing as “the Protestant Church.” There are countless Protestant churches, precisely because Protestants cannot agree among themselves about what is necessary and sufficient for “table fellowship.” You seem to identify “the Church of which Christ is King and Head” as the one “patently” adhering to Scripture. Hence my suggestion: please read an article I wrote last year for this site which address that very question, among others.

    Best,
    Mike

  88. Andrew (re: #81):

    You write:

    . . . sometimes we want more certainty than what God has granted us. I remember a friend of mine joking once that it would be nice if God would just leave a message on her answering machine telling her what to do with her life. That would be great, I would have to admit. But then we human beings just don’t get that kind of certainty, at least not in this lifetime. So how much certainty are we supposed to have in God’s plan?

    If we’re called to follow Christ, should we be in any doubt that it is Christ himself who calls us? I understand that you believe that Scripture is clear on issues necessary for faith and morals, but when Christian biblical scholars (conservative ones, mind you) are disagreeing about fundamental aspects of the gospel, how does one know who to trust? It seems to me that we, as Christians, were never meant to guess what Christ himself commanded us, even if we might doubt ourselves. The uncertainty or room for error, if present, should not come from the side of Christ’s calling; but when Scripture can be interpreted by Luther and Calvin, and then by folks like Leithart and Wilson (men who claim to be following Calvin), or by eminent scholars like N.T. Wright, it becomes very difficult for someone to know what Christ is saying (or what ‘St. Paul really said’).

  89. Andrew,

    To follow Joshua’s response to your #81, I will add, that surely there is a significant difference between what God is calling to a particular person to in order to live out the universal call to holiness, whether they should marry, enter religious life, seek holy orders, or consecrated virginity, and then what kind of work they should seek to help them live that vocation, and what is publicly revealed by Christ and His Church that is common to all the faithful. When you say that Catholics are expecting more certainty than what God has promised, if by that you mean “what is God calling me, Tom, to do with my life to serve Him?” then there is no disagreement between us. But you mean this, so it seems to me, to refer to the Church that Christ established. Has not Christ promised Peter that He will build His Church and the gates of hell would not prevail? Has He not promised that the Holy Spirit would guide Peter and all the Apostles into all truth? Did not that same Christ promise the Apostles that whose sins they retain are retained and whose sins they remit are remitted? Has not the Apostle Paul said that the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth? Those appear to me and to Catholics who think with the mind of the Church to be promises God has made to us and promises that God will keep.

  90. Peter,

    You said, “Well, Luther was not killed by Rome, and his recovery of the Gospel from the Scripture–the Gospel changed the world. But he was a tool in the Lord’s hand, I care not for the worship of men and to propped men up.”

    I’m dying to know: How do you judge Luther to be a tool in the Lord’s hand or just another heretic preaching a false gospel? What is your principled way to distinguish between orthodox preachers and heretical preachers? Is it to refer to your own personal interpretation of scripture?

  91. #81 Andrew

    Thank you for responding,
    “You said: I understand that this problem of a perceived shaky epistemological foundation is part of why a good many Protestants begin to look to Catholicism. The vast majority of Reformed folks who think through these issues of authority, revelation, etc don’t experience such intellectual crises, but there are those minority like Joshua who do. The reason why they do when so many don’t really intrigues me.”

    I mean no disrespect but the epistemological crisis experienced by Protestants who are now at Rome or heading that way, is not something that you are able to observe safely behind glass; you are in the same boat and it has a hole in it, only you don’t feel the water at your feet yet. Again, I would ask you to look around you and see the plethora of choices and then ask yourself why it is that you are in the denomination that you are in. You might be able to refuse broader evangelical “bible churches” though they say that they adhere solo scriptura( by the way, do you believe that they are only using the bible?) For one reason or another you might dismiss Baptists; maybe they are too fundamental. Now, try to choose among the Protestant and Reformed, and ask yourself how it is that you are making your choice. Calvinists’ and Lutherans may agree on parts of soteriology but not all. Maybe you are comfortable with the lack of certainty of whether or not we can lose our salvation or whether or not we can contribute to our final salvation (sanctification), but you really must ask yourself when the sun rises on Sunday morning, “which church should I go to today”, and if you don’t see yourself putting this question to yourself, maybe you should try it;) For, within your schema, you do have a choice, and if the church you are in begins to assert itself as your rightful authority when you decide that you like another better, ask yourself if this is acceptable to you, and on what grounds.
    To get this really driven home, see Michael Liccione’s article, that he linked you to.

    ~Alicia

  92. Joshua,

    I really like your article and your combox comments. Welcome home, brother!

    I was struck by this from your article:

    If all men are, as Luther and Calvin interpret Scripture to say, helplessly corrupt and depraved, how can I trust anyone? Why should I trust what Martin Luther says that the Bible teaches, or what John Calvin says the Bible teaches or any of the Reformed confessions, for that matter? Is it not the height of naiveté, even hypocrisy, to believe that everyone is totally depraved and yet continue to trust that any human interpretation of Scripture is somehow guaranteed by the Holy Spirit?

    It seems to me that you answered your own question in the above in your response to Peter in post # 70:

    My point is that it is impossible to know the truth from a Calvinist perspective, since everyone is totally depraved. And yes, this includes the popes ‘and all his people,’ from a Calvinist’s perspective.

    The way I see the difference in the Catholic perspective and the Calvinist perspective is not really about whether or not men are sinful, it is, rather, about whether or not sinful men can exercise the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit.

    The Catholic Church believes that there is a particular charismatic gift of the Holy Spirit that, when exercised, allows men to teach about what has been handed down in the deposit of faith in such a way that what is being taught has a guarantee from God of being without error. The man (or men) exercising this charism of the Spirit do not have to be sinless men before this particular charismatic gift can be exercised. Which makes perfect sense to me, since Christ explicitly teaches that sinful men can exercise charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit (`Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ Matt 7:22)

    It seems to me, that in contrast to the Catholic perspective, the Calvinist perspective denies that the charismatic gift of infallibility even exists. But if that charismatic gift does not exist, then this question that you ask needs an honest answer from the Calvinist:

    Is it not the height of naiveté, even hypocrisy, to believe that everyone is totally depraved and yet continue to trust that any human interpretation of Scripture is somehow guaranteed by the Holy Spirit?

  93. Peter,

    #83.

    The greek word for gospel is “kerygma”. While there are a lot of nuances to the word, the easy translation of this word is that it is a declaration made by a conquering king to his new subjects informing them of the change of jurisdiction etc. It generally was a requirement of total and immediate submission. As St. Paul noted to the Galatian heretics there are true as well as false gospels. I am assuming that your question is more appropriately stated as “Does Rome preach the True Gospel”?

    Since you are a Protestant, and I am a Protestant, we don’t have a standard to which we can appeal in regards to “what is the True Gospel?” except maybe to the original languages (as best as we understand them). I am going to go out on a limb and guess before this post you had no idea that when St. Paul and the other original Apostles co-opted the word Kerygma they were using a political/military word that had little to no prior use as a religious word. I’m also going to go out on a limb and guess that your use of the word gospel is limited to the idea that Jesus saved you from your sins and you didn’t have to do anything to get the salvation except believe.

    But here is the break down in our communication. Did you have to say a prayer? Did your prayer have to take a certain form? Did you have to raise your hand in at an altar call? Did you have to walk down the aisle to the altar? Your faith did certainly demand some action didn’t it?

    Now according to the original usage of the word Kerygma, faith doesn’t just require one action at the kick off, you are a conquered city. The King demands your faithful, daily, obedience.

    Now I know hosts of Christians, Roman and Protestant alike who have NO CONCEPT of this at all. The Protestant said the sinners prayer and the RCC was baptized as an infant and that was that. Generally for the Protestant it is because they were preached a “Gospel” that said “pray this prayer and you get to go to heaven in 50 or 60 years when you die….” The nominal RCC believer was generally very poorly catechized for a multitude of reasons.

    The long and the short of it, is that I don’t really know what “Gospel” you have received. As to whether or not Rome preaches the “Kerygma” that St. Paul preached…..I actually don’t know, but I think what I’ve seen so far seems more similar to that than what I generally hear in Protestant circles….

    I personally kind of think that if we were actually preaching the Kerygma of St. Paul, more of us would be winding up like St. Paul wound up.

  94. Hi Joshua,

    I think we exchanged here some time ago, or maybe not. You made a passing reference to Van Til against Barth. If you knew Van Til’s critique of roman catholicism, then how did you overcome it ?

    Thanks,
    Eric

  95. Hi Eric,

    I can’t recall any notable critique that Van Til made of Roman Catholicism. All that comes to mind right now is his accusation of classical forms of apologetics as being ‘Roman Catholic’ in their methodology. If you can provide a basic sketch of Van Til’s critique, I’d be happy to respond.

  96. Eric (re: #94):

    I would also add, if presuppositional apologetics is your sort of thing, you might be interested in Marc Ayers’s conversion story.

    Here.

  97. Thanks, Mateo!

  98. Joshua (#95)

    I can’t recall any notable critique that Van Til made of Roman Catholicism. All that comes to mind right now is his accusation of classical forms of apologetics as being ‘Roman Catholic’ in their methodology. If you can provide a basic sketch of Van Til’s critique, I’d be happy to respond.

    Somewhere at home I have my falling-to-bits copy of Van Til’s “Syllabus: Introduction to Systematic Theology” – which became my Bible (ironic, isn’t it?) when I was first becoming Reformed, from having been evangelical, from having been Baptist. In it he has a long section on Etienne Gilson, at least. At the time I was a new Christian and just learning my way around. I read it again during the year and a bit that I was struggling with whether to become a Catholic – which – thank God! – I did, 18 years ago. I’ll try to dig it out and have a look at it to summarise what he says for you, if you are interested.

    jj

  99. Mike (#85),

    It utterly astounds me that, after several years, you have yet to appreciate the force of Newman’s elementary point: “No revelation is given, unless there be some authority to decide what it is that is given.” Thus, treating “Scripture” as “the Word of God” is at most a plausible opinion, unless the body of people who wrote, used, collected, and certified those writings as the Word of God had divine authority to do so.

    Yes, well I’m not sure how many times I have tried to show you that I agree with this kind of statement. As I’ve have stated repeatedly, Scriptures are never interpreted outside of the authority that is explicitly stipulated in Scriptures and then subsequently practiced by those following the Apostolic era. But at this point in time there was no Pope or Roman Magisterium of College of Cardinals or anything that is part of RCC understanding of that body which ought to do the interpreting. Maybe there is something to the Catholic argument that the development/evolution of such a body has its roots in the history of early Christianity, but it’s hardly fair to assume this to be the case. As a number of recent Protestant works on the authority of Scripture point out, the genesis of the debate begins by examining the usage of Scripture by the earliest theologians of the Church. And this is long before there is anything close to a Roman Magisterium doing any interpreting. Anyway, when we talk about sola scriptura, the “sola” of the sola is not indicative of an absence of some group of people doing the interpreting.

    And this leads back to the part of my last answer in #66 to you which you did not address but I think you should. I asked you about a case where a group of theologians has been convinced by Scripture and the Holy of the truth of a given doctrine (I used the Trinity and Athanasius). The other side reads the same Scripture but is not convinced. If we say that both groups are just holding “opinions” then we are saying that the group who has been convinced by Scripture and the Holy Spirit holds to a mere “opinion.” Are you OK with saying that? Catholics often ask the sort of question that Joshua asks me in #88. They want to know how we resolve doctrinal disputes without the infallible human interpreter. And the answer is that we don’t believe that it is any ecclesiastical organization’s job to resolve the issue. The assumption of the Roman Catholic is that there must some sort of ecclesiastical body which resolves these global disputes. But this is just an assumption and as pointed out, not one that is shared by theologians of the early centuries of Christianity. My example here was Athanasius who appealed to the clear meaning of Scripture when refuting the Arians but left it at that. Athanasius was correct, the Arians were perverting the clear meaning of Scripture and his argument has convinced many millions of theologians, pastors, and lay people up to and through the present time. The point here is that Athanasius was not trying to use the ecclesiastical judgment of a hierarchical Roman Church to separate truth from error. Like so many theologians before him he pounded home what he knew to be the truths of Scripture and let God do the work of bringing people to the truth. So we Reformed are following suit in this regards.

    Probably the most important point that I have tried to make through all of our discussions is that your argument about distinguishing revelation from mere opinion is bound up in Roman Catholic presupposition about the role of the Church in resolving theological matters (again note my paragraph above). And it’s not an assumption we are willing to grant, so I don’t see that it’s helpful for you to carry on about revelation/opinion as if the assumption about the role of the Church underlying the contention is a proven fact. But, if you are correct about the all encompassing reach of the ecclesiastical judgment of the RCC then your point about separating revelation from opinion may have merit.

  100. Joshua (#88),

    I understand that you believe that Scripture is clear on issues necessary for faith and morals, but when Christian biblical scholars (conservative ones, mind you) are disagreeing about fundamental aspects of the gospel, how does one know who to trust?

    Joshua,

    I think I would start with Ignatius’ command to obey one’s bishop and go to him for counsel. A bishop at this point in time was truly an overseer in the biblical concept of the term – he was a pastor that had chief oversight over the congregants of one church. Now the question is what happens when two bishops disagree. In Ignatius’ time they would no doubt have met to try to resolve the matter. If the two could not resolved it they might have gone to a larger group of bishops for resolution. This kind of thing happened in the Reformation churches and still does today. The result is I think a system of thought which protects those truths fundamental to the gospel. A good case study is the unity of the Reformed confessions in the 17th century.

    But getting back to your specific question, like as Ignatius advised, if there is some question of who a layperson should trust he should start with his pastor for such counsel.

    Tom (#89),

    Yes, I agree that God has promised all those things. Where I think we disagree is the specifics of how these promises are kept, specifically in what kind of ecclesiastical structure God uses to keep His promise. To take one of your examples, when Paul speaks of the “pillar and ground of the truth” he has just finished a treatise on what the local church ought to look like. Paul is saying that the local congregation is where God keeps these promises. It is the local congregation where the Scriptures are read and preached so it is this local congregation which is the pillar and ground of truth.

    Alicia (91),

    I mean no disrespect but the epistemological crisis experienced by Protestants who are now at Rome or heading that way, is not something that you are able to observe safely behind glass; ..

    I see that my last statement to you sounded rather like I was viewing the debate with a certain abstraction. I agree with you that we cannot just view such debates from a safe distance, so as to speak. I agree with Bryan Cross that we Protestants need a good reason why we are not Catholic (I think I’m stating him correctly here). I grew up with certain assumptions about religion that, like all of us, I need to examine.

    On the other hand there is a certain intellectual interest I have with the reasons for why people convert to Catholicism. There are a number of reasons that people list for converting but there is often a shared list of intellectual struggles and traits with these converts. What can I say, it just intrigues me….

  101. Joshua, welcome home to the Catholic Church! I would have commented here much earlier but have been without a working computer for a while. There is a good bit in your story which resonates with my own experience, both as a (former) Protestant, and as a (in my case, returning) Catholic.

    As Alicia writes in #81, the epistemological difficulties within Protestantism, period, (to say nothing of the different branches *within* Protestantism) are very real. When these difficulties are faced, for some people, they play a role in leading to agnosticism or atheism. For others, they help to lead to the Catholic Church or to Eastern Orthodoxy.

    Obviously, many people do happily remain Protestants, even with the attendant epistemological difficulties. In any event, I wish that more of our Protestant brothers and sisters could see that the epistemological issues are only *one part* (an important part, to be sure) of an overall tapestry which leads many thoughtful non-Catholics to become Catholic.

    For myself, I certainly did not return to the Catholic Church *only* for a sense of certainty (on many important Biblical/theological matters) which finally eluded me in Protestantism. However, the question must be faced– for the Protestant, on what basis, other than the principle of the primacy of the individual conscience in interpreting Scripture, can he or she have certainty, as a Christian, on issues such as justification and salvation (and whether they can be lost or not), baptism (infants or believers only?), the existence and nature of Hell, the matter of gender in ordained ministry, and any number of other issues? Has God left us to our own interpretive skills (assuming that we are highly literate, which most people, worldwide, are not) to figure out all of these issues?

    Having been a serious, conservative Protestant, I know that many serious, conservative Protestants, in various denominations, claim to resolve the above questions via Bibical study according to “sound hermeneutical principles” with the “illumination of the Holy Spirit.” However, after 500 years, the disagreements on these very important issues simply continue, even among (though obviously not *only* among) serious, conservative Protestants. Is such a situation really what God intends for His followers? Within the “Sola Scriptura” framework of Protestantism, how can this situation truly be resolved?

  102. If I may add to the conversation regarding epistemic “certainty”. This question of certainty was germane to my own spiritual journey. Albeit, I did not dip my toe in the Tiber because of it, but I certainly did begin to question the basic framework of my ecclesial home which eventually led me to Rome.

    I want to only mention that in epistemology there are distinguishable features of “knowing”. For any type of knowledge we have, we can recognize and distinguish (1) the knower, (2) the thing known and (3) the method by which we know a thing. On 1 and 2, we agree with our Protestant friends. I make this point because often questions of epistemology in Catholic and Protestant dialog quickly devolve into conversations about “total depravity” or “the nature of revelation”. I’m willing to grant the one who holds to “total depravity” that, in fact, they know stuff despite their theological commitment to a position that seems to undermine the possibility of any kind of certainty with regards to the function of their fallen cognitive faculty. That is besides the point, because I can move that fact to the bottom and top of the fraction for both of us and redact it out.

    We also agree that the deposit of faith comes to us from God, and thus is a supernatural object of knowledge. Therefore, we agree fundamentally as to the nature of the knower and the nature of the thing known. However, we disagree fundamentally on the methodology by which we know the thing. This, I think, is the onus of Mike’s article linked above, and the reason the Protestant should click over to it, read it, and wrestle with it; keeping in mind the distinct epistemological contention he raises.

    In short, the distinction between opinion and dogma, which outside of theology just means opinion or fact, should shed light on what is at stake. In fact, as Joshua and others have indicated, the credibility of Christianity is at stake. Think about it. It would appear that for all species of knowledge accessible to the human faculty, there is a principled method by which humans can agree, if used, will result in certain knowledge (e.g., observation, historical study, abstraction, etc. — and in theology, dogma). “Certain” here meaning not the removal of all doubt (for we are irrationally prone to it), but rather meaning a certain trust in the credibility of a method that produces results worthy of assent. The ball drops. George Washing is the first president. A=A. Then comes theology.

    The Catholic position does not thrust upon theology something external to itself. It is not as Andrew M has alluded wanting for more than God would have us have. It is, in fact, simply asking of theology what is requisite itself for attaining something more than just opinion, and since theology is a supernatural object, it is fitting that it would require a supernatural methodology (of courses aided by natural processes). This just means we are being human as God has made us. If God did not want us to have certainty regarding theology, then he would have created us without rational minds. If we did not have rational minds, then we would be fine if the ball drops and doesn’t drop, that there is no rational principle in the world or in the mind of God, and that it doesn’t matter what baptism really does as long as you believe something (an approach to the world more resembling Islam than Christianity). To hold to this principle, the principle of what I will call “theological nihilism”, flavored with a positivism imbued by an evangelical vigor, is to act less than human. It is to look at the image of God in you and to reject it in favor, ironically, of your own opinion. This, of course, is the sin of Adam: to become less than human by becoming the autonomous man. The primacy of the individual conscience bit Adam in his soul, for between the fruit and his mouth was a decision that he knew better — that somehow his latest interpretation of the commandment was more enlightened than his previous interpretation.

    The Church, the ground and pillar of truth, is the principled method by which we can distinguish between opinion and fact. I can “tell it to the church” (Matthew 18:17), and get an answer that if I reject, I become as a tax collector or pagan. That is the “difference”.

  103. Andrew (re: #100):

    If Luther & co. had followed this advice, there would not have been a Reformation.

    Moreover, without the guarantee of infallibility, how would someone submitting to a bishop know that his or her bishop is right? Especially if bishops are in disagreement with one another. . . Personally, this is exactly the problem that drove me from Protestantism. To submit to my pastor rather than another pastor simply because he is my pastor is so Catholic, yet there is missing that justification for submitting to my pastor — namely, apostolic succession and the promise of the Holy Spirit.

    I’m wondering if you would give this same response to JWs or Mormons…

  104. @Joshua L.

    You said: “To submit to my pastor rather than another pastor simply because he is my pastor is so Catholic, yet there is missing that justification for submitting to my pastor — namely, apostolic succession and the promise of the Holy Spirit.”

    First of all, amen.

    Second of all, have you listened to Dr. James White’s recent critique of your story? I don’t usually pay him much mind as I find his demeanor towards Catholics to be too hostile for my liking (and this was even as a Protestant). However, I couldn’t resist tuning in to the Dividing Line to hear his thoughts on your story. It was the usual tirade: petty ridicule (“Called To Confusion, har har…!”) followed by rabbit-trail distractions every forty seconds and all culminating with this thesis: The Catholic Church is not the answer because it’s just another “group of men’s imaginings” (and a heretical one at that). Of course, White does not assent that the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Christ so the disconnect is understandable. Your further thoughts in post #103 answer White’s objection nicely.

    Earlier in the show, White made the comment that the folks at “Called to Confusion” (a gentleman and a scholar!) rarely win converts to the faith with Catholic doctrine. He’s certainly wrong about that! This site is a fantastic representation of Catholic teaching and played a large role in my return to the Church this past Easter. Keep on defending the faith.

  105. Alicia, re 91

    I think I am in a position to address at least a bit of what you were noting regarding Protestants who do become Catholic, and Protestants who don’t.

    If Luther tells us that we are like dung and that grace is like snow, then per Luther we are sinful dung wrapped in the snow of grace. That always sounded like the “whitewashed tombs” Jesus mentioned, clean on the outside but full of filth on the inside. However Jesus said, “Be perfect!” Perfect what? Perfect dung?

    Calvin tells us, using TULIP, that we are totally depraved. Fallen human reason is not to be trusted. (Then, as noted above, there are people who trust Calvin, who by his own words is totally depraved. That seems a conundrum of its own.) Yet Jesus is saying, “Be perfect!” How can one be perfect if one is bereft of reason?

    If one uses a checklist, comparing what Jesus said and what the various Protestant communions were saying, one would find oneself at odds with Jesus on a regular basis. For instance, I was saying (in common with virtually every Protestant I knew) that I could go directly to God for forgiveness. Jesus was telling the apostles, “Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them. Whose sins you retain, they are retained.” Seems like I was contradicting our Lord; or from another perspective, He was contradicting me and had even anticipated my position by answering it long before I came around.

    It finally occurred to me that if I was correcting Him, something was terribly wrong. He had given a job to His apostles involving the forgiveness or retention of sin, and I had denied Him the right to do so.

    After a while there were so many of these, that I had to wonder what was wrong with me. I was saying one thing, and Jesus or the apostles were saying something else. Those things were at loggerheads with each other. Who did I trust? Who was saving whom?

    Those are the questions that can be asked, or ignored, or paved over. Who do I trust? Who is saving whom? If it is Jesus Who is saving me, it seemed to me that He was giving me a free gift, that had conditions. Baptism seemed to me to be a condition. Confessing my sins where He indicated was a condition. Forgiving my enemies so that I might be forgiven seemed such a condition. Responding to grace with action (feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc) seemed such a condition. Learning to love as He loves me seems such a condition. Eating His Body and drinking His Blood (cognizant of the new Passover) seemed to me to be such a condition.

    I wanted to be obedient to Him because I discovered that I trusted Him. I did not have to know why something was the way it was, I merely had to be obedient. Jesus noted that He only did the things He saw His Father doing. He noted that He had come to do His Father’s will. He was my example and I wanted to do, however poorly, what He wanted me to do.

    He founded a Church. He founded the Church on His apostles. He created the Church to last until His return. He gave the Church the authority to forgive sins. He gave the Church the authority to confect Him in the new Passover which must be eaten. He gave the Church the authority to determine which books would be included in a canon. He gave the Church the authority to make decisions, inspired by the Holy Spirit Who would lead the Church to all truth.

    I cannot speak for everyone who arrives at this junction, this crossroads. I don’t know if the questions occur for them. I don’t know how they would answer them. I have a keen appreciation for the cost that some people bear up under. There are marriage and family considerations. There is still the need to make a living. Marriage and family are very important. Making a living is very important. Count the cost it is written.

    How much is Jesus worth? Is He worthy of trust? Does that trust lead to obedience?

    Cordially,

    dt

  106. Andrew,

    #100 “Yes, I agree that God has promised all those things. Where I think we disagree is the specifics of how these promises are kept, specifically in what kind of ecclesiastical structure God uses to keep His promise.”

    Given that you agree that God has promised these things (of which I included the power and authority to forgive or retain the sins of people), in what ecclesiastical structure do we see this power and authority to forgive or retain sins manifested today? I can say with utter certainty that as a Presbyterian minister I was not giving faculties in my ordination to carry out this authority promised by God.

  107. this is exactly the problem that drove me from Protestantism. To submit to my pastor rather than another pastor simply because he is my pastor is so Catholic, yet there is missing that justification for submitting to my pastor — namely, apostolic succession and the promise of the Holy Spirit.

    Double amen. When I swam the Tiber, my co-religionists in the PCA brought this one out time and again. They would remind me of my membership vows and the authority of the elders. My simple response was “what if I were a Mormon right now? would you still want me to obey my elders?” The answer is of course that they would want me to disobey them. Shared agreement on interpretation of revelation was then revealed to me as the true the ground of their authority. Take away that shared agreement, and nothing is left that would make me submit to them. It just becomes a disagreement at that point. Paedocommunion or Federal Vision? Merely disagreements. If I dont like these elders I can submit to ones more to my liking who have my prefered interpretation. The thing that made me sweat was the thought:

    “what if I become a heretic?” or worse: “what if I am a heretic?”

    How would I even know if I were a heretic as long as my submission to my elders is based on a shared opinion and not an authority that transcends shared opinion? I could easily just be self-deceived into submitting to heretics then.

    What it comes down to is authority and who has the legit authority. I dont care what they believe or if I agree with them. I want them to make me conform to the true faith because they have the authority from Christ to do so. But that is something they never claimed nor could they prove if they tried. The Reformed session began to look more and more like a mirror of my own opinions at that point, rather than body speaking for Christ. Scary.

  108. Andrew (#99):

    You wrote:

    Yes, well I’m not sure how many times I have tried to show you that I agree with this kind of statement. As I’ve have stated repeatedly, Scriptures are never interpreted outside of the authority that is explicitly stipulated in Scriptures and then subsequently practiced by those following the Apostolic era. But at this point in time there was no Pope or Roman Magisterium of College of Cardinals or anything that is part of RCC understanding of that body which ought to do the interpreting. Maybe there is something to the Catholic argument that the development/evolution of such a body has its roots in the history of early Christianity, but it’s hardly fair to assume this to be the case.

    First of all, I’m not sure how many times I’ve tried to show you what it means to speak of “divine authority,” prescinding altogether from any specific eccesiology one might or might not extract from the early sources by study. If somebody were to say: “When I teach that P is divinely revealed, I speak with divine authority, but of course I could be wrong to say that P is divinely revealed,” they would be talking utter, indeed laughable nonsense. To claim to teach with divine authority is to claim, at the very least implicitly, to be divinely protected from error when one so teaches. So the fact that many don’t see the developed Catholic doctrine of the Magisterium (CDM) in the early sources is irrelevant. For that matter, if CDM is true, then that doctrine itself cannot simply be inferred from said sources independently of the Magisterium. So far in this dialogue, all I’ve done is unpack the very concept of divine authority, apart from the question which body of people happens to exercise it.

    Secondly, when you say that it’s “hardly fair to assume” that CDM’s development “has its roots in the history of early Christianity,” your criticism trades on an ambiguity. As a professing Catholic, of course I believe what you say is unfair for me to assume; after all, that’s part of what it means to be Catholic. But it would be unfair to accuse me of unfairness just for being a believing, professing Catholic. What you really want to say is that it’s unfair for me to treat said assumption as a given amidst a discussion with people who do not share it. Now that’s not so much being unfair as begging the question, and I agree it’s wrong to beg the question when there’s a question to be begged. Yet for the reason I just gave in the previous paragraph, I make no such move. And I’ve said as much repeatedly over the years. It’s sad how, after all these years, you still can’t seem to take that in.

    I asked you about a case where a group of theologians has been convinced by Scripture and the Holy of the truth of a given doctrine (I used the Trinity and Athanasius). The other side reads the same Scripture but is not convinced. If we say that both groups are just holding “opinions” then we are saying that the group who has been convinced by Scripture and the Holy Spirit holds to a mere “opinion.” Are you OK with saying that?

    Of course I’m not OK with saying that, which is why I didn’t say it. The churchmen who formulated and upheld Nicene orthodoxy in the 4th century were preserving, transmitting, and clarifying divine revelation, not human opinion. We agree on that. What disagree about is how to answer the question how they and others know that it’s divine revelation rather than human opinion.

    Here’s your answer:

    The assumption of the Roman Catholic is that there must some sort of ecclesiastical body which resolves these global disputes. But this is just an assumption and as pointed out, not one that is shared by theologians of the early centuries of Christianity. My example here was Athanasius who appealed to the clear meaning of Scripture when refuting the Arians but left it at that. Athanasius was correct, the Arians were perverting the clear meaning of Scripture and his argument has convinced many millions of theologians, pastors, and lay people up to and through the present time. The point here is that Athanasius was not trying to use the ecclesiastical judgment of a hierarchical Roman Church to separate truth from error. Like so many theologians before him he pounded home what he knew to be the truths of Scripture and let God do the work of bringing people to the truth. So we Reformed are following suit in this regards.

    Since I’ve already rebutted your claim that the Catholic position is “just an assumption,” I’ll leave that bit aside and attend to what you say on your own account. What you’re really arguing is that Nicene orthodoxy is the “clear meaning” of Scripture, so that coming to know it as divine revelation rather than human opinion does not require a referee to adjudicate among competing interpretations of Scripture. That in fact is what’s argued by every Reformed Christian I’ve ever discussed the matter with. And I have always replied that the characteristic premises of such an argument are not only false, but demonstrably false.

    For one thing, if Scripture were perspicuous in the way such an argument requires, then one could account for major interpretive disagreement only by ascribing illiteracy, ill will, or both to everybody who dissents after rational consideration. If that’s how St. Athanasius explained away the Arians, or if that’s how St. Gregory of Nazianzus explained away the Pneumatomachi–and I’m not convinced they did–then those fathers of the Church were simply wrong. And you know it—for I have more than once seen you deny that heresy can only be accounted for in such an uncharitable manner. If people of similar intelligence and virtue can sincerely disagree about how to interpret Scripture on a matter of central importance, then Scripture is not perspicuous in the way your argument requires–even granted that Scripture somehow contains what Nicene orthodoxy finds in it.

    For another, your argument premises a thesis needing defense in its own right: i.e., that the early Church treated Scripture not only as perspicuous but also as having epistemic authority independent of that of the hierarchy of the Church. Now that’s only an opinion, and thus it’s ill-suited to function as a premise in the sort of argument you need. What you need are facts, not just opinions. But your opinion is implausible as a matter of logic, not just as a matter of history or doctrine. If the early Church did not understand herself to have infallible authority on matters of faith and morals generally, then she allowed that she could have been wrong in how she selected and certified certain writing as divinely inspired. Accordingly, she would have understood the Bible to be only a provisional human anthology, not an absolutely trustworthy conveyor of divine revelation. But the evidence you yourself present clearly indicates otherwise.

    Probably the most important point that I have tried to make through all of our discussions is that your argument about distinguishing revelation from mere opinion is bound up in Roman Catholic presupposition about the role of the Church in resolving theological matters (again note my paragraph above). And it’s not an assumption we are willing to grant,

    If that’s your most important point, then what I’ve said in this comment alone is enough to rebut it. I’m disappointed that I’ve had to do that over and over again through the years. But others will see what you don’t.

    Best,
    Mike

  109. #107 David

    You said: “what if I become a heretic?” or worse: “what if I am a heretic?”

    How would I even know if I were a heretic as long as my submission to my elders is based on a shared opinion and not an authority that transcends shared opinion? I could easily just be self-deceived into submitting to heretics then.”

    This made me laugh, thanks. I feel that same insanity currently. I have posed that same question to my pastor and my family, “How can I be sure that we’re not all Mormons?”! They don’t get the question, and it is so frustrating!
    My laughter is refreshing, I have done so much crying. Actually I have laughed in hysterics when a vicious argument happened in my home over the idea of me becoming Catholic. I feel like I am in the Twilight Zone, and am the only one that can see the monster on the wing of the plane;)
    Another thing, that has arisen in my thoughts is why would God allow me to be deceived in Protestantism, and how can I be sure that the RCC is a safe step? I know I can’t remain where I am, though some don’t get this epistemic crisis. Hit it’s like a ton of bricks and then you feel like you need to run, not walk to the nearest parish!

  110. Christopher (#101)

    … I certainly did not return to the Catholic Church *only* for a sense of certainty …

    I actually wonder if this isn’t a red herring, in fact. In my case, at least, I became a Catholic because I became convinced that:

    1) Jesus Christ intended a single visibly unified body to be His Church;
    2) That the Catholic Church is that body;
    3) That all Christians ought to be in submission to that body.

    For me, the certainty that I have in the Church was not precisely a motivation; it was rather one of the benefits I was given.

    I think there is a subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) accusation of rationalisation on the part of those who think that we became Catholics – or returned to the Church – in order to have certainty. The sub-text is that we didn’t really think the claims of the Church were true, only that they were desirable.

    But such a purely psychological motivation could just as well make a person become a member of any group that promises certainty.

    And of course analogous comments apply to those who accuse us of becoming Catholics in order to have the undoubted beauty, the ‘bells and smells’ (how I wish our parish had a little more of that), or the logical consisitency – in short, that our motivation was to have the benefits of being Catholics rather than to do what we think we had to do in order to obey God and save our souls.

    I wonder whether there are any of us converts or reverts in this blog – posters or commentators – who could say that they became Catholics in order to have certainty, or any other of the Catholic benefits.

    To be sure, the promise of those benefits serves as a motivation to investigate the claims of the Church. If the Church claims infallibility, union with Christ, the Real Presence, are these not themselves indications that God may in fact have provided the Church precisely so that His faithful could have them? But one must still then examine the other arguments for the Church’s truth – and pray for the enlightenment of the Spirit to help one grasp this truth with theological faith.

    But I could not imagine becoming a Catholic to have a benefit which I was not, on other grounds, sure was real.

    jj

  111. Hey Alicia,

    Glad I could make you laugh. It is a bittersweet laugh though. Like laughing at the dentist’s joke as he comes toward you with the drill. I love your Twilight Zone example. And if it werent for so many other Reformed defectors, I may have let myself believe I was crazy. But there are just too many others with the same concerns as us. And particularly us laypeople. Perhaps you are like me without much training in theology. I have a wife and 5 kids and dont have time to learn Hebrew or Greek, so does that mean I must just listen to the elders? What if my wise and highly trained PCA elders disagree with the wise and highly trained CREC elders down the road? What do I do then? This question simply has no answer that does not put the descision in my own hands… exactly where I know it should NOT be!
    If you are like me, you will at this point look for “the claimants”. Make a list of those who claim successional apostolic authority over you. My list included Catholic, Orthodox, and of course a few like Mormons who are quickly dismissed. In discerning between the claims of Catholic and Orthtodox, I once again found that the “who decides” question came into play. Issues like contraception and early evidence of papal primacy led me towards Rome. But one thing I knew, was there was no going back to the mess that is Protestantism.

    Pray for wisdom. And pray some more. If you are Ok with it, pray to Mary. She will not let you down. I will pray for you to have wisdom as well. Without God, nothing we try to do will work. So we need to soak our intentions in his will.

    “Another thing, that has arisen in my thoughts is why would God allow me to be deceived in Protestantism”

    Well if God allows children to die of malaria and for his Son to be murdered, I dont think I can answer that one. And think about this… if you are no longer decieved, then God isnt allowing the deception anymore. One thing I loved immediately about Catholicism is the doctrine of redemptive suffering. The crosses He gives us are for our good. They have meaning, and these crosses actually acomplish things when offered to God as a sacrifice united to Christ’s sacrifice. This doctrine was a true comfort to me after my conversion when a personal tragedy struck my family. Perhaps in God’s plan He knew I wouldnt make it with my Reformed conception of suffering and He decided I needed to convert? Perhaps there is a plan for you that is unforseen. Just keep following Jesus and find out.

    Peace to you,

    David Meyer

  112. Andrew McCallum, you write:

    As I’ve have stated repeatedly, Scriptures are never interpreted outside of the authority that is explicitly stipulated in Scriptures and then subsequently practiced by those following the Apostolic era. But at this point in time there was no Pope or Roman Magisterium of College of Cardinals or anything that is part of RCC understanding of that body which ought to do the interpreting.

    Andrew, why are you so focused on the Christians that lived after the apostolic era? Why would the second or third generation Christians that lived after the apostolic era suddenly believe that the authority within Christ’s church to settle doctrinal disputes was in any way different than what the first generation Christians believed?

    The first generation Christians tell us that Christ commanded those who would be his disciples that they should bring their personal doctrinal disputes to the church that Jesus Christ founded for resolution of those disputes. Those that “refuse to listen to even to the church” are to be excommunicated. (Matthew 18:17). That is what the first generation Christians believed, and I see no reason to think that the second and third generation Christians believed anything different. Indeed, the fact that these post-apostolic Christians held Ecumenical Councils to settle doctrinal disputes shows that they believed exactly what the first generation Christians believed. Doctrinal disputes among Christians are to be authoritatively settled in the same way a doctrinal dispute was authoritatively settled at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts chapter 15).

    Martin Luther, in contrast to the first generation Christians, taught his novelty of the primacy of the individual conscience as a rule of faith for Christians. Martin Luther brazenly asserted that he only needed to listen to the church when the church agreed with Martin Luther. But that belief of Luther utterly destroys the explicit teaching of Christ found in Matthew 18:17. If I only have to listen to the church when the church agrees with me, then I am under no obligation to listen to any church, including the church that Christ personally founded.

  113. Alicia (#109):

    My laughter is refreshing, I have done so much crying. Actually I have laughed in hysterics when a vicious argument happened in my home over the idea of me becoming Catholic. I feel like I am in the Twilight Zone, and am the only one that can see the monster on the wing of the plane;)

    I love that Twilight-Zone metaphor so much that I’ve quoted it in my Facebook status! William Shatner would be pleased. Thanks.

    Best,
    Mike

  114. Alicia,
    I will pray to Bl John Henry Newmanas well as the Mother of God for you.

    You were not decieved. You may not have been ready for the Tuth of Christ’s Church. Your path to the Church has had many twists and turns. You don’t know why but someday it will be revealed. I used to wonder that until I finally decided “Who cares I’m here”.

    In Christ,
    Annie

  115. Mike,

    First of all, I’m not sure how many times I’ve tried to show you what it means to speak of “divine authority,” prescinding altogether from any specific eccesiology one might or might not extract from the early sources by study. If somebody were to say: “When I teach that P is divinely revealed, I speak with divine authority, but of course I could be wrong to say that P is divinely revealed,” they would be talking utter, indeed laughable nonsense. To claim to teach with divine authority is to claim, at the very least implicitly, to be divinely protected from error when one so teaches.

    And I have replied by quoting you back verbatim and saying yes I get this. Really, what’s not to get? But it’s not the claims of the Catholic Church concerning infallibility, ecclesiastical or papal, which I’m debating. Yes, I understand as I’ve said that you believe that the RCC speaks with divine authority in order to separate what is to be known about divine revelation from mere human opinion. Again, what’s not to understand about that? You say that you are “sad” that I cannot take this in, but I’ve never had any issues accepting what you believe on the matter. The question between us is whether God can and does work in such a manner. My point here is not to question the relationship you draw between revelation and authority, but to question whether God must work through a Church which acts in the way that you claim, that is, one which is divinely protected from error.

    Secondly, when you say that it’s “hardly fair to assume” that CDM’s development “has its roots in the history of early Christianity,” your criticism trades on an ambiguity. As a professing Catholic, of course I believe what you say is unfair for me to assume; after all, that’s part of what it means to be Catholic.

    Please re-read your last paragraph in #85. It was from here that I took it that you were saying that divine authority to interpret was bound up in those who collected, certified, etc. the Word of God. I did not see you trying to prove your contention, you just stated it. So I was questioning what I saw as an unproven statement which I did not agree with. You say that you are not making such an assumption. OK, if you say so I will believe that, but it was not at all obvious from #85.

    Since I’ve already rebutted your claim that the Catholic position is “just an assumption…

    Mike, this is a different assumption than what I spoke of earlier so I would ask you not to so readily dismiss what I wrote. I said in brief, “The assumption of the Roman Catholic is that there must some sort of ecclesiastical body which resolves these global disputes. But this is just an assumption and as pointed out, not one that is shared by theologians of the early centuries of Christianity.” Are you really debating the fact that there is an assumption held by the Roman Catholic hierarchy that she must adjudicate the world’s theological problems? I cannot guess that you would state such a thing. This is important and gets to the heart of the matter. You are defending ecclesiastical infallibility as the only way that the world can know what is truly divine revelation and what it just the opinion of men. But I have tried to suggest that before we can talk about the nature of revelation we have to discuss whether it is even the Church’s job to play this role of adjudicator. You are somewhat frustrated by what you perceive as my unwillingness to seriously grapple with your contention (which once again I understand!), but I’m trying to convince you that there is a question that logically precedes your contention which we have not grappled with. And that is the role of the Church as this role is defined in the ancient in Scriptures and secondarily practiced in the Early Church. But I don’t think I have really convinced you that there is any issue here. If the role of the Church could be established then a discussion on the methodology she employees to fulfill that role makes much more sense.

    We have talked about the Reformed concept of perspicuity before. No, we do not mean that people of similar intelligence ought to come to the same conclusion about a given text. When we last talked about perspicuity I used the example of the Jews who were blind to certain OT Scriptures. But when their eyes were opened, the veil was lifted; they saw matters which Jesus has spoken of clearly. The Jews who rejected Christ were not lacking in intelligence, they were lacking a heart for God. They had erred according to Jesus, not knowing the Scriptures. So likewise when Athanasius spoke from the Scriptures the rejection of the message was not a reflection of clarity (or the lack thereof) of the words, but the fact that the Arian’s hearts were hardened to the truth of God. Athanasius was correct in his contention that the message was plain. The fact that certain people rejected it did not bring into question its perspicuity.

  116. Moreover, without the guarantee of infallibility, how would someone submitting to a bishop know that his or her bishop is right? Especially if bishops are in disagreement with one another.

    But Joshua, this problem does not go away for you now, does it? There is no shortage of priests and bishops in the RCC, just like in Protestantism, who have veered pretty far away from historic Christian teaching on any number of matters. Do you trust them or do you decide that you know what the correct interpretation of the history of the Church is, and then judge that these particular Catholics are in error? Of course they think you are in error, but from your reading and studying you are quite convinced that they are in error. So would you not grant that there would be times that you would disobey a given bishop and encourage others to do the same?

    I appreciate what Mike L has to say in #57 about Catholics who are materially heretical, but I hope you understand that to us Protestants this is just one Catholic saying to another that they disagree with the other’s interpretation of tradition. From our standpoint it’s the same sort of disagreement that you see in Protestantism.

    . . Personally, this is exactly the problem that drove me from Protestantism. To submit to my pastor rather than another pastor simply because he is my pastor is so Catholic,

    So again you would only submit to your pastor if you are convinced that your pastor is teaching something in line with the historic Catholic Church, as you interpret that tradition. You would not submit to a pastor that you deemed to be in material heresy, correct?

  117. Fr. Bryan, and others.

    I only got on here to talk with Josh. I was not tying to talk to all of you at one time. I really don’t have the time to do so.

    Since Fr. Bryan was dyeing to know something. I don’t want to take part in his demise. I will answer him, and all so many others who are … are not knowing how to answer, and are wanting an answer to his question.
    Which is something like: How do I personally know that Luther was right? How do I know that my pastor is right? How do I know that I, myself, am right? Isn’t that the epistemologically lost groping for the light?

    The question says a lot about the people who ask it. If you know the scriptures and the teaching of Christianity, then you should have known the answer to the above questions. But, since most are ignorant of what protestants believe, and are mislead into the dark and have their eyes plucked out, I will just try to state the obvious for those who still have ears to hear.

    What does the song of God’s people say?

    Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105)
    Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (Psalm 119:89)
    I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11)

    What does God, himself, say about his word?
    “Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? … Does not my word burn like fire?” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:29)

    What does Jesus say the scriptures are?
    If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came–and the Scripture cannot be broken– (John 10:35)

    Where does scripture come from?
    But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20)

    What is scripture and what is it sufficient for?
    15and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:15)

    I know the fool would say, “scripture is just a book.” Books can’t do anything. That is partly right, in the very materialistically foolish way of thinking about it. Isn’t the constitution only paper? Isn’t the laws of any land, only paper? Isn’t the DMV rules, just a booklet? Isn’t the spoken words, “I love you.” or “I do.” just sounds produced by the pushing of air. You foolish personal even making such obvious statements. What of it? Does that mean that they are meaningless? That the people will not try to drive according to it; that the government does not live on its very word; isn’t that push of air communicating the commitment for a life time; and the scriptures says Jesus are the words of God, will those who are the people of God going to live, formulate ideas and start thinking in biblical catagories in conformity to the Word of God?

    How does one know which teach is teaching right doctrines? Talk about a teacher, and preacher. Luther himself was but a mice in comparison (Luther would loudly confess that!). Paul himself was teaching. But how do you, Peter, know that Paul was to be trusted?

    That must have been the same question the Bereans asked. To what standard did the Bereans hold Paul’s teaching to?
    “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11)
    God’s word declare them “noble” for testing the teachings of Paul on the anvil of the Word of God. How do we know if this or that teach is teaching the truth? Take it to the word of God.

    The foolish will ask, what about the differing perspectives of interpretations? The Bereans did not have the help of the endarkenment to darken their minds to the reality of the written word on paper. Also, it should be obvious that the Bereans were not so anti-God as to mock God in claiming that God made himself known in holy scripture, but God fails to make himself clear enough to be understood. The Bereans were not postmodern fumblers who would claim that the scriptures are from God, and yet on the other hand claim that words on the page can’t be understood. Only the educated Postmodern writers would make such elite claims in tomes of their own writing. Gladly the Bereans were not so educated, so they were able read and understand the meaning of God’s word, and judge the teachings of Paul by it. Is the Roman Catholic going to claim that the teaching of the Popes are above the teachings of Paul, and can’t be tested by scripture? If not, then you must submit the teachings of the church fathers, the Popes and any other preacher or teacher to the anvil of God’s word. That is right! By the teachings of scripture we are to judge the claims of any preacher, and supposed popes.

    But there are contradictory opinions of what the Bible teach. Well, then they can not both be what the Bible teach, can they? Are you saying that one side is wrong about their interpretation? No kidding!!! So, either I accept contradiction as both truth, or that I would hold that the Bible is clear enough to be understood. Wow! Is that so hard to choose? Don’t you know that to accept contradictory teaching being both true, is to reject rationality? If A = A and A does not = A is both true, then you would be claiming that Jesus is God and Jesus is not God in the same sense and in the same manner. If you claim that contradictory interpretations of the Bible are true, then any and all contradiction are true. You are Fr. Bryan, and it is also true that you are not Fr. Bryan, in the same sense and in the same way. May you are Napoleon after all! So, I am left with an obvious choice, am I not?

    Maybe it was obvious to the Bereans that if the Bible is the word of God, then what this guy, Paul, is saying should be consistent with what God has already spoken. What? Proof texting? Scripture interpreting scripture? Holding people accountable to the word of God if they claim to be speaking for God? I thought those were some kind of doctrine things. Isn’t it an arbitrarily made up paradigm of sorts we can take as we please?

    So, if Luther teach consistent with the teachings of the Bible, such as the small subject of how sinners are justified before God, that we would take Luther’s teaching to scripture and see if that is the teaching of scripture? That seams so simplistic, it takes educated people to miss.

    What about personal doubt? To what are we to appeal to? Let me ask you, when Jesus was tempted to doubt, to what did Jesus appealed to? Jesus answered Satan (and all those who want to undermine the word of God), “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”(Matthew 4:4) Talk about guilt by association! I known it. But, if the shoe fits! … It was Satan who first cause doubt in the mind of Eve as to the truthfulness and clarity of what God had said. How do you know what God said, Eve? “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1) It seams many in our days are trying to do the work of Satan. Guess that would include the Popes, and leaders of the Roman church, for they try to connect themselves to Peter. For Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23) Jesus will be your judge, you who claim to be his follower, but undermined the word of God for the foolish teachings of men.

    But who are you to question our authority? That is right, I am nobody. But I come to you with the Word of God. A nobody who has the word of God. That is all I am. If what I am saying is consistent with the word of God, then God’s word is what you are dealing with, not me. If you care less for the teachings of the Bible, then again, that says where you stand before God and his word. I do not claim some high power so as to make others submit to me. As Josh seams to be wanting. NO Christian teacher is to lord it over other Christians, (Matthew 20:25) as Rome claims such authority for her self. No, Christian teachers present the Word of God, and like the Bereans, the followers of God will search the scriptures to know if the teaching conforms to scripture. That was what the Bereans did to the teachings of Paul no less. I rather you think and reflect over the points made and let the Holy Spirit move you as he choose. When the teachings is consistent with scripture, then it is not the man, but rather the word of God that convicts the believer. It is the truth of God, and not the speaker. As I have wrote, Luther was a tool in the hands of the Savior, who salves perfectly by his death on the cross, never to be recrucified again and again–the blasphemy of the mass. Jesus is a perfect Savior who in fact saved people by his death for them; not to impersonally make merits for people to save them selves. All repentant sinners who believe in Jesus alone to be his/her means of right standing with God are saved. God declare him righteous because of what Jesus had done for him. What an awesome salvation in Jesus, who would be so foolish as to pass up on the Finished work of Jesus for a tattered raged blend of earned merits from jesus, mary, the saints, and self. Salvation is not by works of men, so that no sinner will be able to boast.

    How do I know that I am right? That is such a foolish either/or. Don’t you see the foolishness of that question? Either I am infallible, or I am not. Isn’t it foolish to even ask such a question? I am not infallible. I am not infallible, in choosing the church I am going. I am not infallible in knowing every word the preacher is preaching. I am not infallible in knowing the teachings of my church. But I got news for you. Neither are you infallible! That is right. You are in the same boat with me as far as finitude goes.

    For those of you who would say that you are following an infallible man on some old chair that supposedly makes him a super-man; it does not negate the fact that you are fallible. Your choice in following that supposed infallible man was a fallible choice. You have not become infallible. You have removed yourself from scripture and have added a supposed infallible funnel, but how do you know that you are understanding that funnel rightly? Again, you had not left the same boast of finitude.

    The problem is the either/or. I don’t have to be infallible, but that does not mean that I am entirely ignorant of truth. IF you disagree, then prove to me that it has to be either/or: either my personal infallibility or entirely ignorant of truth. Prove it. Do you have infallible knowledge that it is a matter of either/or? You don’t, because it is false!

    The either/or is a false standard with regards to human knowledge. However, I have the truth of God’s word made known to me in written form. God has made himself known in scripture and in creation–Scripture judging our natural knowledge–God gives internal convictions as well. We humans may have limited but true knowledge as to what God teach. This knowledge grows in searching the scriptures. Those who remove themselves from the teaching of scripture to submit themselves to some supposed infallible teacher will be mislead and become ignorant of what the word of God in fact teach. They are another step away from knowing. Not closer.

    Those who have the word can speak the word and leave it to the Spirit to convict others of its veracity.

  118. Just flipped around and found another false premise that I have already responded to:

    Calvin teach total depravity, which you guys take to mean “bereft of reason”? Where in Calvin’s writing does he claim that total depravity = bereft of reason?

    How many of you Confessing Roman Catholics, but former Protestants are able to point out the foolishness of that confusion? Are there any honesty in your bones to be willing to say that that is not what total depravity means?

    For all those who are confused on this. Total depravity has to do with sin infecting ever aspect of humanity, but that does not mean that humans are not able to reason. That does not mean that depraved sinners are not able to read the bible and know what it says. It also does not mean utter-depravity–as sinful as one can be. How can a seminary grad not know this fact?

    If you know it, then why distort the fact?

  119. Jeremiah,

    I did assume that you knew what I mean by it. Maybe you are not sure what I mean by it because you have a lot of background on all kinds of studies, that does not have a lot to do with what I mean by the Gospel. I was just speaking in Christian speech. IF you think that Rome has the gospel, then either it is just communication or you really don’t know why you are a protestant.

    I was talking about the good news of the work of Jesus to save sinners by his life, death, and resurrection. On the basis of which sinner are declared by God to be saint. Oh, if you only know this gospel. The good news, the only hope, for sinners who come to God with nothing in their hands but sin and the expectation of judgement and condemnation. Looking to Jesus alone, as the only hope for sinner, like myself, if you only know this salvation in Jesus. All guilt of sin is removed, and the burden lifted, the just and holy wrath of God… satisfied by the once and for all time finished work of Jesus.

    Oh, sure the background studies are good, and Greek word studies are nice to do as well, but if you lost the promised found in the scriptures. If you lost the finished work of Jesus to save, and gives sinners peace, lasting peace with God…. then all that study, be it Greek, Hebrew, Latin, church history, the early church fathers… if you lost the fact that salvation is found in no other than Jesus once and for all time, finished work, then you missed everything.

    That is what I meant by the gospel, the good news for sinners in facing the Holy, Holy, Holy God; that God has provided his own Son as atone for sins. All who believe in the Son, are declared saints on the account of His Son.

    The Roman Catholic church, condemned the gospel, because Rome must make room for human works as a means to justification. Oh, that’s right to put itself as the means of dispensing grace for people to earn by works, or paying for it. Like all man made schemes, the first act is free, baptism. It is all works after that to merits or maintaining by meriting grace. What a blasphemous contradiction in terms!

    Maybe you can add to your reading: Ott’s “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma”

    http://vintage.aomin.org/Roman.html

    http://www.christiantruth.com/articles_roman_catholicism.php

  120. Peter (re: #118):

    I never claimed that Calvin meant by total depravity, man’s utter inability to reason. To say that man is ‘bereft of reason,’ as Donald does, does not mean that man is unable to reason absolutely, but simply that he is unable to reason properly due to the corruption of sin.

    Here’s the Synod of Dort, third and fourth heads of doctrine:

    Article 1: “. . . But revolting from God by the instigation of the devil and by his own free will, he forfeited these excellent gifts; and in the place thereof became involved in blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity and perverseness of judgment; became wicked, rebellious, and obstinate in heart and will, and impure in his affections.”

    This is all I need to substantiate my claim regarding Calvinism. And as Mateo pointed out above (#92), the question ultimately boils down to whether there can be any living human authority (albeit sinful) that has the charism of the Spirit, and therefore claim infallibility. I would also direct you to Brent’s comment (#102).

  121. Andrew (#115):

    Addressing me, you write:

    My point here is not to question the relationship you draw between revelation and authority, but to question whether God must work through a Church which acts in the way that you claim, that is, one which is divinely protected from error.

    You’re still confused after all these years. As I’ve often tried to make plain, my order of inquiry is as follows: (1) Establish by strictly philosophical argument that (for us who weren’t there) divine revelation is distinguishable from human opinion only with recourse to an authority which is divinely protected from error when teaching with its full authority. (2) See which visible churches claim such authority. (3) Compare the arguments supporting each respective set of claims to see which is the strongest. (4) Make one’s voluntary act of faith by submitting to the church with the strongest claim. Most churches, including yours, don’t figure in the inquiry because they make no claim to the sort of authority described in Step 1. You guys aren’t even in the game.

    Now if you’ve understood all that, then the quotation I’ve just made from you would indicate that you’re questioning how I carry out Steps 2-4, without questioning the argument I make in and for Step 1. But I have never seen you accept Step 1; when you attend to it at all, you brush it aside as irrelevant. Yet it is supremely relevant as the starting point of the inquiry, entirely apart from history or from the claims of any particular church. For the reasons I’ve long been giving, the Bible cannot function as the sort of authority called for in Step 1.

    Please re-read your last paragraph in #85. It was from here that I took it that you were saying that divine authority to interpret was bound up in those who collected, certified, etc. the Word of God. I did not see you trying to prove your contention, you just stated it. So I was questioning what I saw as an unproven statement which I did not agree with. You say that you are not making such an assumption. OK, if you say so I will believe that, but it was not at all obvious from #85.

    More confusion. Here’s what actually happened in the passage you refer to. You first wrote, and I quoted:

    If God has used His Word to convince millions of people as to a given truth, these people’s God-given knowledge is not “opinion” just because there are some or many others who God has not revealed Himself to….Why should this lack of consensus necessarily cause us alarm if God’s truth is being proclaimed? Your “solution” is to propose an infallible human court to judge the world, right? But when and where did God ask His Church to do this?

    I then replied as follows:

    It utterly astounds me that, after several years, you have yet to appreciate the force of Newman’s elementary point: “No revelation is given, unless there be some authority to decide what it is that is given.” Thus, treating “Scripture” as “the Word of God” is at most a plausible opinion, unless the body of people who wrote, used, collected, and certified those writings as the Word of God had divine authority to do so. That latter question is the one needing to be answered first, which is why I proceed as I do, and precisely why it would be idle at best to seek proof in Scripture by itself that the Catholic Church is that church. On the Catholic account summarized in Dei Verbum §10, Scripture, Tradition, and the teaching authority of the Church stand or fall together; the first two give the third its rationale, and the last is the authentic interpreter of the first two. Accordingly, to make the kind of inferential move your question invites would totally beg the question.

    In that paragraph I did not assert, either baldly or as the conclusion of an argument, that the Catholic Church actually is “the body of people who wrote, used, collected, and certified those writings as the Word of God” and “had divine authority to do so. ” Rather I made two brief arguments. The first was that unless there was and is some such body of people, treating Scripture as divinely inspired is “at most a plausible opinion.” The second was that trying to support the Catholic claim to be that body by appealing to any source independent of the Magisterium would beg the question, since the Catholic claim is that there is no such source. None of of the above says or even assumes that the Catholic doctrine of the Magisterium is actually true.

    I fear that, like many people, you have a lot of difficulty recognizing the difference between assertion on the one hand and making a supposition for argument’s sake on the other. But learning to do so is essential for following philosophical arguments and for critical thinking generally.

    Equally elementary errors of logic are manifest in the following:

    Are you really debating the fact that there is an assumption held by the Roman Catholic hierarchy that she must adjudicate the world’s theological problems? I cannot guess that you would state such a thing. This is important and gets to the heart of the matter. You are defending ecclesiastical infallibility as the only way that the world can know what is truly divine revelation and what it just the opinion of men. But I have tried to suggest that before we can talk about the nature of revelation we have to discuss whether it is even the Church’s job to play this role of adjudicator. You are somewhat frustrated by what you perceive as my unwillingness to seriously grapple with your contention (which once again I understand!), but I’m trying to convince you that there is a question that logically precedes your contention which we have not grappled with. And that is the role of the Church as this role is defined in the ancient in Scriptures and secondarily practiced in the Early Church. But I don’t think I have really convinced you that there is any issue here. If the role of the Church could be established then a discussion on the methodology she employees to fulfill that role makes much more sense.

    As best I can tell, you’re suggesting that the Magisterium of the Catholic Church makes, concerning its own authority, an “assumption” that it should instead be treating as a matter for debate using an appropriate “methodology.” If that’s what you’re suggesting, then you’re just begging the question. Why? Because if the Magisterium did what you suggest, then the falsity of its claims would follow as a matter of course, for the reason I’ve given more than once just in this thread. I deny that the Magisterium is “assuming” something that needs to be established by a scholarly methodology. The Magisterium sees itself as preserving a key aspect of the deposit of faith, namely the one about its own, charismatic authority. If, per impossible, that could be established by any scholarly methodology, it would be a provisional conclusion of reason rather than a point of faith, and precisely as such would prove the Magisterium’s actual self-understanding to be false. I’m sure you’d welcome that result, but I’m equally sure you can understand why you won’t see it.

    The same consideration applies to what you want me to do. You want me, as a Catholic, to treat as genuinely open the question whether the Magisterium’s claims for itself are true. If I did that, I could not and would not be a Catholic, for I’d be withholding the assent of faith from what is perhaps the most distinctive doctrine of Catholicism, namely its doctrine of the Magisterium (CDM). Surely it’s unreasonable to expect me to debate the question whether Catholicism is true only by ceasing to be a Catholic. You can’t expect me to forfeit the game before it even starts. I understand how easy that would make things for you, but you need to understand how unreasonable it would be for you to expect it.

    What I’m doing instead are the only things I can do in this debate. As I Catholic I deny, because I must deny, that the CDM can be proven by any academic methodology, even though it can be adequately supported by such a methodology for those who care about such things. As a philosopher, I insist that the question whether an infallible authority is necessary for identifying divine revelation as such is not only worth debating but must be debated before we consider any concrete candidates for such an authority. In other words, before the Catholic Church even enters the room, I must carry out and you must consider what I presented as “Step 1″ above. That’s what I keep hoping you’ll focus on.

    Having said that, I’m afraid the prospects don’t look good. You write:

    We have talked about the Reformed concept of perspicuity before. No, we do not mean that people of similar intelligence ought to come to the same conclusion about a given text. When we last talked about perspicuity I used the example of the Jews who were blind to certain OT Scriptures. But when their eyes were opened, the veil was lifted; they saw matters which Jesus has spoken of clearly. The Jews who rejected Christ were not lacking in intelligence, they were lacking a heart for God. They had erred according to Jesus, not knowing the Scriptures. So likewise when Athanasius spoke from the Scriptures the rejection of the message was not a reflection of clarity (or the lack thereof) of the words, but the fact that the Arian’s hearts were hardened to the truth of God. Athanasius was correct in his contention that the message was plain. The fact that certain people rejected it did not bring into question its perspicuity.

    Just so we’re on the same page, here’s what I had argued (emphasis added here):

    …if Scripture were perspicuous in the way [your] argument requires, then one could account for major interpretive disagreement only by ascribing illiteracy, ill will, or both to everybody who dissents after rational consideration. If that’s how St. Athanasius explained away the Arians, or if that’s how St. Gregory of Nazianzus explained away the Pneumatomachi–and I’m not convinced they did–then those fathers of the Church were simply wrong. And you know it—for I have more than once seen you deny that heresy can only be accounted for in such an uncharitable manner. If people of similar intelligence and virtue can sincerely disagree about how to interpret Scripture on a matter of central importance, then Scripture is not perspicuous in the way your argument requires–even granted that Scripture somehow contains what Nicene orthodoxy finds in it.

    I notice that, in your reply, you did not address my phrase “ill will” and just mentioned “intelligence.” But you should have addressed it. For if the pertinent meaning of Scripture is plain, and those who don’t get it are just as “intelligent” as those who do, then only ill will on the part of those who don’t get it can explain why they don’t. But instead of acknowledging that directly, you claim that the heretics’ “hearts were hardened” as had been those of the Jews who disagreed with Jesus’ and the Apostles’ hermeneutic of the OT. Well, if it was God who hardened their hearts, then I’d agree that it wasn’t “ill will” on their part which prevented them from seeing what’s plain under their noses. Are you prepared to say that God actively prevents some people from seeing what he’s otherwise made plain for all to see? If so, that’s not the God I worship; you can have a Calvinist idol if you want, but I want no part of it, not least because it raises far more questions than it answers. Or are you claiming that the Jews’ and heretics’ hearts were hardened because they themselves had hardened them? In that case, they were guilty of what I called “ill will.” I can understand your reluctance to just come out and say that; but until you come clean one way or another, you’re left with saying that some people can’t see what’s plain under their noses, without really accounting for such an odd thing.

    Rather than trying to thread that needle, you would do better to admit that Athanasius and friends actually saw an epistemic need for the Council of Nicaea and the later exercises of ecclesiastical authority which eventually, after much struggle, allowed Nicene orthodoxy to prevail. You claim to have no problem with admitting that church authority is necessary for the right interpretation of Scripture; but if Scripture is perspicuous in the way you claim to believe, then the function of such authority is purely disciplinary, not epistemic.

    Best,
    Mike

  122. Peter –

    Posting on a public forum, such as this, opens you up to wider criticism. If you want to speak to Josh personally, perhaps you could find another way of doing so.

    But what I gathered from your lengthy reply was your admittance that you do in fact distinguish heretical and orthodox preachers and teachers according to your own personal interpretation of scripture. And to suggest anyone who doesn’t agree with your interpretation is a fool. That was a long way to go about explaining it, but that is pretty much what what I gathered in the midst of all that clanging.

    As I see it, the problem with your paradigm (or rather, one problem with your paradigm) is what this means if it is true. If your view is true, then God designed his Church to operate under the assumption that everyone is an expert on the Bible. Here is a nice post from a baptist discerning a move to Catholicism, explaining why in Protestantism everyone needs to be an expert. Part two of his story can be found here.

    So… how is an uneducated man in a third world country to know who is teaching orthodox doctrine if he can’t even read? In your paradigm, it seems as though he must first learn how to read in his own language, then he must study greek and hebrew so that he can read the bible in the original language. How else is he going to know if the translation being read at his Church is a good translation or not? Furthermore, if scripture is perspicuous then why would this man need to be instructed at all?

    Is that really the way God meant for it to be? For all of us to be experts in Greek and Hebrew? I don’t think it is. I think God established a Church that would interpret the Bible correctly – one that not even the gates of Hell could prevail against. Satan himself could not corrupt the core of this Church. So, rather than trying to corrupt it’s doctrine, he just decided to make a few counterfeits to see if he could get some people to believe the counterfeit was the real thing.

    Both of these views are messy. There is much confusion in both. The difference between them is that in one of these paradigms, Satan is the author of confusion. In the other, God himself is the author of the confusion.

    Fr. Bryan
    Fool for Christ

    P.S. James White? Really?

  123. my #98 – I have failed :-( I have looked around in my piles of books and … well, junk! … to find my copy of Van Til’s Syllabus – haven’t found it, though I don’t think I have binned it. There are, I think, a variety of places on the web where Van Til engages Gilson and other Catholic thinkers.

    jj

  124. Mike,

    Not to defend Andrew’s point, but reading the Father’s it seems clear that they did in fact ascribe to the heretics the motivation of “ill will”. Again, while I’m not necessarily wanting to argue against the other points you made, it does seem to me that there are largely two camps of people on the earth these two camps are described in John 3

    “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

    There are those who love light and are looking to attribute to GOD their good deeds and those who love darkness. The Father’s (at least in the first three centuries) were pretty clear about calling the heretics of their day lovers of darkness. As a protestant I deeply appreciate you guys being charitable enough to assume that I’m a heretic (at least from your perspective) because of a lack of knowledge, but I don’t think that is true of all of us. But those who really do love Jesus will come around eventually, so keep plugging.

  125. Andrew,

    I think that Mike has put his finger on the very root of this multi-year dialogue that has been going on between yourself and various commentators here at CTC (including myself). He claims (along with I and others), that entirely prescinding from the question of whether or not the claims of the Catholic Magisterium (or any other magisterial claimant) are true; the first step one must take is a philosophical one, not a theological one. Mike nicely described this first step as follows:

    Establish by strictly philosophical argument that (for us who weren’t there) divine revelation is distinguishable from human opinion only with recourse to an authority which is divinely protected from error when teaching with its full authority.

    Now in any number of ways over the last few years, what I have witnessed you do nearly every time someone tries to slow down and engage you in a sustained focus on this foundational epistemic point is either one of two things:

    a.) Utterly ignore or elude the question by jumping directly to some comment about how you and others don’t see sufficient evidence for the Catholic Claims (at least as they now stand) in the early Christian centuries or patristic documentary evidence, or;

    b.) Offer a vague, imprecise, nod to the notion of Scriptural perspicuity as somehow sufficient to eliminate the philosophical need for some divinely protected authority to distinguish between divine revelation and mere human opinion in the here and now.

    I note that move a.) is an evasion pure and simple, because the foundational philosophical question which Mike and others keep putting to you has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not the claims of the Catholic Magisterium, or any other proposed authority, are true – or even historically defensible. Nothing whatsoever. Our argument is simply that there can be no principled distinction between divine revelation and human opinion without the input of some divinely protected authority in the here and now.

    That leaves us with your response b.); namely, that some notion of Scripture’s perspicuity eliminates the need – in the here and now – for the type of divinely protected authority which we Catholics think is necessary to establish the revelation/opinion distinction. And that is exactly what you have done once again in this thread.

    You wrote:

    If God has used His Word to convince millions of people as to a given truth, these people’s God-given knowledge is not “opinion” just because there are some or many others who God has not revealed Himself to….Why should this lack of consensus necessarily cause us alarm if God’s truth is being proclaimed? Your “solution” is to propose an infallible human court to judge the world, right? But when and where did God ask His Church to do this?

    Mike has already explained quite well the many problems with this approach, and in particular, how it forces you to maintain that those who don’t “get” the perspicuous message of Scripture are either:

    a.) Less intelligent (you apparently don’t think this is the problem, and besides, such a notion obviously would seem arrogant) or

    b.) Willfully blinded (“hard hearted”).

    The source of this “hard heartedness” being either:
    1 The “ill-will” of individuals (a claim which would again seem arrogant), or
    2 A preordination of individuals to damnable ignorance by God – along the lines of Calvinist double-predestination.

    I look forward to reading your response to Mike in this regard, as I think you have no choice (given your rejection of a.), but to openly affirm either b1 or b2, or perhaps both.

    Nevertheless, I would like to parse your quote as given above, in order to highlight just how inadequate is the “perspicuity” response to the epistemic question.

    If God has used His Word to convince millions of people as to a given truth. . .

    Problem 1: How did you determine the scope of what writings constitute “God’s Word”? That is, on what authority transcending human opinion? For if you cannot point to some opinion-transcending authority to establish the very scope of some set of writing called “God’s Word”, you can hardly turn around and deploy something called “God’s Word” as a tool which God has uses to enable people to distinguish between divine revelation and human opinion. This is essentially the “cannon problem” as it relates to the foundational epistemic question we Catholics have been putting to you.

    Problem 2: Supposing that somehow (and I have never seen it done), you resolved problem 1 without recourse to some divinely protected authority. How – exactly – does God “use” His Word (some set of writings), to “convince millions of people as to a given truth”? Andrew, the devil is in the details. It seems to me that you must choose one of two broad options:

    a.) God uses some intermediate person or set of persons to authoritatively expound the correct interpretation of Scripture such that the exposition in question rises above mere human speculation (opinion), or;

    b.) God directly informs or illumines the intellect of the text-reader such that he or she is “convinced of a given truth” in such a way that they hold the truth in question to be more than just human opinion or speculation directly and without intermediary interpretive assistance.

    Consider option a.): If you admit that God utilizes some intermediate authority in order to authoritatively interpret His “Word” so as to enable the 21st century Christian to distinguish divine revelation from human opinion, then you are already in agreement with Catholics regarding the first step of Mike’s argument. Namely that IF we are to distinguish divine revelation from human opinion in the here and now, THEN there must necessarily be some present day intermediary authority which can call forth the needed distinction. In which case, your next logical question should be: “what candidates in the world around me even make a claim to having that kind of authority?” And that rules out all of Protestantism almost by self definition!

    Consider option b.) If the way we distinguish divine revelation from human opinion is that God directly illumines people regarding the correct interpretation of scripture, then we need to account for why it that so many self-proclaimed Christians read the same Scriptures and come to entirely different conclusions about the content of divine revelation on important matters such as sola fide, etc. As stated above, your explanatory options seem limited to attributing one of the following to those with whom you disagree about the content of revelation: 1.) lack of intelligence, 2.) “hard heartedness” due to malice on the part of the individual, or 3.) God-induced blindness. As I say, I am interested to see which of these options you embrace in your response to Mike.

    Continuing, you wrote:

    these people’s God-given knowledge is not “opinion” just because there are some or many others who God has not revealed Himself . . .”

    Here I want to highlight the fact that according to this statement, you have now made the admission that it IS important that our religious convictions rise above the level of “opinion”. Whatever flaws exist in your notion of perspicuity (and they are many), the fact remains that you are clearly here deploying perspicuity as a means by which human religious knowledge might rise above the level of opinion. This is important to establish, because in other threads where a similar epistemic challenge has been raised, you often resort to statements like the one which you made earlier in this very thread:

    “It seems to me that either God did ordain the kind of human certitude that you long for or He did not. If He did not then the fact that you feel that there is insufficient epistemological certainty is immaterial. I’ve pointed out in the past that the lack of the kind of certitude that you posit in the Magisterium does not make Christianity unworkable. It just means that you need to accept that God can and does work through a fallible Church.”

    So which is it? On the one hand you claim (without any basis or argument I might add) that God never intended to offer men the level of certitude regarding religious knowledge that we Catholics are seeking (which I would argue is really just the basic human instinct for certitude regarding questions of ultimate importance). Yet, on the other hand, you are motivated to deploy the Reformed notion of perspicuity to explain how Christians (presumably like yourself) might have religious knowledge that is not just mere “opinion”. It is precisely this sort of lack of precision in your position which makes dialogue with you so difficult. You seem not to want to allow that your doctrinal positions are mere “opinions” because that would undermine almost everything you have ever written or taught on religious matters; but you don’t want to allow that God has given men a means to attain doctrinal certitude, because the logical trajectory of that supposition would entail either agnosticism or an exit from Protestantism.

    How will you stake out a middle ground? You really can’t, and that is why you resort to the imprecise doctrine of Scripture’s perspicuity in tandem with the subjective doctrine of direct illumination, so as to create a fog of ambiguity that attempts to hide the rather clear epistemic problem which myself and many other converts have come to see clearly. The doctrine of Scripture’s perspicuity was put forward during the Reformation as a hopeful barrier to doctrinal divisions and disintegration in the absence of a recognized Magisterium. But the doctrine of perspicuity does not work in principle for the reasons I addressed above; and if the intellectual problems were not enough, the last 495 years have added experimental verification to the fact.

    Continuing with the parse, you wrote:

    Why should this lack of consensus necessarily cause us alarm if God’s truth is being proclaimed?

    Obviously, if one has already established how it is that one knows “God’s truth” (and not just human opinion), then consensus would surely not matter. But nothing you have written, especially as it pertains to perspicuity, has provided any solution as to how that all-important distinction can be made. Hence, the perspicuity argument is manifestly circular in this respect. Until you show how the doctrine of Scripture’s perspicuity enables one to be sure that his religious knowledge is really “God’s truth” and not his own opinion, the lack of consensus will continue to entail both an intellectual and pragmatic defeater for the Reformed doctrine of perspicuity.

    Continuing on, you wrote:

    Your “solution” is to propose an infallible human court to judge the world, right?

    It is an IF/THEN philosophical proposal. Here is the crucial point: at this stage in the epistemic argument Catholics are not claiming anything about the Catholic Church! All we are saying is that – on purely philosophical grounds – IF there is going to be a principled distinction between divine revelation on the one hand, and human opinion on the other in the here and now; THEN there must necessarily be some divinely protected authority capable of making the distinction. This is a foundational epistemic argument which is broader than both Protestantism and Catholicism. It is a question about the nature and knowability of revelation per se. That is why you are quite wrong when you write:

    “before we can talk about the nature of revelation we have to discuss whether it is even the Church’s job to play this role of adjudicator.”

    Or when you finish the original quote I have been parsing by writing:

    But when and where did God ask His Church to do this?

    The question of the nature and knowability of revelation is broader and prior to any discussion of “the Church” or “churches” or “prophets” or any other form of religious institution or authority? Mike’s step one IS step one. I really can’t imagine how you think it can be otherwise. By the time you are asking about the “Church’s job . . . of adjudicator”, you have already presupposed, at minimum, Christianity. But the epistemic question of the nature and knowability of any purported revelation is simply prior to and broader than Christianity itself. I leave you again with Newman’s famous line and ask you to consider that his quip stands firm regardless of whether we are talking about Protestantism, Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc.

    “No revelation is given, unless there be some authority to decide what it is that is given.”

    I admire your continuing desire to dialogue here, but I also would very much like to see the fruits of a sustained focus on this core topic, since all other theological questions rests upon it.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  126. Peter #119,

    What you mean by “Christian speech” is interesting. I think it contains a lot of assumptions and presuppositions that you have not thought through very well.

    The evangelical/reformed/protestant subculture in the United States has an assumed meaning for the “gospel” or the “good news” that typically contains what you laid out in your post.

    Unfortunately, the people who walk in those circles very rarely ask two questions. They are as follows:

    1) Is this “gospel” the same gospel that Jesus, Paul, James, Peter, or John preached?
    2) Is this “gospel” the same gospel that was preached by the immediate followers of the original 12 apostles?

    What I was asserting in my last post to you is that the “gospel” you received and so rapturously elucidated on in your last post, IS NOT THE GOSPEL PAUL PREACHED. To understand exactly what the gospel Paul preached is, you have to, at minimum, understand the meaning of the words that he used when he declared what that message is.

    In the opening salvo of Romans, Paul declares that he is a commanding general/admiral for a conquering army. He has been sent to declare the terms of unconditional surrender and the demand for obedience to these terms to “all the gentiles”. He qualifies who the King is, and identifies Jesus specifically as the heir to the Davidic Kingdom that is now to encompass the gentiles. This, in fact, was the expected outcome of the Jewish Zealots of that day. They were expecting that when the Messiah came he would, by military force, not just throw off the Roman yoke, but subject them to Israel. And now Paul is declaring that this is what he is doing, though not through military means.

    The doctrine of “Jesus saved me from my sins” is, at best, a very little part of Paul’s gospel. Paul’s gospel is that Heaven has come to earth and expects earth’s obedience. Jesus prayed “…your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven…”

    Salvation is great, but after you get it, then what? That can’t be all there is!

  127. Mike said: You’re still confused after all these years. As I’ve often tried to make plain, my order of inquiry is as follows: (1) Establish by strictly philosophical argument that (for us who weren’t there) divine revelation is distinguishable from human opinion only with recourse to an authority which is divinely protected from error when teaching with its full authority. (2) See which visible churches claim such authority. (3) Compare the arguments supporting each respective set of claims to see which is the strongest. (4) Make one’s voluntary act of faith by submitting to the church with the strongest claim. Most churches, including yours, don’t figure in the inquiry because they make no claim to the sort of authority described in Step 1. You guys aren’t even in the game. Now if you’ve understood all that, then the quotation I’ve just made from you would indicate that you’re questioning how I carry out Steps 2-4, without questioning the argument I make in and for Step 1.

    Mike – As in the past you are not understanding my intentions and I think this is the reason why my answers appear to you confused and confusing. But I will try again to shed some light here. You think my quote above is an attempt to understand or challenge the flow from 2-4, but it is not. I’m not challenging your system, at least not directly at this point. I’m just trying to establish an alternate ecclesiological paradigm and then compare it with your system. So if I summarize the way I am proceeding into the same format as yours it would be 1) Extract and synthesize an ecclesiological system from Scripture (of course already done by numerous systematic theologians), 2) Compare such a system with the praxis of the Early Church, 3) Challenge other systems from the standard set by #1 and #2, 4) Submit in faith to that system assuming it has stood up to the challenges of other systems.

    Your comment about Protestant churches “not being in the game” is another way of saying what I’ve been trying to tell you all along. We are not trying to be “in the game.” That’s just the issue. We are looking at ecclesiology from an entirely different reference point. So you have established your “game” but you really don’t know what mine is. At least, nothing you have answered me would indicate to me that you understand. Every time I try to get you understand you come back, as you do above, with a reply about YOUR system.

    When we Protestants speak of ecclesiology we continually get responses likeTom’s in #106. The question that Tom asks here is unanswerable in the Protestant (and Early Church) system. But then we are not trying to answer it. Do you understand what I mean given what I write above? If you don’t then we still have not made much progress. I will be interested to hear your reply.

    I think I will stop here for now since if we don’t get on the same page with what I write above, the remained of your reply will not matter.

    OK, I will take up your last question about perspicuity and “ill will” since this just seems to be a clarification issue which I should be able to address quickly. Like the intelligence matter it’s not about ill will. Someone like in my Jewish example could be a person of ill will, which obviously some of the Pharisees were. But they were not all, and we read of Jews at that time who were seriously seeking to be holy but were blinded to God’s full truth. Again, they had a veil over their eyes, as Scripture states. When the veil was lifted they saw clearly. The Word of God was clear on who the Messiah was, and once the veil was lifted they saw it. I find just this kind of testimony with the Messianic Jews today – they were reading an OT passage and by God’s grace the lights just came on. The perspicuity of Scripture speaks to the issue of the central clarity of the essential message of Scripture. As Paul and Peter both say, there are some things that are basic in Scriptures and some things which are not. Those things which are of paramount importance in Scripture are perspicuous, but this hardly means that every person with sufficient intelligence and good motivation will perceive them. You are trying to read something into perspicuity which we are not saying.

    Ray (re: 125),

    I think maybe the comments I have just made to Mike can help to answer what you perceive as me being “vague.” I don’t want to ignore what Mike has said about establishing a philosophical argument as he has. I just want to propose an alternative system that I think makes sense and that does not have the pitfalls this I see in his system. But I want to make sure he understands my system. Right now Mike is taking what I say a direct attack on what he has formulated. My tact has been to say yes, I get what he is saying, I understand it, and I recognize that this is the system which he is defending as being fully in accord with the Teaching Magisterium of the RCC. And I understand what Mike and you are saying about “principled distinction” – this makes sense to me within the RCC understanding of ecclesiastical authority. So I’m not sure about what you mean by your “elusive” statement. What more do you think I need to do to affirm what he is saying? Does my suggestion of an alternative paradigm take away from what I have affirmed previously?

    On perspicuity, I’m not making the case that perspicuity necessarily eliminates the need for this divinely protested human court of authority. The Bible could be entirely clear in its teaching on essential matters but God could still have ordained that Scripture should be mediated through a human court that speaks infallibly on some issues. This is a distinct logical possibility. The other logical possibility is that God speaks through the Scriptures that are clear but without the Church having a charism of infallibility on any matter unless of course someone is just reading Scripture. These two alternatives represent positions from the two competing paradigms I spoke of to Mike.

    Perspicuity is just one characteristic of Scripture (not off course all of Scripture as Peter says). My “clear meaning” comment comes from Athanasius who was telling the Arians that they were not listening to Scripture. Athansius’ central point was not that the Scriptures were clear, although of course they needed to be clear about the points he was making to be useful. His central contention was that the Arians were not listening to the Word of God and rejected what God was telling them through the Scriptures. But the Scriptures were not mediated by any authority identifiable as speaking infallibly. Mike comments was that if Athanasius or any other Father believed that the Scriptures could be mediated without an infallible Magisterium then these Fathers were wrong. This statement makes sense within the paradigm that Mike is operating in.

    Out of time tonight, Ray. I see you are raising the issue of canonicity next. I hoped I would not have to go through this one again. It just seems to take so long….

    Anyway, good night…

  128. Peter said:

    Maybe you can add to your reading: Ott’s “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma”

    If you want to know what Catholics teach, at least refer to a Catholic source. There should be a rule: If you are going to disagree with Catholic teaching, you should be required to read at least the entire subsection of the Catechism at least three times to make sure it isn’t your understanding which is mistaken.

    Ignatius of Loyola seems worth quoting, also:

    If an orthodox construction cannot be put on a proposition, the one who made it should be asked how he understands it. If he is in error, he should be corrected with all kindness. If this does not suffice, all appropriate means should be used to bring him to a correct interpretation, and so to defend the proposition from error.

  129. Andrew,

    You said: “And I understand what Mike and you are saying about “principled distinction” – this makes sense to me within the RCC understanding of ecclesiastical authority.”

    I think this is where we are talking past each other. Having a “principled distinction” is not a precondition or an assumption of RC ecclesiology. Instead, it is a consequence of it. Having a “principled distinction” is a precondition for knowledge when the knower has more than one plausible, reasonable, etc. option to choose from. To make a choice of belief without a “principled distinction” would be to make an irrational ad hoc decision. Mike’s point is only to say that with regards to theology, you have no “principled method” to make a “principled distinction” between the various plausible theological opinons expressed in various denominational doctrinal preambles.

    “Principled distinction” is not a phrase that only makes sense within an RC ecclesiology. It is is a phrase that makes sense within a human-using-reason paradigm.

  130. re 120

    In 105 I wrote, “Calvin tells us, using TULIP, that we are totally depraved. Fallen human reason is not to be trusted.”

    In 120, I read, “I never claimed that Calvin meant by total depravity, man’s utter inability to reason. To say that man is ‘bereft of reason,’ as Donald does, does not mean that man is unable to reason absolutely, but simply that he is unable to reason properly due to the corruption of sin.”

    It appears to me that we are saying exactly the same thing, – fallen human reason is not to be trusted – albeit a bit differently, except that one of us is not defending Calvin, and the other is. One of us believes Calvin’s position is defensible, the other does not.

    So we return to a principle part of my own contention: Jesus said, “Be perfect!” I do not believe we can respond to that command (and it is a command) if our reason cannot be trusted, or if we are unable to reason properly due to the corruption of sin. However I delivered another principle, that Jesus founded His Church with the authority to speak in His Name, forgive sins, confect the new Passover which must be eaten, and govern – making binding decisions that must be made when the implications of questions of theology and therefore truth are presented. Jesus gave His own authority operating in this world through the Church He founded. It can deliver us to truth beyond our ability to reason. That, it seems to me, is consistent with the idea that Judeo/Christianity was founded on revelation, revealed truth.

    I noted that I got here by reading scripture, and taking Jesus as being honest and therefore trustworthy whenever He spoke. It was scripture that brought an evangelical Pentecostal to the Church Jesus founded. I found Him to be both clear and cogent, and I recognized I was called to obedience without necessarily understanding “how” He would do what He promised to do or said He was doing. It did not matter whether He acted directly or through His apostles and their successors, He is responsible for this entire operation. Our salvation does not hinge on the success or failure of individual human beings, it hinges on Jesus. Not Peter. Not Paul. Not Mary. Not Benedict XVI. Jesus. And I am a Catholic.

    I actually recognize limitations on human reason, at least my own, that should not keep me from listening to Him and then responding obediently. I was listening to Him when He said, “Be perfect!” I did not know the “how,” but recognized the command, and tied it to “I will show you my faith through my works, because faith without works is dead.”

    I am now certain that He won’t save me without my cooperation. I am expected to respond and that requires my reason.

    Cordially,

    dt

  131. Josh, you mention ‘Eastern Orthodoxy’ above….so why in your case Rome over Constantinople? Doesn’t that decision come down to the same sort of ‘invidualistic interpretation’ that leads one to chose Presbyterianism over Lutheranism? Thanks.

  132. Andrew,

    Please address Mike’s point one: is revelation distinguishable from human opinion? If so, how?

    Thanks,

    Fred

  133. Jeremiah (#124):

    Not to defend Andrew’s point, but reading the Father’s it seems clear that they did in fact ascribe to the heretics the motivation of “ill will”.

    I don’t doubt that some of the early Fathers of the Church (ECFs) ascribed ill will to some heretics. There is such a thing as ill will, and it probably did motivate some heresy, even as it does now. But I don’t see much evidence that the ECFs in general ascribed all heterodoxy to ill will. Why? Well, a Christian who believes the revealed sources to be so plain that only the stupid and/or ill-willed would get them wrong would eo ipso deny that ecclesial authority is necessary to secure their right interpretation. But most of the ECFs, including Athanasius, clearly did believe ecclesial authority is necessary for that purpose. Ergo, they didn’t think Scripture and Tradition were plain enough in themselves to obviate the need for ecclesial authority to interpret them.

    That said, the ECFs in general did ascribe ill will to those who refused to submit to the Church. All I can say is that in some cases they were probably right and in some cases they were probably wrong. I think they were probably wrong in those cases where it wasn’t clear to the heretics involved just who spoke for “the” Church. After all, disagreement about which communion of churches even is “the” Church is chiefly what separates Catholicism and Orthodoxy even today. In the days before there were any councils generally acclaimed as “ecumenical,” vagueness about exactly who spoke for “the” Church is, or was, even more understandable. So when the ECFs denounce heretics and/or schismatics as children of darkness, etc., I take that to be more a rhetorical device than a sober description.

    As a protestant I deeply appreciate you guys being charitable enough to assume that I’m a heretic (at least from your perspective) because of a lack of knowledge, but I don’t think that is true of all of us.

    Well, I appreciate your willingness to concede that some of your co-religionists are knaves, but that’s just psychological realism, not theological sophistication. ;-) For that reason, I would certainly not ascribe all heterodoxy to ignorance. I just reject the notion that all heterodoxy is attributable to either foolishness or ill will or both. In taking that view, I’m just being a good Catholic; for the Fathers of Vatican II explicitly said that we may no longer “presume” non-Catholic Christians to be at fault for not being Catholic.

    Best,
    Mike

  134. OK Ray, back to your post (re: 125),

    Problem 1: How did you determine the scope of what writings constitute “God’s Word”? That is, on what authority transcending human opinion?

    Without (I hope) getting into the detail that we have before on this issue, let me try to compare the Catholic vs Protestant approaches on this issue. Both approaches look to a historical collecting and sifting process in the first several centuries of the Church. The Catholic position (my interpretation of it) is that an infallible God worked through an infallible Church to produce an infallible canon. The Protestant position is that an infallible God worked through a fallible Church to produce an infallible canon. As I see it, in both cases the final product will be infallible. In other words, there is no need for an infallible Church to produce a canon of books which is infallible. So the charism of ecclesiastical infallibility would be redundant in this case. But of course there must be an appeal to divine authority. This is true in the writing of the individual books as well as their collection into the canon. The only question is where the locus of this infallibility resides and there is obviously more than one logical possibility here. Since the issue of the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonicals often comes up in this context, let me say that I am speaking about the just the Protocanonicals here since the canonical status of the Deuteros remained in doubt until the 16th century in the Protestant case and the 17th century in the Catholic one. As the Catholic Encyclopedia says, there were “few” in the Medieval Church who would have given unqualified approval to the canonical status of the Deuteros and thus Trent needed to weigh in definitively on the matter. But there was no debate on the Protocanonicals after the 4th century, idiosyncrasies like Luther/James aside.

    How – exactly – does God “use” His Word (some set of writings), to “convince millions of people as to a given truth”?

    I read a story recently about a Muslim postal worker who routinely stole mail to supplement his income. One day he stole a Christian Bible and took it home. In his reading of this Bible he became convinced of the truth of the message, committed his life to Christ, and went out to find a Christian community. This story would be an example from your “b” scenario. Accounts like this are legion, God works immediately through His Word and I would hope that you would not doubt that God can and does work in such a way. But I would also add that such accounts are not typical of the way that God works. Generally God works through the preaching/teaching of the Word. This could be, and more often than not, happens in a corporate context, but may happen one on one or in a small group. People hear the Word of God and are convicted in their heart of the truth of the message and turn to Him. This is an example of your “a” scenario. The question is for you then is, given what I write to Mike L above about the Protestants/Early Church understanding of such things, is this preaching/teaching in the context of in a Christian congregation, and God working in the life of the individual, sufficient for the person to come to a true knowledge of those essential elements of the Christian faith? If not then why not? What I’m asking you to do is for the moment suspend what you believe as a Catholic concerning revelation and authority and answer the question within the conceptual framework of a Reformed Protestant.

    If you admit that God utilizes some intermediate authority in order to authoritatively interpret His “Word” so as to enable the 21st century Christian to distinguish divine revelation from human opinion, then you are already in agreement with Catholics regarding the first step of Mike’s argument. Namely that IF we are to distinguish divine revelation from human opinion in the here and now, THEN there must necessarily be some present day intermediary authority which can call forth the needed distinction. In which case, your next logical question should be: “what candidates in the world around me even make a claim to having that kind of authority?” And that rules out all of Protestantism almost by self definition!

    Yes, there is some “intermediate. But when you speak of “candidates” you are starting with RCC presupposition and asking me to answer you. But I cannot answer this. Do you understand why I cannot answer it? And given what you know of Protestant ecclesiology, what do you think is the “intermediate” that I will propose?

    If the way we distinguish divine revelation from human opinion is that God directly illumines people regarding the correct interpretation of scripture, then we need to account for why it that so many self-proclaimed Christians read the same Scriptures and come to entirely different conclusions….

    Absolutely correct. This is why in my Muslim example above, if the new convert stays on his own and does not find a Christian congregation he will be lost. The lone ranger approach is how cults get started.

    Here I want to highlight the fact that according to this statement, you have now made the admission that it IS important that our religious convictions rise above the level of “opinion”

    Yes, of course. As pagans or atheists look at Christianity there is nothing in their minds that separates our opinions about worldly matters from our opinions about religion. As Christians we have to make such distinctions and be able to explain them to others.

    On the one hand you claim (without any basis or argument I might add) that God never intended to offer men the level of certitude regarding religious knowledge that we Catholics are seeking (which I would argue is really just the basic human instinct for certitude regarding questions of ultimate importance).

    By the “kind” of certitude, I’m not suggesting that you and I don’t need certitude (Mike L’s comments on certitude aside). “Kind” refers to the way in which God would have us to arrive at such certainty. That is different for Catholic and Protestant and different for RCC and Early Church I would argue.

    One more thing about perspicuity – Something in the Christian faith has to be perspicuous or the only people who will come into the Kingdom of God will be those with advanced degrees and training in theology and philosophy. For many ordinary Catholics it is the concept of the Church which is perspicuous – they know something of the history of the Christian Church and to them it is clear and straightforward that this is the Church which Christ founded. I would guess that you will not argue with a Catholic layperson who sees the Roman Catholic concept of the Church as something perspicuous. I don’t know of many Catholic laypeople who have to come to their conviction of the truths of the RCC by contemplating philosophical arguments such as those that Mike lays out.

    Obviously, if one has already established how it is that one knows “God’s truth” (and not just human opinion), then consensus would surely not matter. But nothing you have written, especially as it pertains to perspicuity, has provided any solution as to how that all-important distinction can be made.

    OK so let me continue with my convert from Islam example above. This person becomes convinced of the truth of the Triune God as He is described in Scripture. He then becomes part of a local Evangelical congregation and begins to receive all of the blessings that we would associate with such community. He hears again and again the message from God’s Word concerning the truths of God’s Word and his faith and his resolve to serve God are strengthened. Years of the Spirit and the Word strengthen this knowledge. But it would seem from your standpoint that he cannot really be able to make the distinction between revelation and opinion on the Trinity because the congregation he attends cannot reference an infallible human authority, they can only reference an infallible divine (biblical) authority. Is that correct? If that’s true then what of the years of the Spirit and Word convicting him of the truth on this matter? What is this person lacking?

    It is an IF/THEN philosophical proposal. Here is the crucial point: at this stage in the epistemic argument Catholics are not claiming anything about the Catholic Church! All we are saying is that – on purely philosophical grounds – IF there is going to be a principled distinction between divine revelation on the one hand, and human opinion on the other in the here and now; THEN there must necessarily be some divinely protected authority capable of making the distinction.

    Right. So the question between us becomes can this divinely protected authority be the Word and Spirit working through a fallible Church as this Church is defined in the pages of Scripture? And if not then why not? Understand I am only asking you whether it is conceptually possible that God could work this way. If you say “yes,” then we can move forward. If God cannot then why not?

  135. Matt (re: #131):

    The Catholic Church does teach that apostolic succession exists in Eastern Orthodoxy, but that she is in schism. As I stated above, it is ultimately the primacy of the Peter as the head of the apostles that drew me to Rome over the East. In the case of apostolic authority, it is necessary to know whom to follow if schism or division occurs. It seems to me that as a follower of Christ, I must entrust myself to Peter, whom Christ instructed to ‘feed his sheep,’ and to ‘strengthen the brethren.’ To quote St. Ambrose once again, “Where Peter is, there is the Church, there is God.”

    I think the person who joins the Catholic Church or Eastern Orthodoxy is in a substantially different situation than any Protestant. The Catholic or the Orthodox is searching for the true Church who can claim Christ’s authority through apostolic succession; the Protestant is not searching for a church to submit to, but rather a church that submits to his or her own beliefs and convictions about God and religion. In other words, the ‘true’ Church for the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox is not something contingent upon the individual’s convictions, it objectively exists and can be found–whether it is recognized or not; and once it is found, the individual must submit to that authority since it is divine authority. For the Protestant, on the other hand, the quest for the true Church is a quest for a body that agrees most with what one already believe to be true about God and the Bible.

    When I decided to become Catholic, I surrendered my own beliefs and ideas (no matter how interesting they seemed to me) to Christ’s Church. If I discover that a belief that I hold is out of line with the authoritative teaching of the Church, I will submit to the Church’s authority rather than find a body where I would not need to change my own opinions.

  136. Brent said: Mike’s point is only to say that with regards to theology, you have no “principled method” to make a “principled distinction” between the various plausible theological opinons expressed in various denominational doctrinal preambles.

    Brent,

    Mike talked generally about the importance of having a principled way to distinguish one’s own opinions from divine revelation. And I asked him in essence to describe what the object of making these principled distinction was. There are all sorts of reasons why we might want to make principled distinctions. For instance in I John 5 we are told that the words here are written (and here I’m paraphrasing a little) so that we Christians might be able to make distinctions between what is and is not necessary for eternal life. Or we might want to make such principled distinctions so that we can know what should and should not happen in a local congregation. Or we might want to be able, as you suggest, to determine the truth between competing truth claims held my two denominations. Or we might want to make such distinctions so that the bishops of the congregations of Christianity can formulate binding doctrine for all the world.

    So when we talk about making principled distinctions I ask the question as to what end these distinctions are to be used for. This is why I stated earlier to Mike that a discussions of the remit of the Church ought logically to precede a discussion of the methodology by which she carries out her remit. So of course we all have to be able to make principled distinctions, otherwise being a Christian would be meaningless. Where Protestant and Catholic don’t agree at the outset is the goal of making such distinctions. If we can’t agree on the goal how can we have a meaningful discussion about about the means to the goal?

  137. Andrew,

    You said:

    So when we talk about making principled distinctions I ask the question as to what end these distinctions are to be used for

    But you had just written:

    Mike talked generally about the importance of having a principled way to distinguish one’s own opinions from divine revelation.

    Then you stated:

    Where Protestant and Catholic don’t agree at the outset is the goal of making such distinctions.

    Do you disagree that it is important to have a principled method to make a principled distinction between theological opinion and revelation? Is that the Protestant and Catholic disagreement for which you refer? I note that you started in your first paragraph talking about particular cases where you would prefer to have such a method, but we are asking the question in general. Of course, the Catholic doesn’t believe that by having the capability to make the principled distinction, he can just make it willy-nilly. In other words, and as you already know, the Magisterium is not some doctrine coke machine. Nonetheless, we can say, “The Church has not spoken”. Which is still a principled distinction.

    Is the principled distinction, on your view (and as you seem to allude), those Scripture passages that appear or seem perspicuous? Would your “certainty” rest upon the clarity of a particular passage or set of passages of Scripture? If so, do you think that this necessarily circumscribes you to the “text” in such a way that our goals differ (Catholic and Protestant) so significantly so as to make irreconciliable our definitions of a “principled method”?

    I’m asking these questions because your communication strategy in this combox seems excessively obfuscatory, so I’m hoping answers to my questions will help us all understand your position.

  138. Andrew McCallum,

    You write:

    I will take up your last question about perspicuity and “ill will” since this just seems to be a clarification issue which I should be able to address quickly. Like the intelligence matter it’s not about ill will. Someone like in my Jewish example could be a person of ill will, which obviously some of the Pharisees were. But they were not all, and we read of Jews at that time who were seriously seeking to be holy but were blinded to God’s full truth. Again, they had a veil over their eyes, as Scripture states. When the veil was lifted they saw clearly. The Word of God was clear on who the Messiah was, and once the veil was lifted they saw it. …Those things which are of paramount importance in Scripture are perspicuous, but this hardly means that every person with sufficient intelligence and good motivation will perceive them. You are trying to read something into perspicuity which we are not saying.

    So what are you trying to say about “perspicuity”? You make this point to Ray Stamper, in your post 134:

    One more thing about perspicuity – Something in the Christian faith has to be perspicuous or the only people who will come into the Kingdom of God will be those with advanced degrees and training in theology and philosophy.

    How do fallen men believe anything about what is supernaturally revealed without God first giving them grace? The Catholic Church rejects the heresy of semipelaginaism – she rejects the idea that even the beginning of faith is something that can be brought about by human will unaided by grace. From the Catholic perspective, believing in what is supernaturally revealed in scriptures is not fundamentally a question concerning education; it is, rather, fundamentally a question about grace. A fallen man cannot even make a step towards desiring saving faith unless God first gives him actual grace. (Here I am making the Catholic distinction between actual grace and habitual grace). God’s grace explains why the Muslim you gave as an example in your post 134 could read the bible and desire to become a Christian. But giving a man the actual grace necessary so that he can believe that he needs to become a Christian, is not the same thing as giving a man the ability to infallibly interpret the bible.

    As Christians we all need to know what Christian beliefs are orthodox and what beliefs are heterodox, otherwise we don’t really know what we are supposed to believe as Christians. Five-hundred years of the Protestant experiment with the sola scriptura novelty has left the world with thousands upon thousands of bickering and divided Protestant sects that cannot all agree upon a single point of doctrine. How do you explain that? If the problem isn’t due to the ignorance and ill will of the Protestant disputants, then what, exactly, is the problem within Protestantism that leads to doctrinal chaos?

    Back to your point about Jews and the Jewish scriptures. You say that there were intelligent and holy Jews that didn’t understand that Jesus was their Messiah, even though the Jewish scriptures that they possessed testify to that truth. This is true, but we need to back up a step. Before Jesus ever became incarnate as the Messiah, the Jews believed that a Messiah was promised to them. The reason that the Jews believed that the Messiah was coming to them was because they believed that the Jewish scriptures were something more than just the idle speculations of men. The Jews believed that their Messiah would come because they believed their prophets spoke with divine authority. But there were also false prophets that plagued Israel (e.g. Jer 23:21), which means that there was some way to distinguish between a true prophet of God and a false prophet.

    My point here is that Jews awaiting the Messiah didn’t have to be prophets themselves to believe that true prophets existed. The ordinary faithful Jew believed that their prophets spoke revelation that was guaranteed by God to be inerrant when their prophets exercised the charismatic gifts of prophesy and inspiration. Which leads me to my other point: ordinary faithful Jews believed that there existed authorized teachers from God that taught infallibly when they exercised particular charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit.

    To be sure, I am not saying that the ordinary faithful Jews possessed belief in the Messiah without being given grace. I am saying that they had faith in the coming Messiah because they had been given actual grace, the same kind of actual grace that is given to a Muslim postal worker so that he may desire salvation through Christ. Men need grace to believe in the Messiah, but receiving the grace necessary to believe in the Messiah does not mean that one can infallibly interpret the scriptures. Which should be obvious, since the Jews that lived just prior to the Incarnation of the Messiah, believed that the Messiah was coming to them to save them. But they also misunderstood many things about their Messiah because they interpreted their inerrant scriptures wrongly. Even after some Jews came to accept Jesus as their Messiah, some of these Jewish converts still interpreted their inerrant scriptures wrongly. Paul and Barnabas tangled with some of these Jewish converts to Christianity, but even Paul’s superior knowledge of the scriptures was insufficient to settle the dispute that he had with them.

    Andrew, if the scriptures are so “perspicuous” about fundamental beliefs, how do you explain away the Christians that we read about in Acts 15:1, the Christians that opposed Paul and Barnabas over a doctrine concerning salvation?

    Why was the Apostle Paul’s interpretation of the scriptures insufficient to silence these Christians in his dispute with them?

    Why did the brethren in Asia Minor tell Paul and Barnabas “to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question” (Acts 15:2)?

    Why could the apostles and elders in Jerusalem settle this dispute among Christians, when Paul could not do that on his own?

  139. Fr. Bryan,

    Maybe what you have not proved was that by “your own personal interpretation” is that what I say about scripture is ONLY my own interpretation does NOT in fact reflect on the fact of what scripture states.

    So, anytime a Roman Catholic says something about the teaching of the Bible, that is ONLY his/her own personal interpretation as well, having nothing to do with the teaching of the words found in the Bible?

    It is fine for RCC’s to make that claim, because RCC had for a very long time forbid people to read the scripture, and you are now doing the same with postmodern philosophy. But prove to me that words can’t be understood. That the writings of the author can’t be understood from the written word. Prove that, then that will answer your accusation that my interpretation is ONLY my interoperation rather than me pointing out what the Bible in fact teach.

    You mean that you reject that God’s people are to study the Bible to understand what the word of God says? And what is wrong with that in your personal subjective mind?

    There you go with the either/or. Your either/or is false: either everyone os to be a scholar, and know Greek and Hebrew, or they all have to submit to the false teachings of Rome. I would that all God’s people know Greek/Hebrew, but let them just learn the language of their land, as the people of God has translated the Greek/Hebrew into their language. Your fundamental problem is that you are assuming that people can’t great the Bible and understand what it states. That is just false. If you are able to read what I am writing, and respond to it, then you are disproving your own assumption.

    Sure James White, which Roman Catholic has been able to take him on, and win a debate?

  140. Joshua L, (#120)

    You claim that you did not use the words “bereft of reason”, and that is right, but would you be assuming it, when you claim that in the teaching of human depravity sinner are unable to read and understand the basic meaning of the text of the Bible. You state that that simply means that he is unable to reason properly due to the corruption of sin. That claim is not clear, to what degree are you talking about when you say “unable to reason properly”?

    Dort does not teach that humans are not able to read and understand the meaning of written words, does it? IF you think so, where?

  141. Hi Joshua thanks for the article. The following from St Francis De Sales from his work “The Catholic Controversy” which he wrote to rebut Calvinism still seems relevant in light of the comments here .
    If then the Church can err, O Calvin, O Luther, to whom shall I have recourse in my difficulties? To the Scripture, say they. But what shall I, poor man, do, for it is precisely about the Scripture that my difficulty lies. I am not in doubt whether I must believe the Scripture or not, for who knows not that it is the Word of Truth? What keeps me in anxiety is the understanding of this Scripture, is the conclusions to be drawn from it, which are innumerable and diverse and opposite on the same subject, and everybody takes his view, one this, another that, though out of all there is but one which is sound. Ah, who will give me to know the good among so many bad? Who will tell me the real verity through so many specious and masked vanities? Everybody would embark on the ship of the Holy Spirit; there is but one, and only that one shall reach the port, all the rest are on their way to shipwreck. Ah, Ah, what danger am I in of erring! All shout out their claims with equal assurance and thus deceive the greater part, for all boasts that theirs is the ship. Whoever says that our Master has not left us guides in so dangerous and difficult a way, says that he wishes us to perish. Whoever says that he has put us aboard at the mercy of wind and tide, without giving us a skilful pilot able to use properly his compass and chart, says that the Savior is wanting in foresight. Whoever says that this good father has sent us into this school of the Church, knowing that error was taught there, says that he intended to foster our vice and our ignorance. Who has ever heard of an academy in which everybody taught and nobody was a scholar? Such would be the Christian commonwealth if the Church can err. For if the Church herself err, who shall not err? And if each one in it err, or can err, to whom shall I betake myself for instruction? To Calvin? But why to him rather than to Luther, or Brentius, or Pacimontanus?

  142. Do you disagree that it is important to have a principled method to make a principled distinction between theological opinion and revelation? Is that the Protestant and Catholic disagreement for which you refer?

    Brent – Let me draw an analogy. If you asked me to recommend a means of transportation for you I would first ask you where you planning to go and what your goals were for this means. The establishment of a set of goals would logically precede the discussion for the means of getting to those goals. Does that make sense? OK, so now in our discussion the ability to distinguish revelation from opinion allows the Church to do something. It is a means to an end, right? You believe that the RCC possesses the ability to make such distinctions for a purpose. If there was no purpose we would not be talking about it. So all I’m asking is this – What is this end, what is this purpose? Is this not a reasonable question?

    Protestants and Catholics disagree on the goal and the purpose for which principled distinctions are made. And if we don’t agree on this goal it’s not going to make much sense to have a discussion about the means to get there. Does this make sense?

  143. Peter (re: #140):

    You write:

    You claim that you did not use the words “bereft of reason”, and that is right, but would you be assuming it, when you claim that in the teaching of human depravity sinner are unable to read and understand the basic meaning of the text of the Bible. You state that that simply means that he is unable to reason properly due to the corruption of sin. That claim is not clear, to what degree are you talking about when you say “unable to reason properly”?

    Dort does not teach that humans are not able to read and understand the meaning of written words, does it? IF you think so, where?

    When did anyone claim that a person cannot read or understand the meaning of written words? I don’t believe that’s true, neither does anyone else here. Otherwise we wouldn’t be arguing with you.

    If ‘unable to reason properly’ is unclear to you, you should turn your questions to the theologians of Dordtrecht and ask what they mean by “blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity and perverseness of judgment.” Their answer is my answer.

  144. Andrew McCallum, you write:

    Let me draw an analogy. If you asked me to recommend a means of transportation for you I would first ask you where you planning to go and what your goals were for this means. The establishment of a set of goals would logically precede the discussion for the means of getting to those goals.

    It is obvious to me that no one would ever ask you to recommend a mode of transportation without also telling you at the same time where he or she wants to go. But let me stick with your analogy. Suppose I have torn a page out of a phone book that lists all the “Christian Churches” that are within a fifty mile radius of my house. There are several hundred listings on that page – Catholic Churches, Orthodox Churches, and Protestants Churches of various sects. My goal is to go to a church that not only teaches that the bible is the inspired inerrant word of God, I also want to go to a church that interprets the bible correctly.

    Suppose, that I have used the internet to find out which of these “Christian Churches” professes that the bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God. So far, so good. Suppose that each of the churches on my “possible list” also has a website that lists the doctrines that are taught in that church, or gives links to the official teachings of that church. Now I have a pretty good idea about what these various “Christian Churches” consider to be orthodox doctrine, and I also now know that none of the churches of the different sects agree on what constitutes orthodox doctrine.

    Andrew, what directions should I follow to find the church that teaches what is truly orthodox doctrine?

    If all men are, as Luther and Calvin interpret Scripture to say, helplessly corrupt and depraved, how can I trust anyone? Why should I trust what Martin Luther says that the Bible teaches, or what John Calvin says the Bible teaches or any of the Reformed confessions, for that matter? Is it not the height of naiveté, even hypocrisy, to believe that everyone is totally depraved and yet continue to trust that any human interpretation of Scripture is somehow guaranteed by the Holy Spirit?

  145. [...] recently saw concern surrounding this story on some Presbyterian lists. Well, it’s not a trend yet, but if the post here is legit there [...]

  146. Peter –

    First of all, I didn’t mention it in my last reply, but thanks for answering my question and having this discussion with me and others here.

    Maybe what you have not proved was that by “your own personal interpretation” is that what I say about scripture is ONLY my own interpretation does NOT in fact reflect on the fact of what scripture states.

    It isn’t my intention argue that your personal interpretation is wrong. We can talk about whether it is or isn’t in another place. My intention is to show that God didn’t intend for the Bible to be interpreted in doctrinal matters by individual men and women. This does not mean that I, or you, or anyone else shouldn’t read the Bible to make sense of our own individual lives or to help us discern how God wants us to live. All I’m arguing is that God did not intend for orthodox doctrine to be developed by individual Christians and individual interpretation. Doctrine is to develop in the community of faith – in the Church that Jesus established.

    So, anytime a Roman Catholic says something about the teaching of the Bible, that is ONLY his/her own personal interpretation as well, having nothing to do with the teaching of the words found in the Bible?

    Depends on what you mean here. An individual Roman Catholic can certainly error in doctrine, and many do – even Catholics with advanced degrees in theology and scripture make mistakes all the time. But the Church – the entire Community that Jesus established, properly ordered hierarchically – cannot err. The Holy Spirit makes it impossible for her to err. Roman Catholics should submit to their leaders, just as Jesus’ own disciples submitted to Him. Josh said this well above in response to another commenter:

    When I decided to become Catholic, I surrendered my own beliefs and ideas (no matter how interesting they seemed to me) to Christ’s Church. If I discover that a belief that I hold is out of line with the authoritative teaching of the Church, I will submit to the Church’s authority rather than find a body where I would not need to change my own opinions.

    But prove to me that words can’t be understood.

    I have no intention to prove that words can’t be understood. After all, I do believe that the words of the Bible are properly understood and interpreted properly. I think the burden of proof might be on you hear to show that words can’t be misunderstood.

    You said:

    You mean that you reject that God’s people are to study the Bible to understand what the word of God says? And what is wrong with that in your personal subjective mind?

    No. I don’t mean that. I answered this earlier in this comment. If you need me to elaborate, I will be happy to do so. What is “wrong” with orthodox doctrine being determined by personal interpretation of the Bible is that it is not the way God intended orthodox doctrine to be determined. God intended orthodox doctrine to be decided by the Pillar of Truth, which is the Church that he established.

    There you go with the either/or. Your either/or is false: either everyone os to be a scholar, and know Greek and Hebrew, or they all have to submit to the false teachings of Rome. I would that all God’s people know Greek/Hebrew, but let them just learn the language of their land, as the people of God has translated the Greek/Hebrew into their language.

    I think you may have misunderstood me. I do not believe that everyone has to be a scholar in Greek or Hebrew. I was arguing that, if Protestantism is true, then every Christian is ultimately responsible for coming up with Orthodox doctrine on their own which would entail that everyone must seek as much education as they can. I don’t think God did it that way.

    Humor me for a moment. Say that I am an illiterate man from a country that does not have a good education system set up. I work hard to provide for my family, and don’t have time to seek out a basic education. There isn’t a Church in my village, but there the two neighboring towns have communites of Christians, each with different doctrines. Each Church is about 5 miles away. Every Sunday, my family has to walk five miles to Church, and five miles back. Which Church do we go to? How do I, a man who can’t read the Bible, determine which of these Churches is instructing us properly in living the Christian life?

    If protestantism is true. I would first have to learn how to read. Then I would have to acquire a Bible. Luckily, both Churches give out Bibles for free. Unfortunately, both of them are translated slightly differently. How do I figure out which one is translated properly? I’m just going to have to pray that God will let me know which one is more accurate and trust that he leads me to the right one, even though probably every person at both of these Churches prayed this same prayer and were led to different conclusions.

    Thankfully, both of them have footnotes, but in order to prove that they are accurate footnotes, I’m also going to have to buy a book on the history of Christianity and Judaism, which means I’m going to have to sacrifice even more money to get this book AND I’m going to have to travel all the way to the city to acquire it.

    Then I would have to spend hours that I don’t have going over everything each pastor said and checking the scriptures to make sure he is right on. But, uh-oh – it looks like BOTH of these pastors are saying some things that aren’t clear in scripture. One of these pastors is saying that we can baptize infants, but it doesn’t look like there is explicit evidence that the early Christians did this. The other is baptizing in the name of Jesus despite a clear command from Jesus that we should baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

    Looks like I’m going to have to start my own Church.

    I really, really, REALLY, REALLY have a hard time believing that God actually designed it this way. I think it is much more likely that he established ONE Church so that I don’t have to go through all that stuff. I can just go to Church knowing that what my pastor is teaching is the faith that the apostles taught – the faith that has been handed down through the ages.

    Now, unfortunately, things are the way they are and we all find ourselves asking, “which Church is the right Church?” But my point above stands. In the protestant perspective, God is responsible for the confusion. In the “God established one Church” perspective, the devil is responsible for the confusion.

    Your fundamental problem is that you are assuming that people can’t great the Bible and understand what it states. That is just false.

    No. My fundamental problem is that I don’t believe that God intended doctrine to be developed by individual Christians. I believe that God intended orthodox doctrine to develop within the entire Church, properly ordered hierarchically. I don’t believe that God intended poor, illiterate people to be responsible for coming up with orthodox doctrine on there own.

    If you are able to read what I am writing, and respond to it, then you are disproving your own assumption.

    Unless I’ve misunderstood you at some point. Have you ever been misunderstood?

    Sure James White, which Roman Catholic has been able to take him on, and win a debate?

    Pretty much all of them.

  147. Andrew,

    What is common to your most recent comments is that they – again – simply skirt the epistemic nature of the question which we Catholics have been raising with you repeatedly. Instead of substantively engaging the question, you now seem to be attempting an end-run around the question by asking what you apparently take to be a more basic question still, namely: “why does the epistemic question matter in the first place?” Addressing Brent you write:

    The establishment of a set of goals would logically precede the discussion for the means of getting to those goals. Does that make sense? OK, so now in our discussion the ability to distinguish revelation from opinion allows the Church to do something. It is a means to an end, right? You believe that the RCC possesses the ability to make such distinctions for a purpose. If there was no purpose we would not be talking about it. So all I’m asking is this – What is this end, what is this purpose? Is this not a reasonable question?

    That I take it, is the primary upshot of your last response. Yet this is somewhat strange considering that in you previous remarks to Mike, and in your most recent remarks to me, you remain quite concerned to show that the doctrine of Scripture’s perspicuity saves Protestants (at least Reformed Protestants!) from holding theological views on core matters which reduce to mere “opinion”. It appears to me that you are playing two horns at once as a means of evading sustained criticism of Scripture’s perspicuity as a workable solution to the epistemic problem at large. You first blow the “perspicuity” horn, and then – as soon as someone attempts to respond to it in a sustained way – you blow the “but what is the purpose of making the principled distinction after all?” horn.

    Are you really unclear as to what the purpose might be for desiring a principled means of distinguishing divine revelation from human opinion? You know very well that the answer to that question is no mystery, since you have answered it yourself. Consider what you wrote to Brent:

    So when we talk about making principled distinctions I ask the question as to what end these distinctions are to be used for. This is why I stated earlier to Mike that a discussions of the remit of the Church ought logically to precede a discussion of the methodology by which she carries out her remit. So of course we all have to be able to make principled distinctions, otherwise being a Christian would be meaningless

    In the last line of that paragraph you affirm that without principled distinctions, being a Christian would be meaningless. Viola! Yes! – that’s the bottom line, you DO get it! Without some principled means to make the distinction between divine revelation and mere human opinion, being a Christian would be literally meaningless – you could not affirm in a meaningful way (that’s the key – you could affirm it – just not meaningfully) what it means to be a Christian – it would just be your arbitrary definition. So why in the world are you asking – in the first sentence of that same paragraph – “what these distinctions are used for”? Oy Vey! They are used to establish the grounds by which the content of any revelatory claim (in particular Christianity) is first identified and then put on a footing above that of arbitrary human opinion in our own minds, as well as in the minds of our fellow human beings!

    How then can you argue that a discussion of the remit of the Church ought logically to precede a discussion of the methodology by which she carries out her remit? Huh? Discussions of the Church or her remit (whatever that means) presuppose the general meaningfulness of Christianity! Hence, it makes no sense to put such a cart before the horse! Why do you keep going there? We are NOT presently discussing the Church or her remit or the Catholic faith! Not because we can’t, or won’t, or because we are just being stubborn. We are following a basic human logical progression by first asking HOW it might be possible, given any sort of purported divine revelation whatsoever, to make a principled distinction between what is really part of the content of that revelation, and what is merely human opinion passed off as revelation.

    That question presupposes zero pre-commitment to the Catholic or Protestant authority paradigm per se – or any other potential authority paradigm. It begins by arguing merely that unless there be some divinely protected authority in the here and now by which that distinction might in principle be made; affirming any sort of revelatory theism will be meaningless (literally, the expressed content of that revelation will devolve into a perceived ocean of arbitrary and equivalent human opinion). Therefore, the WHY of the distinction-making effort is self evident (as you yourself have affirmed). The initial question simply must be HOW!

    For that reason, the anecdotal story about the Muslim postal worker only holds relevance for this discussion to the degree that it serves to promote the thesis of Scripture’s perspicuity as a potential solution to HOW the crucial distinction between divine revelation and human opinion might be made. What may or may not be the case about the inner workings of God in this man’s life entail ontological facts which simply “are what they are” regardless of human knowers. Hence, offering my opinions as to what the man may or may not be lacking, neither changes the ontological facts (whatever they may be), nor in any way advances discussion of the epistemic issue at hand. Hence, while I am happy to continue a dialogue concerning Scripture’s perspicuity as a proposed solution to the epistemic problem, I simply see no point in moving forward with discussion until we can agree that the epistemic question concerning how one might achieve a principled distinction between divine revelation and human opinion is:

    a.) Fundamentally important as preserving the very meaning of Christianity

    b.) Necessarily prior to any assumptions about the role of any Christian Church or churches; since the use of all such terms and concepts derive their meaningfulness from the meaningfulness of Christianity generally; which generalized meaningfulness is what any proposed solution to the epistemic problem seeks to establish by exploration of the general types of communicative – here and now authorities – which might potentially yield the needed distinction (for instance a book, or person, or a group of persons, etc. – in conjunction with whatever attributes might necessarily have to attach to such authority types in order to render them capable of effecting the needed distinction). In short, agreement that the question must first be approached philosophically, rather than theologically.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray,

  148. Re: Post 145

    I am not sure who posted #145, but I was surprised, to put it mildly, when I followed the links at “Loci Rari” to this from Jason Stellman (whom I believe posted at CTC as JJS):

    http://www.creedcodecult.com/2012/06/heartfelt-farewell-to-pca.html

    This quote by Jason Stellman, I believe, is germane to what is being discussed in the most recent posts to this thread:

    In my own reading of the New Testament, the believer is never instructed to consult Scripture alone in order to adjudicate disputes or determine matters of doctrine (one obvious reason for this is that the early church existed at a time when the 27-book New Testament had either not been begun, completed, or recognized as canonical). The picture the New Testament paints is one in which the ordained leadership of the visible church gathers to bind and loose in Jesus’ Name and with his authority, with the Old Testament Scriptures being called upon as witnesses to the apostles’ and elders’ message (Matt. 18:18-19; Acts 15:6-29), with no indication in Scripture that such ecclesiastical authority was to cease and eventually give way to Sola Scriptura (meaning that the doctrine fails its own test). Moreover, unless the church’s interpretation of Scripture is divinely protected from error at least under certain conditions, then what we call the “orthodox” understanding of doctrines like the Trinity or the hypostatic union is reduced to mere fallible human opinion. I have searched long and hard, but have found no solution within the Sola Scriptura paradigm to this devastating conclusion.

  149. In light of some of the discussion I was listening to James R Whites critique of Joshua’s journey. One comment he made I found interesting. He said that if we claim that we cannot interpret the bible without an external authority we are dishonouring the Holy Spirit and his ability to reveal to us in a way that is clear to understand. In a previous podcast he was criticising the Southern Baptists for the error in their doctrines of salvation. Can we say that the Holy Spirit has revealed his word in such a way that even the ploughboy can understand it? Are we dishonouring the Holy Spirit if we claim we can’t reach consensus on a given doctrine from the Bible? It would seem to me that a lot of contentious doctrines such as the Eucharist as a sacrifice and forgiveness of sins is at least implicit in scripture but that the writings and witness of early Christians lends support to our interpretation. One again Francis De Sales is relevant,
    “…… I am not in doubt whether I must believe the Scripture or not, for who knows not that it is the Word of Truth? What keeps me in anxiety is the understanding of this Scripture, is the conclusions to be drawn from it, which are innumerable and diverse and opposite on the same subject, and everybody takes his view, one this, another that, though out of all there is but one which is sound. Ah, who will give me to know the good among so many bad? Who will tell me the real verity through so many specious and masked vanities?”

  150. Thank you, Joshua. Just FYI in case you don’t know about it, we celebrate the Tridentine Mass at the Mission San Juan Capistrano at 8 am every Sunday in the Chapel. It is said by a Norbertine Priest from Saint Michael’s Abbey. As you may well know, the Junipero Serra Chapel is the oldest building in the State of California still in use and the last place (still standing) Father Serra is known to have said Mass. It is quite a blessing and an honor to celebrate the Mass of the Ages in such a place. (I am in the choir.) God Bless and welcome home.

  151. Joshua,

    This quote from Van Til captures his criticisms:
    It is our conviction that in the Roman doctrine of analogia entis (analogy of being) is concentrated all the heresy that is Romanism, and that in the Reformed conception of analogia fidei (analogy of faith) is concentrated all that is biblical. – The Reformed Pastor & Modern Thought

    What are your thoughts on the analogy of being ?

    “Principled Distinction” exchange team,

    …you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God….Rom. 2:5

    When the day arrives, how will anyone know the difference between this revelatory judgment and mere human judgment ?

    Thanks,
    Eric

  152. Ray (and Mateo),

    …. and in your most recent remarks to me, you remain quite concerned to show that the doctrine of Scripture’s perspicuity….

    So first let me say that I did not raise the issue of perspicuity at all. This question was asked of me so I thought I should answer it. The question was prompted by my Athanasius quote, but as I explained the issue with Athanasius was not about perspicuity, it was about the use of Scripture. I would rather have not gotten diverted and I would rather not get diverted again, so I would appreciate it if we could drop the perspicuity issue now. I think I’ve answered it quite thoroughly once again.

    I take it you read Mike L’s steps 1 – 4 (#121) concerning his order of inquiry and then my order of inquiry 1 – 4 (#127). Any comments on how I proceed vs how Mike proceeds? Is such a comparison a good way to begin to compare respective positions? It sounds like you read my example of the convert to Christianity who is convinced by the Word under the guidance of the Spirit concerning the Christian faith. I asked Mike if such conviction would amount to mere opinion and Mike said of course not, which I was glad to hear him say.

    So you seem surprised by my statements that we ought to have principled distinctions. Well if I was not making principled distinctions in #127 then what do you think I was doing? I think I’ve been reasonably clear as to the purpose here. Anyway, you want to try to separate out the general and philosophical question of how distinctions are made. OK, let’s give it a try. I’m not saying anything I have not already said to you and Mike, but I’ll say it again without anything on the “why” – From the Protestant standpoint we see God working to establish the truth in the heart and minds of people using His Word under guidance of His Spirit. But of course there is a Church here as that Church is defined in Scripture. It is God working through the Scriptures via the Holy Spirit in the context of the Church that provides an understanding of the content of revelation and, to put it in the Mike L verbiage, distinguishes what is to be believed about revelation from mere human opinion. So as per my previous example, we can say that the belief that Jesus is the Messiah is not just mere human opinion and we can demonstrate it powerfully through the means that God has ordained. The conversion of countless thousands of Jews in NT times testifies to this. They heard the Word preached and they believed. God used the preaching of the Word and the communion that flowed out of these conversions to convince the Church of God concerning the truth that Jesus was the Messiah (and other matters of course). This pattern happens over and over again in Scripture – the people hear the Word and they come to believe and know what God’s revelation is. They were able to distinguish between revelation and mere human opinion through the preaching/teaching of the Word as that Word was attended by the Spirit. And this pattern continues into the era following the Apostles. There is no evidence of any officers of the Church trying to define revelation by claiming infallibility for the Church. They preached and preached and God used this just like He did in the Apostolic times. Like the EO scholar Florovsky said, in the early centuries of the Church biblical exegesis was “the main and probably the only theological method , and the authority of the Scriptures reigned sovereign and supreme.” There was lots of struggles to determine what Christians were supposed to believe and how they were to act but nobody at that time looked to some hierarchical Church to make such distinctions. What I have described in this paragraph is the historic Christian pattern and that’s the Reformed pattern. That’s how distinctions are made. Any thoughts?

    You talk about the distinctions between revelation and opinion coming from a source that is infallible, at least under certain conditions. But I hope you are willing to consider that this is not the only logical possibility, particularly if the “why” question is off the table for now.

    So what happens today when two congregations or two ecclesiastical bodies disagree over a given doctrinal matter? Then they go to Scripture and seek to work it out. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. But it is not the purpose of one ecclesiastical body to solve all of the problems of lack on unity on doctrinal matters. I’m SURE that you disagree with this last statement. But that’s because you understand the Church to have a very different function than what the Reformed do. And that issue of the purpose of the Church will dictate how ecclesiastical bodies determine and proclaim revelation. And that’s why I suggested we start with a discussion of what the purpose of the Church is from the Reformed and Catholics perspectives. Anyway, you don’t want to get into the “why,” so I will not push that. If we are not going to talk about the “why” then I think that’s all I have to say for now.

  153. Eric, (re: #151)

    On the analogy of being see The Analogy of Being: Invention of the Antichrist or Wisdom of God?, edited by Thomas Joseph White (Eerdmans, 2010), and Steven Long’s Analogia Entis: On the Analogy of Being, Metaphysics, and the act of Faith (University of Notre Dame Press, 2011).

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  154. Welcome home, Joshua! I’m a member of the Tiber Swim Team of 2011, along with my husband. It’s so hard to communicate all the reasons why we had to come home to the Church because so many of them are simply down to the Holy Spirit’s leading. We can talk and talk about authority and the Magesterium and specific doctrines & dogmas, but it all comes back to following the gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) nudgings of the Spirit.

  155. Bryan:

    Thanks for those titles. They’ve been added to my Amazon wish list.

    Best,
    Mike

  156. Andrew (#127):

    I much appreciate the fact that you’ve acknowledged how our differences arise from fundamentally different paradigms, not just from this-or-that point of theology. And, regarding what’s currently at issue, I think you’ve described the difference reasonably well. But need I remind you that, in my CTC article last year, I already laid out the method by which the neutral inquirer can determine which of the two paradigms is the more reasonable one to adopt? And did I not argue carefully that your paradigm must produce conclusions that are “rationally unassailable” in order to qualify as, itself, rationally preferable?

    The thing is, you’ve already admitted, in effect, that your paradigm does not produce rationally unassailable results. For our audience’s benefit, I repeat that, if Nicene orthodoxy were as perspicuous in Scripture as your paradigm requires, then heterodoxy could only be explained by ignorance, ill will, or both. I have observed some of your Reformed brethren agreeing heartily with that bit of reasoning, thus going on eagerly to attribute culpable blindness to me and to Catholic theologians generally. But you don’t seem willing to go that far. And that’s a problem for you.

    You claimed, and still claim, that Nicene orthodoxy is perspicuous in Scripture. But you don’t draw from that premise the conclusion I do. Thus you write:

    Like the intelligence matter it’s not about ill will. Someone like in my Jewish example could be a person of ill will, which obviously some of the Pharisees were. But they were not all, and we read of Jews at that time who were seriously seeking to be holy but were blinded to God’s full truth. Again, they had a veil over their eyes, as Scripture states. When the veil was lifted they saw clearly…Those things which are of paramount importance in Scripture are perspicuous, but this hardly means that every person with sufficient intelligence and good motivation will perceive them. You are trying to read something into perspicuity which we are not saying.

    Accordingly, even though Nicene orthodoxy is perspicuous in Scripture, some people of intelligence and good will only “get it” when “the veil is lifted” from their eyes. Really?

    Now for one thing, you didn’t answer my question about how the veil got to be there in the first place. In effect, I asked whether it was God or the epistemically blind person who had put it there; instead of answering that question, you just note that at some point the veil is “lifted” for some people. So I’ll answer it for you: If the veil is lifted, but not by the people it had blinded, then it’s the Holy Spirit lifting the veil, presumably at a time of his choosing. Sounds great–except for one problem.

    The problem is that the notion of Scripural perspicuity is no longer doing any work for you. If we need the enlightenment of the Spirit to interpret Scripture aright–and I’d agree that we do, though we’d disagree about the means–then what difference would it make if Scripture were not perspicuous on matters of “paramount importance”? Whether Scripture is perspicuous or not, the enlightenment of the Spirit is necessary and sufficient for interpreting it aright. So the question then becomes: on which of our respective paradigms is it easier for the neutral inquirer to recognize and share in the enlightenment of the Spirit?

    Here’s where my argument last year, in the article linked, returns to the fore. If your paradigm cannot show its conclusions to be rationally unassailable–but instead, the enlightening grace of the Spirit is required for orthodoxy–then it is not rationally preferable to mine. And not only is it not rationally preferable, it’s rationally inferior; for it cannot secure a distinction we both agree is necessary, i.e. the principled distinction between divine revelation and human opinion. Why not? Because the methodology specified in your paradigm cannot, by itself, offer anything more than human opinions as answers to its questions. The Holy Spirit has to come and rescue it by “lifting the veil” from your opponents’ eyes. And on your paradigm, there is of course no agreement on how we’d recognize when that’s occurred.

    Best,
    Mike

  157. Eric (re: #151):

    On this score, Van Til sounds almost identical to Barth, who called the doctrine of the analogia entis the ‘doctrine of the antichrist.’

    I think Barth (and from what you’ve said, Van Til as well) was severely confused about the analogy of being. You can look at the books that Bryan Cross recommends which are quite good. I would also recommend John Betz’s two-part piece in Modern Theology, entitled, “Beyond the Sublime: The Aesthetics of the Analogy of Being.” Balthasar also deals with this in his book on Barth, and I think Balthasar is basically right in his critique, though, at times, he seems to be susceptible to the same criticisms.

    Basically, I think one has to have something like an analogia entis in order to properly speak of God and have a properly Chalcedonian christology. We speak and know of God according to our mode of knowing even with revelation because we know God from his effects, not as he is in himself (this goes against the Van Tillian idea that we all know God innately). This is the whole purpose of the negative theology tradition. Once you confuse philosophy with theology, as I believe Barth and even Van Til did, then it becomes very hard to demarcate what is human and what is divine–this is especially problematic when it comes to predicating things of God. Moreover, Barth’s concern was to ensure that man does not ‘grasp’ God by putting him into philosophical categories; ironically, Barth ended up doing much the same, except with neo-Kantian categories. To pit the analogia fidei against the analogia entis is, in my opinion, severely confused. One needs both because grace does not destroy, but perfects and elevates nature.

  158. Andrew McCallum, you write:

    So what happens today when two congregations or two ecclesiastical bodies disagree over a given doctrinal matter? Then they go to Scripture and seek to work it out. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. But it is not the purpose of one ecclesiastical body to solve all of the problems of lack on unity on doctrinal matters. I’m SURE that you disagree with this last statement. But that’s because you understand the Church to have a very different function than what the Reformed do.

    Hmm …. the Presbyterian Church on one side of the street, and the Southern Baptist Church on the other side of the street both believe that the words found in their bibles are the inspired, inerrant word of God. Their Protestant bibles have the exact same canon of scriptures. Indeed, they both may be using the exact same translation of the bible in their respective churches. But the members of these two churches vehemently disagree on how to interpret the exact same bible, and because of that, these two churches teach contradictory doctrine. That means that at least one of these two churches is teaching heresy, and, that possibly both churches are teaching heresy. Andrew, from what I understand you to be saying, this state of confusion, while unfortunate, is what God intends us to have. You are explicitly saying that God has established on earth no church that has the authority to settle a matters of doctrinal dispute among Christians. Why? Because God Almighty did not intend for one church to have that authority.

    If that is what you are saying, then as a Catholic, of course I reject what you are saying, and I am rejecting it, not because I am a Catholic, but because that is totally unscriptural !

    Your Protestant bible shows that Christ founded his own church; that Christ promised that the powers of death will never prevail against his church; and that Christ promised that He would send the Holy Spirit to guide His church into all truth. Your Protestant bible contains Christ’s explicit instructions on how doctrinal disputes are to be settled among Christians … and not only that, your Protestant bible gives us an example of those instructions being put into practice. Your peculiar Protestant teaching about the authority of Christ’s church (or more precisely, her lack of authority) is a teaching that is nowhere to be found within the pages of your Protestant bible! To quote Jason Stellman once again:

    The picture the New Testament paints is one in which the ordained leadership of the visible church gathers to bind and loose in Jesus’ Name and with his authority, with the Old Testament Scriptures being called upon as witnesses to the apostles’ and elders’ message (Matt. 18:18-19; Acts 15:6-29), with no indication in Scripture that such ecclesiastical authority was to cease and eventually give way to Sola Scriptura (meaning that the doctrine [Sola Scriptura] fails its own test).

    Andrew, you write:

    There was lots of struggles to determine what Christians were supposed to believe and how they were to act but nobody at that time [the immediate post-apostolic era] looked to some hierarchical Church to make such distinctions.

    Nobody? You hold that opinion, an opinion that leaves you asserting ecclesial deism. There is nothing in the scriptures that makes me believe that what you are saying is true. Mr. Stellman rightly observes, there is “no indication in Scripture that such ecclesiastical authority was to cease and eventually give way to Sola Scriptura.”

    I tried to make the same point in post #112:

    Andrew, why are you so focused on the Christians that lived after the apostolic era? Why would the second or third generation Christians that lived after the apostolic era suddenly believe that the authority within Christ’s church to settle doctrinal disputes was in any way different than what the first generation Christians believed?

    The first generation Christians tell us that Christ commanded those who would be his disciples that they should bring their personal doctrinal disputes to the church that Jesus Christ founded for resolution of those disputes. Those that “refuse to listen to even to the church” are to be excommunicated. (Matthew 18:17). That is what the first generation Christians believed, and I see no reason to think that the second and third generation Christians believed anything different. Indeed, the fact that these post-apostolic Christians held Ecumenical Councils to settle doctrinal disputes shows that they believed exactly what the first generation Christians believed. Doctrinal disputes among Christians are to be authoritatively settled in the same way a doctrinal dispute was authoritatively settled at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts chapter 15)..

    Andrew, you write:

    … you understand the Church to have a very different function than what the Reformed do …

    I agree with that! I believe in the scriptures, therefore, I believe that I can’t listen to any old church. I am commanded by Christ to listen to the church – the church that Jesus Christ personally founded; the church founded on the rock of Peter; the church against which the powers of death can never prevail; the church with bishops, presbyters and deacons; the church that has Jesus Christ as its head; the church that is guided by the Holy Spirit into all truth; the church that has Christ’s authority to excommunicate heretics; the church that can teach in the name of Christ; the church that has an uninterrupted, two-thousand year old history.

    Protestants don’t listen to that church, instead, they listen to churches founded by mere men and women. They listen to the church started by Mary Baker Eddy, or Charles Taze Russell, or John Knox, or Garner Ted Armstrong, or Martin Luther, or the Wesley brothers, or the Campbell brothers, or, or, or … there are thousands upon thousands of these Protestant churches founded by men and women, all interpreting the same Protestant Bible, and all coming up with conflicting interpretations of the Protestant bible.

    You say that churches founded by men and women have a different function than the church that I listen to. I don’t disagree with that, because the Protestant churches are only the creations of men, teaching the mere traditions of men. These Protestant churches can do whatever they want to do … and they do! Whatever function they have is determined by the men and women that create them.

  159. Mike,

    And did I not argue carefully that your paradigm must produce conclusions that are “rationally unassailable” in order to qualify as, itself, rationally preferable?

    But I did not argue with you about this. I think you were answering what you saw as an inference from Mathison, or maybe Mathison suggested it directly. I don’t know but I understand where you are coming from here and was not arguing with it.

    The thing is, you’ve already admitted, in effect, that your paradigm does not produce rationally unassailable results. For our audience’s benefit, I repeat that, if Nicene orthodoxy were as perspicuous in Scripture as your paradigm requires, then heterodoxy could only be explained by ignorance, ill will, or both

    So again on perspicuity, the word is used to demarcate those things which are basic in Scripture from those things that are not. I don’t believe I ever thought about the issue of whether someone rejecting a basic doctrine is ignorant or evil or whatever else until I was asked by a Catholic. I really don’t see the point in speculating, it just does not matter. God knows why someone rejects something clear and we don’t need to worry about it IMO. But this is entirely beside the point.

    The problem is that the notion of Scripural perspicuity is no longer doing any work for you.

    It’s not supposed to be doing any work. It is a description of one quality of some of the doctrines of Scripture. Peter and Paul talk about doctrines being “elementary” and “basic” but there are other things which are “hard to understand.” Also, the WCF makes this same distinction between basic and more difficult doctrines. The fact that Jesus is the Messiah is basic to Cristian theology, the significance of the colors of Zechariah’s horses in Zech 1 is not. I remember a Messianic Jew telling me about a three inch book on his shelf from when He was an Orthodox Jew. I t was a commentary on Isaiah 53 that tried to explain away the obvious import of the testimony about the Messiah in Is. 53. The Jews by his account are extraordinarily sophisticated in their ability to explain away the clear and obvious. He talked about how blind he was before he knew Jesus and then all of a sudden one day he was reading from the Scriptures and the lights just came on. As I Corinthians speaks of , the veil over his heart was lifted. There are gazillions of these kinds of stories – What was not clear becomes clear as God opens the eyes. The person in question was not necessarily evil or ignorant in the classic sense of these terms. My Messianic friend was and is one of God’s children and had God’s love on Him even when he did not know God. But even if we can say someone who rejects something clear is evil or ignorant (which obviously some are) this is not the crux of the matter. The point is that there are some things (but not all things) which are clear in Scripture and can be apprehended readily IF the Spirit gives them eyes to see as the Scriptures say.

    And to continue with the Jewish example, most of these folks who have converted to Christianity have come from a background where the model you propose is utilized. There is a ruling council that makes decisions concerning allowable opinions and actions. The distinctions between orthodoxy and heresy in such communities are much more straightforward.

    So Mike does it surprise you that a very intelligent and sincere Jewish man who intellectually knew the Scriptures could be blind to the essential message of the Scriptures and then one day God opened his eyes to the truths of His Word? Would it surprise you if this person told you that he was totally blind until God opened his eyes? Isn’t this a description of many of the Pharisees who came to believe in Jesus?

    what difference would it make if Scripture werenot perspicuous on matters of “paramount importance”?

    If nothing in Scripture was clear then nobody or very few people would comprehend the gospel. We would have some sort of Gnostic like mystery religion that only a few people of great intelligence and insight would respond to.

    I have observed some of your Reformed brethren agreeing heartily with that bit of reasoning, thus going on eagerly to attribute culpable blindness to me and to Catholic theologians generally. But you don’t seem willing to go that far. And that’s a problem for you.

    Reformed folks are always willing to speculate on such things whether or not they are an integral part of the doctrine at hand or not.

    the methodology specified in your paradigm cannot, by itself, offer anything more than human opinions as answers to its questions. The Holy Spirit has to come and rescue it by “lifting the veil” from your opponents’ eyes. And on your paradigm, there is of course no agreement on how we’d recognize when that’s occurred.

    MY opponents? And who are MY opponents?

    And so you would say that the group of people who have found the truth because God’s Spirit worked through His Word are now possessors of JUST opinions? In your previous post you flatly denied that this was the case. And the Spirit does not save the paradigm; the Spirit is an integral element of the paradigm. Without the Spirit nobody comes to knowledge of salvific matters. By itself you are right, the system does nothing.

    I like rationally self-contained systems. I would much prefer adopting a system where the distinctions between what is allowable and what is not are relatively straightforward. I get the JW system and the Orthodox Jewish one and the RCC one, and others where much or even all of the subjectivity is removed. These are all rationally superior since they leave no or little doubt as to what is to be believed concerning revelation. But is that a criterion that God gives us for adopting one system over another? Well it’s just not obvious to me that it is. I think it’s far superior to speak of what is exegetically and then historically preferred first and then we can look at the relative logical and rational consistencies of the respective paradigms. This is seems to me to be more in line with historic Christianity. It may be that you have by far and away the more rationally preferable system for making the distinctions that you speak of, but one that God never intended you to have.

    As I look at the various Catholic doctrines or methods or practices that we Protestants struggle with I see some that apparently have little to no basis in the history of the Early Church and are relative latecomers to the ecclesiastical world. The Assumption springs to mind. Your method as you outline it seems to be another similar sort of thing. We just see no exegetical or historical basis for claiming that this was an accepted way of making distinctions that you describe. However we do see lots of evidence for the Church doing exactly what I outline. And if what I say it true (and I know you do not concede that it is) then I conclude that my system is preferable even if it does not provide the same ready distinctions that your and other such systems produce.

  160. Fr. Bryan,

    Your question assumed that anything I said about the Bible was ONLY my “own personal interpretation” as a posed to the fact that it may in fact be the teaching of the Bible. If what is what you hold then you have to prove it. You did not even try to answer that because you can’t. What your intention maybe, is not the issue you presume in your comment and you can’t respond to.

    You claim:
    My intention is to show that God didn’t intend for the Bible to be interpreted in doctrinal matters by individual men and women. ….All I’m arguing is that God did not intend for orthodox doctrine to be developed by individual Christians and individual interpretation. …. God intended orthodox doctrine to be decided by the Pillar of Truth, which is the Church that he established.

    Is that your “own personal interpretation”??? Is it your “own personal interpretation” that it is the teaching of Rome??? How do you have 100% certainty of that???

    In respond to you. What makes you think that I hold that doctrines are a matter of personal development, and that the individual does not rely on the true Christian church body? The church of Christ is the Pillar of the truth, but a pillar holds something else up. Rome claims to be “the pillar” and what sits on that pillar. The Christian church, exist because of the teachings of the Bible, and the Christian church, puts the Word of God. It is God’s word that is the truth for the lost world.

    You claim:
    the Church – the entire Community that Jesus established, properly ordered hierarchically – cannot err.

    That is where your faith is resting on. Partly I don’t disagree with you that Jesus has established the church (because that is the teaching of the Bible), but you claim that is Romanism, which it is not. Part of your claim is that the Roman “ordered hierarchically” – cannot err. You take that by unprovable faith?

    Josh wrote (as you present here):
    When I decided to become Catholic, I surrendered my own beliefs and ideas (no matter how interesting they seemed to me) to Christ’s Church. If I discover that a belief that I hold is out of line with the authoritative teaching of the Church, I will submit to the Church’s authority rather than find a body where I would not need to change my own opinions.

    Isn’t that exactly what he did when he join Rome? He rejected the Christian Church, the Christian salvation in the finished work of Jesus, the Christian grounds of authority in the word of God, for the traditions of Roman church, with its blasphemous re-crucifying of Christ, meriting of grace, an insult to the grace of God, and the continues erring Rome as authority. In the Christian Church he is to keep learning scripture and have his mind conform to the teachings of scriptures, however the difference is that NOW with Rome he must “surrendered my own beliefs”. What a fallible choice in what to “surrender believes” to!

    You claim:
    I think the burden of proof might be on you hear to show that words can’t be misunderstood.

    Why would I have to do that? Rome is proof that passages, such as Matt 16:18, can be misunderstood. Sinners sin. Rome misinterprets the Bible and calls that dogma. So, why must I prove that people can’t knowingly or unknowingly suppress the fact of what the Bible teach (in Rome’s case to insert dogmas from the middle ages into one verse and make that the grounds of anathema)?

    You wrote:
    I was arguing that, if Protestantism is true, then every Christian is ultimately responsible for coming up with Orthodox doctrine on their own which would entail that everyone must seek as much education as they can. I don’t think God did it that way.

    I know my comments here is a little biting, but some of the idea’s on this site does provoke me to calling out what I see are blasphemy. I read your long story, and I did humor you to some extent, but come on. Look. You are talking about the two church, using two english translations. What difference are they to each other versus the divisions in Rome? Roman Catholics who are for abortion, Roman Catholics worshiping Mary/Saint, Romans Catholics for evolution/against, Roman Catholics trying to make Mary into Coredemptrix, Roman Catholics apologist softening purgatory, and hush-hush on the sale of indulgence, come on the list can go on and on as to the drastic differences in Rome, the petty infighting for power, leaking of documents, university having an abortion advocate speaking…. That is not even to include those Roman Catholics who reject the current Pope, Liberation theology, feminism, gays, and child molesters and those who protect them. All of those claim to be Roman Catholics as well.

    You wrote:
    I really, really, REALLY, REALLY have a hard time believing that God actually designed it this way. I think it is much more likely that he established ONE Church so that I don’t have to go through all that stuff. I can just go to Church knowing that what my pastor is teaching is the faith that the apostles taught – the faith that has been handed down through the ages.

    So, you think that what God designed was a mindless submission to a human organization with less than perfect track record. Rome is anything but that ONE church, as I have already printout out. “Oh, there are things we have to work on,” you may say, but you admit my point then. If not, then Rome is not that ONE church. You don’t know if what your pastor teach is the faith the apostles taught, if you don’t know the word of God. You only take it by blind and uninformed dependence on Rome! I can’t even abuse the word faith in that sentence. Faith is a dependence upon which one has knowledge of. You are talking about a blind dependence, as the Josh quote, the turning off the mind at the door of Rome.

    Maybe you got the story wrong. What Jesus appealed to, and claim to be the Word of God is scripture. It is not a matter of have to, but want to. The People of God want to study the word of God. They want to know what the word of God teach. They want the word, and not the human traditions that bind them down with man made requirements, and false dogmas and condemnations. They want to know what God has made known to his people throughout time. They want to go back to the source. The fountain from which churches, even supposedly Rome, gets her doctrines from. I love the word of God, it is not a “must,” but “may” learn more and more of God’s word.

    Your wrote:
    Now, unfortunately, things are the way they are and we all find ourselves asking, “which Church is the right Church?” But my point above stands. In the protestant perspective, God is responsible for the confusion. In the “God established one Church” perspective, the devil is responsible for the confusion.

    I agree that the devil is responsible for the confusion. Maybe that is why Rome is so confused. People should ask which church is the right church. What is the problem with asking? And there are a lot of churches out there calling itself Roman Catholic. If you are gay, you may want to go to one that is more “accepting”. If you are for abortion, you may become the next speaker at the commencement of a Roman Catholic University. How many pastors of Roman Church will give you difference answers on any number of subjects? “Oh, But…” you may want to say, but that does not mean it does not happen.

    You keep going on about ONE church, but when does the Bible teach that God established only one church, rather than that God instituted the church, and there are many churches, which continue the teachings of the Bible, and those which undermined the teachings of God’s word, or adding dogmas as if it is God’s word.

    You wrote:
    No. My fundamental problem is that I don’t believe that God intended doctrine to be developed by individual Christians. I believe that God intended orthodox doctrine to develop within the entire Church, properly ordered hierarchically. I don’t believe that God intended poor, illiterate people to be responsible for coming up with orthodox doctrine on there own.

    You wrote:
    Pretty much all of them.

    Is that because you keep your finger in your ears the entire time through, or only when James White is speaking?

    And by the way, it is fine and good to be a fool for Christ, but to be a fool for Rome, that is just being foolish.

    Sorry, I don’t have time to continue this. I do have other people to be sarcastic to, and poorly abuse their reading ability abilities with my bad writing errors. Thanks for tolerating them so far.

  161. Dear Joshua,

    Welcome home. What a blessing to have you as part of the Catholic Church.

    Didn’t you win a free copy of my book The Catholic Perspective on Paul from Called to Communion a year ago or so? If so, fantastic!

    Welcome home. I’d love to chat one of these days.

    ad Jesum per Mariam,
    Taylor Marshall

  162. Dear Taylor,

    Thank you!

    Yes, I was one of the seminarians who received your book for free. I read it and recommended it to a few friends who are now in RCIA.

  163. #159 Andrew,

    I would like for you to see my own personal dilemma, perhaps you can help.
    Would you say that “the gospel” should be understood as what is given from the Gospel of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not die, but have everlasting life.”?
    This what was told be when I was a young adult. Since then I have been informed that “the gospel” means justification as put forward by Luther and Calvin. I came to faith by believing the God died for me. God opened my eyes and it was not conditional my having the Reformed doctrine properly understood. So, I know uses different means to give grace to man. Some people, maybe those raised in Christian homes, have never had a conversion experience, but they still come to profess a love for God, but since man by his nature can never raise himself to a supernatural state, which is what regeneration is, the veil must be removed, no one denies this. It would be Pelagian to think otherwise. But now that I have sight, whose doctrine of justifcation do I submit to, The Roman Catholic Church, or Calvinist, or Lutheran? There is biblical room for almost all from the Protestant’s new vision, and the Catholic will not permit any other view. As far as I can be sure I have the Holy Spirit and believe the words of Christ and that the scriptures are inspired, how do I now choose a church?

  164. Peter (re # 160)

    If perhaps I might interject on some of your comments, I think you have mis-characterized Catholicism in light of a Protestant paradigm of viewing the Church. It seems to me that this is sometimes common in Protestantism and in the media outlets that provide a somewhat alien view of what the Church is and is not.

    Perhaps we can go around and around and say that all of our judgments and acts are never going to be 100% infallible, and it is true that sin makes the world more complicated than it ought to be, however this does not necessarily mean that men cannot make good judgments so as to have hope in an infallible God, or if as they have seen it in Scripture in a Providentially protected Church, i.e. the Catholic Church. That is why an act of faith is necessary in Christianity in general, and we must have the humility to always ask God where He is and where we are going.

    The paradigm here that is distinct from Protestantism though is, as argued by many at Called to Communion, that within the Protestant communities one’s faith is internally developed and posited as the main criteria for one’s doctrines and morals and if one comes up against another member of the congregation on the matter of doctrine there is no judge apart from the two’s interpretation of Scripture and theology from whence they can decide where God is trying to lead them. While this may work in some aspects, it has shown to lead to what Catholics see as constant schisms which are heavily scandalous to Catholics and non-Christians for our Lord desired and prayed infallibly that we would be one. One in faith and one in baptism.

    In the Catholic paradigm when two or more Catholics have conflicts they appeal to the Teaching Authority of the Church, the Magisterium, which can either act through a binding declaration such as a Ecumenical Council or Papal Declaration, or simply a clarification from an earlier binding declaration, or even smaller yet an admonishment that though not infallible considers and merits the consideration of the faithful because of the bishops’ wisdom and authority as an authentic authority (similar to the Apostles who were uniquely sent out as teachers and evangelizers by Christ).

    Now of course there is much here to pick apart, but as it stands Protestants do not have a judge to appeal to other than their own consciences and God in private, and as such are not bound indefinitely to any of their churches teachings per se. In like manner a Catholic can defect from holding the doctrinal (dogmatic is a better word, but this word carries to many subtle meanings) teachings of the Catholic Church, but will cease being a Catholic both in their soul and in an external manner (they will be forbidden Communion if all goes to plan). Yes, this faith in God’s Church is an extra degree of faith that must be held and must be regarded with humility but as you kindly pointed out learning from Scripture and from God’s commandments is never per se a repulsive external compulsion (perhaps, ‘a must’ as you say) but rather an internal and loving guidance (perhaps, ‘a may’ as you say).

    As for taking that the Church is the true Church by an un-provable faith, this is in some aspects unsubstantiated as any atheist will claim Christian faith is un-provable. In all humility, reason cannot come to the teachings of the Faith on its own, we need faith, and faith is hope in things unseen as St. Paul writes in Hebrews. There are certainly arguments for the internal consistency and orthodoxy of the Catholic Church when viewed through a certain historical and Biblical lens. There are other pages at this website that may help you to find this more clearly.

    You then wrote, commenting on Mr. Lim’s essay:

    Josh wrote (as you present here):
    When I decided to become Catholic, I surrendered my own beliefs and ideas (no matter how interesting they seemed to me) to Christ’s Church. If I discover that a belief that I hold is out of line with the authoritative teaching of the Church, I will submit to the Church’s authority rather than find a body where I would not need to change my own opinions.

    Isn’t that exactly what he did when he join Rome? He rejected the Christian Church, the Christian salvation in the finished work of Jesus, the Christian grounds of authority in the word of God, for the traditions of Roman church, with its blasphemous re-crucifying of Christ, meriting of grace, an insult to the grace of God, and the continues erring Rome as authority. In the Christian Church he is to keep learning scripture and have his mind conform to the teachings of scriptures, however the difference is that NOW with Rome he must “surrendered my own beliefs”. What a fallible choice in what to “surrender believes” to!

    On one part, yes the first act that Mr. Lim made was to separate from a Protestant community because he saw that the Protestant paradigm of only abiding by the rules of a Protestant church when he saw fit to was problematic in that it caused schism and created a problem for any person to be guided in a community regarding the teachings of the Church. However it is distinct as when one accepts the Catholic Church as the true Church in that one cannot simply treat it as another Protestant denomination, you either abide in total to Christ and His Church founded upon the Lord’s Rock, or you do not abide totally in Christ, and so become among the tares in the harvest that will one day be burned up. It is not a matter of two persons who debate each other and leave paths but of verifiable human witness that is protected by God and can be consulted so as to settle the matter doctrinally and finally for all of the Christian faithful. You may disagree that there exists such a body, but that is not the topic totally entitled within this thread, and it is here mainly to point out that Protestantism does come in inherently with a flaw that Catholicism does not have. If God intended the Church to be fallible, then this one-up that the Church has above Protestantism is in vain, but this is precisely what we Catholics do not hold.

    As for your paragraph regarding Catholicism’s beliefs. It is the Catholic faith that all matter of grace that is given to any human soul (and for the Franciscans, any created soul, either angelic or human) is truly merited by Christ’s sacrificial Passion, and the possibility of new life lead by example and the force of Christ’s Resurrection.

    The Church similarly believes that the Scriptures are the inerrant Word of God. The Traditions of the Roman Church, as you say, are not simply the Traditions of the Roman Church, but the Traditions of the entire Church, for the Church is Catholic, i.e. universal, and the Roman Pontiff solely serves as the primary brother bishop to uphold and support his brother bishops about the entire world. These Traditions are not simply things invented but come out of the practice and worship of the first Christian communities. A reading of the Church Fathers and other historical works will show that much of what Protestants hold as defective with Catholicism have been around for longer than any Protestant community can attest to.

    There is no re-crucifying of Christ’s Passion in any respect, He is bodily in Heaven. We make a distinction that there is a re-presentation or manifestation made present of the offering (one might say re-offering, but this is the problem of human language, it cannot convey an eternal offering being effected again without happening per se again) in the Eucharist. However this can be seen in some of the writings of St. Paul in Hebrews that God does not effect a new Testament without the shedding of blood, yet the Son of God said on the night before He was betrayed that He came to install the new and everlasting Testament in both the offering of His Body and His blood, under what appeared to be bread and wine. You can investigate that if you so choose, but that is for another thread.

    Regarding the meriting of grace, this is an unfortunate term because no orthodox scholastic, medieval, or late-antiquity Christian writer means that the meriting of salvation is a true meriting as if God were endebted to us out of pure justice, though they do intend that God binds Himself to reward our good works when they are done in Him, that is through His grace and our co-operation (which is mysterious because a good work is 100% God’s will and in some smaller respect 100% our co-operation). This is the Augustinian synthesis then that God when He rewards us for the good works that He prepared and willed in us, that God is crowning His own work and showing His glory in us. If you do not believe me you can go to my blog where I’ve spilled some small electronic ink regarding St. Augustine’s theology of grace and justification. Even St. Augustine says that we merit our own salvation, though he says no work of our own can merit grace, and though this may sound like a contradiction it is actually a subtle argument, wherein he retains the age-old Christian tradition that God rewards good men for their good works, with the fact that nobody can tell God what to do and not do.

    You also wrote regarding the submission to the Holy Church. The Church is the Body of Christ and so submission to the Holy Church is submission to Christ. I would gladly surrender all my beliefs to Christ, and so I trust in His Church. I may have erred about the Church being the true Church, but this is a function of faith. We all take risks when we have faith, but not all risks are unreasonable.

    As for your comment:

    I know my comments here is a little biting, but some of the idea’s on this site does provoke me to calling out what I see are blasphemy. I read your long story, and I did humor you to some extent, but come on. Look. You are talking about the two church, using two english translations. What difference are they to each other versus the divisions in Rome? Roman Catholics who are for abortion, Roman Catholics worshiping Mary/Saint, Romans Catholics for evolution/against, Roman Catholics trying to make Mary into Coredemptrix, Roman Catholics apologist softening purgatory, and hush-hush on the sale of indulgence, come on the list can go on and on as to the drastic differences in Rome, the petty infighting for power, leaking of documents, university having an abortion advocate speaking…. That is not even to include those Roman Catholics who reject the current Pope, Liberation theology, feminism, gays, and child molesters and those who protect them. All of those claim to be Roman Catholics as well.

    Perhaps you are not very familiar with the Catholic Church itself and so we won’t rebuke you too harshly but when you really want to critique somebody in a proper and appropriate way it is proper to understand the other side of the argument as best possible. It is a matter of justice to do so.

    The divisions in Protestantism are far sharper, one member of a congregation can disagree with another one, enter into schism, think nothing of it and have no body other than God Himself at the man’s death offer him a definite declaration that he is out of bounds. Sure maybe one body could do this in Protestantism but it isn’t binding in any way that prevents him from going off to start another body or another body and so to lose the necessary sense of community and authority necessary in any Christian Church. The divisions in Catholicism while permitted in some manner or other are not in the same manner in that some divisions are not cause for one to say that the other is formally or materially heretical, and there is certain flexibility in certain areas wherein it is permitted because they are not detrimental to the Gospel message in total. Some things in which Catholics dissent however are actual heresies whether known or not known to the heretical person, and as such that person is no longer in communion with the Church, and is a lapsed Catholic, or a Catholic in mortal sin, or in respects to formal heresy, no longer Catholic. It is not whether a person claims to be Catholic but whether they are recognized as formally Catholic. And so much of your critiques of rogue Catholics is simply the extra dimensionality that sin plays in day to day life style, but is not really an active critique of the Catholic versus the Protestant paradigm.

    So far it may not seem like the two paradigms are all in all that different, or that the Catholic paradigm is better than the Protestant one, but this is where things get very bad: If a Protestant disagrees about the canon of Scripture, or the inerrancy of Scripture, or the divinity of Christ, etc., then there is no body within Protestantism can authoritatively and speak infallibly that certain teachings are verifiably and for all eternity the teachings of Christ. They outright reject this paradigm and so schisms and heresies can go on unchecked.

    You said that you won’t return, but we welcome you back for dialogue any time. Much of your irreverent comments are quite off the mark and show a disability to hear or consider the other side, perhaps out of superstition, fear, or incredulity of our cause, but if you want to hear the truth, you can come back anytime you like. :-)

    God bless.

  165. Pete. (re #160)
    Sorry my blog was http://www.corinquietam.blogspot.com

    God bless.

  166. Actually, the Reformed formularies will not permit just and old view either, and are acting just as magisterial as Rome. Do you submit your autonomy to the Reformed Confessions, Andrew? As long as there are other doctrines out there that are supposed to clarify and sum-up the scriptures( especially if it existed prior the Reformation), I don’t know whose view I should submit to. Need guidance seriously. Please, won’t you tell me which church I should join?

    ~Alicia

  167. Alicia,
    (re #163)

    If I might give a bit of my advice regarding the Gospel. I have a final exam on Friday and a tragic family loss so you should ask others here more than I. The Gospel in my understanding is the good news of Christ, which entails not only that Jesus died for our sins and so an abiding faith and faithfulness in Him will be our salvation, but also all of the in-between references made in these things. The Good News is that God came down from Heaven, became Incarnate, took on a human nature, but remained One Person, human and divine in nature, with two operating wills, a human and divine one, united by grace, born of a Virgin who was made Immaculate as a manifestation of the Lord’s glory and love, incarnate by the operation of the Holy Spirit, raised by His mother and step-father, gave a message to the world regarding love, grace, and the new creation that every person is called to through an indwelling in Him, etc., etc.

    The Gospel is not just one thing that God did for us, but everything that He has done for us, and the proper way in which we must relate to Him. The Good News is not just a set of doctrines but a type of life lived out in the Church whereby we are transformed from being just people into being adopted sons of God, to enjoy His love eternally in Heaven.

    As to choosing a Church, you must pray very fervently, for if anything is the most sacred and valuable thing in this life it is prayer and the yearning for God. God will lead you, but you must ask yourself what God wants for you and where He is leading you. You seek the Church that God founded , and so you must ask yourself what that Church ought to look like. Study the Scriptures with a prayerful mind, but be careful and read slowly (similar to the mentality of Lectio Divina perhaps if you can) and reflectively. Next it may help you to see what the Church looked like at various stages in its growth. Do any of these things look like an authentic witness to the transformed lifestyle that God is supposed to give us in our new life with Him? A look at the lives of the saints in Catholicism I think may help you here.

    I’ve never converted per se from Catholicism though I once had doubts about it, and if anything prayer, devotion, and reading what you can about what Christians should be and where truly holy and humble Christians have left their hearts has been a huge help to me finding what I believe to be Christ’s Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church.

    God bless.

  168. Mr.Reyes,

    Thank you for your thoughtfulness and encouragement. I am very sorry for the loss of your loved one. I pray for you comfort.

    I believe that the RCC is the only true church. I was hoping that Andrew( earlier in this thread) might tell me how he comes to decide which church to choose from:)

  169. Maybe Joshua said that he was not saying that the Catholic Church is Christ, but I am going to put another excerpt from Father Mueller to show that Christ and the Catholic Church is One.

    Of all the parts of the body, the head is
    the principal organ. Hence the beginning of a thing is called the head. As the human nature of Jesus Christ is
    hypostatically united to the Divinity, He possesses the fulness of grace and communicates it to all the members
    of his mystic Body. Hence the Apostle says, “He that raised up Jesus Christ from the dead, shall also vivify your
    mortal bodies on account of the Spirit that dwelleth in you.” (Rom. viii. 1.) The Church is Christ’s mystical Body,
    and his complement or perfection, the head being incomplete without the body; but when the head has all the
    members of the body, so that none is wanting, then it is entirely complete, says St. Chrysostom.
    Although Christ is most perfect himself, yet he considers himself incomplete, and, so to speak, a mutilated head
    to members, without having the Church as body joined to him.
    Hence St. Paul says: “For as the body is one and hath many members, and all the members of the body, though
    they are many, yet are one body: so also is Christ.” (I. Cor. xii. 10.) On these words St. Augustine comments
    thus: “St Paul says not: so also is the body or the members of Christ; but, so also is Christ. He says head and
    body is one Christ. And this should not appear incredible to us; for, if Christ’s divine nature, which infinitely differs
    from and is incomparably more sublime than his human nature, was so united with it as to be only one person,
    how much more credible is it that the faithful and holy Christians are one Christ with the Man Christ! The whole
    Christ is head and body. The head and members are one Christ. The head was in heaven and said: ‘Paul, why
    dost thou persecute me?’ We are with him in heaven by hope, and he is with us on earth by charity.” (Lib. I. de
    Peccat. Merit., c. 31.)

  170. Steven Reyes, you said in #164:

    …it is here mainly to point out that Protestantism does come in inherently with a flaw that Catholicism does not have. If God intended the Church to be fallible, then this one-up that the Church has above Protestantism is in vain, but this is precisely what we Catholics do not hold.

    Can you put some more meat on that for me? I was tracking with you the whole time, but I don’t understand the point of the hypothetical here.

    And… have you written a book? You communicate so charitably and so clearly (save my scrupulous question above) I need to read more!

  171. Andrew McCallum, I am still trying to understand what you mean by “perspicuity”. You write:

    So again on perspicuity, the word is used to demarcate those things which are basic in Scripture from those things that are not.

    Peter and Paul talk about doctrines being “elementary” and “basic” but there are other things which are “hard to understand.”

    The fact that Jesus is the Messiah is basic to Christian theology … I remember a Messianic Jew telling me about a three inch book on his shelf from when He was an Orthodox Jew. It was a commentary on Isaiah 53 that tried to explain away the obvious import of the testimony about the Messiah in Is. 53. The Jews by his account are extraordinarily sophisticated in their ability to explain away the clear and obvious. He talked about how blind he was before he knew Jesus and then all of a sudden one day he was reading from the Scriptures and the lights just came on. As I Corinthians speaks of, the veil over his heart was lifted. There are gazillions of these kinds of stories – What was not clear becomes clear as God opens the eyes.

    You say that “Jesus is the Messiah” is a basic doctrine of Christianity, and then you give us an example of an Orthodox Jew that that needed grace from God to believe this basic doctrine. This is similar to your Muslim postal worker story. A Muslim man begins reading the bible, and then when God gives him grace, he believes that Jesus Christ is the Messiah.

    I get that – that without God’s grace, these adults could not believe in even “basic” Christian doctrine.

    There are gazillions of these kinds of stories – What was not clear becomes clear as God opens the eyes. The person in question was not necessarily evil or ignorant in the classic sense of these terms.

    I don’t doubt that there are gazillions of these kinds of stories. But the point that I am taking away from your stories is a point about Semipelagianism. A man may be both intelligent and without ill will in the “classical sense” of these terms (the Jewish man and the Muslim man in your examples), but unless he is first given grace from God, he can’t believe even a “basic” doctrine of Christianity. As you say, “What was not clear becomes clear as God opens the eyes.” This is exactly what the Catholic Church teaches, and this is why she condemns the heresy of Semipelagianism. No unbeliever past the age of reason could ever have even have the beginning of faith without God first giving the unbeliever grace. To your Jewish and Muslim examples, we could add a gazillion Protestant examples too – men and women that didn’t believe in even “basic” doctrines of Christianity, but then, when given God’s grace, they come to believe that Jesus is Lord. The fact that some of these new believers become members of Protestant sects proves what? There are thousand upon thousands of Protestant sects, and they teach contradictory doctrine. That only shows that the grace that God gives to men and women so that they can have the beginning of faith, is not the same thing as God giving them the grace to infallibly interpret the scriptures.

    Andrew, I have always thought that you rejected the heresy of Semipelagaianism, but please correct me if I am wrong about this, so that I can understand what you mean about the scriptures being perspicuous about “basic” doctrine. Do you believe that any mystery of the faith be believed without grace?

    If nothing in Scripture was clear then nobody or very few people would comprehend the gospel. We would have some sort of Gnostic like mystery religion that only a few people of great intelligence and insight would respond to.

    Without grace, nobody would believe any mystery of the Christian faith, not even the men and women among us that possess the highest levels of intelligence.

    An unbelieving man of average intelligence that possesses reasonable critical reading skills can read a good translation of the bible and comprehend that this is a religious book that contains a story about a man named Jesus. There are millions of religious Hindus living in India that read English quite well. We could give them RSV bibles to read, and then test their critical reading skills. These religious Hindus could easily discern that the RSV bible is a religious book that speaks about the religious mysteries believed by Jews and Christians. But would any of these Hindus believe in these mysteries? With critical reading skills, and if they had access to Western history books, they might comprehend that certain historical facts are contained in the bible; Jesus was a real man; Pontius Pilate was a real man; Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth are real places, etc. Critical reading skills alone allow these Hindus to discern that all sorts of religious mysteries are contained in the RSV bible. And with critical reading skills and some good Western history books, they could discern that the bible does not present itself to be a mythology. But comprehending isn’t the same thing as believing in what you comprehend.

    My point here is that the unbelieving man or average intelligence can comprehend that there are religious mysteries spoken of in the bible. But comprehension is not enough to be a Christian, since no man can believe in the mystery of the Christian faith unless he is first given grace by God. The reason why the Christian religion isn’t like a Gnostic mystery religion is because God gives grace even to the humble and uneducated so that they can believe in the mystery of our religion:

    Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
    1 Tim 3:16

    For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
    1 Cor. 1:26-29

    God’s grace is necessary to even have the beginning of faith, but if I have the beginning of faith, that does not mean that I am going to be able to interpret the bible without error. Even the “basic” doctrines of Christianity are great mysteries that can only be discerned in the Spirit.

    I would much prefer adopting a system where the distinctions between what is allowable and what is not are relatively straightforward. I get the JW system and the Orthodox Jewish one and the RCC one, and others where much or even all of the subjectivity is removed. These are all rationally superior since they leave no or little doubt as to what is to be believed concerning revelation. But is that a criterion that God gives us for adopting one system over another?

    The New Testament gives an explicit answer to your question! Matthew’s Gospel tells that Christ founded his own church, and that if disputes arise among Christians, that they are to follow certain steps laid out by Christ to resolve those disputes (Matthew 18:15-20). Andrew, if you think that I am sinning by preaching heresy, then you need to confront me and try to reason with me. If that doesn’t get you anywhere, then your are to bring two or more other witnesses with you, and try and reason with me again. If that still doesn’t work in getting me to repent of what you and your witnesses believe to be heresy, then you and I are to bring our doctrinal dispute to the church that Jesus Christ personally founded. Christ’s church will settle this dispute over doctrine, and the Christian that “refuses to listen even to the church” is to be excommunicated.

    Christ’s church may rule against me, or Christ’s church may rule in my favor, but the scriptures are perfectly clear about this: the church that Jesus Christ founded has the final say in the manner. So yes, God does intend for us to have a church that can settle doctrinal matters. The inspired, inerrant, scriptures testify explicitly to that truth! So how you can even ask your question utterly baffles me.

    Andrew, how do you explain the verses found in Matthew 18:15-20? Where, exactly, are the scriptures that teach the Protestant doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience? Where are the scriptural verses that say I am free to reject what Christ’s church solemnly teaches as doctrine if what she teaches conflicts with my personal interpretation of the bible?

  172. Peter –

    I hope you don’t mind if I address your points slightly out of order.

    Steven Reyes has done a great job responding to you, so I’m not going to go in depth. I will merely offer a few parting comments.

    Sorry, I don’t have time to continue this. I do have other people to be sarcastic to, and poorly abuse their reading ability abilities with my bad writing errors. Thanks for tolerating them so far.

    No worries. Believe me, I understand what it is to be busy and, truth be told, debates like this on the internet are pretty low on my priorities. Still, I’m happy to have the last word if you have, indeed left the conversation. Don’t worry about the sarcasm. I actually appreciate it more than many, however, I’m not the only one reading your responses.

    And by the way, it is fine and good to be a fool for Christ, but to be a fool for Rome, that is just being foolish.

    Unless “Rome” is the Church that Jesus established. If it is, then being a fool for Christ and a fool for Rome are one in the same.

    Your question assumed that anything I said about the Bible was ONLY my “own personal interpretation” as a posed to the fact that it may in fact be the teaching of the Bible. If what is what you hold then you have to prove it. You did not even try to answer that because you can’t. What your intention maybe, is not the issue you presume in your comment and you can’t respond to.

    No, I didn’t try to argue it because it won’t contribute to our discussion. I also didn’t address it because it is not my, nor anyone’s, opinion that the Bible cannot be interpreted correctly. Your interpretation of the Bible may very well be what the Bible actually teaches… but in order for us to have that discussion of whether it is or isn’t, we would be here for hours going back and forth in a prooftexting match and never make any progress.

    Perhaps if you showed me how it would contribute to the discussion I would do it, but as you admit in your previous post, time is precious and I’m not going to spend my time arguing things that aren’t essential to the discussion. I don’t expect you to do that either.

    Is that your “own personal interpretation”??? Is it your “own personal interpretation” that it is the teaching of Rome??? How do you have 100% certainty of that???

    This argument has been discussed many, many times here at Called to Communion. It is known as the Tu Quoque argument. Bryan Cross does a much better job of explaining it than I could, so if you are interested in truth, I encourage you to go there and read the comments.

    And regarding 100% certainty, I can be honest and say that I do not have 100% epistemological certainty on the matter. Michael Liccione established what I believe is what we all ought to do:

    You’re still confused after all these years. As I’ve often tried to make plain, my order of inquiry is as follows: (1) Establish by strictly philosophical argument that (for us who weren’t there) divine revelation is distinguishable from human opinion only with recourse to an authority which is divinely protected from error when teaching with its full authority. (2) See which visible churches claim such authority. (3) Compare the arguments supporting each respective set of claims to see which is the strongest. (4) Make one’s voluntary act of faith by submitting to the church with the strongest claim.

    Thus, among many reasons, I remain Catholic because I believe that the Catholic Church has the strongest claim to be the Church that Jesus Christ established. You can go ahead and argue that the Lutheran Church is the Church Jesus established, or that the Presbyterian Church is the church that Jesus established, or that Mars Hill Church (mega Church in Seattle, where I'm from) is the Church that Jesus established. There we can have a really good discussion about whose claim to be the Church is the strongest.

    In respond to you. What makes you think that I hold that doctrines are a matter of personal development, and that the individual does not rely on the true Christian church body? The church of Christ is the Pillar of the truth, but a pillar holds something else up. Rome claims to be “the pillar” and what sits on that pillar. The Christian church, exist because of the teachings of the Bible, and the Christian church, puts the Word of God. It is God’s word that is the truth for the lost world.

    Does the Church exist because of the Bible? Or does the Bible exist because of the Church? I think it is clear that the reason we have a Bible is because we have a Church who could decide which books to include in the Bible. For more on this, see Tom Brown’s post on The Canon Question.

    I won’t argue with you that God’s word is truth, but I will argue with you about what God’s word is. I see no evidence in the Bible that it is the Bible Alone.

    “I think the burden of proof might be on you hear to show that words can’t be misunderstood.”

    Why would I have to do that? Rome is proof that passages, such as Matt 16:18, can be misunderstood. Sinners sin. Rome misinterprets the Bible and calls that dogma. So, why must I prove that people can’t knowingly or unknowingly suppress the fact of what the Bible teach (in Rome’s case to insert dogmas from the middle ages into one verse and make that the grounds of anathema)?

    The reason you have to prove it is because you are making the argument that the Bible is easily understood. Citing (an opinion) that somebody else has gotten it wrong does not bolster your argument.

    Isn’t that exactly what he did when he join Rome? He rejected the Christian Church, the Christian salvation in the finished work of Jesus, the Christian grounds of authority in the word of God, for the traditions of Roman church, with its blasphemous re-crucifying of Christ, meriting of grace, an insult to the grace of God, and the continues erring Rome as authority. In the Christian Church he is to keep learning scripture and have his mind conform to the teachings of scriptures, however the difference is that NOW with Rome he must “surrendered my own beliefs”. What a fallible choice in what to “surrender believes” to!

    Peter, please see Steven Reyes’ comments on this point.

    What difference are they to each other versus the divisions in Rome? Roman Catholics who are for abortion, Roman Catholics worshiping Mary/Saint, Romans Catholics for evolution/against, Roman Catholics trying to make Mary into Coredemptrix, Roman Catholics apologist softening purgatory, and hush-hush on the sale of indulgence, come on the list can go on and on as to the drastic differences in Rome, the petty infighting for power, leaking of documents, university having an abortion advocate speaking…. That is not even to include those Roman Catholics who reject the current Pope, Liberation theology, feminism, gays, and child molesters and those who protect them. All of those claim to be Roman Catholics as well.

    I’ve made the point as good as I can, here, Peter. Of course there is confusion in the Catholic Church – it is just of a completely different type of confusion than the confusion in Protestantism. Thats all I’m saying. The difference is is that confusion is built into one of the systems and confusion enters from outside, sinful influences in the other.

    Catholics who are pro-choice (to cite but one example) know full well that they are dissenting from the Church and holding a heretical position. A protestant who is teaching heresy does not know he is teaching heresy, but spreads the falsehoods under the impression that he is teaching orthodoxy.

    Do you really not see the distinction?

    So, you think that what God designed was a mindless submission to a human organization with less than perfect track record. Rome is anything but that ONE church, as I have already printout out. “Oh, there are things we have to work on,” you may say, but you admit my point then. If not, then Rome is not that ONE church. You don’t know if what your pastor teach is the faith the apostles taught, if you don’t know the word of God. You only take it by blind and uninformed dependence on Rome! I can’t even abuse the word faith in that sentence. Faith is a dependence upon which one has knowledge of. You are talking about a blind dependence, as the Josh quote, the turning off the mind at the door of Rome.

    I’m not sure where to begin with this. First, I’m not advocating a mindless submission at all. Second, the Church is not a merely human institution. Third, while you have pointed certain things out you have given me no reason to accept that what you are pointing out is true.

    To drive home the point that Catholics do not turn their mind off, I refer you to any thread on this exact website. Here at CtC, all the Catholic contributors and commenters – Bryan Cross, Tim Troutman, Tom Brown, Michael Liccione, Steven Reyes, Fred Noltie, Josh Lim, and all the others here – ALL of us are united in faith but each and every single one of us has a unique grasp of this truth and a slightly different way of explaining the same thing. Clearly anyone who visits this site could not accuse the Catholics here of “Turning their mind off.”

    Maybe you got the story wrong. What Jesus appealed to, and claim to be the Word of God is scripture. It is not a matter of have to, but want to. The People of God want to study the word of God. They want to know what the word of God teach. They want the word, and not the human traditions that bind them down with man made requirements, and false dogmas and condemnations. They want to know what God has made known to his people throughout time. They want to go back to the source. The fountain from which churches, even supposedly Rome, gets her doctrines from. I love the word of God, it is not a “must,” but “may” learn more and more of God’s word.

    Yes, Jesus appealed to scripture but, because he was God, he also had the authority to interpret the scripture accurately. I agree that the people of God want to know what the Bible teaches. The way they can no that they are actually learning what the Bible teaches is to listen to the person or the institution that has the authority to interpret it properly. If there isn’t a person or institution who can be guaranteed to interpret the Bible accurately, then we can never be sure we know what the word of God teaches.

    I agree that the devil is responsible for the confusion. Maybe that is why Rome is so confused. People should ask which church is the right church. What is the problem with asking? And there are a lot of churches out there calling itself Roman Catholic. If you are gay, you may want to go to one that is more “accepting”. If you are for abortion, you may become the next speaker at the commencement of a Roman Catholic University. How many pastors of Roman Church will give you difference answers on any number of subjects? “Oh, But…” you may want to say, but that does not mean it does not happen.

    I have no problem with people asking the question of which is the Church Jesus established. In fact, I wish ALL Christians would ask this question. I think that Christianity would be much more united if more people asked this question. I think that every Christian should want to be part of the Church Jesus established.

    It is quite true that if you ask two Catholic Priests a question about faith or morals they may give you answers that conflict with each other. But, these two priests (or perhaps two Catholic commenters on this website) can resolve their dispute with an appeal to authoritative teaching, contained in Church documents. If that didn’t work, they can appeal to the Church, who could rule on the subject. Two protestant pastors do not have that luxury. They are ultimately left to their own, darkened intellect.

    You keep going on about ONE church, but when does the Bible teach that God established only one church, rather than that God instituted the church, and there are many churches, which continue the teachings of the Bible, and those which undermined the teachings of God’s word, or adding dogmas as if it is God’s word.

    Well, when Jesus said that he would build a Church – not ChurchES. Furthermore, the early Creeds all profess belief in one, universal Church. “Churches” are only Churches so long as they are attached to the vine – through preaching the universal faith and celebrating valid sacraments.

    Is that because you keep your finger in your ears the entire time through, or only when James White is speaking?

    Yes. When I listen to James White I keep my fingers in my ears because I’m afraid of what he is going to say (I’m allowed one sarcastic comment, right?)

    Thats all I got for a while, Peter. I’m getting to the busy part of my week right now and have an awful lot to do. Thank you for asking questions and giving me an opportunity to share the truth of the Catholic faith with our readers.

  173. Andrew (#159):

    1. You wrote:

    So again on perspicuity, the word is used to demarcate those things which are basic in Scripture from those things that are not. I don’t believe I ever thought about the issue of whether someone rejecting a basic doctrine is ignorant or evil or whatever else until I was asked by a Catholic. I really don’t see the point in speculating, it just does not matter. God knows why someone rejects something clear and we don’t need to worry about it IMO. But this is entirely beside the point.

    No, it is very much to the point–the point you seem to have conveniently left behind.

    The question was how your paradigm could supply a something we had agreed Christians need: a principled distinction between divine revelation and human opinion. Since you reject my paradigm’s way of supplying it, yours needs to supply one itself. And what was it? A Bible that’s perspicuous as well as inerrant; for reasons I and many others here have given, a Bible that’s inerrant without also being perspicuous cannot afford a basis for the needed distinction.

    Now at first you denied that the Bible is altogether perspicuous. You affirmed its perspicuity only on matters of “paramount importance,” such as Nicene orthodoxy. I replied that, if the Bible were perspicuous on just the most important matters, then anti-Nicenes could only fail to “get it” through illiteracy, ill will, or both. That isn’t a matter of speculation; it’s a matter of logic. It tells us what must, disjunctively, be the case for those who don’t understand what’s perspicuous, i.e. what’s perfectly clear in itself. Either they can’t read and thus can’t understand, or they don’t want to see what they do understand. And I didn’t ask you to speculate by ascribing illiteracy or ill will to anybody in particular. All I asked was that you acknowledge such a logical consequence of affirming biblical perspicuity.

    But it’s now clear that you are unwilling to do so. Instead, you keep insisting that people who don’t “get it” just have a veil of mysterious origin over their eyes that the Holy Spirit lifts, or not, as he wills. But if that’s true, it’s true whether or not Scripture is perspicuous in some respects. And so, as I wrote, “[t]he problem is that the notion of Scripural perspicuity is no longer doing any work for you.”

    Rather than deny that, you write:

    It’s not supposed to be doing any work. It is a description of one quality of some of the doctrines of Scripture. Peter and Paul talk about doctrines being “elementary” and “basic” but there are other things which are “hard to understand.”…The point is that there are some things (but not all things) which are clear in Scripture and can be apprehended readily IF the Spirit gives them eyes to see as the Scriptures say.

    So the “perspicuous” doctrines in Scripture are really the “basic” doctrines, and those are easy to understand “IF the Spirit gives them eyes to see.” But with that reply you’ve once again missed my point: anything, regardless of how clear or unclear it may be in itself, becomes clear once the Spirit enables us to apprehend it. What you’re really pointing out is that the Spirit makes the important things in the Bible clear to people when and as he wills. And my point is that, if and when that’s true, it’s true regardless of the text’s inherent degree of intelligibility, or lack thereof. Given your heavy reliance on the Spirit’s enlightening activity, the aforesaid distinctions you’ve been trying to make within the text itself–basic vs. non-basic, clear vs. unclear–are distinctions that make no difference. The Spirit either enlightens a person or he doesn’t.

    Given as much, it is clear once again that your paradigm offers no principled distinction between divine revelation and human opinion. It offers only a deus ex machina for resolving disputes about which doctrines are demonstrable from Scripture, and only scholarly disputation about all other points of contention, such as the interpretive paradigm by which we should handle points of contention.

    2. Thus I had asked: “[W]hat difference would it make if Scripture were not perspicuous on matters of “paramount importance”?” And you replied:

    If nothing in Scripture was clear then nobody or very few people would comprehend the gospel. We would have some sort of Gnostic like mystery religion that only a few people of great intelligence and insight would respond to.

    Although that’s quite true, the way you’re now handling perspicuity moves the main source of clarity from the inspired text itself to the Spirit’s enlighening influence on the reader. Hence it doesn’t matter whether, or to what degree, the text is clear in itself. On your account, all that matters is the Spirit swooping down to enlighten the reader about it. Then, and only then, is the text’s true meaning revealed.

    But that leaves untouched what I had written: that “the methodology specified in your paradigm cannot, by itself, offer anything more than human opinions as answers to its questions. The Holy Spirit has to come and rescue it by “lifting the veil” from your opponents’ eyes. And on your paradigm, there is of course no agreement on how we’d recognize when that’s occurred.” And you replied:

    MY opponents? And who are MY opponents?

    The opponents I referred to are those, such as myself, who disagree and dispute with you about the matters at hand, and any other matter concerning the truth revealed by God. I find it strange that you do not seem to understand such a way of speaking.

    3. You wrote:

    And so you would say that the group of people who have found the truth because God’s Spirit worked through His Word are now possessors of JUST opinions? In your previous post you flatly denied that this was the case. And the Spirit does not save the paradigm; the Spirit is an integral element of the paradigm. Without the Spirit nobody comes to knowledge of salvific matters. By itself you are right, the system does nothing.

    We agree that when God’s Spirit, through whatever means, shows people the revealed truth, what he shows them is no mere opinion, but God’s very truth. What we disagree about is how one’s “formal object of faith” (see my article) plays a role in that process. I argue that “your paradigm cannot, by itself, offer anything more than human opinions as answers to its questions.” Thus, when you or somebody following your paradigm is led by the Spirit to learn the divinely revealed truth rather than mere human opinion, that is in spite of your paradigm, not because of it–because your paradigm offers no principled way of making that distinction. I also implied, without phrasing it this way, that when somebody following the paradigm I advocate is led by the Spirit to learn the revealed truth rather than opinion, that is in part by means of the paradigm, and not in spite of it.

    4. Astonishingly, you write:

    It may be that you have by far and away the more rationally preferable system for making the distinctions that you speak of, but one that God never intended you to have.

    You’re just not seeing what’s at stake here. If the paradigm I follow has “by far the rationally preferable way of making the distinctions” in question, then that is itself a powerful reason for preferring that paradigm. The only way you could show your paradigm to be preferable all the same is to produce unassailable reasons for believing the conclusions you reach by means of it. But you insist that God might have “never intended” for us to have a paradigm that’s rationally preferable in the respects I’ve shown. In other words, God might never have intended that we be able to distinguish in a principled way between divine revelation and human opinion. But any possible argument could you offer for such a suggestion would beg the question, and thus provide no reason for preferring your paradigm to mine. Why would it beg the question? Because, by its own lights, it would give an account of biblical interpretation and early church history that would offer us no way to distinguish what’s divine revelation in its conclusions, and thus what God wants us to believe, from what’s just human opinion, and thus purely optional. It can offer no doctrinal conclusions commanding the assent of faith as distinct from that of opinion. Do you really expect any of us to believe that such is the result God had in mind when he revealed himself to humanity for its salvation?

    Of course you’ll want to answer that we should prefer your paradigm because it facilitates reaching conclusions that are true. But by your own lights, you can’t tell us why your conclusions are more than just provisional proposals that some find persuasive and others do not. You can’t seriously maintain that its conclusions are divine revelation rather than human opinion, and you no longer even pretend to. Thus you have no way, even in principle, of showing why your conclusions should command the assent of divine faith. Your paradigm can’t even distinguish between theology and religious studies! All it does is invite academic inquiries and exercises which needn’t be confessionally compelling. Such is no object for the assent of that “faith” which Jesus is always calling for in the Gospels. It is not to be taken seriously as doctrine or theology.

    5. Finally, you write:

    As I look at the various Catholic doctrines or methods or practices that we Protestants struggle with I see some that apparently have little to no basis in the history of the Early Church and are relative latecomers to the ecclesiastical world. The Assumption springs to mind. Your method as you outline it seems to be another similar sort of thing. We just see no exegetical or historical basis for claiming that this was an accepted way of making distinctions that you describe. However we do see lots of evidence for the Church doing exactly what I outline. And if what I say it true (and I know you do not concede that it is) then I conclude that my system is preferable even if it does not provide the same ready distinctions that your and other such systems produce.

    All that does is apply your paradigm to the data. So what? The fact that you and your cohort “see no exegetical or historical basis” for my paradigm in the data as interpreted by your paradigm is only to be expected. It does not supply reasons to believe that your paradigm is rationally preferable to mine.

    Best,
    Mike

  174. Eve Marie,
    Re: #170,
    Hi Eve, you made me blush! Sometimes I don’t know the things that come out of my mouth very much, which is why I dislike working in apologetics sometimes or commenting at this wonderful website. I have a tendency to write in a flurry and don’t know why I write things sometimes, so I’ll have to track my thought down a bit.

    As for what I was saying to Peter in my reply was, it might be true that God never intended to found a Church that could act infallibly in His authority and carry out the things that the Catholic Church claims to hold, like the capacity to make declarations of the faith infallibly. God could have willed it that way, but from looking at Scripture it honestly does seem as though the Lord intended the Church to stand the test of time as a cohesive group of men and women in an orthodox and holy community. And if He prayed that we would be one, then by golly we will be one. God after all is the one who is the one behind the wheel.

    But the hypothetical was to say that believing in the Church’s infallibility is something we hold by faith, but it isn’t an unreasonable belief, and I believe in fact that it makes the Church even more beautiful if so perilous. As a priest once wrote, every single institution in the world will fail, except the Catholic Church, and this makes her all the more beautiful as Jesus’ Bride.

    I’ve never written any books, I’m not a theologian or anything, in fact I just received a job offer today to make about $10.50 an hour which is the highest amount of money anybody has ever paid me. To be fair though I’m only 20 though ;-). Thank you for your comment on my charity and clarity, I assure you it’s more God’s work than mine, not that I myself am holy, it is only that after He’s rebuked me so many times in my life that I’ve gotten to understanding the bigger picture of where I fit in life.

    I try to write about weekly at my blog, http://www.corinquietam.blogspot.com, but I’m studying science in college and so I can’t always devote a lot of time to the blog. Feel free to shoot me an email at cooldraw01ster@gmail.com if there is anything you would like to know about Catholicism. Though there isn’t that much remarkable to my own self if you consider me next to the wonderfully able and graced young men and women who work so hard at this website. Also I will be very busy this week, so if you do shoot me an email, I may take some time to reply. Also, I’m a bit bad in my memory sometimes so I’m sorry if I miss an email from you or other correspondence.

    May God bless you

  175. Andrew,

    I had decided to forgo further dialogue on this matter because we seem to be at odds over the most foundational aspect of this question – i.e. there would seem to be no deeper level to which we might dig in an effort to find common ground. Nevertheless, I will some final comments concerning something you recently wrote, because it seems to highlight the basic reason why this dialogue is essentially out of gas. After all the back and forth with Mike, myself, and others on what we all take to be a foundationally epistemic issue you write:

    And so you would say that the group of people who have found the truth because God’s Spirit worked through His Word are now possessors of JUST opinions?

    1.) Your appeal to Scripture’s perspicuity is a smoke screen as is evidenced by the fact that when you are pressed about the details of perspicuity, you religiously resort to an appeal to the necessity of the Spirit’s work “through the Word”. The quote I have just provided simply reinforces the point that an appeal to the Spirit’s work constitutes your explanatory end game and is, in fact, doing all the work (as Mike has argued in a rather perspicuous way).

    2.) But for that very reason your question shows a continuing inability to grasp the epistemic nature of the problem.. Here is your question once again:

    And so you would say that the group of people who have found the truth because God’s Spirit worked through His Word are now possessors of JUST opinions?

    IF, IF, IF we ALREADY KNEW that such and such group of people, in arriving at some truth, had, IN FACT, been influenced by God’s Spirit working through His Word; THEN, of course it would immediately follow that whatever truth they had arrived at by such means would necessarily entail more than human opinion. Such a truth would be true in the order of reality or being (ontology), regardless of how many other persons recognized that truth in the order of knowing (epistemology).

    But without a principled epistemic means, we DON”T already know that any such group, or which such group (if any), has been influenced by God’s Spirit working through His Word.It is an epistemic problem, not an ontological problem. Is it possible that some group – say Reformed Protestant Christians – have been influenced by God’s Spirit working through His Word, such that their doctrinal views – as an ontological fact – are not mere human opinion, but rather the very truth of God? Yes, it is possible, but there is no way to KNOW that this claim – this possibility – is true! How can we publicly navigate or differentiate claims to personal or group enlightenment by the Spirit, when there are conflicting doctrinal claims on core matters arising from persons and groups who claim equal Spirit-led guidance in arriving at their distinct doctrinal positions?

    Mike has pointed out the same thing when he wrote:

    But that leaves untouched what I had written: that “the methodology specified in your paradigm cannot, by itself, offer anything more than human opinions as answers to its questions. The Holy Spirit has to come and rescue it by “lifting the veil” from your opponents’ eyes. And on your paradigm, there is of course no agreement on how we’d recognize when that’s occurred.” [bold emphasis mine]

    All you can say is that it is possible that God has and does lead people to come to a knowledge of what He wishes them to know through His Spirit working through His Word. You can even go about claiming that the particular doctrinal positions which Reformed Christians promote (such as Sola Fide) have been arrived at by just such a method. But from an epistemic point of view, the claim that something is possible is little less than useless. All kinds of things are possible. How do we decide between possibilities? How do we know? That is the question. All of your anecdotal stories, and much of your general dialogue is simply geared towards getting someone to acknowledge that the way in which God operates according to your paradigm might be possible. “Couldn’t God do this?” or “IF God worked this way, what would this man be lacking?”, etc, etc, etc. So here you go: YES – God could do anything that is possible – including the actualization of the sort of possibilities you keep putting forward.

    But Andrew, sitting around discussing how things might possibly be is the very stuff of human opinion. What we are interested in – at least what I am interested in – is arriving at some principled means by which we might make a principled choice between mere possibilities. Until you acknowledge and grapple with the epistemic problem inherent in your position, you are – frankly – not achieving anything very interesting. You are raising possibilities – so what? You can certainly – on a personal level – cling to your conviction that you and your co-religionists have, in fact, been led to the doctrinal positions you currently hold by the working of God’s Spirit. But (at the risk of sounding like a broken record) if you would hope to see those claims achieve any level of persuasive power with anyone outside Reformed circles, you will simply have to tackle the epistemic problem. As the scholastics were fond of saying (and I paraphrase): “What is gratuitously asserted, can be gratuitously ignored”.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  176. Wow Pete.

    I read Jesus saying, “Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them,” but me and mine were saying something else.

    I read Jesus saying, “Unless you eat My Body and drink My Blood, you will not have Life within you,” but me and mine were saying something else.

    I read Jesus saying, “Upon this rock I will establish My Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it,” but me and mine were saying something else.

    I read Paul saying, “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling, because it is God’s good purpose both to will and to work in you.” I would note that Paul was writing to believers and therefore assumed faith was present in them. But me and mine were saying something else.

    I read James saying, “I will show you my faith through my works, because faith without works is dead.” I would note that James was writing to believers and therefore assumed faith was present in them. But me and mine were saying something else.

    It became clear to me from reading scripture, that Jesus was directing comments and commands to His apostles, and through them to us. This was not the free-for-all chaos seen in the Yellow Pages under Church. I finally understood that I did not really get to pick and choose what I would and – importantly – would not believe. One is really all in, or one is not.

    In John 6, when Jesus establishes the fact that unless one eats His Body and drinks His Blood one would not have Life within them, a bunch of people complained and then left. He did not rescind what He said, rather He looked at the apostles and asked if they were leaving as well. I don’t believe that the word “transubstantiation” occurred to any of them, but however He planned to do what He had said, they noted that “You have the words of eternal life,” and they continued to follow Him.

    The word perspicacity is used a lot at C2C. I looked it up to be sure, and it says in part “the capacity to draw sound conclusions.” I was graced with the perspicacity to find the Church where what Jesus was saying was believed. The Church where Jesus is seen as being true, including true to the words on the pages of the gospels that the same Church ordered into a canon. (Of keen import, there were other gospels and letters which were held as unworthy of belief, and those were denied entry into that same canon. I believe that the councils, led by the Holy Spirit, which decided and then verified the decision about what is and what is not scripture were showing perspicacity.)

    Who is true? If it is Jesus, if He is telling you the truth, and using scripture as a means to do so, then you do have a decision to make. Is He telling you something you cannot believe, ala the departing disciples in John 6? Is He lying to you? I did not believe He was lying to me, rather I believed that I was trying to manipulate Him into surrendering His leadership to me and those who believed as I did. Bad idea!

    Lastly there is always a cost. Most of the people who post here have arrived at the crossroads where one must make a choice about which direction to take. Even staying put is a choice. Only one choice is eternally good, and that choice must be worked out in fear and trembling because God is willing and working within one, in order for that person to be perfect.

    Cordially,

    dt

  177. Mike/Ray/Mateo/Alicia,

    Much as I would like to respond to all of you, I’m afraid I have a number of things to deal with in the coming days and I’m just not going to be able to respond properly anytime soon. I will be sure to read through your posts again and have a think about them for the next time….

    Thanks very much for the interaction.

    Cheers for now,

    Andrew

  178. Lurker here… Andrew, I just want to thank you for how you’ve handled the onslaught of all your interlocutors. Like you I’m trying to make sense of the epistemic ground we can stand on as Protestants, apart from what we claim to be “Spirit-guided” opinion (and therefore orthodox).

    I’ll pray for you tonight that the Spirit guide you to a clear answer to the latest comments. If you’re going to be away for long, would you mind finding a suitable replacement that can faithfully and charitably argue? I feel the last few statements were as clear as I’ve ever seen the Catholic epistemic challenge ever communicated and could sure use some support the other direction.

    Peace.

    Michael et. al. – I applaud your clarity. I hope it’s not as simple as you put it, and in the end shown differently, but you are fantastic thinkers even if we don’t see eye to eye on everything (yet). I hope Andrew, Kieth, James, and others come to demonstrate the error of your logic but until then I stand impressed and maybe a little fearful how clear you’ve made it sound. I’ve watched your dialogues with Andrew here for years now and have learned a whole lot. This particular conversation has truly gotten to the bottom of it and I am eager for a proper Protestant rebuttal. I wish you all well.

  179. Salvador – If I can I will try to put my thoughts together early next week. It’s a good discussion, I just don’t want to try to answer in a quick and cursory manner. I appreciate your encouragement to both sides. It’s definitely an interesting dialogue.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  180. Andrew McCallum,

    I agree, the discussion has been interesting. I look forward to picking up the discussion once again when you have the time to do so.

    May God bless you abundantly,

    mateo

  181. You said, “These issues have not moved me from the conviction that the Catholic Church is the true Church; on the contrary, they have only increased my faith that this must be the true Church. If Christ could continue to work to build his Church with such a history of failings on the part of the laity, various priests, bishops, and even popes, surely this Church must be sustained by God himself”

    AMEN!
    This is the response very few expect because rather than a weak defense of all our (the Church’s) failings, this response is instead a strong, and reliable witness to the truth of the Catholic Church’s divine guidance by the Holy Spirit!

  182. Is anyone planning on writing a response to this article posted yesterday on aomin http://aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=5107

    If someone has already done so and I’ve overlooked it then I apologize.

  183. Alejandro (#181)
    Your comment made me smile. It reminds one of Boccacio’s Second Tale in the Decameron – in which Abraham the Jew becomes a Catholic because any church so depraved but still surviving must have the Holy Spirit at its foundation :-)

    jj

  184. Do you feel obligated to give your diploma back to WSC?

  185. Pio, (re: #182),

    David Meyer has already done so. See here.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  186. Joshua,

    Thanks for sharing your story. In it I hear echoes of the questions that have given me more than a few sleepless nights over the past several years.

    You alluded to your conversation with Dominican priests as a significant turning point, and you specifically mention that they had well-reasoned answers to your most vexing questions on various topics, including historical issues. Did you ask them about apparent contradictions in purportedly infallible statements made by the Catholic Magisterium? I am thinking specifically about the strongly worded version of -extra ecclesia nulla salus- found in Unum Sanctum as compared to statements in the documents of Vatican II that appear to state the opposite (non-Catholics can be saved etc). I posted this question on another thread at this site last year (I believe it was Fred Noltie’s conversion story), but I am interested in your response. I can understand the argument for the necessity of an infallible living Magisterium. I think you would agree that the presence of self-contradictory teachings would be a fatal flaw for any group claiming to be such an authority. On the previous thread, Mike Liccione correctly warned against approaching the Catholic claim in a way that is prejudicial, and to give the Catholic Church the same “fair shake” one would give Scripture when evaluating instances of supposed self-contradiction. This however, does not let the Catholic Church (or Scripture) off the hook in providing a reasonable explanation for apparent contradictions.

    I acknowledge the great difficulties that the Protestant paradigm has in defining orthodoxy, heresy, schism, the Canon and a few other small items :) This realization is what lead me to initially start questioning some pretty basic presuppositions and at least entertain the claims of Catholicism. It would be a bit of a bummer to ultimately conclude that neither one can be right, and for me, this issue of historical contradiction seriously threatens to doom me to that paralyzing state called ecclesial agnosticism. Fred linked me to a piece by Mike Liccione at a different site. I’m sure Mike will jump in if my grossly oversimplified version is off the mark, but I think he suggested that the apparent contradiction is resolved when one recognizes that: (1) there are other instances prior to the 13th century where the church officially recognized the possibility of salvation outside of formal, visible union with her, so Unum Sanctum can’t mean what it prima facie seems to mean (2) different historical context (3) the reasons why Vat. II statements on the subject qualify as legit development of doctrine (that’s where he got a bit too fuzzy and nuanced for me). All in all, I left with with general feeling of …”yeah, but”.

    Long and drawn out rambling post- apologies – its way past my bedtime. Just wondered how you reconciled the above difficulties.

    Burton

  187. I just read James Swan’s piece over at aomin.org. The most interesting statement can be found in the second to last paragraph:

    “Why can I not say the same thing from a Protestant paradigm? Why can I not say that I have a conviction in God’s providence over the world and the church, that despite a history of sinful people, beginning with Adam and Eve, God calls and sanctifies His people in every generation, and he does so without the means of an infallible magisterium, but simply by having his infallible word available?”

    This would be an excellent springboard for discussion, and I hope Mr. Swan will be willing to jump in and discuss it. This is, in my opinion, the central question. Is “having His infallible Word available” all that is necessary?

    Mr. Swan, I do think that your claim that CtC conversion stories are somehow inherently manipulative and luring in the unsuspecting Protestant is unfair and a bit underhanded. It would be very helpful if you could instead address the actual meat of Mr. Lim’s claims.

    Burton

  188. Its interesting when you take into account sola scriptura and listen to James Whites debate with Bob Wilkin on regeneration and perseverance. James White goes to great lenghts to use the Westminster Confession, Baptist confession and other confessions to make the point that this is the way that reformed theology has always been understood from the bible. Bob Wilkin on the other hand made a point of the fact that he cared little about what other people thought re the creeds, he stood on and accepted the bible as his sole authority. Reminded me off tradition vs the bible…hmmmmm

  189. Wow, Donald [#176]

    First you cherry pick some of the very few Scripture passages upon which Rome has given a definitive spin, and then you infer that Protestant hermeneutics derive a meaning from these self-same verses contrary to their clear meaning!

    I don’t have the foggiest notion who “you and yours” are, but they’re pretty far off the mark, even for us invariably off-the-mark Protestants.

    1. Protestant churches, by and large, all receive confession and pronounce absolution. We believe that those whom we forgive are forgiven by the Father…unlike “you and yours,” whoever they might be.

    2. All of the magisterial Protestant groups accept the Real Presence in the Eucharist. That’s right, they believe they receive the actual body and blood of Christ…unlike “you and yours,” whoever they might be.

    3. A good many Protestant commentaries interpret the Rock in Matthew 16:18 as Peter himself…unlike “you and yours,” whoever they might be. (To be fair, they don’t go on to link this fact with Peter’s being the first pope…for the simple reason that Scripture doesn’t imply any such thing.)

    4. Philippians 2:12-13 happens to be a favorite verse of many Reformed folk. Maybe that’s because we have no problem with good works fitting into the process of salvation, unlike “you and yours,” whoever they might be.

    5. You are so correct that James is addressing believers. That’s the point. The TYPE of faith he is addressing is sanctifying faith. So James’ observation here is actually a corollary to justification by faith alone. Luther may have had a problem with James, but I know of no modern day Protestants who do…unlike “you and yours,” whoever they might be.

    6. As for John 6, I kind of doubt any sane Catholic has seriously considered crushing and swallowing the crystal ampulla containing the true blood of Christ at the Basilica of San Marco in Venice. Though Catholics believe it to be the physical blood and body in the Eucharist, it is still mediated spiritually. How else could the tiniest crumb of bread or the smallest sip of wine–either one, no necessity for both–be the ENTIRE body of Christ, including the blood from his whole circulatory system.

    How could the wine and bread Christ offered in the Last Supper be transformed into his (still living) flesh and blood? How could it be a genuine sacrifice before he was ever sacrificed? Augustine stated that Christ “carried himself in his own hands.” What do you think that means? Thomas Aquinas teaches that Christ’s “quantitative dimensions” are not in the Eucharist. Otherwise, the Eucharist would be the same shape and size as Christ’s body, instead of having the size and shape of bread. Since the Eucharist does not possess Christ’s quantitative dimensions, it cannot exist in a single circumscribed place. [If you want to read St. Thomas himself, go to his Summa Theologica, third part, q. 76 a. 5.] What we see here is that the Catholic Eucharist is not as unequivocally physical as you seem to think. It is a mystery; just as it is for EO adherents and for magisterial Protestants…unlike “you and yours,” whoever they might be.

    As for the canon, the Protestants codified their version of the canon just after the Roman Catholics did so at Trent in 1546. (The Gallic Confession was ratified in 1559, and the Belgic Confession in 1561. ) So, you’re a whole 13 years ahead of us!

    Rome gives no specific direction on many theological topics:

    What is the definitive RC position on eschatology?

    On soteriology, does the magisterium side with the Jesuits or the Dominicans?

    What is their exact position on the use of historical criticism in biblical exegesis?

    What is the precise relationship between Science and Faith? (Does the magisterium espouse the scientific consensus on naturalistic evolution or opt for a more nuanced type of goal-oriented evolution?)

    Also, you must not comprehend Catholic dogma (since Vatican II) concerning the necessity of being “all in, or all out.” We Protestants are covered by the concept of invincible ignorance: in other words, we’re IN! Augustine was well aware of the “many sheep outside [the Catholic fold] and the many wolves within.” Perhaps you’re not as safe as you thought! (Following a version of “Pascal’s Wager” you might want to consider joining us Protestants. If you’re right in converting, you win heaven; if you’re wrong, you still end up in heaven (unless you hang on to your infernal certitude that Rome is correct!) At any rate, from the Catholic perspective, you are wrong about the choice having eternal consequences. According to RC dogma, both your choice and my choice are “eternally good.”

    As for perspicuity, you need to understand all the components that go into Protestant interpretation, including the “analogy of faith,” whereby Scripture interprets Scripture (the clearer sections explicating the vaguer sections). We employ sound exegetical methods, the authority of the church and its longstanding traditions, compatibility with the ecumenical creeds, and the Holy Spirit agreeing with our spirit (Acts 15:28). We insist that passages be read in context and compared with the overarching tenor of the whole of Scripture.

    The chaos you see in the yellow pages began with the unbiblical inflexibility of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in addressing valid 16th-century spiritual concerns. (Plus, there is very little chaos among the descendants of the magisterial Reformers, or at least not theologically. There is as much or more disarray in YOUR theological house. I suggest you clean up your own act before commencing to throw stones!)

    I see your “cordially” …and raise you a “cordial.”

    Tchin-tchin!

    –Eirik

  190. Burton (#186):

    I’m sure Mike will jump in if my grossly oversimplified version is off the mark, but I think he suggested that the apparent contradiction is resolved when one recognizes that: (1) there are other instances prior to the 13th century where the church officially recognized the possibility of salvation outside of formal, visible union with her, so Unum Sanctum can’t mean what it prima facie seems to mean (2) different historical context (3) the reasons why Vat. II statements on the subject qualify as legit development of doctrine (that’s where he got a bit too fuzzy and nuanced for me). All in all, I left with with general feeling of …”yeah, but”.

    Yeah, but what? There either is or is not a contradiction.

    Another question: Do you really think that popes and councils would say things which they believe contradict what they believe are irreformable teachings? I don’t. And if, as a reasonable man, you don’t, then you need to ask yourself how they themselves would see the teachings in question as a self-consistent set. That’s what I tried to do in the little series you cite, but there is of course so much more to be said in terms of the “analogy of faith.”

    Best,
    Mike

  191. Eirik,

    A few comments.

    1) Donald never used the word “physical” in his comment. If “physical” is taken materialistically, then no Catholic who understands transubstantiation believes in it. So it’s kind of a straw man to impute a physicalist understanding to Donald and then prove what he already knows — that the sacramental, substantial presence of Christ is not a local presence.

    2) There is a great deal of specific direction from the Magisterium on each of the topics you raise. For example, on eschatology, see The Catechism of the Catholic Church 668-682. On faith and reason, see Fides et Ratio. On biblical interpretation, see CCC 101-141 and Verbum Domini. On the Jesuit-Dominican controversy, I’m not sure why the pope saying, “Both of these opinions are within the bounds of orthodoxy; don’t call one another heretics,” fails in your eyes to constitute specific direction.

    3) Your caricature of invincible ignorance and of degrees of communion makes me severely doubt your assertion to Brent on another thread that you truly understand and could even imitate Catholic positions and arguments.

    4) The sarcasm is most unbecoming.

    best,
    John

  192. Burton,

    Sometimes I have been troubled by the fact that the “obvious” meaning of a text (at least when taken out of the context of prior teaching) seems different from the “obvious” meaning of another text. This has probably troubled me more about comparing statements of scripture than it has about the statements of the Church, but I have felt this feeling regarding Church statements as well.

    Something occurred to me that made me feel better, however: God never promised us that Church statements or even scripture would be presented in the clearest possible manner. Therefore, I needed to ask myself: in the absence of such a promise, what would I expect? I would expect that the vast majority of such statements would harmonize profoundly with each other, revealing “the masters’ touch”, as a famous protestant has said before. But I would also expect a distribution of such beauty: some statements would be especially beautiful in their “fit” with everything else in Christianity, while others would be especially difficult to “fit” with everything else.

    It occurred to me that the only way that this variety of levels of “fit” would not happen would be if we had been promised a “perfect presentation” after all. So what I was seeing was precisely what I should have expected to see given the promises we have been given.

    Then the question remains: how do we know we’re not just engaging in special pleading in order to justify believing in something that has at least a few blatant contradictions? We know for two reasons, both of which we have to keep in mind:

    (1) The vast majority of such statements of both scripture and magisterium have “the master’s touch.” They are too prescient at pointing out truths that I never would have guessed in advance for them to be mere human guesswork. For instance, the teaching on chastity in general and contraception is exceptionally difficult to believe before one has tried to live that way. Once one has, the beauty of this form of life is self-evident. No one but the Church (and scripture rightly construed) has been solid on monogamy, chastity, contraception, and the beauty of celibacy. Here is the master’s touch. God has been at work. We need to take the many examples of miraculous truth-telling into account whenever we feel shocked by the small handful of claims that seem self-contradictory.

    (2) We need to remember why God did not make the promise that all of His statements would be obviously clear and obviously non-contradictory, i.e., we need to remember why God has allowed for a world in which we need to work a little to understand why a few of the statements don’t contradict. Here is one reason why He has allowed this. I believe it was Origen who said that God wanted to leave later generations of Christians the chance to learn and explore and settle difficult theological issues as part of their pathway towards His kingdom. Read Origen’s commentaries and homilies and see how he glows with the joy of patiently untangling the mysteries (and apparent problems!) of scripture and the traditions of the faith. God has given us the opportunity of actually contributing to each other’s understanding of Him precisely by not making everything completely apparent. It is only by allowing there to be some small measly difficulties that we can have the opportunity of loving each other through the work of our minds.

    There is a purpose to all that God has willed, and all that He has allowed. I know it doesn’t _feel_ good to have to say: “there is a specific way to interpret these statements that keeps them from being a contradiction.” We would have rather had the easy way out and had every statement promised from the beginning to be perfectly clear and obviously non-contradictory. But to complain about this not only means we’re forgetting about all the miraculously true statements (point 1 above); it also means we’re not allowing for humans to interact and participate in this process at all. We’re not allowing humans to mess up and make the statements less clear than they would have been had the humans involved in the statements been more holy; we’re also not allowing humans to exercise heroic charity to bring the truth to light. The wonderful thing about being in the Church is that we’re all on this journey together, and God has left room for us to really help each other get to know and love him.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  193. This would be an excellent springboard for discussion, and I hope Mr. Swan will be willing to jump in and discuss it. This is, in my opinion, the central question. Is “having His infallible Word available” all that is necessary?

    I don’t know that that is the central question. What does “necessary” mean? Necessary for salvation? It is possible to be saved even without the bible. So the visible church is not needed from that point of view.

    One could ask if the gospel of Mark was necessary. If the answer is No, then what? If there is no essential doctrine that is only taught in the gospel of Mark can we just ignore it? Is that the question we should ask?

    It is not so much is it necessary but is it God’s plan. We can have a certain level of unity and a certain knowledge of the truth with just scripture. As a protestant it seemed like that level was declining over time. But can we have the depth God wants for us and can we maintain that for our children and grandchildren?

    Then there are sacraments. What role should they play? Rejection of the church prevents a person from from embracing the true power of the sacraments. What does God want to give us? Do we want it all or just what the tradition we are in can give us?

    Asking what is necessary leads to atheism. They point out that we don’t die if we don’t go to church. In fact, life seems to go on OK. At that level faith life also seems to go on OK even when we reject some important truths. In the longer term you have problems but those problems are hard to see if you don’t want to see them.

    In the shorter term you need to ask more than what will avert immediate spiritual disaster. You need to ask what will allow me to live the fullness of Christianity? What brings me closest to God?

    To me the central question is not one of need at all. It is one of truth. The Catholic church claims to offer so much more. Is the claim true or false? If it is true then becoming Catholic is a no-brainer. If it is false then every Catholic is history is spiritually dysfunctional is a major way. The church is either an amazing grace or a massive error. There really isn’t much middle ground.

  194. John–

    Please forgive any sarcasm I may have indulged in. Though it is my very nature to use it, I know that it can be seriously detrimental to interfaith dialogue. (In the family in which I grew up, sarcasm was our only humor. It was light. It was fun. It was demonstrative of acceptance. I responded to Donald in kind, mirroring his words. This was not in any way intended as derision…any more than his words were intentionally disrespectful toward Protestants. He sought to make a point. I took it that way. I merely sought to make a counter point. I would be more than grateful if you would find it in your heart to take it that way.)

    That said, you don’t know me from Adam, and I would appreciate it in future if you would give me some semblance of the benefit of the doubt. For any Protestant reader, this website veritably drips with sarcasm. It is difficult for me to even be here. It is injurious to the sensibilities of my faith, and I always depart in need of spiritual refreshment in the Lord. My conscience literally screams for respite…but I believe you all are important. I have absolutely no motivation to score “points.” This is not entertainment for me.

    I will now answer your objections:

    1. Donald makes much of John 6. Many fell away at this point in time because of a lack of trust in Jesus. What he claimed could be taken rather viscerally, and ancient middle-eastern sensibilities towards cannibalism were as sharp or sharper than modern ones. They took it as physical. How many modern Catholics understand the ins and outs of transubstantiation? How many of them comprehend that the host in the monstrance is not materially Christ? One in a hundred? One in a thousand?

    2. I didn’t say that the Catholic church had no take on eschatology. But what it does have is vague by Protestant standards. For example, on the millennium, most Catholics take a roughly amillenial stance if they take any stance at all. This is not asserted dogmatically though I do believe dispensational pre-millennialism is in view in the censure in CCC 675-676. (Catholics are distinctly post-trib.)

    On faith and science, Pius XII and John Paul II don’t seem to be in sync with the Catechism’s take on the physical historicity of Adam and Eve. In Humani Generis, for example, the creation of man’s body and soul are de-linked, allowing for acceptance of some forms of evolution theretofore out of bounds. The media certainly do not understand the Catholic stance on evolution as anything less than complete compliance with current scientific consensus. Catholics themselves don’t appear to be certain where they stand. The official position seems to be that some sort of divinely directed process is in place though unspecified as to mechanism, mysterious even. But positions clearly outside of these guidelines are routinely abided. When Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn recently clarified what he believed to be the magisterial position, he came under sharp attack from the director of the Vatican Observatory. I honestly see current Catholic thought on the matter as incoherent.

    On biblical interpretation, we have seen the encyclicals of Pius X overridden and higher criticism given free reign within the parameters of sticking to established tradition. The Catechism does not directly address this as far as I can see.

    The reason the acceptance of both Molinistic and Thomistic systems of soteriology bothers me is that they are clearly farther apart than Reformed thought and Thomism…and extraordinarily farther apart than Reformed thought and Augustinianism. Why would Luis Molina and Ignatius of Loyola be given such a “pass” unless it were for political reasons? And in light of the noncommittal attitude toward the Jesuit-Dominican squabble, why all the animus toward sola fide?

    3. I neither defined invincible ignorance nor discussed the role of motivations in evaluating it. So how could you possibly construe my use of it as a caricature? And I don’t recall even broaching the subject of degrees of communion. What are you reading into what I had to say? Moreover, I wasn’t trying to make myself out to be God’s gift to humanity in terms of my familiarity with Catholicism. My degree of expertise is irrelevant to the point I was making. At the very least, I know more than most Catholics.

    4. Your condescension is most unbecoming.

    Those of us who are Reformed on this website constitute a decided minority. I assume the intention would be to treat us as guests, to do everything possible to make us comfortable, to even protect us from time to time. That’s what I would do if I had a blog inviting Catholics to share their hearts. I’d give them a little more latitude and curtail the overeager home field fans.

    I honestly love you and wish you no ill.

    Under the blood,

    –Eirik

    P.S. I’m really not all that angry with this blog. I’m thankful they allow us to “mix it up” without any heavy handed constraints. I have to keep reminding myself that communication across paradigms is a trying task even under the best of conditions. I don’t know if any of you have heard of Bill Mallonee, a Catholic revert and terrific songwriter, a friend of mine, as a matter of fact. He has a song called “Skin” whose last stanza reads as follows:

    “Now look, if you’re gonna come around here
    And say those sort of things,
    You gotta take a few on the chin.
    Yeah, you’re talking about sin and redemption;
    Well, you better wear your thickest skin.
    Sometimes you can’t please everyone.
    Sometimes you can’t please anyone at all.
    Sew your heart onto your sleeve
    And wait for the ax to fall….”

  195. Burton (#187):

    You quoted James Swan writing:

    Why can I not say that I have a conviction in God’s providence over the world and the church, that despite a history of sinful people, beginning with Adam and Eve, God calls and sanctifies His people in every generation, and he does so without the means of an infallible magisterium, but simply by having his infallible word available?”

    You reacted by asking:

    This is, in my opinion, the central question. Is “having His infallible Word available” all that is necessary?

    And my answer to your question is “No.” Why?

    First off, if by “His infallible Word” you mean the Bible, it must be said that the Bible is not infallible because it is a not a person. Only persons can be infallible. The Bible is inerrant, however, because its principal author is the Holy Spirit, who is an infallible person.

    Notice, though, that the question now shifts. The question becomes: “Is the belief that an infallible person authored the Bible inerrant itself”? If one tries to answer that question by citing the Bible alone, one is simply begging the question. One cannot prove, from Scripture alone, that Scripture is inerrant. Extra-scriptural evidence is not only necessary but primary.

    So now the next question arises: What is that evidence to be? The burning in my bosom, or the dropping of scales from my eyes, which I undergo when I read Scripture? If so, why is that a more reliable sign of divine inspiration, and therefore of inerrancy, then the bosom-burning or scale-dropping some people claim to undergo when reading the Qu’ran or the Bhagavad-gita? Lots of people claim to be guided by God when reading their sacred text. How to adjudicate among their doctrinal differences? Once again, citing the Bible alone would beg the question. And if my answer is “the consensus of the Church,” I’m just kicking the can down the road. Why believe the Church?

    This is where the Catholic claim, and my own argument, become pertinent. If the Church–whichever body of people constitute “the” Church–is not infallible under any conditions, then one cannot infer that any consensual belief or teaching of hers is inerrant. The Church’s confession is only provisional, pending further evidence or consideration, because she is always fallible and thus could always be wrong. If so, then the belief that the Bible’s principal author is an infallible person is itself only provisional, not inerrant. Ultimately, there is no way to distinguish that belief from merely human opinion. So there is no basis other than opinion for claiming that the Bible is inerrant, or even for limning the canon as Protestants do. That in turn deprives Protestants of any principled basis for distinguishing between divine revelation and human opinion. Religion thus reduces to a matter of opinion–including the belief in God’s “infallible Word.”

    I’m sure that’s not the result you want. I leave it up to you to explain how you avoid it.

    Best,
    Mike

  196. Eirik (#189)
    I was interested in your list – and particularly in your ‘by and large’ ideas. I only became a Christian (a Protestant) when I was already 27 – nearly 43 years ago now :-)) – so my experience is not as wide as that of some. But during that time I was a formal member of five Protestant churches – one Lutheran, one Baptist, three Reformed (in the Three Forms of Unity tradition) – and was involved in a wide variety of others – Brethren, variously evangelical, Pentecostal, Baptist, Presbyterian, Anglican. Regarding your points, I never found any of them that would agree with your first point (confession and absolution); the TFU ones would agree with your second (Real Presence) only in the sense that the believer receives Christ by his faith, but would have denied that Communion was any sort of extra reception; denied your third point about Peter (the Rock is Christ or it is Peter’s confession.

    There no doubt are some – particularly Anglo-Catholic – groups that would agree with you. Our TFU churches – including the one I was instrumental in founding – considered themselves part of the magisterial Reformation but certainly would disagree with you.

    So … maybe some – but ‘by and large??’ I find that difficult to accept.

    In 1994 I made the decision to become a Catholic, was received into the Church at Christmas Eve, 1995. One thing I gained in doing so was to be in a church that unequivocally did affirm all three – and thank God for it.

    jj

  197. Mike,

    OK, I admit that “yeah, but..” isn’t a glowing example of sound argument. I ran out of steam and never quite finished my thoughts before heading off to bed. I acknowledge that it would be unreasonable for popes and councils to knowingly contradict previous popes and councils. For example, I would assume that the bishops of Vat. II and Pope Benedict XVI (Dominus Iesus) have some rationale explaining how all the teachings on this subject form a consistent whole, I have simply never heard the Church’s reasoning explained in a straightforward manner. “You shouldn’t expect reasonable men to knowingly contradict themselves” is not a terribly convincing argument, but I am truly open to hearing a reasonable explanation of how these teachings form a consistent whole. I think Fred suggested a book by Fr. Stravinskas which I have not ordered or read. I was hoping one of you guys could give me the short version.

    K. Doran,

    I hear the spirit of what you are saying and appreciate your insights. The Catholic Church’s consistent (and beautiful) teaching on human sexuality and the near-prescient words of Humanae Vitae are a strong piece of evidence in favor of her authority. I also agree that things can’t always be as intellectually neat and tidy as we want, and perhaps God uses these ambiguities to strengthen our faith. Interestingly, I have heard similar arguments from fellow Protestants trying to convince me that my interest in Catholicism is evidence of an overdeveloped need for certainty, and I wonder if your thoughts in (2) above could be readily adopted by a Protestant apologist to explain why the Protestant paradigm works just fine in discerning Truth.

    Burton

  198. Eirik,

    Sorry for my condescension and lack of charity in interpreting your tone. Please forgive me.

    best,
    John

  199. Randy,

    That’ll learn me for being imprecise with my wording at this site! I assure you that I did not mean to imply that my primary concern to is find that which will merely limit my spiritual liability. Perhaps a better way to state the question: is the “availability of God’s infallible Word” the means by which He reveals Himself to man, and therefore the only authority to which we should ultimately and finally submit? This is a perfectly fine question for Mr. Swan to pose, and for me it is the central question as I attempt to evaluate the claims of each position. You provide a helpful reminder that underneath all of these questions and arguments must be a deep yearning for Jesus Himself, not the “unassailable argument” or airtight answers to all questions. This is my frequent prayer.

    Burton

  200. Mike (#195),

    The result I want is the Truth. If what you have presented is the truth, then I’m all in. I don’t have a ready answer – another reason I am hoping for Protestant brothers and sisters more schooled than I on these matters to jump in and respond, hence my encouragement to Mr Swan, Dr. White et. al. to join the discussion.

    I have been following this site long enough to know that there are cogent Protestant responses, but I do believe those responses presuppose the inerrancy of of Scripture, an historically recognizable canon, and the perpiscuity of Scripture.

    Maybe this is why the most convincing Protestant arguments (to me) are negative arguments, i.e. the Catholic Church can’t be what it claims to be because (a) the historical record shows a messy contradictory accumulation of doctrines and/or (b) the Catholic brings just as many presuppositions to the table, therefore they possess no epistemologic superiority. CtC (and you specifically) have dealt with (b) in depth, so I guess I’m back to (a). I admit I am frustrated by the apparent lack of positive argument for the Protestant paradigm (“since the Catholic claim is obviously wrong, the Protestant claim must be right” or “until you recognize that the Catholic claim is wrong, you will be blinded to the obvious truth of the Protestant position” etc). I do think there exists some positive proof for the final authority of Scripture (over and above other authorities) in the Church Fathers, but a thorough study of patristics requires more time than I have to give, even assuming I possess the necessary expertise.

    Burton

  201. Burton:

    In #190, I already gave you my preliminary response to (a). What say you?

    Best,
    Mike

  202. JJ–

    All I can say is that you must have slept through a lot of worship services. Confession and absolution is a standard part of all Anglican and Lutheran worship and a mainstay in most traditional Presbyterian services, as well. I wasn’t referring to one-on-one auricular confession.

    I tend not to group the churches of the magisterial Reformation with the rest of “Protestantism” as it results in comparing apples and oranges for the most part. You’re right though, Baptists and Pentecostals would not make the list.

    The Real Presence is much more similar among the high churches than you seem to indicate. With all of them it is received by faith (either of the church or the individual) and with all of them it is spiritually mediated. The differences are mostly in the explanation of how this takes place. With Lutherans it is through the communication of attributes (the Risen Christ takes on the ubiquity of the Father and is thus omnipresent and corporeally available in, on, and under the bread and wine anywhere in the world). Those who actually follow Calvin believe that the believer is mystically transported to heaven in the sursum corda, communing thus with the Savior where he sits in glory at the right hand of the Father. Anglicans tend to go with some amalgamation of consubstantiation and/or virtual presence unless they are Anglo-Catholic. These last often come close to embracing (or indeed actually do embrace) transubstantiation. Of course, Catholics themselves believe the substances of bread and wine mystically change into the body and blood of Christ while the accidents remain. Even Zwingli was not a simple memorialist, and continued to hold to some sense of the Real Presence.

    As regards Peter’s designation as the Rock in Matthew 16:18, I was referring to Protestant commentaries–written by well trained exegetes–not popular-level apologists or pastors. Davies and Allison clearly follow this line of reasoning, as does Donald Hagner (Fuller Seminary) in the Word Biblical Commentary series. Likewise, in the New American Commentary series (a Broadman Press, Baptist work), Craig Blomberg, NT prof at Denver Seminary, emphatically resists going down any rabbit trails. [Craig, by the way, though well known in evangelical circles these days, graduated from my high school a year before I did. He had an amazing intellect, but I remember him more for his regularly thrashing me in tennis, using a wide variety of shots and placements--spins, slices, dinks, and lobs--it was like playing chess on a court.]

    I live in an area virtually devoid of a Reformed presence, so I don’t have a whole lot of choices of where to go. My present church doesn’t hold to any one of these three, but they are strong on justification by faith…for which I thank God.

    Have a good one!

    –Eirik

  203. Sorry Burton, I didn’t see your #197 before I posted my previous comment. Here’s my answer.

    First, the book by Fr. Stravinskas is serviceable and may be found here: http://amzn.to/Lj1NYX.

    Second, I’m not sure there is a “short version” of the proper response because I’m not sure exactly where you think the chief difficulty lies. For instance, you’re aware of Dominus Iesus; where do you think Ratzinger is contradicting himself in that document? Or where do you think he’s not making himself clear?

    In my experience, the most common difficulty people have with the development of Catholic ecclesiology is with the idea that non-Catholics can be in “imperfect communion” with the Church (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio §3). They seem to assume that, prior to Vatican II, the Catholic Church taught that people are either in full communion or no communion–either “all the way in” or “all the way out.” But an examination of how the Catholic and Orthodox communions interacted for centuries after the definitive break in 1054, and even after the failure of the reunion council of Florence in the mid-15th-century, shows that the matter was always more complicated than that. Language that was stark for rhetorical and political reasons was not usually understood so starkly in reality, even in Rome.

    Within the Catholic Church herself, that was true even in the dispute between Boniface VIII and King Philip IV, which gave rise to the former’s bull Unam Sanctam (1302). That document was never understood to require that everybody make an act of submission to the Pope in order to be saved. And though there was total agreement on what was sufficient for actually being subject to the Roman Pontiff, there was never total agreement on the minimum necessary for that.

    So again, I’m not sure where the nub of your difficulty lies.

    Best,
    Mike

  204. Eirik (#202)

    All I can say is that you must have slept through a lot of worship services. Confession and absolution is a standard part of all Anglican and Lutheran worship and a mainstay in most traditional Presbyterian services, as well. I wasn’t referring to one-on-one auricular confession.

    Ah. Well, yes – and, indeed, depending on how you define confession and absolution, every Christian group, even every Christian individual practises this. When I was active in Campus Crusade for Christ we told people the Four Spiritual Laws. But of course it is not only the ‘auricular’ bit which is different here. None of my churches would have had the minister saying that he had absolved the penitent – nor did we Campus Crusaders.

    In general, it was your ‘by and large’ that I was talking about, anyway. I think that your limiting your ‘by and large’ to ‘well trained exegetes’ does rather agree with me that the ‘by and large’ is a little broad.

    jj

  205. @Eirik #194

    How many of them comprehend that the host in the monstrance is not materially Christ?

    As by the words of consecration the bread becomes Jesus’ body, which is inhabited by his soul – like any living person’s body – and hypostatically united to his divinity, the consecrated host is materially Jesus Christ, the same Christ who walked along Palestine and is now in Heaven, the whole Christ in Whom the fullness of divinity dwells bodily.

    So, I sincerely hope that no Catholic at all comprehends Jesus’ eucharistic presence the way you do.

    On faith and science, Pius XII and John Paul II don’t seem to be in sync with the Catechism’s take on the physical historicity of Adam and Eve. In Humani Generis, for example, the creation of man’s body and soul are de-linked, allowing for acceptance of some forms of evolution theretofore out of bounds.

    In any case, the Catechism should be in sync with the Popes’ teachings. And specifically to this point, it certainly is, as I will show. The Catechism says in #362:

    The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. the biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that “then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

    The Catechism’s “in symbolic language” qualification of the statement that “God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” is entirely in line with Humani Generis allowing Catholics to discuss an evolutionary notion “of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter” while at the same time mandating them “to hold that souls are immediately created by God”. A position maintained exactly by John Paul II in his Oct. 22, 1996 message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences: “Pius XII underlined the essential point: if the origin of the human body comes through living matter which existed previously, the spiritual soul is created directly by God.”

    The media certainly do not understand the Catholic stance on evolution as anything less than complete compliance with current scientific consensus. Catholics themselves don’t appear to be certain where they stand. The official position seems to be that some sort of divinely directed process is in place though unspecified as to mechanism, mysterious even. But positions clearly outside of these guidelines are routinely abided. When Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn recently clarified what he believed to be the magisterial position, he came under sharp attack from the director of the Vatican Observatory. I honestly see current Catholic thought on the matter as incoherent.

    While all Catholics holding evolution must believe that it is a divinely directed process, the specifics of that direction is a subject open to discussion. E.g. thomist philosophers Edward Feser and Francis Beckwith object strongly to Intelligent Design, saying that it can lead to a god but not “the” God. I personally hold that view. Others sympathize with ID, and they are free to do so.

    On biblical interpretation, we have seen the encyclicals of Pius X overridden and higher criticism given free reign within the parameters of sticking to established tradition. The Catechism does not directly address this as far as I can see.

    The Pius X’s document you are probably referring to is the Motu Proprio “Praestantia Scripturae”. On the subject of biblical interpretation, the ultimate reference is Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution “Dei Verbum”. The Catechism refers to it when dealing with the subject.

    The reason the acceptance of both Molinistic and Thomistic systems of soteriology bothers me is that they are clearly farther apart than Reformed thought and Thomism…and extraordinarily farther apart than Reformed thought and Augustinianism. Why would Luis Molina and Ignatius of Loyola be given such a “pass” unless it were for political reasons?

    FYI, the views on the specifics of the interaction between actual grace and free will that are within Catholic orthodoxy are not limited to the thomist (Báñez) and molinist positions, as Fr William Most proposed a third view (which I personally prefer) in a book in 1963 . Interestingly, Fr Most offers a straight answer to your question on why the Pope did not define Báñez’ as the only orthodox position.

    “When debates became acute in Spain, and people were becoming disturbed, Clement VII in 1597 ordered both sides to send a delegation to Rome to have a debate before a commission of Cardinals. In March 1602 Clement VIII began to preside in person. In 1605 he very much wanted to bring the debate to a conclusion. So he worked long into the night, and finally came up with a 15 point summary of Augustine’s doctrine on grace, intending to judge Molina’s proposals by it. That would have meant condemnation of Molina and probable approval of the so-called Thomists. But according to an article in 30 Days, No. 5 of 1994, on p. 46, “But, it seems barely had the bull of condemnation been drafted when, on March 3, 1605 Clement VIII died.”

    Another Pope had died at the right time centuries earlier. The General Council of Constantinople in 681 had drafted a condemnation of Pope Honorius for heresy – which was untrue – Pope Agatho had intended to sign it. But he died before being able. The next Pope, Leo II, having better judgment, agreed only to sign a statement that Honorius had let our doctrine become unclear, in his letters to Sergius, which did not teach the Monothelite heresy, but left things fuzzy.

    So it seems if there be need, God will take a Pope out of this life if needed to keep him from teaching error.”

    In other words, the Lord will fulfill his promise of not allowing the Magisterium to teach error “by any means necessary”.

  206. Daniel Chew, WSC M.Div Student: Open Letter to Recent WSC Grad Joshua Lim

  207. Wow, thanks guys for knowing your stuff. I am a Protestant but a lot of these arguments are so daunting to me. Your prayers are coveted. I prayed for you all you contribute here on both sides. I do see how arguments can be made on both sides and it’s confusing. Reading Foxes book of Martyrs and all these times of burning each other at the stake for this, I am glad we don’t anymore, but it seems we don’t care as much, I don’t know. The issue of authority and having one true church would seriously be quite comforting. I just see Mary, purgatory, treasury of merit, asso contrary to the bible. Joshua’s answer seemed to be, knowing the RCC was The Church, to submit his reason and will to their teachings no matter what. I want to believe but I have difficulty in the light of bible passages that seem to indicate otherwise. If it is the word of God as we all agree, the NT portion anyhow, why would ST or Oral Tradition be at odds with it? Aahhh so depressing

  208. May the one true God guide you brother, though Rome means nothing to me I pray your journey moves you ever towards truth. I will say this:

    “I have found few, save perhaps Luther, who suffered from such intense suspicion as I did.”

    Seems a bit melodramatic.

  209. Michial,

    “I just see Mary, purgatory, treasury of merit, ASSO contrary to the bible.”

    I would recommend you take your time and study all of these issues — one by one. Don’t rush. I, too, would have been startled had the Church said that I must believe in Obi-Wan Kenobi in order to be saved. That’s crazy talk. As a Protestant, many of those things you listed can feel like Obi-Wan Kenobi since the language is foreign to the Protestant tradition. However, I ask that you simply put in the time to see if, in fact, those teachings as understood by the Church are contrary to Sacred Scripture.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  210. Michial,
    You said:
    “The issue of authority and having one true church would seriously be quite comforting.”

    It is! My despair as a Protestant was that the Church was so divided and there was no authority to lead me, yet it looked in scripture like there should be. I feel so at home now as a Catholic.

    “I just see Mary, purgatory, treasury of merit, as so contrary to the bible.”

    I had that issue also a couple years back. Just make sure you dont give up. There are good answers to all your concerns, many of which will surprise you with how biblical they are. Often we have a paradigm that is hard to get out of to see the other view. But if you can try to give the benefit of the doubt to the Catholic paradigm, and try to see it from the inside for each of these issues, you will at least perhaps have a better understanding of why these things don’t bother Catholics, and in fact are actually beautiful doctrines to us… not just ones we accept on authority because we have to!

    But your concerns need to be dealt with one at a time, and perhaps within the relevent articles here on this site. I suggest you go one at a time and see if you are not surprised at the answers you get. Dont give up though. Unity is so important to our Lord, it is worth some effort to acheive.

    Peace,
    David Meyer

  211. Michial,

    As an evangelical, I was seeing Mary in part in Genesis, in Kings I and II (look up the Gebirah), in Isaiah, and then I was seeing her clearly in the Gospels and Acts. She is so important that God Himself presented her to us, repeatedly, in both testaments. She is the prime example of someone with two human parents saying an unequivocal “yes” to God, and saying that unequivocal “yes” consistently.

    She caused the archangel to greet her by saying, “Hail full of grace. The Lord is with you.” If something is full, nothing else can be added. God is telling us something about this woman.

    The Third Person of God moved Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, to greet Mary, saying, “Blessed are you among women. Blessed is the Fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth continued by saying, “How is it that the mother of my Lord should visit me?” This is an overwhelming recognition of the dignity in which God held Mary. She is merely human, but she is full of grace and has a unique role in the mystery of salvation.

    Some of my old compatriots held that “any woman would do.” I now hold that position as a terrible lie. God planned everything out perfectly, and put this wonderful woman in a real pivot point. She was free to serve God, not forced, and she gave her “yes” freely. No other woman would do. Everything a worshipper brings, she brought. Everything that a mother brings, she brought. Everything that a disciple brings, she brought. She suffered with her Son, but never tried to dissuade Him from His purpose. Rather she was found standing in His shadow, offering whatever she could.

    She was so important that when Jesus said, “My God, My God, why have You abandoned me?,” He was not deprived of His mother and whatever comfort seeing her face could bring to Him.

    She is so important the when her Son was dying, He specifically remembered her and provided for her needs. He did so in such a way that it is not only John who “took her into his home,” but the rest of her sons and daughters continue to do so. She no longer has temporal needs, but as mother of all Christians she has a place with us, and we have a need for her and her intercession (see the Gebirah again, and think about the role of your own mother in your own family).

    She is so important that she is noted as being with the apostles in Jerusalem after the Ascension.

    Even Paul, the apostle born out of time, notes that Jesus “was born of a woman,” and we know who that woman is.

    Purgatory is pretty easy. You won’t get out of prison until the last farthing is paid, which means that you will get out (unlike Hell, which is a permanent abode). Note that if one has a wrong idea of how God extends His redemption to us, one will have a hard time with “being in prison until the last farthing is paid.” In this case, one might agree with what Jesus actually said and discard one’s theology if it is in opposition to Jesus’ words.

    Cordially,

    dt

  212. Johannes {#205]

    Get together with John S. [#191] and decide whether NO Catholic understands transubstantiation materialistically or whether ALL Catholics do. That’s quite a disparity!

    My guess is that you two are talking past one another. Eucharistic definitions are pretty darn intricate.

    I’m not a great fan of THE intelligent design movement, but any Christian version of a goal-directed evolution is teleological by definition. I am fascinated by emergent evolution (Philip Clayton at Claremont) and notions of inevitability of evolution (Simon Conway Morris, who is on board at BioLogos), but much if not most theistic evolution clearly repudiates directedness (other than, perhaps, front-loaded in deistically).

    The concept that one can separate the creation of body and soul in man is tremendously problematic. It can be squared with Scripture and the doctrine of the Fall, I suppose, but it gets really messy.

    –Eirik

  213. Thanks to all who replied. This article helped me.
    http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2012/06/13/whos-in-charge-here-the-illusions-of-church-infallibility/

  214. Bryan (re: #153) & Joshua (re: #157),
    Three book recommendations ? I have used my remaining Christmas B&N gift card to purchase Steven Long’s book.

    Mike (re: #195),
    You wrote:
    One cannot prove, from Scripture alone, that Scripture is inerrant. Extra-scriptural evidence is not only necessary but primary.

    Please provide extra-scriptural evidence from the oral teaching of the Lord Jesus showing Scripture to be inerrant. If this oral teaching is now in written form, then please provide the source(s).

    Thanks,
    Eric

  215. Sorry for not responding. I was camping for the past few days.

    Matt (re: #184):

    Why would I feel obligated to give my diploma back? I received an education, passed what I needed to pass, and, as a result of all of that, received a diploma. According to WSC’s own teaching on two kingdoms, the seminary is not a part of the cultic sphere. My religious affiliation should not affect whether I am able to graduate or not. If you take issue with this you should probably contact WSC directly…

    Burton (re: #186):

    Yes, I did ask them about that. I found Charles Cardinal Journet’s The Church of the Word Incarnate: Vol. I helpful, even though it was written before Vatican II. Others who are better versed on this issue can correct me if I am off, but I do think one can argue for continuity on the matter on the basis of the Church’s constant teaching that those who are outside of the Church (i.e., those who have not been baptized) can be saved through baptism of desire. In other words, there has always been a recognition that the grace of baptism is sometimes given apart from the Sacrament itself.

    Here’s Journet:

    To reconcile the axiom “Outside the Church, no salvation”, with the doctrine of the possible salvation of those who remain ignorant of the Church in all good faith, there is no need to manufacture any new theory. All we have to do is to apply to the Church the traditional distinction made in connection with the necessity of Baptism, the door by which the Church is entered. To the question: Can anybody be saved without Baptism? St. Thomas, who here draws on the thought of St. Ambrose, replies that those who lack Baptism re et voto, that is to say who neither are nor want to be baptized, cannot come to salvation, “since they are neither sacramentally nor mentally incorporated into Christ, by whom alone is salvation”. But those who lack Baptism re, sed non voto, that is to say “who desire Baptism, but are accidentally overtaken by death before receiving it, can be saved without actual Baptism, in virtue of their desire for Baptism, coming from a faith that works by charity, by which God, whose power is not circumscribed by visible sacraments, sanctifies man interiorly”. Conformably with this distinction we shall say that the axiom “No salvation outside the Church” is true of those who do not belong to the Church, which in herself is visible, either visibly (corporaliter) or even invisibly, either by the sacraments (sacramentaliter) or even in spirit (mentaliter); either fully (re) or even by desire (voto); either in accomplished act or even in virtual act. The axiom does not concern the just who, without yet belonging to the Church visibly, in accomplished act (re), do so invisibly, in virtual act, in spirit, by desire (mentaliter, voto), that is to say in virtue of the supernatural righteousness of their lives, even while, through insurmountable ignorance, they know nothing of the sanctity, or even of the existence, of the Church. The Church of the Word Incarnate, p. 34.

    Derek (re: #208):

    Yes, it was probably a bit melodramatic.

  216. Re #213 Michial,

    A quote from the article you cited: “Scripture is the master; the church is the minister.”

    Really?

    I come from a different direction. The direction I come from says that Christ Jesus is the Head of the Body which is the Church. If Jesus is the Head of the Church, can scripture be the master? If Jesus is the Head of the Church, will the Church misinterpret scripture?

    I am under the impression that if the place one starts from is the wrong place, no matter how good the map, one will arrive in the wrong place at the end. “Scripture is the master; the church is the minister ” is the wrong starting place. Hence it necessarily leads to the wrong conclusion. Starting at the wrong place is never helpful.

    If one starts out at the wrong place, might one be hyper aware of the second coming, virtually to the exclusion of any sensible thought?

    If one starts out at the wrong place, might one be a Unitarian or a Oneness believer?

    If one starts out at the wrong place, might one reject reason as totally unreliable in determining what God is doing? Calvin’s thought expressed in TULIP’s total depravity appears to think so.

    If one starts out at the wrong place, might one be hyper aware of one’s limitations and of God’s ability to will and to work in you? Luther seemed to think so. “In” is the key word here. Luther seemed to think that God would save you juridically, wrapping grace around the sinfulness of your life. That grace would perfect nature, that you, in Jesus’ words, could “be perfect” was outside of Luther’s thought.

    I have seen several lists of the successors of Peter in Rome, recognized as his followers in the seat of that particular Church. The lists are always identical, name for name. You might want to source the references the author of the article used to come up with his quotes, then put them in context.

    Before I became Catholic, I was used to seeing items pulled out of context, including the context of history. For a Catholic, there were things that were undefined at one period in time which were defined later. The canon of scripture is such an item. Until it was defined, one might accept the letters of people such as Ignatius of Antioch as scripture. Once scripture was defined, Ignatius of Antioch wrote wonderfully and faithfully, but it was not scripture. Good as Ignatius was, his material was not apostolic in origin, and therefore not acceptable for the New Testament.

    Jesus noted that He would send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth. Understanding the truth of various things occurred in stages, as answering the questions became necessary. How do we understand the Trinity? The divine humanity of Christ Jesus? The position of Mary? The purpose of Peter? The meaning of the Church?

    There are to be sure keys to all of these things in scripture, but not necessarily complete answers. The overwhelming difficulty of these things are attested to in the Yellow Pages under Church, however the Yellow Pages don’t give answers, just competing and usually antithetical results.

    I did read the article so I could attempt some justice to you in responding.

    Cordially,

    dt

  217. Eric (#214):

    You wrote:

    Please provide extra-scriptural evidence from the oral teaching of the Lord Jesus showing Scripture to be inerrant. If this oral teaching is now in written form, then please provide the source(s).

    Your question would be pertinent only on the assumption that only “evidence from the oral teaching of the Lord,” to the effect that Scripture is inerrant, would suffice as evidence that Scripture is inerrant. But that assumption is unwarranted. Why?

    Because we cannot help relying on the Church for evidence, including Scriptural evidence, for what Jesus said, did, and willed. For instance, we learned what counts as inspired Scripture by the authority of the Church. So it is by the authority of the Church that we know what Jesus wants us to believe, regardless of the extent to which that is recorded, or not, in Scripture. But if the Church is always fallible, then so was her judgment about what counts and does not count as inspired Scripture, along with her judgment about any other question concerning what Jesus would have us believe.

    The upshot is that, unless the Church is divinely protected from error when teaching with her full authority, then even the question what counts as evidence for what Jesus wants us to believe is a matter of opinion, which cannot elicit the assent of faith.

    Best,
    Mike

  218. Mike (re: #216),

    You wrote:
    Because we cannot help relying on the Church for evidence, including Scriptural evidence, for what Jesus said, did, and willed.

    That’s fine. Provide extra-scriptural evidence from the teaching of the church showing scripture to be inerrant. Limit the evidence to examples where the church exercised its infallibility. Would you have answered my initial question differently if I was Jew who rejected Jesus and the church as authoritative ?

    You wrote:
    So it is by the authority of the Church that we know what Jesus wants us to believe, regardless of the extent to which that is recorded, or not, in Scripture.

    What causes you to stop at authority ? Why not identify the church as revelation ? The Lord Jesus embodied full authority and revelation of the Father.

    To hold a position by opinion includes fear of its opposite. This is certainly no sure grounds for faith. If a necessary principle is offered to differentiate divine revelation and human opinion, then what right do we have in saying this principle exists outside the individual mind ? Who determines what is believable before searching for the object of belief ?

    Thanks,
    Eric

  219. Michial,

    I appreciate the link to Michael Horton’s piece over at WhiteHorseInn. I read it and all the comments that followed. I am also standing on the edge of the Tiber, perhaps having even waded in. Sounds like the article has convinced you to remain Protestant. The three main points that I took from the essay were: (a) the record of church history strongly supports the Protestant paradigm of authority, evidenced by the fact that the majority of the pre-Tridentine Church Fathers and theologians recognized a sharp distinction between an infallible Scripture and a fallible Church, the poor support for any historical record of apostolic succession, and the sheer confusion of contradicting councils, popes etc, especially in the medieval period and (b) the fact that those who choose to submit Roman Church authority are in the same epistemologic situation as those who choose to submit to the authority of Scripture read in the context of tradition (his rule of faith) (c) Scripture is clear enough on the important substance of the Gospel.

    Are these the issues that were convincing to you? I find argument (a) to be the most convincing of the three, though it seems that Dr. Horton tries to cover too much territory in a short essay. If there is an argument that would keep me from becoming Catholic, it is that history does not support the post-Trent Catholic claims regarding Church authority and the papacy. I wish Horton would more fully address and explain a positive argument for the Protestant paradigm. He seems to concede that Sola Scriptura has some problems, but better to “limp along” with an imperfect means of attaining truth than to accept and submit to a system that is so clearly contra-historical record and contra-gospel. In one sense this resonates with me, but I think some question-begging arises from some of his assumptions.

    Burton

  220. One more general thought/question.

    I find the claims regarding history very difficult to evaluate. Michael Horton makes some strong claims at WhiteHorseInn and backs it up with quotes both from Church Fathers and modern Catholic theologians. Any suggestion on how to evaluate such claims without getting my PhD in Church History? In no way during this lifetime do I have the time or resources to do this subject any justice. The potential for bias is huge on both sides of the aisle, and depending on which author or selection of primary source materials I read, a pretty good case can be made for both sides’ claims. My PCA pastor has made the comment to me, “we know what these guys [Church Fathers] said”, in the context of making the argument that what they said clearly supports the Protestant view (or at least undermines the Catholic claim). Any way to cut through this?

    Burton

  221. Burton,

    You said: “If there is an argument that would keep me from becoming Catholic, it is that history does not support the post-Trent Catholic claims regarding Church authority and the papacy.”

    I have one book for you, and I will send it to you for free. The site administrators have my email address. The book is Studies on the Early Papacy by Dom John Chapman, the great convert and patristics scholar. I cannot encourage you enough to read it.

    Most Catholics, (including men like Steve Ray), do not know the wealth of evidence for papal authority in antiquity. You need to read this book, regardless of what you have read before. It doesn’t present all the evidence by a long shot. But it is almost the only source available today that does some justice to the overwhelming historical evidence for papal authority in antiquity.

    Please ask the site administrators to give you my email address (the work address guys, because my yahoo account is defunct). I will send you the book for free.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  222. K. Doran,

    Thanks for the offer. I would love to read the book.

    I find Michael Horton’s most convincing arguments regarding authority to be those from history, which he seems to know well. As I mentioned above, one of my great frustrations in trying to discern the truth about Catholicism, Protestantism etc is my apparent inability to thoroughly and objectively assess whether or not reasonably firm conclusions can be made regarding authority, the church, and Scripture. Each side trots out their favorite quotes and people latch on to the set that supports their bias. If that sounds cynical, its because after 10 years I get into cynical moods.

    Burton

  223. Burton;
    I’m right where you are: about 10 yrs of looking into this with varying levels of intensity and in many ways standing right on the edge. I also share your frustration about the history issue and differences of interpreting historical data along with concerns about bias. Here are 2 things that I’m presently pondering in response to my confusion from looking at history.

    1: (Anecodotal, I know) I see far more Christian scholars, pastors, and intellectuals leaving various camps of Protestantism for Rome than I see going from Rome to the Protestant side. Many of these people take a sophisticated look at the history, theology, and philosophy and often at significant personal and professional cost make the move to Rome. From a “man in the street” point of view, that lends credibility to the RC position. In fact, I have never heard of any Catholic scholars or pastors or intellectuals tell a story of conversion to Protestantism like what we often hear from folks going to the Catholic side. You know the type of story I’m talking about. It’s the story that a lot of the guys on this site can tell. They’re happy, well-informed, gainfully employed in and enthusiastic about their tradition until various historical, theological, and/or philosophical issues pop up that lead the person to further inquiries leading to conversion.

    2: Ecumenical councils making binding decisions on matters of faith. I think the councils believed they had the God-given authority to make binding decisions on what the faithful were to believe I don’t think they held that individual Christians, even extraordinarily intelligent individuals in ordained leadership positions, were free to dissent from conciliar teachings and go off in their own direction, either individually or in groups, to decide for themselves on matters of faith and develop their own separate confessional standards.

    Blessings to you,
    Mark

  224. Burton,

    I know exactly what you’re talking about. It tends to make me more angry than cynical; I guess that is my personality type. The key things to remember are:

    (1) The shape of the data
    (2) Relative consistency

    The data set is very sparse in the apostolic fathers. It has brief flashes of light until around 200 – 250 A.D., where we get four or five fathers of whom we have a number of words preserved, although not nearly all that they wrote. Then the data set goes dark again until after the official toleration of the Catholic Church began around 310 AD. The data slowly picks up in fits and starts, and finally gets going around 380 AD.

    So the earliest period for which we have lots of data is 380 AD and onward. Why is this important? Well, because without lots of data you can’t (I mean can’t) answer subtle questions about the people who produced the data. If you want to know what language I speak, or the name of my spouse, a small data set preserving a tiny fraction of my lifetime writing will be fine. But if you want to know my opinions on strict originalism in the interpretation of the constitution, as opposed to a modified originalism, then you need a big sample so that you can stumble upon the places where I’ve written on that. You also need a big sample so that you can see the various ways I’ve qualified or lived those beliefs.

    So, yes: there’s evidence for lots of Catholic doctrines from the apostolic fathers (and in the Acts of the Apostles as well!). But it’s a small data set, so it can’t defend itself against the corrosive force of incredibly intricate cross-examinations by Protestant historians. When they say that Ignatius of Antioch is perfectly in line with them, it seems weird to say the least. But poor Ignatius can’t write any more than the few words he already has. While the obvious implication of his words is decidedly Catholic, he didn’t have the space to explicitly rule out very intricate and counter-intuitive interpretations of his words (at least in the tiny set of writings which have survived).

    When the data set gets large, however, after around 380 AD, you get enough data that you can rule out complicated misconstruals of what the fathers are trying to say; one can explicitly rule out much of the “they didn’t really mean the obvious interpretation of their words” stuff. To do so takes exhaustive reading of the documents themselves, rather than pieces of them, as well as discipline to focus on the clear evidence without getting distracted by the unclear evidence.

    To give you one example of what can be done when the data set gets large, Pope Innocent I wrote the following letter to the African Bishops during the Pelagian Controversy (this is pre-Council of Ephesus, while the Church was unified throughout the World):

    “In making inquiry with respect to those things that should be treated with all solicitude by bishops, and especially by a true and just and Catholic Council, by preserving, as you have done, the example of ancient tradition, and by being mindful of ecclesiastical discipline, you have truly strengthened the vigour of our Faith, no less now in consulting us than before in passing sentence. For you decided that it was proper to refer to our judgement, knowing what is due to the Apostolic See, since all we who are set in this place, desire to follow the Apostle (Peter) from whom the very episcopate and whole authority of this name is derived. Following in his steps, we know how to condemn the evil and to approve the good. So also, you have by your sacerdotal office preserved the customs of the Fathers, and have not spurned that which they decreed by a divine and not human sentence, that whatsoever is done, even though it be in distant provinces, should not be ended without being brought to the knowledge of this See, that by its authority the whole just pronouncement should be strengthened, and that from it all other Churches (like waters flowing from their natal source and flowing through the different regions of the world, the pure streams of one incorrupt head), should receive what they ought to enjoin, whom they ought to wash, and whom that water, worthy of pure bodies, should avoid as defiled with uncleansable filth. I congratulate you, therefore, dearest brethren, that you have directed letters to us by our brother and fellow-bishop Julius, and that, while caring for the Churches which you rule, you also show your solicitude for the well-being of all, and that you ask for a decree that shall profit all the Churches of the world at once; so that the Church being established in her rules and confirmed by this decree of just pronouncement against such errors, may be unable to fear those men, etc.”

    The letter is preserved in Letter 181 of Saint Augustine’s corpus, and I am using Chapman’s translation of it above. Various scholars have tried to claim that Augustine must have been shocked by such pro-papal language. They look at various letters which Augustine wrote, and do not find such a broad pro-papal claim in the letters they look at. Using an argument from silence, they then claim that Augustine did not agree with the Pope’s claims. Now, arguments from silence are very weak in general unless the data set being considered is exhaustive and the need to break silence is obvious. But in this case the error goes much deeper. Augustine himself actually wrote a letter in which he explicitly discussed his feelings regarding the claims Pope Innocent’s made in the very letter quoted above. The letter in which Augustine writes about his feelings regarding Pope Innocent’s claims won’t be found in the standard free Protestant translation (the same translation, ironically, which is on New Advent). It is letter 186, and I include Chapman’s translation of the relevant passage:

    After letters had come to us from the East, discussing the case in the clearest manner, we were bound not to fail in assisting the Church’s need with such episcopal authority as we possess (nullo modo jam qualicumque episcopali auctoritate deesse Ecclesiae debueramus). In consequence, relations as to this matter were sent from two Councils — those of Carthage and of Milevis — to the Apostolic See, before the ecclesiastical acts by which Pelagius is said to have been acquitted had come into our hands or into Africa at all. We also wrote to Pope Innocent, of blessed memory a private letter, besides the relations of the Councils, wherein we described the case at greater length, TO ALL OF THESE HE ANSWERED IN THE MANNER WHICH WAS THE RIGHT AND DUTY OF THE BISHOP OF THE APOSTOLIC SEE (Ad omnia nobis ille rescripsit eo modo quo fas erat atque oportebat Apostolicae sedis Antistitem). All of which you may now read, if perchance none of them or not all of them have yet received you; in them you will see that, while he has preserved the moderation which was right, so that the heretic should not be condemned if he condemns his errors, yet the new and pernicious error is so restrained by ecclesiastical authority that we much wonder that there should be any still remaining who, by any error whatsoever, try to fight against the grace of God….

    The point is: once the data set becomes rich enough, even subtle questions about papal authority can be answered.

    The second point is relative consistency. You can find a lot of evidence of the sort I outlined above for worldwide papal doctrinal authority during antiquity. As far as I know, you cannot find one Church father who gets the Protestant Canon exactly right. It would take many such fathers for the evidence for the Protestant Canon in antiquity to match the evidence for worldwide papal doctrinal authority in antiquity.

    I’m not trying to convince you to become an agnostic, but the thing is: you can’t really take the protestant canon on history without taking the pope.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  225. Burton (re: #222):

    I can understand your frustration. What Horton wrote on his blog is basically what he taught in his lectures on the doctrine of the church. The historical reasons you give are what basically kept me from Rome for a long while (and eventually led me to agnosticism). If you’re pressed for time, I think you should take the major historical objections he poses and really see whether they actually diminish Rome’s claim. I, at least, found many of his claims to be unsubstantiated or highly skewed in terms of interpretation.

    I suppose for a Catholic, the way a Protestant interprets Church history is analogous to how higher critics interpret biblical history, assuming some sort of hermeneutic of rupture.

    For example, the quote from Pope Gregory regarding the title ‘universal bishop’ is often referenced by Horton, but many have already shown that what Pope Gregory meant by the term is ‘sole’ bishop, making all others bishops in a purely nominal sense, which is what Bishop John the Faster claimed for himself, is entirely different from how the Catholic Church understands the papal office. Even St. Francis de Sales had already answered this objection during the time of the Reformation in his tracts, The Catholic Controversy.

    Moreover, I would recommend reading Augustine’s works in their entirety rather than select quotes. When I did this as a Protestant I was severely disturbed by how Catholic Augustine really was.

    Hope that is somewhat helpful…

  226. @Eirik #212

    Johannes {#205]

    Get together with John S. [#191] and decide whether NO Catholic understands transubstantiation materialistically or whether ALL Catholics do. That’s quite a disparity!

    My guess is that you two are talking past one another. Eucharistic definitions are pretty darn intricate.

    All Catholics understand transubstantiation the same way, namely that Jesus is “really and substantially” on the altar. The term “materially” is imprecise and I should not have used it. The reason I picked it up from your comment was just to emphasize that we do not believe that after the consecration Jesus is present either symbolically (the Calvinist view) or united with the bread (the Lutheran view).

    So I stand for the rest I said: After the consecration there is no longer bread on the altar, but the same and whole Jesus Christ Who walked along Palestine and is now in Heaven, the same and whole Jesus Christ in Whom the fullness of divinity dwells bodily.

    And if we focus on the Last Supper, after Jesus’ words there was no longer bread in his hands, but the same and whole Jesus Who was sitting at the table. So that at the Last Supper, as Augustine aptly said, Jesus carried Himself in his own hands. (BTW, thank you for pointing out that augustinian statement, I did not know it.)

    Re your #189, we certainly do not need St Thomas to teach us that Christ’s “quantitative dimensions” are not in the Eucharist, because anyone can notice that by himself. And the same goes for the “qualitative dimensions”, so to speak, as Jesus’ Body in the Eucharist tastes like bread and Jesus’ Blood like wine. Only the substance changes, not the accidents.

    On this subject, I will quote at this point a former contributor to this site, now Eastern Orthodox, Fr Kimel:

    But if a change of substance has occurred, why is it that we only perceive bread and wine? It is here that Catholic theologians have invoked the distinction between substance and appearances (species): the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ, yet they still appear to be bread and wine. All of the sensible qualities (accidents) of the bread and wine remain intact. If a scientist (God forbid!) were to analyze the consecrated elements, he would discover that they are identical to bread and wine in every way. No chemical, material, or molecular change has occurred. This is a critical point to recognize, because it is at this point that many people, including many Catholics, get confused. They think that transubstantiation necessarily entails a chemical-material change in the elements, a change that God miraculously keeps hidden from us. But this is not what the doctrine says. This is not what Thomas Aquinas says. The Lutheran Hermann Sasse has even accused Aquinas of being a semi-Calvinist, because of Aquinas’s insistence that Christ is not locally present in the Sacrament.

    The distinction between substance (what the Sacrament truly is) and appearance (what we perceive) is hardly an invention of the Latin Church. Consider this passage from St Cyril of Jerusalem:

    These things having learnt, and being fully persuaded that what seems bread is not bread, though bread by taste, but the Body of Christ; and that what seems wine is not wine, though the taste will have it so, but the Blood of Christ; and that of this David sung of old, saying, (And bread which strengtheneth man’s heart, and oil to make his face to shine) [Ps. 104:15], “strengthen thine heart,” partaking thereof as spiritual, and “make the face of thy soul to shine.”

    Or this passage from (Eastern Orthodox) St Theophylact (of Ohrid), commenting on Matt 26:26:

    By saying, ‘This is My Body,’ He shows that the bread which is sanctified on the altar is the Lord’s Body Itself, and not a symbolic type. For He did not say, ‘This is a type,’ but ‘This is My Body.’ By an ineffable action it is changed, although it may appear to us as bread. Since we are weak and could not endure raw meat, much less human flesh, it appears as bread to us although it is indeed flesh.”

    Neither author explicitly employs the term “substance,” but clearly the notion is implicit.

    Finally, a thourough treatment of the issues of spatial circumscription and multilocation is at this page, in the section “Speculative discussion of the real presence”.

  227. Burton, in your post # 200, you wrote this:

    I do think there exists some positive proof for the final authority of Scripture (over and above other authorities) in the Church Fathers, but a thorough study of patristics requires more time than I have to give, even assuming I possess the necessary expertise.

    It seems to me that you are looking for evidence from the Early Church Father that they positively taught the doctrine of sola scriptura (that is, you are not looking for an argument from silence). But even if you found positive evidence from the writings of the ECFs that they taught the doctrine of sola scriptura, why would that matter? The ECF’s taught about the doctrine of Purgatory too, but what sola scriptura confessing Protestant will accept the ECFs on that point of doctrine? If the ECFs can be wrong about the doctrine of Purgatory, then they can also be wrong about the doctrine sola scriptura (assuming that they taught it). The reverse is true too, if you found evidence that the ECF’s did not teach the doctrine of sola scriptura, why would that matter? The ECFs could be wrong about that – maybe they should have positively taught sola scriptura, and not taught about Purgatory. In the end, the doctrine of sola scriptura reduces everything that the Early Church Fathers taught to the level of mere opinion, opinion that may, or may not, be inerrant.

    It seems to me that to be consistent, the sola scriptura believing Protestant should look first to the scriptures to find where the doctrine of sola scriptura is actually taught in the scriptures. If a Protestant can find the verses in the scriptures that teach sola scriptura doctrine, then whatever the Early Church Fathers taught is irrelevant. If the Protestant finds evidence that the doctrine of sola scriptura was taught by the Early Church Fathers, then he has reason to believe that the ECF’s did not immediately fall into heresy on that single point of doctrine. If he finds that the ECF’s did not teach the doctrine of sola scriptura, then he would have evidence that the ECF’s are unreliable sources for what constitutes orthodox Christian doctrine. (Even a cursory reading the ECFs will reveal that they believed doctrines about Purgatory, Mary, the Sacraments, the Canon of scriptures, etc., etc., which most sola scriptura believing Protestant reject. Which shouldn’t concern me if sola scriptura doctrine is taught in the scriptures.)

    But what if the doctrine of sola scriptura is NOT taught in scriptures? I agree with the Reformers when they claimed that Reformation stands or falls on the doctrine of sola scriptura. Burton, may I suggest that before you dive into reading the Early Church Fathers, that you look first for the scriptures that explicitly teach the doctrine of sola scriptura? If you do that, I am sure that you will discover that there are NO verses to be found in within your Protestant bible that teach Luther’s doctrine of sola scriptura. Instead of finding sola scriptura doctrine taught in the scriptures, you will find that scriptures show that Jesus Christ founded his own church, and then commanded that his disciples must listen to his church or suffer the punishment of excommunication. Nowhere will you find that the scriptures authorize men to found their own personal “bible churches”. (Personal “bible churches” that teach, quite naturally, their founder’s own personal interpretation of scriptures!)

    Burton, you write:

    As I mentioned above, one of my great frustrations in trying to discern the truth about Catholicism, Protestantism etc is my apparent inability to thoroughly and objectively assess whether or not reasonably firm conclusions can be made regarding authority, the church, and Scripture.

    You don’t doubt that the scriptures are inerrant, isn’t that correct? That is a good starting point! Read for yourself what the scriptures actually teach about “authority, the church, and Scripture”. But read the scriptures anew without first presupposing that the doctrine of sola scriptura is taught in scriptures. If you do that, I think that you will see that you will see things in a new light:

    The picture the New Testament paints is one in which the ordained leadership of the visible church gathers to bind and loose in Jesus’ Name and with his authority, with the Old Testament Scriptures being called upon as witnesses to the apostles’ and elders’ message (Matt. 18:18-19; Acts 15:6-29), with no indication in Scripture that such ecclesiastical authority was to cease and eventually give way to Sola Scriptura (meaning that the doctrine [Sola Scriptura] fails its own test).

    Quote by Jason Stellman, (ref. post #158)

    Mr. Stellman is correct, Luther’s sola scriptura novelty “fails it own test”, that is, since the doctrine of sola scriptura is nowhere taught in scripture, there is no scriptural reason to believe that Luther’s novelty is scriptural.

    Which doesn’t mean that sola scriptura can’t be true; it just means that I can never know that Luther’s doctrine is true if I first presuppose that the only inerrant source of Christian doctrine that I possess is what is explicitly taught in the Protestant bible. Maybe Luther’s doctrine of sola scriptura is true, maybe it is bunk, but if it is true, then I can never know that it is true. Which is why I scratch my head and wonder why any sola scriptura confessing Protestant would ever look to the Early Church Fathers to see what the Early Church Fathers believed about sola scriptura. If sola scriptura is true, then it is irrational to look for evidence outside of scriptures to try and prove that sola scriptura is true!

    Mr. Stellman is stating a fact: the scriptures themselves give no indication that the apostolic era was going to give way to the era of sola scriptura. So why not just assume that the church that Jesus Christ personally founded didn’t lose her teaching authority when the apostolic era ended? After all, Christ promised that the powers of death would never prevail against his church.

    Each side trots out their favorite quotes and people latch on to the set that supports their bias.

    Reformed Protestant scholars will admit that the Early Church Fathers do not always teach what John Calvin taught. Their bias is this: if an Early Church Father conflicts with what John Calvin taught, then it is safe to presume that Calvin was right and the Early Church Father was wrong. Which is not necessarily an unreasonable thing to believe, as long as only one or two Early Church Fathers disagree with John Calvin. Maybe an Early Church Father was wrong, and John Calvin was right. Maybe.

    “Among all those who have been born of women, there has not risen a greater than John Calvin; no age before him ever produced his equal, and no age afterwards has seen his rival. In theology, he stands alone, shining like a bright fixed star, while other leaders and teachers can only circle round him, at a great distance — as comets go streaming through space — with nothing like his glory or his permanence.” – Charles Spurgeon

    Some Calvinists believe that John Calvin is the greatest theologian that ever lived, greater than any Early Church Father, St. Augustine included. But who is the one that is letting bias overrule reason when the Early Church Fathers overwhelming disagree with John Calvin on a point a doctrine?

    Pontificator’s Third Law: It’s one thing to read Scripture and the Fathers; it’s quite another thing to read Scripture through the Fathers.

  228. Joshua:

    Thank you so much for posting your conversion story. I am a cradle Catholic and am inspired by your love of Christ, your hunger to discern and grow in your love of Christ and in sharing with others, in caring, polite and thoughtful dialogue. You are a living contemporary example of discipleship. I will continue to pray for you.

    Having been challenged to better learn and understand more about my own Catholic faith and Church, I accessed a couple resources, one of which I share below. If you access Jimmy Akin’s website, don’t be fooled by his light-hearted and colorful presentation. He is a brilliant mind, theologically sound and greatly gifted to explain complex issues in practical speak. He repeatedly cites to authority that supports his analysis/discussion. I particularly enjoyed his book, The Salvation Controversy. It helped me, immensely, get a grasp on the differences of Protestant views from Catholic views on Salvation. I strongly recommend the book to anyone looking for a concise analysis of this topic.

    http://jimmyakin.com/about

    Peace be to you,

    Ed

  229. Mateo,

    I think the assumption among well-schooled Protestants (such as Michael Horton and Keith Mathison) is that the ECF’s writings provide at least plausible evidence that the only infallible authority is Scripture, and that all other authorities must ultimately be judged by it. If it can be shown that the Reformers and the majority of the ECF’s were in agreement on this foundational issue, then the areas of disagreement ( purgatory, Marian issues, etc) become secondary with respect to the question of how Truth is ascertained, doctrine defined, and consciences bound. Whether or not these assumptions are valid or a fair rendering of the historical evidence is another question.

    Burton

  230. Eric (#218):

    You wrote:

    Provide extra-scriptural evidence from the teaching of the church showing scripture to be inerrant. Limit the evidence to examples where the church exercised its infallibility. Would you have answered my initial question differently if I was Jew who rejected Jesus and the church as authoritative ?

    Before I sing that song, I ask: why would it matter to you?

    You wrote:

    What causes you to stop at authority ? Why not identify the church as revelation ? The Lord Jesus embodied full authority and revelation of the Father.

    I do not stop at authority. Instead, I rely on the authority of the Church to know who Jesus was, what he said, and why it matters.

    You wrote:

    If a necessary principle is offered to differentiate divine revelation and human opinion, then what right do we have in saying this principle exists outside the individual mind ? Who determines what is believable before searching for the object of belief ?

    Those questions seem misplaced to me. As to the first, the point of a principled distinction between divine revelation and human opinion is to enable us to apprehend the former without reducing it to the latter. On the supposition that said distinction “exists” only “within the human mind” and does not correspond to broader reality, then the distinction has no application and thus collapses. So, while it certainly does exist in the human mind, it cannot exist only there, else we cannot distinguish reliably between divine revelation and human opinion. And Christ surely does not will such an outcome.

    There is no general, philosophical answer to your second question–nor, in my opinion, could there be. In theology, however, a Church speaking with divine authority and infallibility is absolutely necessary for proposing divine revelation for our assent of faith.

    Best,
    Mike

  231. Mike (re: #230),

    You wrote:
    Before I sing that song, I ask: why would it matter to you?

    I just wanted to see some of the evidence you would advance for infallibility in action. Since the church is infallible under certain conditions, I wanted to compare what you think is infallible and fallible teachings. Unless you think the church always teaches with infallibility. Identifying the scriptures without error depends on an infallible person, so did the Jewish church, who was entrusted with the words of God, possess infallibility ? If not, then was the Lord Jesus the first one in Jewish history to identify scriptures without error ?

    You wrote:
    I do not stop at authority.

    I mean why do you limit authority and conditional infallibility to the church ? I understand that her power and authority is a revealed truth, but why not simply call her revelation from God ? Christ was the fullness of revelation, so the church is revelation in a derivative sense. Marking out authority-revelation distinctions at just the right angle seem arbitrary. If the fullness of revelation is Christ and the deposit includes Christ’s revelation, then the very heart and nature of the church is revelation. Also, why are new definitions of revealed truths not new moments of God revealing ?

    You wrote:
    On the supposition that said distinction “exists” only “within the human mind” and does not correspond to broader reality, then the distinction has no application and thus collapses.

    I agree, but this is the most critical point for your basic argument. You are inviting the individual mind to reason about the supposed necessary principle without outside considerations. The correspondence is taking place between the mind of the individual and the thinking-individual as a fact in reality. The moment you get them to agree on the necessary conditions is the same moment you tell them to doubt and relinquish their determinative power of judgment. Your argument will become superfluous because they will not go from empowered-reasoning to reason-yielding-to-authority. At best, you will get them to accept an “expert” authority with more insight or knowledge, but never a permanent superior authority.

    You wrote:
    There is no general, philosophical answer to your second question–nor, in my opinion, could there be. In theology, however, a Church speaking with divine authority and infallibility is absolutely necessary for proposing divine revelation for our assent of faith.

    Reference your comment #121. Your step-proposal can’t ever move from (1) to (2) unless the person already believes (not philosophical agreement) the same as you. The reason is contained in the above comment. (1) is taking for granted that the person can determine the “believable” (which is logically prior to the object of faith). Starting with this philosophical approach will cause the person to see themselves as (2), or modifying (2) by denying the need for a divine authority protected from error.

    If you are a Father, then Happy Father’s Day.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  232. Johannes–

    Sometimes I wonder whether ANYBODY genuinely tries to understand the alternative views to the sacraments. I’m not going to claim to be some sort of an expert, and would love citations from any appropriate scholar clarifying fine points.

    1. Not only do all Catholics NOT understand transubstantiation in the same way, I would put a pretty hefty bet on the probability that a high percentage of Catholics do not understand transubstantiation in any way. I don’t blame them much. It’s not particularly understandable. By any normal criterion a modern mind would use to analyze the consecrated host and wine, they remain material: the wine will still get you drunk if you imbibe too heavily. (Whatever “accidents” meant in Aristotelian terms, why exactly do we need to abide by his take on the topic today? Is his philosophy somehow inspired?) If “substance” need not include possessing mass and occupying space, we have either a meaningless term or a supernatural one. In that case, you have the body and blood of Christ supernaturally juxtaposed here on earth in the same space and time as the bread and wine (the Lutheran view) or you have the bread and wine supernaturally juxtaposed with the body and blood of Christ resident in heaven (the actual Calvinist view). Memorialism (the symbolic view) is Zwingli’s view, and even he spoke in some sense of the Real Presence.

    What you describe here…

    “After the consecration there is no longer bread on the altar, but the same and whole Jesus Christ Who walked along Palestine and is now in Heaven, the same and whole Jesus Christ in Whom the fullness of divinity dwells bodily.”

    …is a rather nifty expression of Calvin’s view.

    Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Catholics all believe in some version of the Real Presence…the true corporeal presence of Christ. Only Catholics worship the host itself. Protestants worship within the presence of the Holy One, and many now choose to kneel. (It is decidedly the high point of worship for me…no less than breathtaking!)

    We choose not to worship the host because of the inherent temptation to idolatry: Jesus’ body is not literally bread (even within transubstantiation). You said as much in your description. Instead, the bread becomes his body. We encounter the incarnate Christ within the Eucharist.

    Whatever you have been told, ancient civilizations were not idiots. When they fashioned an idol out of wood, metal, and stone, they knew quite well who was doing the fashioning. But they believed the gods could come inhabit these forms. Yahweh himself did deign to indwell the earthly Jerusalem Temple, but he insisted on aniconic worship…absolutely no idols.

    Study it in detail, without the blinders on, and you’ll discover there’s really not that much difference between the Catholic Eucharist and that of the magisterial Reformation. We can probably both agree that the Radical Reformation, in eradicating the whole notion of sacrament, went in the wrong direction. (In their favor, it should be said that ALL of us also see the bread and the wine as metaphor for, as symbol of the body and blood. Not to do so would be to throw out all proper sense of aesthetics.)

    I see the primary difference as the role of faith within the transformation. Catholics prioritize the faith of the entire church through the presiding priest, whereby the consecration is done “ex opere operato.” Protestants tend to require the faith of the recipient for the efficacy of the sacrament. Even here though, I do believe Catholics require the faith of the recipient for it to benefit him or her. Both communions denounce the taking of sacraments in an unworthy manner. I often think much more is made of the differences than is actually there.

    All the best,

    –Eirik

  233. MarkS (#223),

    So you’ve been at this for over a decade, too? Don’t know about you, brother, but I’m beginning to envy those on either side of this regrettable divide that are firmly convinced and at peace.

    I have pondered your point (1). I suspect that the phenomenon you describe is real, and it is suggestive of a certain conclusion (the validity of Rome’s claims), but I would guess that the sociologists and psychologists among us could produce other equally valid conclusions. As for point (2), I’m not sure how the best Reformed theologians and apologists would respond to this. Perhaps by making the observation (as some have) that the first 1500 years of church history are much messier than the “romanticized” RCC version and that clean conciliar doctrine and unity simply didn’t exist. I am not saying that history necessarily supports this claim, just trying to think out loud. This does get to one issue to which I have yet to hear any reasonable or plausible Protestant response: how to account for what seems to be a near universal understanding in the early church and medieval church of the clear distinction between heresy as wrong doctrine and schism as separation from the visible church. Perhaps Michael Horton or Keith Mathison or James White have a clear and concise answer, and I just haven’t seen it.

    I will pray for you, that God gives you eyes to see and the courage to follow Him wherever He leads, be that the RCC or remaining Protestant.

    Burton

  234. Burton, thank you for bearing with me in our discussion. I pray that I can be of some use in answering your objections.

    You write:

    I think the assumption among well-schooled Protestants (such as Michael Horton and Keith Mathison) is that the ECF’s writings provide at least plausible evidence that the only infallible authority is Scripture, and that all other authorities must ultimately be judged by it.

    You have got me thinking about judgement and inanimate objects. An inanimate object can be used to make a judgement that is affirmed by God, if God chooses to use inanimate objects to help men make that discernment. In the OT era, inanimate objects were sometimes used as divination tools to discern God’s will, e.g. the use of the Urim and Thummim stones, casting lots, throwing a fleece, etc. In the NT era, the eleven living apostles cast lots to decide between Justus and Matthias to discern God’s will as to which of these men should succeed Judas in his office. That occurred shortly before Pentecost, and that was the last time that the NT records the use of an inanimate object to discern God’s will. After Pentecost, the church that Christ founded is built up through the exercise of the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit. I don’t see any evidence in the post-Pentecost era for using a bible (an inanimate object) as a divination tool to decide between plausible interpretations of scriptures. But a man that exercises a particular charismatic gift – the charism of infallibility – could discern between plausible interpretations of scriptures, and his judgement, because it was guided by the Holy Spirit, would be inerrant, with an inerrancy that is guaranteed by God. From the Catholic perspective then, in the post-Pentecost era, only a man exercising the charismatic gift of infallibility can be an “infallible authority”. And again, from a Catholic perspective, sola scriptura confessing Protestants have no infallible authority. These Protestants only have men and women that can give, at best, well intentioned, but fallible opinions, and they admit as much.

    I want to pause here to make a point here about the charism of infallibility and why that charism not identical with the charism of inspiration. First let me give a definition of the charism of biblical inspiration:

    INSPIRATION, BIBLICAL. The special influence of the Holy Spirit on the writers of Sacred Scripture in virtue of which God himself becomes the principal author of the books written and the sacred writer is the subordinate author. In using human beings as his instruments in the composition, God does so in harmony with the person’s nature and temperament, and with no violence to the free, natural activity of his or her human faculties. According to the Church’s teaching, “by supernatural power, God so moved and impelled them to write, He was so present to them, that the things which He ordered and those only they first rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth” (Pope Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, Denzinger 3293).

    Ref: Modern Catholic Dictionary
    http://www.therealpresence.org/cgi-bin/getdefinition.pl

    When an author of the scriptures exercised the charism of inspiration, he simultaneously exercised the charism of infallibility. An OT prophet, when overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, could exercise simultaneously the charismatic gifts of prophesy, inspiration, and infallibility. The Apostles could also exercise these three charismatic gifts simultaneously. For example, the Apostle John exercised the charismatic gifts of prophesy, inspiration, and infallibility when he wrote the last book of the NT. Through the charismatic gift of inspiration, mankind received public revelation. After the last apostle died, public revelation became closed, and with the closing of public revelation, the charismatic gift of inspiration ceased to be exercised by men. The Catholic Church teaches that God has given to us the fullness of revelation in Christ Jesus, and that there will be no more public revelation given to man.

    Catechism of the Catholic Church

    III. CHRIST JESUS — “MEDIATOR AND FULLNESS OF ALL REVELATION”
    God has said everything in his Word

    65 “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father’s one, perfect and unsurpassable Word. In him he has said everything; there will be no other word than this one. …

    There will be no further Revelation

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

    “Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.” The Catholic Church teaches that through men exercising the charismatic gift of infallibility, what is implicit in the public revelation, can be made explicit, and what has been made explicit when this charismatic gift is exercised has a guarantee from God to be inerrant. It is through the exercise of the charismatic gift of infallibility that doctrinal controversies can be settled when such controversies arise among Christians in the course of the centuries. To be clear, Catholic Church teaches that no new public revelation can be given to the world through the exercise of the charism of infallibility.

    All that I have said above is to make this point: Luther’s doctrine of sola scriptura is not fundamentally a doctrine about the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of the scriptures. Luther’s doctrine is, rather, fundamentally a doctrine pertaining to the charismatic gift of infallibility. Luther agreed with the Catholic Church that public revelation became closed after the death of the last apostle. But Luther then made the radical assertion that after the last apostle died, that no man, under any circumstance conceivable, could ever exercise the charismatic gift of infallibility when defining doctrine. And merely asserting that this was true is all that Luther ever did. Luther never showed to the world any evidence for believing in his radical departure from what Christians had always believed.

    Luther’s denial that the charismatic gift of infallibility could ever be exercised in the post-apostolic era is what puts the “alone” in his “scripture alone” novelty. According to Luther, the Protestant bible is the ONLY source that a Christian has access to in our era that has a guarantee from God to be inerrant. But if, contrary to Luther, a man could exercise the charismatic gift of infallibility when interrupting the bible, the Christian would then have at least two sources for doctrine that is guaranteed by God to be inerrant – the bible, and the interpretations of the bible that have been defined when the charism of infallibility has been exercised.

    I think the assumption among well-schooled Protestants (such as Michael Horton and Keith Mathison) is that the ECF’s writings provide at least plausible evidence that the only infallible authority is Scripture, and that all other authorities must ultimately be judged by it. If it can be shown that the Reformers and the majority of the ECF’s were in agreement on this foundational issue, then the areas of disagreement ( purgatory, Marian issues, etc) become secondary with respect to the question of how Truth is ascertained, doctrine defined, and consciences bound. Whether or not these assumptions are valid or a fair rendering of the historical evidence is another question.

    Why don’t Protestant scholars just look at the evidence that Luther gave for asserting that no man could ever exercise the charism of infallibility? Why not? Because there isn’t any evidence to be found from Luther!

    Burton, I believe that we agree that the scriptures are the only writings that humans have that are inspired (God breathed), and because they are the very words God wants us to hear, they are authoritative and without error. I want to stress this point again: the foundational issue that is in dispute between Catholics and sola scriptura confessing Protestants is not a dispute about the inerrancy and authority of the scriptures – it is a dispute about the charismatic gift of infallibility.

    I completely agree with you that the foundational issue at the heart of the Protestant/Catholic dispute is how “Truth is ascertained, doctrine defined, and consciences bound.” So how, exactly, would my conscience bound to a man’s interpretation of scriptures from the perspective of a sola scriptura confessing Protestant?

    If the Protestant bible is indeed the only source that I have available to me that is guaranteed by God to be inerrant, then I must necessarily reject the possibility that any man can ever exercise the charismatic gift of infallibility when interpreting the Protestant bible. So who, then, has the authority to bind my conscience to his interpretation of the Protestant bible? No one. If, in good conscience, I believed that an interpretation of the Protestant bible is just plain wrong, then I would be conscience bound to act on my belief. Which is just another way of saying that Luther’s sola scriptura doctrine implicitly contains the doctrine of the primacy of the individual’s conscience.

    Luther never gave any evidence for the doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience, and since that doctrine is at the foundation of his sola scriptura novelty, it seems to me, that what Michael Horton and Keith Mathison need to be searching for is the scriptural evidence that supports Luther’s doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience. Good luck with that! If Horton and Mathison are going to scour the writings of the ECFs for evidence, they need to find the evidence that the ECFs believed in the doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience. But the only Christians that believed that they didn’t need to listen to the church that Christ founded are heretics such as the Montanists.

    Horton and Mathison can find plenty of evidence that the ECFs believed that scriptures are authoritative, but what does that prove? The Catholic Church has always believed that scriptures are authoritative. What the Catholic Church has never believed is Cessationism – i.e. the belief that all the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased to be exercised in the post-apostolic era. She does, however, believe that the charism of inspiration ceased to be exercised in the post-apostolic era.

    Burton, may I ask you a question? What scriptural evidence do you see for believing in the doctrine of the primacy of the individual’s conscience?

  235. Eric (#231):

    You wrote:

    I just wanted to see some of the evidence you would advance for infallibility in action. Since the church is infallible under certain conditions, I wanted to compare what you think is infallible and fallible teachings.

    That first sentence is still unclear. I can offer you instances of what, as a Catholic, I believe to be teachings that have infallibly set forth; traditionally, Catholic theologians call those “irreformable,” and the Bible “inerrant.” I hope that’s all you want, since listing irreformable teachings is not per se evidence that those teachings that the Church is in fact infallible when she propounds them. Your second sentence is imprecise, in that “teachings” are never infallible; only persons or bodies thereof are infallible.

    Now, since you wanted an example of irreformable Catholic teaching on the inerrancy of Scripture, I present the following statement from the Second Vatican Council, which merely presents what the Catholic Church has always believed and professed:

    Since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation. (Dei Verbum §11).

    You ask:

    …I mean why do you limit authority and conditional infallibility to the church? I understand that her power and authority is a revealed truth, but why not simply call her revelation from God ? Christ was the fullness of revelation, so the church is revelation in a derivative sense. Marking out authority-revelation distinctions at just the right angle seem arbitrary. If the fullness of revelation is Christ and the deposit includes Christ’s revelation, then the very heart and nature of the church is revelation.

    I do not do what you say. The Church is infallible by the grace of God when she speaks with the authority of God, and God alone is infallible by nature. Since God is infallible by nature, divine revelation, which is transmitted by Scripture and Tradition, is inerrant. But as Vatican II also said:

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

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

    You also write:

    …why are new definitions of revealed truths not new moments of God revealing ?

    Because they merely express a refined understanding of what’s already given in Scripture and Tradition. They do not add to the content of the deposit of faith.

    You write:

    You are inviting the individual mind to reason about the supposed necessary principle without outside considerations. The correspondence is taking place between the mind of the individual and the thinking-individual as a fact in reality. The moment you get them to agree on the necessary conditions is the same moment you tell them to doubt and relinquish their determinative power of judgment. Your argument will become superfluous because they will not go from empowered-reasoning to reason-yielding-to-authority. At best, you will get them to accept an “expert” authority with more insight or knowledge, but never a permanent superior authority.

    To the extent I understand that–and it seems pretty unclear to me–I must say that it’s just wrong. For one thing, I don’t ask anybody to “relinquish” their judgment when they make the decision to render the assent of faith to what the Church teaches about her own authority. After all, their judgment is in large part what enables them to discover reasons to do just that. So, when my judgment tells me to look for and accept a principled distinction between divine revelation and human opinion, I am being reasonable when I rule out approaches that don’t offer such a distinction, and accordingly when I render the assent of faith to the only authority that does. But your approach seems to me to call for one’s own judgment to remain always “determinative” and thus a trump over authority. It thus rules out the very distinction I’m proposing. And that is itself unreasonable.

    You wrote:

    Reference your comment #121. Your step-proposal can’t ever move from (1) to (2) unless the person already believes (not philosophical agreement) the same as you. The reason is contained in the above comment. (1) is taking for granted that the person can determine the “believable” (which is logically prior to the object of faith). Starting with this philosophical approach will cause the person to see themselves as (2), or modifying (2) by denying the need for a divine authority protected from error.

    I shall assume that you’re referring not to my (2) in #121 but to my (4). Otherwise your argument makes no sense.

    In fact, it still makes no sense. First you assert, without argument, that the methodology I proposed already requires that the inquirer “believe” as I do. Well, it just doesn’t. Such an inquirer might not reach the same conclusion I do; he might, for instance, come to see the Eastern-Orthodox communion, or even the JWs or Mormons, as the infallible teaching authority God has put here for us.

    Second, and for the reasons I’ve already given above, accepting the philosophical argument I offered does not make the inquirer his own authority. It merely enables him to use his reason to direct him to a higher authority.

    Best,
    Mike

  236. Mateo (#234),

    One possible piece of Biblical evidence for individual conscience is found in Acts 17:11. I am sure you are familiar with the account of the Bereans and their searching the Scriptures to verify the truth of what Paul was teaching them. I understand that there are differing interpretations of exactly what the Bereans were doing and how it specifically related to the issue of authority.

    I would also point out that many Reformed Protestant theologians agree that Scripture was not meant to be interpreted by “individual conscience” alone, but in the broader context of “ecclesia” (though I find Mathison’s definition of ecclesia to be somewhat fuzzy).

    Burton

  237. Hi Eiric

    Your #232 Your stated:

    Not only do all Catholics NOT understand transubstantiation in the same way, I would put a pretty hefty bet on the probability that a high percentage of Catholics do not understand transubstantiation in any way. I don’t blame them much. It’s not particularly understandable.

    You are no doubt correct when you say many Catholics are unaware of the substance of their faith. That could be a result of not learning it in the first place or having forgotten it due to lack of participation in the faith. That said however, most faithful Catholics are quite aware of the faith and while not being able to give you the scientific definition of transubstantiation would still be able to explain the Eucharist.

    You said: After the consecration there is no longer bread on the altar, but the same and whole Jesus Christ Who walked along Palestine and is now in Heaven, the same and whole Jesus Christ in Whom the fullness of divinity dwells bodily.”
    …is a rather nifty expression of Calvin’s view.

    All I would say is this, If this is Calvin’s view then he took it from the Catholic Church. By the consecration of the bread and wine, they become for us the full Body, Blood , Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The bread and wine are no longer bread and wine. They are in fact the real body of Christ. Do we believe it in faith, Yes, Is it still bread and wine though it looks like it. No.

    As I gather Calvin above states: After the consecration there is no longer bread on the altar, but the same and whole Jesus Christ Who walked along Palestine and is now in Heaven, the same and whole Jesus Christ in Whom the fullness of divinity dwells bodily.”

    To say that the Lord, creator of all things visible and invisible could not present Himself in the appearance of bread and wine for our nourishment is silliness. He is capable of doing anything he desires. If Jesus has said I will feed you my Body and Blood so that you have life in you then obviously that is what He does. Jesus is the Life. We are absorbed in to His Life when we receive Him in the Eucharist. It is not a symbolic ritual that has only a spiritual meaning to it. But an absolutely physical dimension that entitles eating the real flesh and drinking the real blood of Christ, BUT not the dead Christ. It is the LIVING Christ in all His glory. Body , Blood , Soul and Divinity.

    Is it an act of idolatry to adore Christ in the form of bread and wine after the consecration. Not anymore so than to adore Him in the FLESH.

    I cannot agree with your statement:

    it should be said that ALL of us also see the bread and the wine as metaphor for, as symbol of the body and blood. Not to do so would be to throw out all proper sense of aesthetics.)

    For the Catholic the “bread ands Wine` is not a symbol of His body and blood, but is an actuality.

    Blessings
    NHU

  238. Eirik (#232)

    What you describe here…

    “After the consecration there is no longer bread on the altar, but the same and whole Jesus Christ Who walked along Palestine and is now in Heaven, the same and whole Jesus Christ in Whom the fullness of divinity dwells bodily.”

    …is a rather nifty expression of Calvin’s view.

    It is?? When I was becoming a Calvinist, I read the Institutes a couple of times, and a lot of Calvinist theology. I really don’t think this would express Calvin’s view. I wonder if I missed something.

    Certainly the view of my Reformed (Calvinist – well, at least they thought they were!) was not remotely like this.

    jj

  239. Burton, you write:

    One possible piece of Biblical evidence for individual conscience is found in Acts 17:11. I am sure you are familiar with the account of the Bereans and their searching the Scriptures to verify the truth of what Paul was teaching them. I understand that there are differing interpretations of exactly what the Bereans were doing and how it specifically related to the issue of authority.

    Certainly the scriptures talk about the individual’s conscience. For example:

    When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them
    Romans 2:14-15

    For wickedness is a cowardly thing, condemned by its own testimony; distressed by conscience, it has always exaggerated the difficulties.
    Wisdom 17:11

    By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, among them Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
    1 Timothy 1:20

    Both the OT and the NT contains verses pertaining to the individual’s conscience, but that was not the point that I was trying to make. (If you didn’t understand my point, that is probably my fault, not yours!)

    The point that I was trying to make was about primacy, that is, whose interpretation of the inspired scriptures holds primacy, or “ultimacy”. Should a Christian confess a doctrine of Petrine primacy, the primacy of the individual’s conscience, or something else entirely (perhaps a doctrine of primacy that involves the teachings of bishops at a valid Ecumenical Council).

    The sola scriptura confessing Protestants hold to a doctrine of the primacy of the individual’s conscience. To illuminate what I mean by that, I want to quote what David Meyer posted in #5 in the CTC thread Podcast Ep. 17 – Jason & Cindy Stewart Recount Their Conversion (http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2012/06/podcast-ep-17-jason-cindy-stewart-recount-their-conversion/). The following is David Meyers transcription of Jason speaking:

    … I began to find very quickly (and we all know about this within the Reformed camps, and its true of Protestantism in general) is that when people disagree –particularly over doctrinal matters when you’re Reformed or Presbyterian- they will leave a church over those things. And understandably. They believe that the bible teaches something –that means that God is teaching something through the scriptures- and if someone doesn’t believe that or hold to that or teach that then there is a problem. In their thinking of course they’re wanting to be as faithful to God as possible. So as a pastor in the OPC I was called to uphold the Westminster standards and I was called to teach them, and I did faithfully. But when I would find those in the congregation who would come and they would have perhaps a disagreement, we would talk through those things; the session would talk through those things with them, but we found very often that if they didn’t like the answer that the session gave in terms of the teaching of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, they would simply leave, and they would go to another church somewhere. And that began to weigh heavily on me, because I got a sense of “what is exactly this authority that God has vested His church with?”

    The above illustrates perfectly the point that I am trying make about primacy. Suppose I have come to a personal interpretation of scriptures that is in conflict with what my sola scriptura confessing Protestant sect teaches. What should I do? First, I should meet with the pastor and those with teaching authority in my sect to try and work out my issue. But if I cannot find resolution in that process, then I would be conscience bound to leave that sect and find a sect that agrees with my personal interpretation of scriptures. The ultimate temporal authority that I must listen to is my own conscience. Which means that my conscience has primacy; my conscience is the ultimate temporal authority that I must follow in matters of interpretation. And that means that the sola scriptura confessing Protestant church that I belong to has no real authority to bind my conscience to a particular interpretation of scriptures.

    ”And that began to weigh heavily on me, because I got a sense of “what is exactly this authority that God has vested His church with?”

    Burton, you mention the Bereans of Acts 17:11:

    I am sure you are familiar with the account of the Bereans and their searching the Scriptures to verify the truth of what Paul was teaching them. I understand that there are differing interpretations of exactly what the Bereans were doing and how it specifically related to the issue of authority.

    I think Acts spells out pretty clearly what the Jews in Beroea were doing. The Jews living in Beroea were commended by Paul, and rightly so, for searching the Jewish scriptures to determine if the divine revelation that Paul was preaching could be possibly be true. But what, exactly, was Paul preaching to the Jews living in Beroea? Paul was teaching that Jesus is the Messiah (the Christ), and that the messianic prophecies found in the Jewish Scripture found their fulfillment in Jesus. This was the same message that he brought to the Jews living in Thessalonica:

    … they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.
    And Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”
    Acts 17:1-3

    The Jews in Berea were more noble that the Jews in Thessalonica because they eagerly accepted what Paul was preaching – that Jesus is the Messiah.

    … they [the Jews in Beroea] received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

    These Jews in Beroea could not have understood what Paul was revealing about Jesus without the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. But because these Jews they were open to the grace of God, they searched the Jewish scriptures and believed in the Christ. And then they became members of the church that Christ personally founded, the church that has the authority to bind one’s conscience to a particular interpretation of scriptures – e.g. Jesus is the Messiah the Jewish scriptures prophesized about.

    For sure, the Jews in Beroea believed that their Jewish scriptures were God-breathed, which meant that they believed that their scriptures were authoritative. Paul was quoting these authoritative scriptures to the Jews in Beroea! But I don’t see the connection that you seem to be making – how the act of searching the Jewish scriptures to see if Jesus fulfilled the messianic prophecies is an act that supports the doctrine of the primacy of the individual’s conscience. Please enlighten me on this point!

    If the Jews in Beroea had rejected the divine revelation that Paul had brought to them because it conflicted with their personal interpretations of the Jewish scriptures, then the they would have been no more noble that the Jews in Thessalonica. It is one thing to assert that the scriptures are authoritative, it is quite another thing to assert that my personal interpretation of scriptures is the highest authority that I am conscience bound to accept!

    I would also point out that many Reformed Protestant theologians agree that Scripture was not meant to be interpreted by “individual conscience” alone, but in the broader context of “ecclesia” (though I find Mathison’s definition of ecclesia to be somewhat fuzzy).

    No one interprets the scriptures with his conscience. A person interprets the scriptures with his or her mind (a mind that is hopefully enlightened by the Holy Spirit). Conscience comes into play when there is a conflict in interpretations. When your interpretation of the inerrant scriptures conflicts with my interpretation, whose interpretation am I conscience bound to accept?

    The sola scriptura confessing Protestants have built their faith upon Luther’s novelty of the primacy of the individual’s conscience (which is why there is no principled distinction between sola scriptura and solo scriptura). I will grant you that the Reformed believe that one should not be a Lone Ranger Christian that is going it alone. But when push comes to shove, in the world of sola scriptura confessing Protestantism, primacy always lies with the individual, as he or she is conscience bound to follow what he or she personally believes to be true. If my sect does not agree with me, and I can’t work that out, then I am conscience bound to leave that sect for another sect. Or perhaps, I need to found my own personal bible church, as Luther did.

    Burton, I am always interested to know how a Protestant reconciles belief in the primacy of the individual’s conscience with this teaching of Jesus:

    … if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
    Matthew 18:17

    Would you please explain to me how you reconcile the doctrine of the primacy of the individual conscience with Matthew 18:17?

  240. Burton, you may want to take a look at Michael Kruger’s Canon Revisited. He provides a very thorough, and very early look at the New Testament scriptures, and addresses a lot of the issues you’ve mentioned you’re not hearing above.

  241. John,

    You bring this guy’s book up quite a bit. It seems like it suffers from the phantom argument fallacy. Can you sketch out Kruger’s arguments much like Tom Brown sketches out the arguments of Ridderbos here:

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/01/the-canon-question/

    If you can write a more accessible summary then getting a response from someone here is more likely.

  242. Mike (re: #235),

    You wrote:
    I hope that’s all you want, since listing irreformable teachings is not per se evidence that those teachings that the Church is in fact infallible when she propounds them.

    You can’t argue from effect (inerrant) to cause (infallible agent) using written teachings ?

    You wrote:
    I present the following statement from the Second Vatican Council, which merely presents what the Catholic Church has always believed and professed:

    Thanks for the help in clarifying and finding more percise terms. Please provide evidence of the catholic church’s profession, not belief, of the inerrancy of scripture between Paul’s second letter to Timothy and the council of Rome. How could this profession exist without an inerrant canon produced by the infallible church ? If the canon did exist, then provide the source.

    You wrote:
    I do not do what you say.

    We are ships passing in the night !
    The head and the body constitute one mystical Christ.
    The head is revelation of God the Father.
    The body is revelation of God the Father.

    What’s wrong with the last statement ? Rome is arbitrary when it attributes infallibility and divine authority to the church, but avoids calling the church revelation.

    Evaluation of the Step-Proposal:

    Roman Catholic teaching has the order of faith and the order of reason. (1) mingles these together in a way not consonant with the teaching.

    (1) divine revelation is distinguishable from human opinion
    This philosophical approach belongs to reason and is not opposed to faith.

    (1) recourse to an authority which is divinely protected from error when teaching with its full authority
    This belongs to faith and is not opposed to reason.

    By placing these together, you are inviting the inquirer to make a determinative judgment, apart from faith (virtue), about the “believability” and truth-value of faith-related topics. In addition, you want them to judge themselves incapable and impotent to accurately distinguish revelation and opinion. If the error prone inquirer judges your proposed “recourse” to be necessary (logical and ethical) and true, then please tell me if his judgment is with or without error ? If it is error free, then the inquirer has no principled reason to think he can’t distinguish revelation from opinion.

    1. No error in judgment means your argument swallowed a grenade.
    2. An error in judgment means he has no good reason to rely on his judgments and move to (2).

    …you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God….Rom. 2:5
    When the day arrives, how will anyone know the difference between this revelatory judgment and mere human judgment ? God’s revealed law ! Revelation is how you distinguish between revelation and opinion.

    Follow-up:
    I think these questions must be answered if your position is to retain any force.

    Identifying the scriptures without error depends on an infallible person, so did the Jewish church, who was entrusted with the words of God, possess infallibility ? If not, then was the Lord Jesus the first one in Jewish history to identify scriptures without error ?

    Thanks,
    Eric

  243. Dear Burton,

    I found this article by Steve Ray about the Bereans and the whole issue you mention. James White wrote a response, and you can find his criticism of the article buried in a bunch of ad hominems — so it is in there, just take your time looking for it. I figure you are “noble minded”, so I will let you decide which argument accounts for the data under question in Steve’s article.

    Peace in Christ,

    Brent

  244. Eric:

    All I can do in face of your latest comment (#242) is correct the many misunderstandings you continue to labor under. At this point I can only hope you’re disposed to benefit from that. But even if you’re not, others will be.

    You can’t argue from effect (inerrant) to cause (infallible agent) using written teachings?

    If one presupposes that a given doctrine D is inerrant, then it’s easy to infer that those who propound D with divine authority are infallible in doing so. But so what? Whatever is gratuitously presupposed can be gratuitously denied. The real work lies in the other direction: showing that some D should be received as inerrant because there is good reason to believe that those propounding D are, by divine grace, infallible when doing so.

    Please provide evidence of the catholic church’s profession, not belief, of the inerrancy of scripture between Paul’s second letter to Timothy and the council of Rome. How could this profession exist without an inerrant canon produced by the infallible church ? If the canon did exist, then provide the source.

    That you even make such a request begs the question, for the request matters only on your interpretive paradigm, when the adequacy of that paradigm is precisely what’s at issue. Please read the fourth section of an article I wrote last year for this site.

    The head and the body constitute one mystical Christ. The head is revelation of God the Father. The body is revelation of God the Father.

    What’s wrong with the last statement ? Rome is arbitrary when it attributes infallibility and divine authority to the church, but avoids calling the church revelation.

    That just misunderstands Catholic ecclesiology. In one sense, “the Church” is a datum of revelation, inasmuch as divine revelation tells us about the nature of the Church, among other things. In another sense, the Church is the subject of revelation, i.e., she is that “body” to whom the deposit of faith is entrusted to be proclaimed, preserved, and studied. For both those reasons, the divine constitution of the Church tells us something about God. That is a truth of Catholic ecclesiology, and it presents no special difficulty for Catholic doctrine as a whole. But you seem to have something else in mind when you criticize the Catholic Church as arbitrary for not calling herself “revelation.” I have no idea what that criticism amounts to, and I doubt you’re even clear on it yourself.

    You summarize my methodology thus:

    (1) divine revelation is distinguishable from human opinion
    This philosophical approach belongs to reason and is not opposed to faith.

    (1) recourse to an authority which is divinely protected from error when teaching with its full authority.
    This belongs to faith and is not opposed to reason.

    That’s a fair summary for our present, limited purpose, though the second thesis should really be labeled (2), which I shall now do.

    You criticize the conjunction of (1) and (2) thus:

    By placing these together, you are inviting the inquirer to make a determinative judgment, apart from faith (virtue), about the “believability” and truth-value of faith-related topics. In addition, you want them to judge themselves incapable and impotent to accurately distinguish revelation and opinion. If the error prone inquirer judges your proposed “recourse” to be necessary (logical and ethical) and true, then please tell me if his judgment is with or without error ? If it is error free, then the inquirer has no principled reason to think he can’t distinguish revelation from opinion.

    There are two major difficulties with that criticism. First, I do not invite the uncommitted inquirer to make their determination apart from faith as a virtue. One can have at least the rudiments of faith as a virtue without affirming all that the Catholic Church teaches with her full authority, including what she affirms about her own authority. Rather, I invite the uncommitted inquirer to proceed without already assuming that the Catholic Church’s claims for herself are true. In that sense, I ask people to proceed without assuming a key tenet of the Catholic “faith.” That tenet is a proposition, not a virtue.

    Second, once the inquirer recognizes that a principled distinction between divine revelation and human opinion can and should be made, his recognizing the inherent fallibility of his private judgment does not undermine that distinction or its applicability. On the contrary: it points to both. Why? Because he recognizes that whatever can be identified, in a principled way, as divine revelation rather than human opinion, must originate from outside his own, fallible judgment and make an unconditional, authoritative claim on his assent. Making that assent is a choice to respond to the divine gift of faith. That choice can be made reasonable by conclusions reached through study and meditation thereon, but it can never be dictated by such factors, which only yield provisional opinions, which of necessity cannot compel assent. So the fact that such opinions are reached only fallibly does not undermine the choice to make the assent of faith partly with them as reasons; rather, that fact points to said choice by exposing the importance of making it.

    Finally, you write and ask:

    Identifying the scriptures without error depends on an infallible person, so did the Jewish church, who was entrusted with the words of God, possess infallibility ? If not, then was the Lord Jesus the first one in Jewish history to identify scriptures without error ?

    On that topic, please see my exchange a few years ago with Prof. R.F. White.

    Best,
    Mike

  245. Brent, thanks for the link to the two articles from Steven Ray and Dr. White in #243. I don’t completely agree with Steven Ray, nor do I completely reject every criticism of Dr. White about Mr. Ray’s article.

    In his rebuttal of Steven Ray, Dr. White makes this statement which I found surprising:

    One will search high and low for any reference in any standard Protestant confession of faith that says, “There has never been a time when God’s Word was proclaimed and transmitted orally.” You will never find anyone saying, “During times of enscripturation—that is, when new revelation was being given—sola scriptura was operational.” Protestants do not assert that sola scriptura is a valid concept during times of revelation. How could it be, since the rule of faith to which it points was at that very time coming into being? One must have an existing rule of faith to say it is “sufficient.” It is a canard to point to times of revelation and say, “See, sola scriptura doesn’t work there!” Of course it doesn’t. Who said it did?

    “Who said it did?” All the Protestants that use Acts 17 to “prove” the Bereans believed in the doctrine of sola scriptura!

    But let us assume for the moment that what James White is correct when he says this:

    Protestants do not assert that sola scriptura is a valid concept during times of revelation.

    What Dr. White says in the above is at least logical. Dr. White is arguing that sola scriptura can’t possibly be an “operative” rule of faith until public revelation is closed. But it is not only Protestants that cannot possibly believe that sola scriptura is an “operative” rule of faith until public revelation is closed, that logic also applies to any Jew that is living “during times of revelation”. Which means that Dr. White should agree with at least one thing that Steven Ray is asserting – that the Jews in Beroea never believed in the doctrine of sola scriptura!

    Steven Ray makes several other points that Dr. White agrees with, for instance, that the Apostle Paul was bringing to both the Jews in Thessalonica and in Beroea an infallible interpretation of the inerrant Jewish scriptures … and … the Apostle Paul was bringing new divine revelation to these Jews. Paul is preaching to these Jews a very specific interpretation of the Jewish scriptures, and that is an interpretation that teaches that Jesus is the Messiah that was prophesized about in the Jewish Scriptures. This infallible interpretation of the Jewish scriptures was originally given to the Jews by Christ himself on the very day that Christ rose from the dead:

    And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
    Luke 24:25-26

    It is from the church that Jesus Christ personally founded that Paul received this infallible interpretation of scriptures, and it is the church that Jesus Christ personally founded that sent Paul on his mission to Thessalonica and Beroea.

    Dr. White is claiming, (for no reason that I can see), that in the post-apostolic age, the church that Jesus Christ founded lost all her authority to bind Christians to a specific interpretaion of the inerrant scriptures. Dr. White claims:

    Sola scriptura says the Church always has an ultimate authority to which to turn: and the Church isn’t that ultimate authority!

    This statement by Dr. White about “ultimate authority” is really a veiled claim about Dr. White’s Protestant doctrine of primacy. Dr. White is claiming that the church that Jesus Christ founded does not have primacy in interpreting scriptures in the post-apostolic age. Here Dr. White is assuming that Luther’s novelty of the primacy of the individual’s conscience became “operative” after the last apostle died, and when the primacy of interpretation passed to each individual Christian, “sola scriptura” then became the new “operative” rule of faith for post-apostolic Christians. For some unexplained reason, the primacy of interpretation does not belong with the individuals during the time of revelation, for it did, then the Jews in Thessalonica did nothing wrong in rejecting an interpretation of scriptures that they personally didn’t agree with!

    Dr. White gives a rather convoluted explanation of what it means to be “noble” and then draws this strange conclusion about the “noble” Bereans:

    … here you have individuals comparing the Apostolic message against the Scriptures. What is the ultimate source of authority for the Bereans? Plainly, it is the Scripture.

    Huh? The Apostle Paul preached an inerrant interpretation of the Jewish scriptures to both the Jews in Thessalonica and Beroea. If any thing is plain to me, it is that while Paul and the Jews in Thessalonica and Beroea believed that the scriptures are indeed authoritative, the scriptures cannot be the ultimate temporal interpretive authority. Primacy (ultimate temporal interpretive authority) can’t belong to a book, because a book cannot correct men if their interpretations are wrong. The Bereans were “noble” because they accepted the interpretation that Paul had brought to them as an authorized teacher of Christ’s church.

    The Jews in Thessalonica were protestors. They protested against an interpretation of scriptures that had been brought to them by an authorized teacher from the church that Jesus Christ personally founded.

  246. Randy, regarding your comment #241, Just as an initial comment, I’ve responded to Tom Brown’s claims about Calvin having “misstated the Catholic position on Scripture”. In short, Brown misrepresents the situation.

    Further to your request that I “sketch out Kruger’s arguments”, as you mentioned, I’ve posted a great deal about Canon Revisited, and I’ll offer it up directly for anyone who is interested in dealing with it. You make the charge that “It seems like it suffers from the phantom argument fallacy”, but the work itself is a tremendous source of detail, not only at a theological level (such as Ridderbos’s work), but he provides a treasure of factual information about, for example, “book” production in the first and second centuries, and what we can learn about canon development from the assembly of various manuscripts.

    Specifically, about his “argument”, this post gives a good summary and overview of what Kruger has to say. For those who don’t want to click on my links, I’ll provide this brief summary:

    Kruger’s is the first work that I am aware of, from a Reformed and evangelical perspective, that deals specifically with the entire range of the issues surrounding the Protestant acceptance of the 27-book canon of the New Testament. That includes not only the writing of the books [and Kruger notes that the New Testament books were “Scripture” at the moment they were penned], to how they were collected [immediately], how the church fathers used them, to how they were copied [and there are detailed accounts of “books” in that day as well as book production], distributed, used in worship, reflected upon, [in some cases] disputed, and accepted, all without the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

    The stated purpose of the book, Kruger notes, is not to provide a comprehensive look at the history of the development of the canon of the New Testament. There are other works that deal with the historical issues. Kruger’s stated purpose is to respond to “the narrow question of whether Christians have a rational basis (i.e., intellectually sufficient grounds) for affirming that only these twenty-seven books rightfully belong in the New Testament canon. Or put differently, is the Christian belief in the canon justified (or warranted)? The answer is an unqualified “yes”.

    While Kruger does not write specifically to counter the charge of the Roman Catholic Church (that only the supposed authority of the Roman Catholic Church can have fixed this canon for Protestants, and therefore Protestants are dependent upon Roman Catholic authority), he clearly is aware of this charge and he addresses it thoroughly. And since there are unthinking Roman Catholics who do not know what Sola Scriptura is [and worse: thinking Roman Catholics who do know what it is, but who nevertheless continue to caricature that position], and who continue to ask the question “where is Sola Scriptura in the Bible?”, this work is extremely useful in addressing these specific claims as well.

    The “Canon” argument has been used by Roman Catholics from the time of the Reformation (Kruger cites “the sixteenth-century Roman Catholic Cardinal Sanislaus Hosius, papal legate to the Council of Trent”, who said: “The Scriptures have only as much force as the fables of Aesop if destitute of the authority of the Church”, pg 40). I’ve noted here that Roman Catholics are so comfortable with “the canon issue” that, in response to a major work undermining the centuries-old myth of “Peter as the first pope”, Oscar Cullmann did not receive responses that directly addressed his work on Peter, but that he merely that “In … most of the Catholic reviews of my book on St. Peter, one argument especially is brought forward: scripture, a collection of books, is not sufficient to actualize for us the divine revelation granted to the apostles (cited in “The Early Church”, London: SCM Press Ltd, © 1956, in the Foreword to the article “The Tradition”, pg 57).

    Canon Revisited, far from being devoid of an argument, presents the most thorough and factual response I’ve seen to date to Roman Catholic questions about the Protestant acceptance of a 27-book canon.

  247. John, (re: #246)

    The Bible has authority in two distinct and non-mutually exclusive ways. All Scripture has divine authority because it is God-breathed. But the canon of Scripture also has authority in another sense because it was recognized as canonical by the Church, through Tradition. What Tom is talking about is the authority Scripture has as God-breathed; Scripture does not derive that authority from the Church. What Eck is talking about (in the selection Swan cites) is the authority the canon has on account of its having been recognized as canonical by the Church; Scripture does derive that authority from the Church. So there is no contradiction. Calvin is claiming that the authority of Scripture in no way depends on the Church. And Eck shows the problem with that position. Tom is pointing out that Calvin is misstating the Catholic position insofar as he [i.e. Calvin] implies that the Catholic position is that the entire authority of Scripture derives from the Church. And Eck would agree, because Eck is not talking about the authority Scripture has from divine inspiration, but about the authority it has from its ecclesial recognition. But, this discussion would take us off topic for this post. If you wish to discuss the canon, please do so in the combox under Tom’s “The Canon Question” article.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  248. John,

    I was not saying Kruger used the phantom argument fallacy. I was saying you were. That is the post required someone to buy a book and read it. If someone does not do so then their position is labeled as uninformed because they have not read this allegedly amazing argument in this obscure book.

    the three attributes of canonicity that all canonical books possess—divine qualities, corporate reception, apostolic origins—and the work of the Holy Spirit to help us recognize them.

    I am interested in the second part of that. How exactly does the Holy Spirit help us recognize when the 3 conditions of canonicity have been met? How objective are his criteria? Where exactly do the criteria come from? I am not as interested in factual detail, although we would likely have disagreements there as well.

    Reading what you have provided it still seems quite obscure. I am not sure if Kruger tries to finesse the problems and there is no there there or if your summary misses the essential points.

    He seems to say the canon question was settled very early, in the 2nd century. That brings up another issue. If the question was settled in the 4th century why do the writings from the 4th century seem to indicate it isn’t? We have a lot of writings from the 4th century. It is easy to make sweeping statements that everyone has misunderstood them but it is really not that likely.

    Anyway, suppose he can provide strong evidence that those 27 books and only those 27 books were written by an apostle and accepted by some prominent early Christians. So what? They might have been the Purpose Driven Life of the first century. That is simply Christian writing that is generating excitement among some people. Suppose the books themselves and the people writing the books said they just knew they were God breathed? So what? You still have fallible human opinion about these books. What brings the books across the threshold from being well respected by fallible humans to being infallibly known to be God-breathed? Does Kruger ever go there? If he doesn’t then he his book is only going to be an interesting source of data related to 27 books.

  249. Brian — You are certainly missing something Eck is saying. While Eck (in #3) suggests “canonical” authority, in the paragraph following, he is speaking in the broader sense: “Therefore it thus is clear that the Church is older than Scripture, and Scripture would not be authentic without the Church’s authority.” So if Calvin has Eck in mind at this point, he certainly is not making a misstatement.

    Whether Eck mean authority in the “canonical” sense, Prierias, whom I quoted, certainly intended that “the Church” itself caused the Scriptures to have authority:

    He who does not hold the teaching of the Roman Church and the Pope as an infallible rule of faith, from which even Holy Scripture draws its power and authority, he is a heretic.

    Eck is not the only Roman Catholic writer from whom Calvin might be drawing. Certainly he would know of Prierias. Calvin was not misstating anything. He was certainly drawing from what contemporary authors were saying.

    Your facile answer here does not address these concerns.

    Nor are comments open in the “canon” thread. It seems just as pertinent to address this here, where the question came up.

  250. There is another problem with Calvin’s position.

    Calvin and all the Reformers seemed to think that they could prove sola scriptura merely by demonstrating that Scripture does not receive its authority from the Church, and that the Holy Spirit’s witness is sufficient to persuade us of Scripture’s authority.

    But “where Scripture comes from,” and “how we know it speaks with divine authority” are questions who’s answers have no definitive meaning for the real point at issue between Protestants and Catholics: What is Scripture’s Purpose?

    Protestant theologians (like early moderns in other fields) thus restricted themselves to explanations of efficient and material causality, and assumed that formal and final causality followed as a matter of course.

    Every Catholic confesses that Scripture comes from God, and has divine authority. And a Catholic could, in theory, admit that the Holy Spirit testifies to that divine authority. What the Protestant needs to show is that God intends this divinely authoritative book to serve as the Rule of Faith for the Church. And that is something no Protestant has ever demonstrated, nor have many even tried.

  251. John, (re: #249)

    You wrote:

    Brian — You are certainly missing something Eck is saying. While Eck (in #3) suggests “canonical” authority, in the paragraph following, he is speaking in the broader sense: “Therefore it thus is clear that the Church is older than Scripture, and Scripture would not be authentic without the Church’s authority.” So if Calvin has Eck in mind at this point, he certainly is not making a misstatement.

    In that statement of Eck’s you cite, he is talking about Scripture’s authority as canonical, not its authority as divinely inspired. So, you haven’t shown that I am “missing something.” And insofar as Calvin implies that the Catholic position is that the entire authority of Scripture derives from the Church, Calvin misstates the Catholic position.

    Whether Eck mean authority in the “canonical” sense, Prierias, whom I quoted, certainly intended that “the Church” itself caused the Scriptures to have authority:

    He who does not hold the teaching of the Roman Church and the Pope as an infallible rule of faith, from which even Holy Scripture draws its power and authority, he is a heretic.

    Prierias is also there talking about the authority Scripture derives from its recognition by the Church, not the authority it has by its divine inspiration.

    Eck is not the only Roman Catholic writer from whom Calvin might be drawing. Certainly he would know of Prierias. Calvin was not misstating anything. He was certainly drawing from what contemporary authors were saying.

    I agree that Calvin was drawing from what contemporary authors were saying, but they were not claiming that divine inspiration gives no authority to Scripture. They were claiming that without ecclesial recognition of the canon, Scripture could not function as authoritative, because Christians would not know which books are divinely inspired. So ecclesial recognition was absolutely necessary in order for Scripture to function as authoritative, but is not the source of the authority Scripture has as divinely inspired.

    Your facile answer here does not address these concerns.

    Which concern have I not addressed?

    Nor are comments open in the “canon” thread. It seems just as pertinent to address this here, where the question came up.

    My mistake; I forgot that comments on the Canon article had been closed. Carry on.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  252. Bryan (251):

    they were not claiming that divine inspiration gives no authority to Scripture. They were claiming that without ecclesial recognition of the canon, Scripture could not function as authoritative, because Christians would not know which books are divinely inspired.

    So what are you saying? That the letter from Paul to the Romans only had some … what … oomph? – definitely not “authoritative”, but definitely, what’s the term you used? “Divine authority because it’s God-breathed” But not having the authority the canon has on account of its having been recognized as canonical by the Church”

    How does that work in real life? “God said, ‘let there be light’, and the light had to wait for some centuries because the canon of God’s Word had not been recognized as canonical by the Church”

    It is a distinction without any real meaning. It is a distinction that does genuine violence to God’s authority. It is both arrogant and meaningless.

    What you are missing is the fact that God speaks and his word has all the authority of God (see 2 Peter 3:16. What authority is lacking from “all of Paul’s letters”, different from “the other Scriptures”? You said:

    Scripture could not function as authoritative, because Christians would not know which books are divinely inspired.

    Peter himself tells you Paul’s letters are “divinely inspired”. This is Kruger’s principle of “canonical core”. There was no time when “all of Paul’s letters” were not authoritative, in the highest possible way.

    Calvin in no way “misstates the Catholic position”. Calvin precisely described the violence that Roman apologists do to the Scriptures with their artificial distinctions which claim, with Eck, “the Church is older than Scripture, and Scripture would not be [and therefore, is not] authentic without the Church’s authority”.

  253. John, you’re overlooking a few rather elementary facts.

    For one thing, while they lived, Peter, Paul, and other authors of New Testament books were themselves the leaders of the Church appointed directly by the Lord. They had been teaching the Church and speaking for the Church well before they wrote those books. So “the Church” just is “older than Scripture,” where the Scripture in question is the New Testament. (More generally, the entire “people” of the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ is older than the entire scriptural canon, since the Jews were constituted as God’s chosen people before any of the OT was put to papyrus.)

    Given as much, believers saw some of the NT books as divinely inspired because the Apostles and those who wrote and taught with their authorization said they were. The faithful believed them because, in making that claim, the Apostles and those they authorized were known to be exercising the authority the Lord had given them. So those NT books which were accepted early as divinely inspired–whatever the exact list, if any–were authenticated as such by the Apostles and those they authorized to write and teach. And that is the same as to say that said books were authenticated as divinely inspired only with “the Church’s authority.” So Eck was by no means off base in making the claim you say does “violence” to the Scriptures. The NT Scriptures were books of the Church: written through her instrumentality, and recognized as such by her authority. That is historical fact, not theological dogma.

    Moreover, it’s just a historical fact that the entire NT canon took several centuries to coalesce and be closed. It was the Church which decided all along which books belonged in the NT canon and which didn’t. That decision didn’t make the NT divinely inspired, but as things happened, the decision was clearly necessary for making the conviction that certain books were divinely inspired anything more than private opinion. Just recall the Marcionite controversy and others regarding particular books.

    All of the above is well-known, and it’s all that’s necessary to explain Bryan’s point.

    Best,
    Mike

  254. Mike (re: #244),

    A Christian should remain teachable through his life. This is no different for teaching Christians who excel in knowledge and understanding. I have labored, at the very least, to stay close to your actual arguments.

    You wrote:
    The real work lies in the other direction

    No argument here. In fact, it becomes very real when you try to prove D is infallible without signs, wonders, or miracles from D.

    You wrote:
    That just misunderstands Catholic ecclesiology.

    I’m accusing Catholic ecclesiology of being arbitrary and self-serving when it explains the church’s relation to revelation. Catholic theologians consciously avoid such things as: God reveals through the church, the church is revelatory, or the church is revelation. They know that a revelation requires an infallible agent for interpretation.

    You wrote:
    You summarize my methodology thus

    I have benefited from the explanations about your methodology. In my opinion, it is a friendly and serious way to engage any uncommitted inquirer. My criticism begins and ends with Step (1) and its new label convention:

    (1) divine revelation is distinguishable from human opinion

    Two things are recognized: A mental-extra mental distinction and the fallible judgment of the inquirer. These are reasonable conclusions based on philosophical speculation. I call this the grenade.

    (2) recourse to an authority which is divinely protected from error when teaching with its full authority

    This statement, according to catholic teaching, is a revealed truth or a necessary truth connected to revelation. Either way, it belongs to the order of faith. For a catholic, its truth and divine character are known with certainty through the infallible teaching authority. This authority guarantees inerrancy. Why are you presenting it to a fallible person for judgment ? You are asking him to judge its reasonable compatibility with faith-truths and revelation. If he agrees with you, then (1) has been accomplished without any outside authority which is divinely protected from error ! Moreover, it shows that a fallible person can reach a truth of faith-revelation without error ! I call this the grenade pin.

    I recommend that your methodology return to good old-fashioned authoritarian demand for assent.

    I will devote time to read the links and comment.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  255. John, (re: #252)

    I agree with what Mike said. I might add a few additional remarks. You wrote:

    So what are you saying? That the letter from Paul to the Romans only had some … what … oomph? – definitely not “authoritative”, but definitely, what’s the term you used? “Divine authority because it’s God-breathed” But not having the authority the canon has on account of its having been recognized as canonical by the Church”

    No, that’s not what I’m saying. The authority Scripture has as God-breathed is not some part or percentage of its total authority, the rest being supplemented by the Church. Rather, these are two different types of authority, and can belong to the same thing at the same time. The authority Scripture has as God-breathed is intrinsic to Scripture. The authority Scripture has by way of the Church’s recognition and approbation is that of divine attestation and testimony concerning the identity and nature of Scripture, much as the law and the prophets (including John the Baptist) testified concerning Christ, even though Christ, being the Son of God, already had divine authority intrinsically. The comparison is not perfect, of course, but it is an example of the difference between authority possessed by way of attestation from some divinely authorized representative, and intrinsic authority.

    Peter himself tells you Paul’s letters are “divinely inspired”. This is Kruger’s principle of “canonical core”. There was no time when “all of Paul’s letters” were not authoritative, in the highest possible way.

    I agree that there was no time when all of Paul’s letters (at least the ones that came to be included in the canon) were not divinely inspired. From the moment they were written they had divine authority, being God-breathed. But, St. Peter’s testimony concerning St. Paul’s letters is an example of the sort of attestation I’m talking about, except that the broader attestation I’m talking about wasn’t only attestation by St. Peter, but also by the other Apostles and apostolic churches that authenticated for the whole Church that these texts were apostolic in origin and had canonical authority to be read as the word of the Lord.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  256. Eric (#254):

    Thank you for being willing to “devote time to read the links and comment.” We’re starting to understand each other better. In the meantime, though, I think it’s important to deal with the nub of the issue as you present it.

    I had argued that, in order to adopt a principled distinction between divine revelation and human opinion, the uncommitted inquirer should have “recourse to an authority which is divinely protected from error when teaching with its full authority.” Referring to the Catholic Church’s claim such authority, you write:

    This authority guarantees inerrancy. Why are you presenting it to a fallible person for judgment? You are asking him to judge its reasonable compatibility with faith-truths and revelation. If he agrees with you, then (1) has been accomplished without any outside authority which is divinely protected from error ! Moreover, it shows that a fallible person can reach a truth of faith-revelation without error ! I call this the grenade pin. I recommend that your methodology return to good old-fashioned authoritarian demand for assent.

    There are two problems here. The first, it seems to me, is that you’re misunderstanding the purpose of apologetics as a discipline. The apologist as such must present reasons for making the assent of divine faith as distinct from that of mere opinion. That’s because his task is to show that the assent of faith is reasonable. Now I think you’d agree that, in general, infallibility is not necessary for having good reasons to believe certain things in light of merely human reason and experience. Thus, e.g., we have quite sufficient reason to affirm the fact that Earth is spherical in shape, even though our judgments about such matters are in principle fallible. Hence, our assent to the proposition that Earth is spherical qualifies as knowledge, even though our assent to that is not divinely protected from error. To a certain extent, the same goes for making the assent of faith to propositions expressing data of divine revelation. One’s reasons for making that assent can and should be good enough, even though fallible; when they are, then one’s assent is reasonable even though the process of reasoning yielding them is fallible.

    That brings me to the second problem with what you say above: to wit, there’s a crucial epistemic difference between truths knowable by merely human experience or reason and truths that can only be affirmed by the assent of divine faith. Showing that such assent is reasonable is not going to show that the propositions to which one assents are facts, as distinct from opinions which, though perhaps well-founded, are open to revision in principle. That’s because truths of faith are supernatural, not natural, so that by definition they cannot be shown to be factual by any method of human reasoning, no matter how reliable that method may be. For that reason, our epistemic access to the revealed truths of faith must ultimately rely on authority–specifically, divine authority. And given as much, the central task for the apologist is to show that accepting some agency’s claim to divine authority is reasonable, even though he cannot prove, by human experience and reasoning alone, that such a claim is actually true.

    For us, then, the immediate question is simply whether accepting some agency’s claim to divine authority, with its concomitant claim to be divinely protected from error, is more reasonable than rejecting such a claim while at the same time affirming something as Christian revelation. I have long argued that the answer is yes. For unless some authority can truly make such a claim, there is nothing in principle to distinguish its tenets from human opinion, as distinct from expressions of revealed facts. The subject matter of divine revelation, after all, is not like that of science or even ordinary experience; in matters of divine revelation we have no basis, other than recognizing some authority as divinely authorized and protected from error, for discovering and demonstrating the relevant facts. The only question is where to locate and identify that authority.

    In the final analysis, then, the apolgist’s task is simply to show whose claim to such authority is the most reasonable. That being reasonable about the matter does not require infallibility on the part of the inquirer does nothing to take away from the infallibility, if any, of the authority to which assent is reasonably rendered. Quite the opposite: rendering the assent of faith to any other sort of authority would be unreasonable.

    Best,
    Mike

  257. Michael Liccione said (comment 253):

    “The faithful believed them because, in making that claim, the Apostles and those they authorized were known to be exercising the authority the Lord had given them

    And

    The NT Scriptures were books of the Church: written through her instrumentality, and recognized as such by her authority. That is historical fact, not theological dogma.

    Everyone agrees that the Reformation was about “authority”. This discussion, too, is about “authority.
    But neither of these claims you are making can be supported. Not exegetically from the Scriptures, nor from history.

    Before I go any further, I want to point out that you make the assumption of a “her”. You already here are assuming a “church structure”, a “church hierarchy” that was not in existence at this time. This is Horton’s “overrealized eschatology”. I’ll have more to say about this below.

    You’ll also want to invoke Newman here, and say something like “no doctrine is defined until it is violated”, but this is what I meant above by “facile” – the historical details we know – what actually happened – betrays this simple attempt at explanation. The whole concept of “authority” as passed along either in a “monarchical bishop”, and much less a “succession” of bishops, is far, far removed from the kind of authority with which the New Testament authorizes the elders of the church.

    Paul’s imagery in the Pastoral letters and elsewhere, is strongly and thickly that of “estate stewardship” – household servants, not household masters. What Paul has in mind is more the Butler managing the household staff.

    So exegetically, you can look to other Scriptures which bear witness to how a steward should behave.

    * * *

    Scripturally, of course, the Apostles were” sent”. But in what way were they “sent”? What kind of “authority” did they perceive that they had? And what kind of “authority” did they perceive that they were giving to those they named as elders? These are appropriate questions.

    Christ himself (John 17:20) made the distinction between his apostles, whom he prayed for – “them alone” – and “those who will believe in me through their message”.

    Paul, an Apostle, noted too his “message” – (Galatians 2:6) – he is critical to note that even the “pillars”, those who “seemed to be influential” (ESV) or “were of high reputation” (NASB) in truth “added nothing to my message”.

    So when Bryan talks about Peter’s “authorization” (comment 255) or , so too, what “the church” does when it “authorizes” adds precisely nothing to the Scriptures.

    We are of course talking about “authority”, and as a proof-text, Roman Catholics point to Titus 2:15, where Paul tells him “These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority”. But the authority here is not something that is “divinely protected from error under certain conditions”. The charge to Titus is to constantly be on guard for error.

    Paul does not say, “teach, encourage and rebuke with all authority, then pass that on to those you are appointing”. That, of course, is the Roman doctrine, but it is not at all in view as Paul is instructing Timothy.

    The entire theme of the letters to Timothy and Titus, the “controlling theme” in these Epistles (in a study by Alan Tomlinson (“The Purpose and Stewardship Theme within the Pastoral Epistles”, in “Entrusted with the Gospel,” Andreas Kostenberger, Terry Wilder eds., Nashville, TN: Baker Academic, ©2010), is the “οἰκονόμ ία θεοῦ”, “the household of God”, and Apostles and elders as “stewards”.

    Don’t think of a “bishop” as someone in charge. Think rather of the Butler who runs the place. (In fact, imagine the scenes of the Butler pouring drinks for the pope. Think about how “out of place” that pope is – in the Pastoral epistles, Paul is telling Timothy and Titus what it takes to be a good Butler).

    In the New Testament, you see primary images of “faithful stewardship” in Luke 12:35-48, Luke 16:1-13, Matthew 24:45-51 and Matthew 25:14-30. Consider just some of the imagery of those verses:

    “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.

    This is the kind of thing Michael Horton has in mind when he uses the phrase “overrealized eschatology”. He is far too kind. Rome has already assumed itself “in charge of all his possessions”.

    “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much”.

    It is “the message” that is key. “The message” (John 17:20, Gal 2:6) with which these have been “entrusted”. Those in “authority” are “stewards” of it. But this is not the only instance of this theme.

    Roman doctrine pays lip service to this concept, but in reality, the notion that “at some times” they have to speak infallibly is just a gift that they provide to themselves, which has no warrant in the Scriptures.

    But you’re equivocating on the word “authority”. You’re using the same word in different senses. You are ignoring Paul’s original meaning of that word, and you are back-filling it with a current Roman Catholic definition of “authority”.

    Of course, we are not talking about “the authority of the Apostles”. We are talking about “the authority” of “the message”. And the stewards as “adding nothing” to the message.

  258. Following up on the historical portion of what I have been saying:

    Historically, it was understood that there was a difference between “the Apostles” and everyone else. This much was recognized even at that time in question: the last half of the first century, the first half of the second century. The Apostles had the ability, because of their eyewitness status, to craft the message. Someone above said that Calvin changed “the foundation of the Apostles

    To be sure “the apostles” “appointed” “overseers and deacons” as 1 Clement said, but this was not the institution of a permanent office – there were no guarantees for the future. These men had to be, and were, “tested by the spirit”. The “permanent character” (1 Clem 44) of their office was not the promise of “a succession for all time”, it was permanent within their lifetimes. It was an effort to guarantee faithfulness within the lifetimes of these men.

    But Clement already has, through the influence of the Roman military, mixed the metaphor, away from one of “stewardship of the household” to that of serving as “soldiers under commanders” (1 Clem 37). Nevertheless, in spite of his admiration for the Roman military, Caragounis noted that this is all that 1 Clement could do – persuade – and in fact, the literary form of that letter, a symbouletic letter, was one of persuasion. Caragounis notes:

    The great difference between the model passage (Titus 1:5-7) and 1 Clement is that the former says nothing about any succession. Titus is merely to appoint presbyters or bishops, but they are not taking Paul’s place in any way. In fact, they cannot. In the 1 Clement passage, however, the thus appointed bishops “succeed to their” [i.e., the apostles’] ministry. There is thus an inconsistency in 1 Clement . On the one hand the writer—assuming him to be Clement, the third bishop of Rome—totally effaces himself, the letter being sent by and having the authority of the whole church, while on the other hand he seeks here to establish an apostolic succession between the apostles and his own office!

    Clement may want papal authority, but he [contra Fortescue] clearly does not have it.

    * * *

    John Behr, in his introduction to Irenaeus of Lyons “Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching” (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, pgs 9-11), notes that Ignatius did not hold to “apostolic succession”. Behr discusses Ignatius’s repeated comments to the effect that as a bishop he, unlike the apostles, is not in a position to give orders or to lay down the precepts or the teachings (δόγματα), which come from the Lord and the apostles alone.

    * * *

    As a third example of the difference between the kind of “authority” that the Apostles viewed themselves as having, and what the later church “assumed” for itself, comes from the Shepherd of Hermas. Rome, the capital city, of course was esteemed, and the elders of the church of that city, may at one time have seen themselves as “servants”. But the Shepherd of Hermas notes that the the elders (presbuteroi) who preside (proistamenoi – plural leadership) over the church (Vis 2.4) were “conducting themselves like sorcerers” (Vis 3.9).

    In none of these instances, 1 Clement or Ignatius or Hermas, are we talking about “a succession” of bishops. That concept of
    succession” is, as I’ve borrowed from the writings of the words of Joseph Ratzinger, in his in his essay “Primacy, Episcopacy, and Successio Apostolica” in the work “God’s Word: Scripture-Tradition-Office (San Francisco: Ignatius Press ©2008; Libreria Editrice Vaticana edition ©2005), clearly from the second century. Ratzinger says:

    He says “The concept of [apostolic] succession was clearly formulated, as von Campenhausen has impressively demonstrated, in the anti-Gnostic polemics of the second century; [and not in the first century] its purpose was to contrast the true apostolic tradition of the Church with the pseudo-apostolic tradition of Gnosis” (pgs 22-23).

    The idea of a “New Testament” as “Scripture” is still quite inconceivable at this point—even when “office”, as the form of the paradosis, is already clearly taking shape” (Ratzinger 25).

    This “office taking shape” is happening in “the second century”.

    * * *

    In any event, even at this late date, this “succession” is not offered as “a permanent charter for all time”. It is offered by Irenaeus as a looking back – it is offered as an evidence that there has been faithfulness. But it is one test of faithfulness, and in no wise is offered as a “permanent guarantee” of future performance.

    * * *

    This is contrasted even to what Bryan says in #255 – Peter clearly acknowledges that Paul’s letters are “scriptures” (but in doing so, as Paul notes, “adds nothing to my message”).

  259. Bryan (comment 255):

    The authority Scripture has by way of the Church’s recognition and approbation is that of divine attestation and testimony concerning the identity and nature of Scripture, much as the law and the prophets (including John the Baptist) testified concerning Christ, even though Christ, being the Son of God, already had divine authority intrinsically. The comparison is not perfect, of course, but it is an example of the difference between authority possessed by way of attestation from some divinely authorized representative, and intrinsic authority.

    Not only is the comparison “not perfect”, but it is a category mistake. Bavinck addressed this when he discussed the difference between the Scriptures quoad se [in themselves] and the Scriptures quoad nos [as they have to do with us]. As one writer asked, “are [these] identical with one another and perfectly correspond at every single point? Is content and expression, essence and form, God’s absolute truth and the Church’s assimilation into her consciousness, confession, cultural language and ideas, articulation, and proclamation identical at every point?” (cf. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:30-32).

    You also said:

    St. Peter’s testimony concerning St. Paul’s letters is an example of the sort of attestation I’m talking about, except that the broader attestation I’m talking about wasn’t only attestation by St. Peter, but also by the other Apostles and apostolic churches that authenticated for the whole Church that these texts were apostolic in origin and had canonical authority to be read as the word of the Lord.

    There is no hint that this “attestation” of the church is “divine”. I’ve spoken above of what an “authorized representative” is, and how, with humility, a steward ought to regard (the way Paul esteemed his “message”) – Paul did not even claim “divine” authorization, but “apostolic” authorization.

    With this “attestation”, as Paul says to the Galatians, and as I explained above, “nothing” was added to his message.

    * * *

    Finally, following up on the concepts of these three comments, Michael Kruger presses home the concept that (a) the New Testament writings were covenant documents, they were viewed as such. They had authority as such (which he calls “divine qualities”, and also, because they were acknowledged to have apostolic authority. His discussion of “the church receiving” these works takes up three chapters, and I don’t have time to get into it here. But I’ve outlined my case fairly thoroughly in the two previous posts, and the contrast between the “authority” of the church following the Apostles, and the second century “development of office” and Kruger’s portrayal of the divine [“quoad se”] qualities of the New Testament writings, could not be clearer.

  260. I apologize for typos. I rushed to get this off before leaving for work.

  261. Mike (#256),

    I’ve reflected on your most recent comment on my blog here. Carry on. I did not want to muddy up the combox.

    Pax,

    Brent

  262. John Bugay.

    We just had our fourth baby the other day so I won’t have time to really get into an extended discussion. Hopefully some of the others here will be able to interact with your comments in greater detail. Some things stood out though, that you’ve said, which I’d like to quickly address.

    Firstly, recall our previous discussion in the thread: Modern Scholarship, Rome and a Challenge. In that thread you had every opportunity to prove that apostolic succession from the apostles to the bishops is not an historical reality. You didn’t accomplish that. In your recent comments you seem to be making a very similar argument.

    Secondly, you seem to be arguing that scripture came before the church. I might ask you pointedly the following: Did Christ build a Church (Matt 16:18). And, were Paul and Peter and Luke etc not part of that Church?

    Next, you say with certainty that Ignatius did not accept or teach apostolic succession. This is just false. There are many examples but only a few should suffice.

    “For what is the bishop but one who beyond all others possesses all power and authority, so far as it is possible for a man to possess it, who according to his ability has been made an imitator of the Christ off God? And what is the presbytery but a sacred assembly, the counselors and assessors of the bishop? And what are the deacons but imitators of the angelic powers, fulfilling a pure and blameless ministry unto him, as…Anencletus and Clement to Peter?” Ignatius, To the Trallians, 7 (A.D. 110).

    I believe Behr errs in that Ignatius only said at times that bishops do not ‘create’ dogma. Well, that is true. They don’t. That is not a denial of apostolic succession and further, we know that Ignatius affirms apostolic succession in other places.

    Lastly, Behr’s book is about Irenaeus and we all know that he spelled out the succession of the bishops from Peter explicitly.

  263. Sean,

    Congratulations on your baby!

    Much of the passage you cited is not from St Ignatius, but comes from a much later interpolation. However, you’re right that while (as Fr. Behr points out and the Catholic Church teaches) there are important distinctions between the unique apostolic charism and the episcopal charism, that hardly counts against apostolic succession.

    best,
    John

  264. Sean — the fact that there are “later interpolations” of Ignatius should concern you, but it does not seem as if it does concern you (I’ve seen you cite “pseudo-Ignatius several times now). “Pseudonymity”, especially the kind where somebody pretends to be someone they’re not, is, among other things, a moral issue. What it essentially means (to scholars whom you seem to disdain) is that somebody is being dishonest. You may get warm fuzzies from citing things like that, but it’s not very well respected in broader circles.

    Behr is not the key component of the argument I have made here. In fact, I have cited Joseph Ratzinger affirming a key point that I have made (again, from “scholarship”). Bryan tried to tell me that it was simply “the concept” that was borrowed from 2nd century Gnosticism, not “the practice”.

    But you have to keep in mind, there are multiple trajectories of historical things happening, which we are describing: Scripture has more authority up front (and Kruger’s work goes into a tremendous amount of detail as to just how important the New Testament writings were for the earliest church — say, before Clement and Ignatius — and how the things that these individuals wrote about were relatively less important. It throws the whole “authority” calculus that the Roman Catholic Church relies on out of whack.

    Congratulations on your baby. I’m sure you have your hands full.

  265. John, (re: #264)

    Bryan tried to tell me that it was simply “the concept” that was borrowed from 2nd century Gnosticism, not “the practice”.

    I said no such thing. Here’s what I actually said:

    Regarding the quotation from Ratzinger, the fact that the concept of succession was first “clearly formulated” in the anti-gnostic polemics of the second century does not mean that the Church’s practice of apostolic succession came from 2nd century gnostics or was only adopted in the 2nd century. Ratzinger’s statement is fully compatible with practice of apostolic succession going back to the Apostles themselves, and with Ratzinger’s uninterrupted belief in the practice of apostolic succession going back to the Apostles themselves. Every belief and practice of the Church becomes more “clearly formulated” in the face of challenge by heretics. That does not mean that the Church derived her belief and practice concerning apostolic succession from second century gnostics. (source)

    The Church always had the concept of apostolic succession. But she first formulated that concept clearly in a written and public manner in the anti-gnostic polemics of the second century. She never “borrowed” the concept from the gnostics.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  266. John.

    I don’t think Ignatius’ affirmation of the succession of the bishops from the apostles rely only on that one passage, whether part of it (not all of it) is an interpolation or not. I am not as read on this as you, no doubt, but I would think that whether part is an interpolation is somewhat debatable. Besides, in the ‘shorter’ Letter to the Traillians even without the portion that is considered by many to be an ‘interpolation’ there is a strong affirmation of the office of bishop and apostolic succession.

    You said, In fact, I have cited Joseph Ratzinger affirming a key point that I have made (again, from “scholarship”).

    What has Joseph Ratzinger affirmed about your point, specifically?

    Nobody here is denying that scripture has real God breathed authority. Maybe I am misunderstanding you but you seem to be focusing on that, as if there is disagreement, but there isn’t.

    It throws the whole “authority” calculus that the Roman Catholic Church relies on out of whack.

    I don’t see how scripture having authority (something we all agree on) throws the calculus of the Catholic Church out of whack.

    Congratulations on your baby. I’m sure you have your hands full.

    You have no idea, or rather I bet you do ; 0 )

    It’s nap time and I can’t sleep.

  267. Bryan: Forgive my imprecision. It was Von Campenhausen who said that the concept was not original with Christianity, but was [choose your word: "borrowed" from, "derived from", etc.] the Gnostics. The first “Christian” use of the actual word “succession” (“διαδοχἡ”) is from Ptolemaeus in 164, I believe. This first quote, affirming this factually, is from Joseph Ratzinger, in a 1961 essay that was reproduced in the recent publication of the work “God’s Word: Scripture-Tradition-Office” (San Francisco: Ignatius Press ©2008; Libreria Editrice Vaticana edition ©2005).

    The concept of succession was clearly formulated, as von Campenhausen has impressively demonstrated, in the anti-Gnostic polemics of the second century; its purpose was to contrast the true apostolic tradition of the Church with the pseudo-apostolic traditions of Gnosis. It is therefore, from the outset, closely connected with the question of what is truly apostolic; in particular, it is clear that successio and traditio were originally neighboring terms; the two concepts were at first practically synonymous (Ratzinger, 22-23).

    This second account is from the von Campenhausen work he said was “impressively demonstrated”:

    The decisive step on the development of the concept of tradition was taken … about the middle of the second century. It is about this time that the ideas of “transmitting” and “receiving” tradition acquire new theological importance and a markedly technical meaning. The origins of this phenomenon are, however, not to be sought in the circles which elaborated the ecclesiology of the Great Church; instead they take us into the world of the gnosis and its cult of the free individual teacher. At any rate, within the Christian world it is the Gnostic Ptolemaeus who provides the earliest evidence known to us of this new, theologically oriented usage. In the Letter to Flora he speaks explicitly of the secret and apostolic tradition (παράδοσεις) which supplements the canonical collection of Jesus’s words, and which by being handed on through a succession (διαδοχἡ) of teachers and instructors has now come to “us”, that is, to him or to his community. Here the concept of “tradition” is plainly used in a technical sense, as is shown particularly by the collocation with the corresponding concept of “succession” (Citing von Campenhausen, 158).

    You say, “The Church always had the concept of apostolic succession”. I’ve shown from Scripture that Paul, at least, did affirmed that the “succession” of “the message” was what he had in mind. Where, in the New Testament, does it say, “The Church has ‘always’ had the concept of apostolic succession”? If you can’t show it from the New Testament, what written evidence do you have that say that the church “always” had this concept?

  268. John Bugay writes:

    Everyone agrees that the Reformation was about “authority”.

    I agree! The disagreement between the Catholic Church and Protestants is NOT about whether the scriptures are authoritative – they are, and they possess a unique authority because they were written under the charismatic gift of inspiration. The disagreement is about what interpretations of the scriptures Christians are conscience bound to accept. And this is a disagreement over primacy. Every Christian holds to some doctrine of primacy whether they openly acknowledge that they do or not. The sola scriptura confessing Protestants hold to doctrine of primacy that asserts that the individual Christian’s conscience has primacy when scriptures are interpreted. But this doctrine of primacy contradicts what is explicitly laid out in the scriptures.

    I will ask you the same question that I asked Burton in 239. John, as a sola scriptura confessing Protestant, how do you reconcile the Protestant doctrine of the primacy of the individual’s conscience with this teaching of Jesus:

    … if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
    Matthew 18:17

    Joshua Lin touches on the Protestant doctrine of the primacy of the individual’s conscience in the main body of his article:

    My Reformed belief in the relative importance of the visible church was in conflict with the Reformed emphasis on the importance of one’s individual conscience. Thus, while I wholeheartedly agree with the sense of importance attached to remaining accountable to a visible body, to feel this way as a Protestant seems to be entirely contradictory. Luther felt that it was necessary to separate from the Catholic Church, Zwingli from Luther, the Anabaptists from the Magisterial Reformed, the Calvinists from Arminians, and on and on–all on the conviction that I have the correct interpretation of Scripture: “Here I stand, so help me God.”

    Joshua Lin is correct. If primacy lies with the individual, then a Reformed sect has no real authority to bind one’s conscience to an interpretation of scriptures, and to assert otherwise is a contradiction. Which, fundamentally, means that a Reformed sect has no real authority.

    If I submit (only when I agree), the one to whom I submit is me.

    On the other hand, if the doctrine of the primacy of the individual’s conscience is not true, then Luther, Calvin and Menno Simons had no business leaving the Catholic Church to create their personal “bible churches” that taught contradictory doctrine.

    John Bugay, you write:

    To be sure “the apostles” “appointed” “overseers and deacons” as 1 Clement said, but this was not the institution of a permanent office …

    That is an opinion that depends on an interpretation of scriptures. Against your opinion, I would like to quote Jason Stellman once again:

    In my own reading of the New Testament, the believer is never instructed to consult Scripture alone in order to adjudicate disputes or determine matters of doctrine (one obvious reason for this is that the early church existed at a time when the 27-book New Testament had either not been begun, completed, or recognized as canonical). The picture the New Testament paints is one in which the ordained leadership of the visible church gathers to bind and loose in Jesus’ Name and with his authority, with the Old Testament Scriptures being called upon as witnesses to the apostles’ and elders’ message (Matt. 18:18-19; Acts 15:6-29), with no indication in Scripture that such ecclesiastical authority was to cease and eventually give way to Sola Scriptura (meaning that the doctrine fails its own test). Moreover, unless the church’s interpretation of Scripture is divinely protected from error at least under certain conditions, then what we call the “orthodox” understanding of doctrines like the Trinity or the hypostatic union is reduced to mere fallible human opinion. I have searched long and hard, but have found no solution within the Sola Scriptura paradigm to this devastating conclusion.

    Where do the NT scriptures teach that “ecclesiastical authority was to cease and eventually give way to Sola Scriptura.” Nowhere! Which is why sola scriptura is a self-refuting doctrine that fails its own test.

  269. John (#240),

    I appreciate the book suggestion. Having read some reviews of the book, I’m sure if the author will deal with some primary issues (for me). I was struck by this quote from one reviewer:

    “When Kruger examines the community-based and historical-based canon models, he finds fault with both of them because they subject the New Testament to an authority outside of itself in order for the canon to be authenticated. The Bible is the final authority, according to Kruger, and cannot be subjected to an outside authority. If it were, then it would no longer be the authority. Why is this a problem?
    Because he didn’t devote a single page to defending the idea that the Bible is the ultimate authority from God.”

    Would you agree with this reviewers assessment? As I attempt to objectively assess each side’s authority claims, I see many Protestant authors give lengthy critiques of the RCC paradigm, but then fairly scant historical and especially philosophical support for the foundational underpinnings of their own paradigm (Bible as the Ultimate authority by which all ecclesial authorities must be judged). I’m not sure that even a scholarly and well argued description of a self-attesting means of recognizing NT canon does much to help address those issues. I know it is not fair of me to judge the book before reading it, but just wondering if in your opinion Krueger fairly addresses these deeper issues.

    Thanks,

    Burton

  270. Burton, I don’t think it’s a problem that Kruger doesn’t “devote a single page to defending the idea that the Bible is the ultimate authority from God”, because he’s primarily writing to an audience who believes that it is. Protestants generally accept that they know how to read, and they trust themselves not to need an “ultimate authority”.

    Kruger’s stated purpose is to respond to “the narrow question of whether Christians have a rational basis (i.e., intellectually sufficient grounds) for affirming that only these twenty-seven books rightfully belong in the New Testament canon. Or put differently, he asks is the Christian belief in the canon justified (or warranted)?

    In the first part of the book, he does discuss what he calls several other “canonical models” are – different critical (and not so critical) understandings of how the canon of the NT became “fixed”. But he moves quickly through those, his purpose probably being just to orient his readers to the issues, not to argue against any one of them.

    His real purpose is to defend the traditional Reformed “self-authenticating” view – he defines this somewhat differently than it has been defined in the past, and he spends a great deal of time talking about not only the theological issues (“divine attributes”, the role of New Testament writings as “covenant documents), as well as the hands-on historical issues, such as book production, literary issues of the early centuries, the development of a “canonical core” (i.e., early collections of Paul’s letters, the four gospels, etc).

    It’s a *positive account* of a traditional Protestant understanding, and it defends against a number of “key defeaters” (without addressing every objection).

    I’ve already printed large swatches of the first half of the book at Triablogue under the labels “Michael J Kruger” and “Canon Revisited”.

  271. Kruger’s stated purpose is to respond to “the narrow question of whether Christians have a rational basis (i.e., intellectually sufficient grounds) for affirming that only these twenty-seven books rightfully belong in the New Testament canon. Or put differently, he asks is the Christian belief in the canon justified (or warranted)?

    I think that it is great that Kruger will establish for the Protestant that the 27-book NT is an historically credible book. I’m also glad that Protestants will be able to feel rationally justified in keeping their 27-book NT. However, that gets them no closer to an article of faith than an argument would for the historically and rationally credible doctrine of the “Trinity”. If this is the central thesis and mission of the book, then it simply talks right over the Catholic critique, leaving it untouched. For starters, the books in controversy between Catholics and Protestants are in the OT, so I would like to see Kruger or anyone write a book about those. The missing books are the scandal. Secondly, and more importantly, a supernatural article of faith cannot rest upon just history and reason. It will be supported by them, but the “ground” so to speak needs to be something more. That is why for Kruger et. al. “self attestation” — personal, private spiritual enlightenment — does all the heavy lifting. In fact, the other stuff we agree on, but just not the implication that history and reason give you enough warrant to believe a supernatural dogma. Then again, neither does Kruger et. al., thus the requirement for “self-attestation” in the argument for it to work. Which is why this view truly makes the canon impossible.

  272. John Bugay,

    When I was studying what would later become “on my way” into the Catholic Church, I noticed that many Protestant arguments against the Catholic position(s) proved too much. What I mean is that if I accepted their critique unilaterally (in all cases), while even having a tinge of truth to it’s color, the argument turned on and destroyed other dogmas that the Protestant considered orthodox.

    Let me give you an example using your argument against Apostolic Succession — at least one particular leg of the argument. You would have me to hold that because “succession” is a “concept” that doesn’t emerge until the 2nd century and only in anti-Gnostic literature (scary!), that I should reject it as a novelty. On your view, the apparent novelty of it confirms it as a mere assertion of Rome. However, if I were to take this principle and apply to elsewhere, you would have me to deny the “concept” of “Trinity” because it is clearly from the second or third century (mostly third), and comes to us only in anti-Adoptionist, Sabellian and Arian literature. Therefore, on this view, “Trinity” is a mere assertion of Rome.

    I will just make one more comment to you Mr. Bugay. I appreciate your honesty in trying to show that error creeps into the Church in Clement (#258), and then you trying to prove a fairly significant point with the concept of “succession” being a novelty in the mid-second century. I think you get what must be proved in order for the Catholic Church to be false. I studied the Protestant secondary sources you site, as well, and while I was still a Protestant (my library only had the Protestant scholarship — mostly). In fact, I wrote a 65 page thesis on (Pope St.) Clement, and approached the research with the basic assumption that error had to have crept into the church; the compass had to have been a few degrees off from the beginning, or else there was no way to explain the 16th century Reformation project of pressing the “restart button”. In other words, it must be proven that the particular “Roman Church” had failed, and I don’t think that can be done unless you prove it over a long period of time, as a kind of “by degrees”, gradation effect (or else you run the risk of being a historical sensationalist).

  273. John,

    Thanks for the response. That is very helpful. I am in a slightly different boat than the Protestant who knows how to read :) At this point, I do not take Sola Scriptura for granted, partly because I don’t see strong Biblical evidence for it, and partly because I find the philosophical and logical criticisms of this doctrine compelling. Above, you recommended the book to me in the context of a discussion regarding historical and Biblical evidence for the Bible as ultimate authority by which all other authorities are judged. If this premise is assumed to be true in Kruger’s book and therefore not addressed, then it may not by helpful for me.

    Burton

  274. Burton 272, Kruger’s book certainly contains a huge amount of “historical and Biblical evidence for the Bible” — it doesn’t use the term “ultimate authority” because in the circles for whom he’s writing, that’s just a given. He’s working toward affirming some of the historical questions. Yes, the Bible does have “divine qualities”. It does speak with “apostolic authority”. He describes in great detail the process of the spread and adoption of New Testament writings based on manuscript evidence (where, when, what they contained, etc.)

    Since I don’t know the nature of your questions all that well, it seems fair to ask, Why is it not a given for you that the Bible is the ultimate authority? If you are looking for an “ultimate authority”, then I would ask, why is God not your ultimate authority? And why, then, is God’s word somehow equated with God as an authority? That is, if God speaks, why are you not capable of hearing (reading) and understanding it?

    What ultimate questions has the “Roman Infallibility Mechanism” really answered and defined in such a way that is really “ultimate”? There are two: “the pope is infallible” and “Mary was assumed bodily into heaven”. Outside of those two, everything else in Roman Catholicism seems to be open for negotiation. And at Vatican II, much of what had been “infallibly, authoritatively” defined was “reformulated positively”, with the result that a centuries-old understanding that “there is no salvation outside the church” became, in practical terms, “anyone who follows his conscience can be saved, just because the Church exists as a source of grace”.

    Rome’s “authority” is really not much more than CGI — smoke and mirrors that have historically looked impressive to common people, but it’s only purpose is not much more than to affirm Rome’s authority.

  275. John (#257):

    You wrote:

    Everyone agrees that the Reformation was about “authority”. This discussion, too, is about “authority. But neither of these claims you are making can be supported. Not exegetically from the Scriptures, nor from history.

    After supplying your exegesis about the authority structure of the Church as presented in the NT, you concluded by addressing me thus:

    But you’re equivocating on the word “authority”. You’re using the same word in different senses. You are ignoring Paul’s original meaning of that word, and you are back-filling it with a current Roman Catholic definition of “authority”. Of course, we are not talking about “the authority of the Apostles”. We are talking about “the authority” of “the message”. And the stewards as “adding nothing” to the message.

    What I usually do in discussions about authority and revelation is prescind from questions of exegesis and history while broaching the more fundamental, philosophical question I’ve been discussing with Andrew M. and “Eric.” When I addressed you, I departed a bit from that and presented what I take to be historical fact; but I did that only so as to show that you’re reading more into Bryan’s account than was there. Especially in light of Bryan’s #255, I still think you’re “over-intepreting” his, and my, point about this.

    I do not argue, nor do I think Bryan has argued, that a Catholic, Orthodox, or high-Anglican understanding of apostolic authority can simply be inferred, by proof-texting or deductive logic, from passages in the NT and the sub-apostolic fathers. Not even Ratzinger does that in the passages of his you quote. What we have claimed, rather, is that it’s historical fact that some NT books were accepted as God-breathed because the Apostles, who wrote some of them and authorized others, said they were. That should be obvious because the Apostles were understood by the faithful to be teaching in the Lord’s name with his authorization. That in turn wasn’t just because they said so; the evidence that they were so teaching was ample in their personal association with the Lord, in their miracles, and in other manifestations of spiritual power. There’s nothing especially controversial about that claim, at least among Christians.

    Moreover, nothing you’ve said undermines that claim, because what you’re doing is defending a particular interpretation of the facts we’ve cited. According to your interpretation, the authority of the Apostles and those whom they authorized was not personal to them, but resided solely in “the message,” the kerygma they proclaimed. That is a rationally plausible opinion: a possible interpretation of the data that is not obviously false. But there’s nothing compelling about it. For one thing, it premises a false dilemma: to wit, that the locus of authority is either personal to the leadership of the Church or solely in the message. Until the Reformation, the Church didn’t see the matter as an either-or proposition, nor did theologians generally present it that way. The older, more traditional interpretation, on which apostolic succession and Scripture were both essential for presenting divine revelation, is at least as rationally plausible as yours, and in my opinion more so. But so far this matter resides at the level of opinion. And that brings me to the main difficulty with your approach–the difficulty that motivates my own wider, more philosophical approach.

    Rather than repeat myself here, I refer you to sections IV and V of the essay I wrote for CTC last year. The upshot of my argument was that we’re dealing here with a clash of interpretive paradigms, such that the question which paradigm is more reasonable for the purpose of presenting divine revelation has to be discussed before we get into any particular set of exegetical and historical details. Present and intepret all the details of that sort you want–until you address that prior philosophical question, nothing that you or any other scholar say can rise beyond the level of opinion, and thus cannot clearly present divine revelation for the assent of faith.

    Best,
    Mike

  276. John,

    God is certainly my ultimate authority. I do not believe that this fact leads inexorably to the conclusion that therefore the Bible, as God’s written revelation, is the only authority to which I am bound to submit, or by which, I as an individual am able to judge all other authorities. It is certainly possible that God left us with a Church whose leaders were and are gifted to recognize which books define the Bible, both OT and NT, and who are gifted by the Holy Spirit to interpret the Bible with authority, so as to define orthodoxy versus heresy and schism versus unity. The question then becomes, which approach best fits the Biblical, historical, and philosophical data.

    Why am I not capable of reading and understanding God’s Word? First, I must ask if I am able to infallibly recognize the true canon, OT and NT. Then, as I read the New Testament (which I have four times in the past 18 mos), and especially as I have tried to read it in the context of the teachings of the church over the centuries, I have come to the conclusion that what I do (how I love, show mercy etc) actually has some real bearing on my salvation and that JBFA as understood by the reformers is probably not what the Bible actually teaches. I have also come to the conclusion through reading the Bible in the context of the church’s history that my Protestant view of human sexuality is seriously flawed and that by practicing contraception my wife and I for years were persisting in a serious sin and harming our marriage. I have also come to the conclusion that Baptism and communion probably mean and do a lot more sacramentally than I ever thought they did, and are more than the “covenantal sign” that my reformed elders tell me they are. It has been humbling and in a sense terrifying that I have been reading the Bible for so many years, and even led many Bible studies, but seemingly have missed so much. This does make me question my ability as an individual to fully understand the saving truth without a church, established in authority by God, to help keep me from falling into heresy or schism.

    I also see the pages of history littered with those who were utterly convinced that they had the true understanding of the Bible while falling headlong into heresy. I wonder, do I really suppose that I, just me and my Bible, am immune from falling into the same?

    So this brings up your next question. How does the “Roman Infallibility Mechanism” help fill any of the purported deficits? First, I’m not saying that it does. I am saying that the Protestant paradigm is highly problematic for me with serious real-life consequence, and I am looking to see whether or not the RCC (or Orthodox) claims make sense. As I mentioned on another thread many months ago, if left for my children a list of rules for the household and then left them for a month, their epistemologic situation would be qualitatively different than if I was present to interpret those rules when controversy arose.

    Your criticism of the RCC with regard to change in doctrine over issues like “outside the church no salvation” is a real potential problem for them, and without adequate explanation (if doctrinal contradiction can be shown to have occurred) I think this would disqualify them from their claim to be that living magisterial authority, but I don’t think that helps the Protestant situation because I don’t think it negates the need for just such an authority. Hence my pestering Michael Liccione to explain what you so eloquently stated:

    “And at Vatican II, much of what had been “infallibly, authoritatively” defined was “reformulated positively”, with the result that a centuries-old understanding that “there is no salvation outside the church” became, in practical terms, “anyone who follows his conscience can be saved, just because the Church exists as a source of grace”.”

    Burton

  277. Burton.

    My story sounds a lot like your story. For one thing, my look at the Catholic Church started with my reading the scriptures anew.

  278. HI Burton,

    Just to clear up something. “Outside of the Church there is no Salvation.” Quite literally means that “Outside of Christ there is no Salvation.” I think all Christians believe that Salvation comes ONLY through Christ. Even if a person was to die without ever knowing about Christ. If he/she is to be saved it will be through Christ. Thus outside of the Church there is no salvation. The Church is Christ and Christ is the Church. We ( the Church) are the Living Body of Christ.

    Blessings
    NHU

  279. Hi Burton,

    Where does the doctrinal controversy lie? In the past the Church taught that outside the Church no salvation. Vatican 11 teaches outside the Church no salvation but explains it more fully. Really there is no salvation outside of Christ. That has always been the teaching of the Church.

    Blessings
    NHU

  280. Burton (#276):

    Addressing Jobn Bugay, you wrote:

    Your criticism of the RCC with regard to change in doctrine over issues like “outside the church no salvation” is a real potential problem for them, and without adequate explanation (if doctrinal contradiction can be shown to have occurred) I think this would disqualify them from their claim to be that living magisterial authority, but I don’t think that helps the Protestant situation because I don’t think it negates the need for just such an authority. Hence my pestering Michael Liccione to explain what you so eloquently stated:

    “And at Vatican II, much of what had been “infallibly, authoritatively” defined was “reformulated positively”, with the result that a centuries-old understanding that “there is no salvation outside the church” became, in practical terms, “anyone who follows his conscience can be saved, just because the Church exists as a source of grace”.”

    To the extent there’s a problem for the Catholic Church here, it lies in misunderstandings of the kind that often attends doctrinal developments. Vatican II’s development of the doctrine of extra ecclesiam nulla salus (EENS)–which was actually the culmination of a course of development that had been gathering momentum for centuries–is no exception. Allow me to clear up a few of the misunderstandings.

    First, what Nelson just said.

    Second, John’s characterization of the pertinent doctrinal development is simply incorrect. It does not follow from the teaching of the Church that anyone who follows their conscience will be saved by or through the grace available through the Church, or will even be saved at all. The Church allows for the possibility that some consciences are not only malformed but culpably so (cf. CCC §1791 ff), and there’s no reason to believe that all such culpability will be repented of. And even assuming EENS, the Church is not a source of grace. Grace comes only from God; the Church is but the ordinary and indispensable medium thereof.

    Third, and as I’ve repeatedly argued before, the idea that non-Catholic Christians are in “imperfect communion” with the Church does not contradict EENS but rather refines it. During a period of Western history when people assumed that all had heard and understood the Gospel and the papal claims, it was natural to assume that full communion with the Catholic Church was necessary with salvation. The reports of Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, and the Spanish conquistadors about native peoples forced a re-examination of that assumption. The long-term political fallout from the Protestant Reformation and the 17th-century wars of religion only accelerated that process. The eventual result was what you read in Lumen Gentium and Unitatis Redintegratio. There just is no logical contradiction here. Rather, the notion of what it is to be “inside” the Church was duly refined in light of historical developments, so that it came to be understood as a matter of degree.

    If you have further objections, I’ll be glad to handle them.

    Best,
    Mike

  281. Mike (re: #256),

    It appears that our actual defending has turned into the guidelines and goals of defending. I appreciate you taking the time to exchange. May God bless are intentions and efforts as we seek to serve and know His will for our lives.

    Thanks,
    Eric Waggoner

  282. Burton, (re: #276)

    Regarding the last two paragraphs of your comment #276, in addition to what Michael said in #280, I recommend looking at Tom Brown’s “VanDrunen on Catholic Inclusivity,” Fr. Peter Stravinskas’s very helpful article “Can Outsiders Be Insiders?,” and his book “Salvation Outside the Church?.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  283. John (re: #267)

    The concept of succession can be found in many ancient sects, schools, and religions. That does not entail that the Church borrowed or derived the concept from pagan sources, either in the second century, or during the time of the Apostles, or at any later time, just as it does not entail that Moses borrowed the idea from pagans when appointing Joshua as his successor. The quotation you cite from Cardinal Ratzinger is affirming that the first preserved records of Church leaders using this concept of succession are from their polemical works against the gnostics of the second century. That is what Cardinal Ratzinger says van Campenhausen has impressively demonstrated. It should be noted that these second century anti-gnostic polemical works are some of the earliest Christians writings that have been preserved.

    As I pointed out here, Cardinal Ratzinger is not saying there that the Church derived her concept and practice of apostolic succession from the second century gnostics, or came to possess the concept of succession only in the second century. And contrary to what you imply, Cardinal Ratzinger never says that van Campenhausen demonstrated (let alone “impressively demonstrated”) that the Church’s concept and practice of apostolic succession was derived from gnostics, let alone from second century gnostics. Nor has van Campenhausen actually demonstrated such a thing. When van Campenhausen says, “The origins of this phenomenon are, however, not to be sought in the circles which elaborated the ecclesiology of the Great Church,” he is not demonstrating that the Church borrowed the idea from pagans. To assume that because the pagans practiced succession in their sects and schools, therefore the Church’s notion of succession was derived from the pagans, would be to commit the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

    I have laid out in summary form the evidence from the Church Fathers for the practice of apostolic succession in all the apostolic churches (Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, etc.) going back to the Apostles themselves, in the section on Apostolic Succession in my dialogue with Michael Horton. And that evidence has not been refuted.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  284. Dear Burton,

    I’ve recently written two pieces about just the topic you referenced:

    Does the Council of Florence Contradict Vatican II? & Myth Busters: Catholicism Teaches Universalism

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  285. John, (re: #257-259)

    I have a few more thoughts on some things you said in #257-259. You claim that because St. Paul says in Galatians 2:6 that those who were of repute added nothing to me [ἐμοὶ γὰρ οἱ δοκοῦντες οὐδὲν προσανέθεντο], that therefore the Church can in no way ‘add’ authority to Scripture. But that conclusion does not follow. When St. Paul says that they added nothing, he is talking about both the content of his message (i.e. “the gospel which I preach”) and his authority as an apostle, since he received this gospel not from man, but through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal 1:12) The other Apostles did not ordain him, or select him to fill an apostolic office as they had done with Mathias in Acts 1. But St. Paul is not here denying that the other Apostles’ acceptance and recognition of his calling to the uncircumcised and the grace that had been given to him, and their giving to him the right hand of fellowship, added credibility for the Church to his vocation and teaching as an apostle of Jesus Christ in Christ’s Church. On the contrary, he is appealing precisely to their acceptance of his teaching, in order to confirm its authenticity.

    Regarding Titus 2:15, of course Titus was not infallible. That’s fully compatible with Catholic doctrine. And yes, St. Paul does not say, “teach, encourage and rebuke with all authority, then pass that on to those you are appointing.” But of course the argument from silence is a fallacy, so nothing follows from St. Paul not completing his sentence in that way. But there is plenty of positive evidence in Scripture that the Apostles did establish apostolic succession. See section IX.C “Evidence From Scripture” for Apostolic Succession in my reply to Michael Horton.

    You issue imperatives that we must not think of a bishop as someone in charge, but rather as a butler. However, imperatives from you are not evidence that bishops have no authority or were given no authority by the Apostles, since you have no authority to issue imperatives regarding how Scripture is to be interpreted. Yes, bishops are stewards of the deposit of faith. There is no dispute there. The Catholic Church and all orthodox Catholics fully affirm the passages of Scripture you cite regarding “faithful stewardship.” But if the bishops had no authority, they would be stewards in no other sense than that in which every Christian is a steward of the deposit of faith. Denying their authority, is therefore to make the office of bishop superfluous, which therefore calls into question your assertion that they have no authority. If they had no authority, there would be no basis for us to “obey” them and to “submit to them.” (Heb 13:17) They would be just as obliged to submit to us. So your claim goes too far, and therefore refutes itself.

    As for your claim that episcopal authority is an example of “overrealized eschatology,” in order for such a claim to be more than mere hand-waving, you first need to establish the standard by which to distinguish between overrealized eschatology, underrealized eschatology, and rightly realized eschatology. You have not done that. By implication, the standard you seem to be using in order to judge an eschatology as “overrealized” is Michael Horton’s interpretation of Scripture. And, of course, that just pushes us back to the question: On what basis should we believe that Horton has the authority to provide the authoritative interpretation of Scripture, by which other interpretations can be judged to be cases of overrealized or underrealized eschatology?

    As for the difference in authority between the Apostles and their successors, the Catholic Church recognizes this difference. I explained this difference briefly in comment #59 of “Evangelical Reunion in the Catholic Church.” That’s why the claim that either the bishops had the same authority as the Apostles, or they have no magisterial authority, is a false dilemma. That’s also why it is inaccurate to claim that John Behr believes that St. Ignatius denies apostolic succession. Behr is claiming (rightly) that for St. Ignatius (and for Catholics and Orthodox) the successors of the Apostles do not have the authority to overturn the teaching of the Apostles or set down any new revelation from Christ. In that sense they are truly subordinate to the Apostles. There is a real difference in authority between the Apostles and their successors. But that does not entail that St. Ignatius believed that there could be no apostolic succession in the sense believed and practiced in the Catholic Church. There is a middle position between the bishops being equal in authority to the Apostles, and the bishops having no magisterial authority.

    You grant that according to St. Clement the Apostles appointed bishops and deacons. But then without any corroborating evidence you assert that “this was not the institution of a permanent office,” and that this office was only “permanent within their lifetimes.” Without any corroborating evidence, these claims are mere unsubstantiated assertions. This also involves you in the following problem. On the one hand, you claim that the office to which St. Clement refers is not a “permanent office,” but on the other hand you claim that present-day Presbyterian elders occupy the office of presbyter instituted by the Apostles in the New Testament. If the office instituted by the Apostles was not permanent, but only for their lifetimes, then the present office of presbyter is not that office, but merely a man-made office. But if the current Presbyterian office of presbyter was established by the Apostles, then you are treating it as permanent. And if you are claiming that the office of bishop was only intended to be temporary, while that of presbyter was intended to be permanent, then you are acknowledging a difference between bishop and presbyter.

    You imply that because the literary form of St. Clement’s letter is that of persuasion, it shows that “this is all that” he could do, allegedly, in your view, because he had no authority. But that is not good reasoning, because the conclusion does not follow from the premise. As any good pastor knows, it is always better to shepherd with gentle persuasion, if possible, than with the rod. Making use of the form of persuasion does not therefore indicate that St. Clement had no ecclesial authority. Moreover, as I showed in the ecclesiology section of my post on St. Clement, he does provide evidence that he thinks of himself as having ecclesial authority, because he issues imperatives, and indirectly threatens excommunication if the rebellious Corinthian Christians do not comply.

    You suggest that the Shepherd of Hermas provides an example of the difference between the authority of the Apostles and the authority of the elders of the Church at Rome. First, I should point out that the presence of a plurality of elders is fully compatible with one of those elders being a bishop (since bishops too are elders). It is also fully compatible with there being multiple bishops present (as other evidence indicates), even while always only one of those bishops had jurisdictional authority. So this does not show that there was no bishop of the Church at Rome at this time. But second, the poor behavior of certain presbyters does not prove anything one way or another regarding their ecclesial authority. It is fully compatible with their being presbyters who were ordained by the bishops having the succession from the Apostles. (Ordination, as you know, does not include the infusion of the gift of impeccability.)

    When Cardinal Ratzinger says, “even when “office”, as the form of paradosis is already clearly taking shape,” he is not claiming that the office of bishop was coming into existence in the second century. He is talking about the Church’s understanding of the relation of that office to the Apostolic Tradition, namely, that the Tradition is located in and normatively locatable in that office. The Church’s understanding of this relation was more clearly developed through her second century response to the gnostics.

    You wrote:

    It is offered by Irenaeus as a looking back – it is offered as an evidence that there has been faithfulness.

    I addressed this notion in the second to the last paragraph of Section IX.A “Evidence from Tradition” [for apostolic succession] of my dialogue with Michael Horton.

    I don’t see anything in the Bavinck citation showing that the comparison between the way in which the law and the prophets testified concerning Christ authoritatively testifies to His divine authority, and the way in which the Church authoritatively testifies to Scripture’s divine authority, is a category mistake.

    Concerning the Church’s attestation of Scripture you wrote:

    There is no hint that this “attestation” of the church is “divine”.

    The deity of Christ, and His union with His Church as the Head of the Body, and the guidance of the Church by the Holy Spirit, is a hint that he who listens to the Church listens to Christ, and that what the Church as a whole does, Christ is doing. That’s why catholicity is normative, in the sense of the ordinary universal magisterium. The Church is not an ordinary body, because Christ, who both founded it and governs it, is not a mere human.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  286. Michael Liccione, #275:

    I agree that we need to address the issue of “interpretive paradigms” – in fact, these kinds of issues are among the “theological prolegomena” that theologians talk about.

    Before I comment on “IPs”, I want to address one element of your comment right up front:

    What we have claimed, rather, is that it’s historical fact that some NT books were accepted as God-breathed because the Apostles, who wrote some of them and authorized others, said they were. That should be obvious because the Apostles were understood by the faithful to be teaching in the Lord’s name with his authorization. That in turn wasn’t just because they said so; the evidence that they were so teaching was ample in their personal association with the Lord, in their miracles, and in other manifestations of spiritual power. There’s nothing especially controversial about that claim, at least among Christians.

    Moreover, nothing you’ve said undermines that claim, because what you’re doing is defending a particular interpretation of the facts we’ve cited.

    We are not saying anything different up to this point. In the following instance, though, you misunderstand what I am saying …

    According to your interpretation, the authority of the Apostles and those whom they authorized was not personal to them, but resided solely in “the message,” the kerygma they proclaimed.

    … and your analysis that follows – “it premises a false dilemma: to wit, that the locus of authority is either personal to the leadership of the Church or solely in the message. Until the Reformation, the Church didn’t see the matter as an either-or proposition, nor did theologians generally present it that way” – is incorrect. It is not an “either-or” dilemma, but rather, it has to do with the relationship of one to the other.

    What I am saying is that the “message” was pivotal to be sure. But while Roman Catholicism claims that the “successors” after the apostles have some very similar authority vis-à-vis the message (“interpretive” authority), I am rather saying is that those who followed the apostles had a somewhat (in fact, a good deal less authority “ministerial” vs “magisterial”) and we can talk about that some time later.

  287. Michael Liccione, #275:

    Rather than repeat myself here, I refer you to sections IV and V of the essay I wrote for CTC last year. The upshot of my argument was that we’re dealing here with a clash of interpretive paradigms, such that the question which paradigm is more reasonable for the purpose of presenting divine revelation has to be discussed before we get into any particular set of exegetical and historical details. Present and intepret all the details of that sort you want–until you address that prior philosophical question, nothing that you or any other scholar say can rise beyond the level of opinion, and thus cannot clearly present divine revelation for the assent of faith.

    Regarding your essay, I have to say that this very much strikes me as an exercise where the rules of the game are written so that the identity of the winner is never in doubt.

    This “paradigm” is not something that is new to yourself (although you frame it in different words), it was actually was noticed by Turretin, who (vol 3, page 2), actually seemed to complain that his opponents would not actually discuss the facts, but “to this day … (although they are anything but the true church of Christ) still boast of their having alone the name of the church and do not blush to display the standard of that which they dispose. In this manner, hiding themselves under the specious title of the antiquity and infallibility of the Catholic church, they think they can, as with one blow, beat down and settle the controversy waged against them concerning the various and most destructive errors introduced into the heavenly doctrine”.

    The Roman claim to authority is (and today is very much used as) an attempt, with one statement, to avoid argumentation on any other point of Scripture or doctrine.

    That is, the argument from Rome’s side never is, “the doctrine is (a) because the Scripture says (a)”. The argument from Rome’s side is always “the doctrine is (b) even though the Scripture says (a) because ‘the Church’ has the ‘interpretive authority’ to make it (b)”.

    I’ve commented a number of times where I think this impulse comes from: it is clearly recognizable in Imperial [secular, “not the church”] Rome, and it exists outside of what you think might be included in the “interpretive paradigm”:

    Emperor Worship and the Ancient Roman Mindset (1)

    Augustus Caeser, pontifex maximus, becomes a god

    Caesar Worship and Christian Art

    These are not in any particular order, and of course, “correlation does not imply causation”. It’s true that I have not yet “close the loop” on that particular thought, but I don’t think it’s a hard argument to make.

    For example, it is clear that the Roman church [Pope Leo 1, specifically] used Roman law to bolster its own position, in defining itself in the fourth and fifth centuries (such “definitions” then being “reading back into” earlier statements about Rome, bishops of Rome, Peter, etc”, and being the source of Roman Catholic teaching about “divine institution” of itself. In fact, it’s no secret that Pope Leo I relied on Roman adoption law to give make himself not just “a successor of” but the “heir” of Peter and thus giving himself “the same rights, authority and obligations as the one whom he replaced”. Now, to my mind, that is a thing that must be argued for on two levels: first, that Leo was anything near to being an “heir” to Peter, and second, whether God subjects himself and his kingdom to ancient Roman adoption laws. But that is for another day.

    At any rate, I hope these blog posts of mine will give you some idea of why I tend to distrust (and in fact be dismissive of) your (and Rome’s) “interpretive paradigm”.

    * * *

    In your IP, here is your criterion: something that …

    reliably identify[ies] the formal, proximate object of faith as distinct from human opinion.

    you carefully avoid using the word “infallible” here, so that you avoid using the conclusion within the premise, but it is clear from the way that you posit this, that is the answer you are looking for.

    However, your choice of “leaving it to mere human opinion about how to interpret sources that have been alleged to transmit divine revelation”, or choosing the method that you eventually adopt, is a false dilemma. It is not “either-or” (either “an infallible interpreter” or “mere human opinion”.

    First, Scripture itself defines itself as what is “the formal, proximate object of faith”, or in the words of Bavinck’s editors (Vol 1, pg 354), that “Scripture does not [merely] give us data to interpret; it is itself the interpretation of reality.” Consider Jesus’s words in Luke 16:29: ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ I could bring much more than this, but this illustrates that the concept is in Scripture: the words of the Scriptures themselves are “the formal, proximate object of faith”.

    This is why Kruger’s work is so key at this point in the discussion, in clarifying that (contra Roman Catholic and other claims) Protestants are warranted, justified in their acceptance that the 27-book volume of the New Testament is the extent and limit of “divine revelation” we have today. He takes the wind out of the sails of the argument that “sola scriptura is self-defeating”.

    His work tremendously bolsters Protestant epistemological claims in this area of “interpretive paradigms”. [Once you have read his reasons for this, and I’m not going to outline them here, you should feel free to argue with the specific arguments he makes. But I don’t think any Roman Catholic, from this time forward, should be able to get away with the facile statement “Sola scriptura is self-defeating”, without tackling Kruger’s specific and individual arguments].

    The Protestant says, “Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure” (Psalm 16). Note that this trust, too, is fundamental to the Protestant IP. Once one’s faith in the “Lord” “alone” is established as the “formal principle” by which the Protestant (not just his “understanding”, but the Protestant in his own person) is secure, then is the understanding that “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119).

    Scripture interprets Scripture”, as the saying goes. [In this link, I show how Irenaeus himself does not hold to your view of “IP”, but the Protestant view: “All Scripture, given to us by God, will be found consistent. The parables will agree with the clear statements and the clear passages will explain the parables. Through the polyphony of the texts a single harmonious melody will sound in us, praising in hymns the God who made everything.”

    This comports with Old Testament notions of Authority, too. God does not give the Israelites a Bible and then say “wait for someone to come along who can identify the formal, proximate object of faith as distinct from human opinion”. He says, “Get the assembly of the people together (“the church”) and read the law to them”. God himself plays an active role in this process. He says, “my word shall not return to me void”. Remember Psalm 16: God himself makes our lot secure.

    In the Old Testament, God’s word is “the formal, proximate object of faith”. No “interpretation” was required. It’s true, Moses and others were called upon to “judge” in specific instances. And this occurred in the Old Testament, and the Reformers allowed, too, that the church would have “ministerial authority” to judge in disputes.

    But this relates to the very question that was brought up in my previous comment:

    while Roman Catholicism claims that the “successors” after the apostles have some very similar authority vis-à-vis the message [of the Gospel, i.e., “interpretive” authority], I am rather saying is that those who followed the apostles had a somewhat (in fact, a good deal reduced authority vis-à-vis “the message]. The difference is characterized “ministerial” vs “magisterial”, and we can talk about that at another point.

    For Protestants, the “authority” that the church has is the kind of authority that Moses and the judges of Israel held in the Old Testament.

    [more to follow]

  288. [continuing]

    You then posit the question:

    the question fairly arises: How to explain the fact that many baptized, churchgoing people don’t agree about what the plain sense of Scripture is, or even that it’s always and necessarily inerrant even when agreed to be plain? If the proximate, formal object of faith can be clearly identified by a rationally unassailable set of inferences from the pertinent early sources, the primary one of which is assumed to be inerrant, does that tell us that those who don’t find that set rationally unassailable are either unlearned or willfully irrational?

    This too is a false dilemma, unless you want to call God himself “either unlearned or willfully irrational” in setting up the paradigm he set up with Moses and the Israelites. God posits his own word as “plain”.

    Your illustration from Anthony Lane presents itself as an instance of Judges 21:25: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes”.

    But even in 1530 Casper Schwenckfeld could cynically note that “the Papists damn the Lutherans; the Lutherans damn the Zwinglians; the Zwinglians damn the Anabaptists and the Anabaptists damn all others.” By the end of the seventeenth century many others saw that it was not possible on the basis of Scripture alone to build up a detailed orthodoxy commanding general assent. (A.N.S. Lane, “Scripture, Tradition and Church: An Historical Survey,” Vox Evangelica, Volume IX – 1975, pp. 44, 45).

    But this, too, is a false dilemma. First, in the Old Testament, God himself permitted such a situation to occur; in this case, the Roman paradigm is guilty of exceeding what God has done with regard to “interpretive paradigms”. Second, as Steven Wedgeworth has argued (and I’ve argued similarly),

    The evangelical doctrine of the universal priesthood has become merely nominal in many Reformed churches, which is why a number of Reformed people are predisposed to admiration of Rome. We need to reaffirm this fundamental doctrine, and its corollary of the representative character of the ministry. We must become more truly Calvinian on this score, by becoming more “Lutheran” and less clericalist. We should reject false definitions of the unity of the church, and recognize its actual unity on the ground, which underlies all the legitimate congregational forms and their modes of denominational association. We must also recognize the liberty of the Christian people to freely gather around the Word as center, without artificial ecclesial borders being enforced and policed by a clergy claiming a divine right authority. If the Smith family has good reason to be at St. Adiaphoron Lutheran Church, and their neighbors the Jones family has good reason to be at Putting Green Presbyterian across the street from it, so far from being a scandal, this is actually a fine thing.

    Where all of this practically takes us is what many political scientists and historians have described as the culture of persuasion. We do not look to a political institution or other coercive power to artificially provide unity and certainty. There is no magic “key” to unity in external diversity. Rather, we respect the rights of conscience and seek to persuade others through the right use of reason and Biblical exegesis, confident that freedom and charity lead to the only unity worth having.

  289. re: #287

    That is, the argument from Rome’s side never is, “the doctrine is (a) because the Scripture says (a)”. The argument from Rome’s side is always “the doctrine is (b) even though the Scripture says (a) because ‘the Church’ has the ‘interpretive authority’ to make it (b)”.

    1. The line of argument assumes sola scriptura, thus it begs the question.

    2. I have never found one Catholic dogma that goes anything remotely like:
    “the doctrine is (b) even though the Scripture says (a)”

    When I started studying Catholicism, that is what I expected to find. In fact, this is one of the fundmental problems with Protestantism and sola scriptura. In order to prove the Catholic wrong, the Protestant (in many cases) must say that because the Bible seems silent on “b”, that we cannot know “b”. However, that judgement in and of itself goes beyond the contents of Scripture — which is to defy the principle of sola scriptura. The judgment from silence, not the Scriptures, becomes the final arbiter. If Scripture is to be the final arbiter, then it must only speak for what its contents actually say.

    3. Lastly, one could simply let the Arminians and Calvinists go round and round with this line of argument until the cows come home — never to convince the other. Why does the Catholic even need to get involved (which we do, nonetheless)? What that means is that even within those groups that claim to be Protestant — or namely “not Catholic” — there is not sufficient agreement or even hope for eventual agreement that would give us rational grounds to imagine that through some discursive dialog on doctrine “a”, all men of good will and common intelligence would agree on it. And, of course, this discursive dialog would be a far cry from the irenic composition of someone like St. Ireneaus; think something more along the lines of a proof-textathon or exegesis-all-nighter.

    As a Protestant, I enjoyed the unity of 1500 years of history, and assumed this unity came through Scripture alone. However, in just 450+ years, those claiming to be “Bible Alone” Christians have nearly thrown off every imaginable, “non-negotiable” doctrine of Christendom. Albiet, there are Catholic theologians that have followed suit or even led the way. Nevertheless, all represent the formal cause of the Reformation: the primacy of the individual conscience. And, of course, it was (former) Catholics who started that as well.

  290. Brent (289): 1. The line of argument assumes sola scriptura, thus it begs the question.

    Since part of the discussion has been focusing on method, I’d like to challenge this. This really is a backward way of looking at it. Consider this analysis from a friend about where the burden of proof lies in this discussion:

    When two people differ over a subject and come to contradictory ideas about it and then decide to discuss or debate the issue, one side often assumes the burden of proof. Logically, this must be the side that is asserting something positive. It cannot be the side that is denying something.

    The reason for this is obvious: it is impossible (with rare, usually contrived or otherwise uninteresting exceptions) to prove a negative proposition. That is because in order to prove a negative, you must have universal knowledge, something no finite person has….

    [So] let us examine the issue of Sola Scriptura in the debate between Protestants and Catholics. I assert that Sola Scriptura is true. At first glance, then, it appears that I have the burden of proof since I am the one asserting something. But it turns out that this is a grammatical fluke.

    Sola Scriptura is defined thus: “The Bible is the sole infallible and sufficient rule of faith for Christians.” This is a very specific definition. It means that the Bible is the only such standard for Christians.

    At this point, a Catholic apologist may claim, “You are saying Sola Scriptura is valid, so the burden of proof is on you.”

    The problem is that Sola Scriptura is actually a negative statement. We can look at the passage this way: “There exist no other infallible rules of faith for Christians other than the Bible.” By saying “Scripture Alone” the Protestant is really saying, “Nothing else, just Scripture.” As such, the burden of proof cannot be on the Protestant.

    Back to the definition of Sola Scriptura. If I said, “The Bible is the only infallible and sufficient rule of faith for Christians” and a Catholic said, “You are wrong! Tradition and the Church are also infallible” who would hold the burden of proof? That’s right—the person asserting the infallibility of the Church and Tradition. The Protestant says there is no other infallible rule of faith, and the Catholic says there is.

    This is easily seen in another way. If I said, “The Bible is the only infallible and sufficient rule of faith for Christians” and a Mormon said, “You are wrong! The Book of Mormon and the First Presidency are also infallible” once again, the burden of proof would be upon the Mormon, and not the Protestant. That is because the Protestant’s statement is a negative.

    Therefore, in debates on Sola Scriptura, it is improper for Catholics to demand the Protestant prove there are no other infallible sources of authority because that would be a logical impossibility….

    The Protestant need only prove the Bible is authoritative, infallible, and sufficient and after that, his burden of proof ends. If the Catholic cannot prove the infallibility and sufficiency of the Church, then his position is unproven no matter what the Protestant believes. The Catholic is the one asserting a positive statement in this debate—that the Catholic Church is infallible. Protestants are taking the negative on that issue. Therefore, the burden of proof is upon Catholics, not Protestants.

    This, of course, is very common in these types of discussions. Whether or not a Protestant provides a definition of “sola Scriptura”, the Roman Catholic completely disregards that definition and argues as you have done here: setting up a straw man and beating on that.

    Yes, it is true, “We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture…” (WCF 1.5). However, it is clear that my friend is accurately stating “sola Scriptura” when he says “the Protestant is really saying, “Nothing else, just Scripture.”

    Thus: “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added…” (WCF 1.6).

    This comports with Luther’s statement at Worms: “Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments …” – this means, “Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments that Tradition and Magisterium also have the same “divine authority” as Scripture has, I won’t believe them.

    The church at Rome found itself in a leading place, but it does not have “proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments” that Tradition and Magisterium (as they are defined now) also have the same ‘divine authority’ as Scripture has.

    Now, when I present evidence to the effect that the concept of “apostolic succession” as a concept was articulated in the mid second century (and I understand Bryan’s objection to this and I intend to talk about it in more detail), it undermines the claim [which I view as unsupported] that the Roman Catholic church makes to place both “Tradition” and “Magisterium” on the same level as Scripture. That is the shape of my argument.

    The Roman Catholic argument should be dependent upon some sort of “divine institution” of these things, and while Scripture itself makes the claim that it is “the Word of God”, nothing else has that force.

  291. John (290),

    From your last comment, I’m to gather that sola scripture is a negative statement, and as such has no positive quality to it. Therefore, since it is a negative statement, you or I would have to have universal knowledge to falsify it. However, this argument does not work. Let me explain to you why.

    If I said that “Barbara is my sister”, this does not imply that Barbara is my only sister. The positive statement, “Barbara is my sister”, does not also entail that she is my only sister. If from “Barbara is my sister”, you claimed that “Barbara is my only sister” (Scripture is the Word of God, ergo, the Word of God is the sole infallible and sufficient rule for the Christian), it would not be true that the only burden of proof would be on me to prove that I had other sisters. I agree, as you claim, that the Roman Catholic Church should demonstrate that Tradition and the Teaching Office of the Church have an authoritative part to play in the rule of the Church. However, that does not completely negate the necessity of you offering warrant for the claim that “Barbara is my only sister.”

    The problem is compounded, when the Catholic shows you his other two sisters — so to speak –and you say, “you don’t have other sisters because you only have one sister”. Again, the Catholics shows you his two others sisters — explaining how the existence of the one sister is actually more reasonable given the other (and shows you various problems with positing only one sister — given the three dressers in his room, for example), and you still admit only one. So, given that you reject his two other sisters the onus is on you to not just disprove his two other sisters, but also to prove that given all the data the “one sister theory” works.

    You then proceed to charge me with setting up a straw man. But, like you I’m sure, I have no use for straw men. If anything, at worst I would be guilty of a red herring. At best, you would be guilty of a straw man yourself. So, I’m not sure that your blockquoted comment proves your point, nor am I aware of the straw man I allegedly created.

    Now, when I present evidence to the effect that the concept of “apostolic succession” as a concept was articulated in the mid second century (and I understand Bryan’s objection to this and I intend to talk about it in more detail), it undermines the claim [which I view as unsupported] that the Roman Catholic church makes to place both “Tradition” and “Magisterium” on the same level as Scripture. That is the shape of my argument.

    Unfortunately, a part of your argument proves too much. Thus, its shape becomes deformed.

    The Roman Catholic argument should be dependent upon some sort of “divine institution” of these things, and while Scripture itself makes the claim that it is “the Word of God”, nothing else has that force.

    You are saying that if the Church and the Tradition could claim for themselves something like “Word of God” status, then you would accept them as something on equal footing with Scripture (or haven some authoritative relationship to it). Don’t you see how this begs the question? You are saying that if I can show you two more of my sisters, who look just like Barbara (in fact they must be named Barbara), you will believe that I have two more sisters. That begs the question — which means my argument is no straw man.

  292. John Bugay,

    Can you be more clear as respect to Brent’s ‘straw man?’ Describe how either Brent’s or anybody else’s definition of SS is a straw man.

  293. John, as a long time Protestant lurker, I want to thank you for your recent contributions. You used to contribute more frequently years ago and your return is very welcome. I also read many of your comments and posts about JJS and I know that you see the eternal weight of conversations like this. I hope you (and others like you) continue to engage and bring to light the flaws some of us are having a harder and harder time seeing. Thank you. At the same time, I continue to applaud the conversation here. Thank you to the moderators who have done an amazing job keeping the dialogue here fruitful, charitable, and irenic. We may not agree, but your work does not go unnoticed.

  294. John Bugay (#287-88):

    You wrote the following three paragraphs, which I number sequentially:

    1. The Roman claim to authority is (and today is very much used as) an attempt, with one statement, to avoid argumentation on any other point of Scripture or doctrine.

    2. That is, the argument from Rome’s side never is, “the doctrine is (a) because the Scripture says (a)”. The argument from Rome’s side is always “the doctrine is (b) even though the Scripture says (a) because ‘the Church’ has the ‘interpretive authority’ to make it (b)”.

    3. I’ve commented a number of times where I think this impulse comes from: it is clearly recognizable in Imperial [secular, “not the church”] Rome, and it exists outside of what you think might be included in the “interpretive paradigm”…

    Both (1) and (2) are demonstrably false. I’ll get to (3) after showing as much.

    As to (1), Catholic theologians have long debated among themselves, as well as with non-Catholics, about various points of Scripture and doctrine, and continue to do so today. Aside from the usual, universal standards of scholarly inquiry, the only norm governing such debates for Catholic theologians is that they may never contradict, or maintain theses that entail contradicting, interpretations and defintions that have been set forth with the Magisterium’s full authority. But the “Roman claim to authority” has never inhibited ample debate within the boundaries set by that norm; indeed, such debate often helped to shape magisterial decisions. To criticize Catholic theologians for observing said norm would simply be to criticize them for being Catholic–in itself an empty criticism, for theology is a confessional discipline, and the confession in this case is Catholicism. To get any traction, your criticism would first have to show that the Catholic’s formal, proximate object of faith (FPOF)–i.e. Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium–is not as well suited to preserving, transmitting, and explicating divine revelation as the FPOF you uphold, namely sola Scriptura (on whichever definition you prefer). In short, you would have to show on a priori, philosophical grounds that the conservative-Protestant IP is rationally preferable to the Catholic IP for the purpose stated. That’s the issue my article addressed explicitly, and that’s where the real debate lies.

    Your (2) grossly mischaracterizes the role that Scripture plays in Catholic theology and doctrine. Ever since the biblical canon began to coalesce in the 2nd century, Catholic theologians, starting with Irenaeus, have repeatedly sought, as a matter of course, to support various Catholic doctrines from Scripture–the most obvious being those of the Trinity and the Incarnation, which received definitive formulation at the councils of Nicaea I, Constantinople I, Ephesus, and Chalcedon. St. Athanasius, who sought and got needed support from Rome, argued that Nicene orthodoxy could be derived from Scripture–a judgment that most Reformed theologians share today. The sense in which that judgment is true is unimportant for the moment; the mere fact that it was made is enough of a counterexample to (2). Moreover, medieval Catholic theologians generally spent the bulk of their time on scriptural exegesis, and took for granted that distinctly Catholic doctrines could and should be supported in that way. No orthodox Catholic theologian would ever say, nor has the Magisterium ever said, that the Church’s interpretation of Scripture must be believed instead of Scripture itself. Rather, as the voice of the Church, the Magisterium’s use of Scripture has been what Bryan Cross said in one of his responses to Michael Horton:

    Recognizing an authoritative interpreter of Scripture does not subordinate Scripture to the divinely-established interpreter; it subordinates the unauthorized persons’s interpretation of Scripture to that of the divinely authorized interpreter, as Korah’s interpretation was subordinate to that of Moses. The unauthorized persons’s interpretation of Scripture should not be confused with or treated as Scripture itself.

    You are one of those unauthorized interpreters who confuse their interpretation of Scripture with Scripture itself.

    Your (3) is simply an instance of the genetic fallacy. You interpret the historical data to argue that the See of Rome’s claims to authority were motivated by a desire for quasi-imperial power, and then infer that such a motive discredits those claims. But they do not. Even if the See of Rome had been motivated entirely as you say, which it was not, it would not logically follow that Rome’s claims to specifically ecclesial authority are false. What would follow at most is that what caused the bishops of Rome to want to make such claims are not reasons for actually believing those claims. That hardly rules out their being such reasons, and many Catholic scholars have provided them.

    Addressing me, you go on:

    …your choice of “leaving it to mere human opinion about how to interpret sources that have been alleged to transmit divine revelation”, or choosing the method that you eventually adopt, is a false dilemma. It is not “either-or” (either “an infallible interpreter” or “mere human opinion”.

    That just evinces a misunderstanding of the state of the question. I argue that the Catholic IP offers “a principled distinction between divine revelation and human opinion.” You do not dispute that such a distinction is necessary, nor do you dispute that the Catholic IP offers one. What we disagree about is whether the IP you prefer offers a better one. On that score, my argument was that a sola scriptura IP, on which Scripture is both inerrant and perspicuous enough to establish a comprehensive orthodoxy, is rationally inferior to the Catholic, because once ecclesial infallibility is rejected, we are left only with scholarly opinions about what belongs in the biblical canon in the first place, and about how to interpret the Bible.

    You cannot rebut that argument by objecting either that Scripture needs no interpretation–which you occasionally do, saying it’s “plain”–or by repeating that “Scripture interprets Scripture.” Even Mathison and Horton acknowledge that Scripture needs interpretation, and everybody–Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox–uses some scriptural passages to interpret others. But that leaves open the questions which interpretations are true, how they should be arrived at, and why we should believe that any interpretations are more than just provisional opinions, rather than altogether reliable conveyances of divine revelation.

    This is why your trotting out Kruger–your latest scholarly enthusiasm–is beside the point. Even without having read him, I’m quite willing to concede that he’s made a strong case that the 27-book NT canon is the one we should regard as the biblical canon. After all, the early Church eventually reached the same conclusion. But when left at the level of contemporary scholarship, such conclusions are always and of necessity provisional: they rely both on incomplete historical data and limited theological perspectives. Once ecclesial infallibility is eschewed, scholarship cannot rule out change in light of further, hitherto undiscovered data and/or more illiminating perspectives. Hence to argue, as you do, that the Protestant canon is “the extent and limit of divine revelation we have today” is necessarily to argue from ignorance: using scholarly methods alone, nobody can present such a conclusion as divinely granted knowledge rather than plausible opinion. And that holds even if, as many Catholic theologians have held, Scripture is “materially sufficient,” in the sense that it somehow contains, explicitly or implicitly, every datum of divine revelation. Without an authorized, infallible interpreter, Scripture can contain every truth God communicates for our salvation without being able, just by itself, to guarantee the correct interpretation thereof. On that point, I strongly recommend you read Ray Stamper’s superb comment made yesterday in another thread.

    Moreover, your methodology does not even engage the claim that sola scriptura is “self-defeating.” The view that Scripture alone suffices to interpret Scripture simply cannot be established by Scripture itself, for bolstering that view itself requires a particular method of interpreting Scripture, when the question is precisely whether such a method amounts to more than one scholarly option among others. To answer that question affirmatively and securely, you’d have to show that there is no other rationally plausible option. As I explained in my article, that would entail showing that your approach is “rationally unassailable.” But it is not.

    You write:

    For Protestants, the “authority” that the church has is the kind of authority that Moses and the judges of Israel held in the Old Testament.

    Surely you mean only some Protestants, i.e. those who reject solo in favor of sola. To rule out Protestants who disagree with you would simply beg the question. And on the matter of the solo-sola distinction, I’m sure you’ve read how Bryan Cross and Neal Judisch rejected Keith Mathison’s upholding of that distinction, and how I upheld their criticism. Since your view of the role of church authority depends on maintaining a principled distinction between solo and sola that is actually unavailable, you need to focus your efforts on upholding that. Good luck.

    In my article, I had written and you quote:

    …the question fairly arises: How to explain the fact that many baptized, churchgoing people don’t agree about what the plain sense of Scripture is, or even that it’s always and necessarily inerrant even when agreed to be plain? If the proximate, formal object of faith can be clearly identified by a rationally unassailable set of inferences from the pertinent early sources, the primary one of which is assumed to be inerrant, does that tell us that those who don’t find that set rationally unassailable are either unlearned or willfully irrational?

    You replied:

    This too is a false dilemma, unless you want to call God himself “either unlearned or willfully irrational” in setting up the paradigm he set up with Moses and the Israelites. God posits his own word as “plain”.

    Frankly, that’s just silly. Not only did the Jews themselves have oral traditions that predated the writing of the OT and contributed to it; they developed other such traditions that helped to interpret their scriptures (ever hear of the Talmud?). If the scriptures were altogether perspicuous, there would have been no point in a Talmud, and no need for judges, prophets, and those “sitting in the seat of Moses.” Moreover, Jesus’ way of interpreting the Scriptures never did seem plausible to most Jewish scholars in the first century. Are you prepared to deny that they were either unlearned or willfully irrational? If you are, then you’re logically committed to denying that the Scriptures were perspicuous enough to enable them to see the culmination of divine revelation.

    You write:

    … the Roman paradigm is guilty of exceeding what God has done with regard to “interpretive paradigms”.

    That’s about as question-begging as it gets. The “Roman paradigm” is guilty of what you say only if your approach to Scripture is best–which is precisely what’s at issue.

    Finally, you quote a conclusion drawn by Steven Wedgworth:

    We do not look to a political institution or other coercive power to artificially provide unity and certainty. There is no magic “key” to unity in external diversity. Rather, we respect the rights of conscience and seek to persuade others through the right use of reason and Biblical exegesis, confident that freedom and charity lead to the only unity worth having.

    That’s only a brief restatement of your paradigm–with the added disadvantage that the last sentence precludes any principled distinction between solo and sola, and describes a confidence that history amply shows to be unrealistic. I’ve already explained the problem with that.

    Best,
    Mike

  295. John, (re:290)

    Your friend’s argument doesn’t seem to hold any water because we aren’t talking strictly of the appeals that Catholics and Protestants make to one another. We are speaking of the Church’s witness to an unbelieving world. Therefore the Catholic AND the Protestant SHARE a common burden of proof in their efforts to evangelize the world. On one hand, the Catholic presents to the world a faith complete with a means of exercising Christ’s authority due to its appeal to Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium. Whereas, the Protestant offers to the world an incomplete philosophical system incapable of rendering definitions concerning the very faith it claims to share. Protestantism, therefore, finds itself in an inescapably relativistic state. This is why it can be said that a Protestant may very well believe in Christ. But it’s the Catholic who believes in both Christ AND His teachings.

    This is why, I imagine, when someone asked Walker Percy why he’d been received into the Catholic Church he responded, saying “What else is there?”

    Peace to you, John. I am happy to see you engaging the writers here at Called to Communion!

    herbert

  296. John,

    I forgot to address your #290. I shall focus on its last two paragraphs.

    You write:

    Now, when I present evidence to the effect that the concept of “apostolic succession” as a concept was articulated in the mid second century (and I understand Bryan’s objection to this and I intend to talk about it in more detail), it undermines the claim [which I view as unsupported] that the Roman Catholic church makes to place both “Tradition” and “Magisterium” on the same level as Scripture. That is the shape of my argument.

    I’m glad you called that the “shape” of your argument, because it draws attention in brief, convenient form to your faulty premises.

    You claim that the Catholic Church places Tradition and the Magisterium on the same level as Scripture. That’s an altogether inaccurate summary of the Catholic formal, proximate object of faith (FPOF). A true summary is to be found here:

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

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

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

    Two things are readily inferable from that. First, the Church sees Tradition and Scripture as together forming “one sacred deposit of the Word of God” because Scripture, far from being a source above Tradition, is in reality a record of what was “handed on”– albeit the most normative record, because it is divinely inspired. The truth expressed in Scripture predates that written expression, flowing from the person of Jesus Christ, the primordial Word of God, to the Apostles who in turn “handed it on” to the Church not only in Scripture but also in Tradition more generally. We thus receive the “Tradition,” the overall truth handed down from its source, Jesus Christ, partly by means of Scripture and partly by other means. To object that this puts Tradition “on the same level as Scripture” is either to misunderstand the actual relationship between the two as understood by the Catholic Church, or to beg the question against the Church. On the Catholic account, Tradition is all that comes to us from God through the Apostles and the Church. Scripture expresses that in so unique and powerful a way as to be unsurpassable. But it’s not all there is to what’s been handed on.

    By its own account, the Magisterium is not “on the same level” as “the sacred deposit of the Word of God” formed by Scripture and Tradition. Unlike them, the Magisterium is not a “source” of divine revelation: it does not add to the deposit or make things up. Rather, it “serves” the Word by virtue of being its sole “authentic” interpreter. But because the Magisterium is that interpreter, neither Scripture nor Tradition can be pitted against it when it’s teaching with its full, divinely commissioned authority. And that is why Scripture-Tradition-Magisterium forms one FPOF, in which no element can “stand without the others.” It’s how the Holy Spirit promised by the risen Jesus “leads” us “into all truth.”

    As a Protestant you will of course want to reject such a characterization of the FPOF. But it would behoove you to characterize it correctly first. You did not do that.

    You concluded:

    The Roman Catholic argument should be dependent upon some sort of “divine institution” of these things, and while Scripture itself makes the claim that it is “the Word of God”, nothing else has that force.

    I agree that the Church can only claim authority by divine institution. But on the Catholic account of how Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium are interrelated as elements of the FPOF, the evidence for that institution cannot be proven from Scripture and/or Tradition interpreted in isolation from the Magisterium. For there is only one “authentic” interpreter of the deposit formed by Scripture and Tradition, namely the Magisterium itself. Accordingly, an apologetical argument for the truth of the Magisterium’s claim for itself cannot, even in principle, use Scripture and Tradition alone, or even those elements in conjunction with standard historical data. It can only present an interpretive paradigm using the all three elements of the FPOF, one that makes some sense in itself and is also rationally preferable to the alternatives. And so a philosophical argument, not a merely exegetical or historical argument, is needed to show that the Catholic IP is rationally preferable. That’s why I generally argue as I do.

    Your alternative IP is of course sola scriptura, where the Protestant canon is taken to be both inerrant and perspicuous. As a philosopher, I see no reason to believe that Scripture is perspicuous in the sort of way your IP requires; and as a Catholic, I see no reason to believe that it’s either the Word of God or inerrant save by the conjoint authority of Tradition and the Magisterium. So I’d suggest that you keep your argument philosophical as well as your characterizations accurate.

    Best,
    Mike

  297. Brent 291, and Sean 292:

    this is one of the fundmental problems with Protestantism and sola scriptura. In order to prove the Catholic wrong, the Protestant (in many cases) must say that because the Bible seems silent on “b”, that we cannot know “b”. However, that judgement in and of itself goes beyond the contents of Scripture — which is to defy the principle of sola scriptura. The judgment from silence, not the Scriptures, becomes the final arbiter. If Scripture is to be the final arbiter, then it must only speak for what its contents actually say.

    I’ll give you an example of how this works in practice: Mary’s “Immaculate foot”, from Ineffabilis Deus:

    These ecclesiastical writers in quoting the words by which at the beginning of the world God announced his merciful remedies prepared for the regeneration of mankind — words by which he crushed the audacity of the deceitful serpent and wondrously raised up the hope of our race, saying, “I will put enmities between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed”[13] — taught that by this divine prophecy the merciful Redeemer of mankind, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, was clearly foretold: That his most Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, was prophetically indicated; and, at the same time, the very enmity of both against the evil one was significantly expressed. Hence, just as Christ, the Mediator between God and man, assumed human nature, blotted the handwriting of the decree that stood against us, and fastened it triumphantly to the cross, so the most holy Virgin, united with him by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot.

    It is not “begging the question” to “assume Sola Scriptura”, nor is it a “judgment from silence” by which the Protestant observer objects to Roman Catholic statements like this.

    There are positive commands, given as principles, in Deuteronomy, for example, not to look outside of God’s word for [for lack of a better word] your “formal, proximate object of faith”:

    “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.

    When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.

    “Sola Scriptura” has some very positive commands behind it – In effect here, God is saying “put nothing on par with my words to you”. Apart from that, he does not see fit to provide a “canon” – God himself assumes that “Everything that I command you” is self-attesting. At a very fundamental level, no interpreter is required.

    It does seem incumbent on the Roman Catholic, rather, to provide the explanation of why this principle is not adhered to, for example, in the Dei Verbum selection that is given.

    To do this requires not talk of “sisters”, but of the complex of interactions between how the Apostles were involved in Christ’s life and their role as eyewitnesses to “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of [God’s] nature” that he was. The interactions between the Rabbinic “traditions” that Jesus decried; the “tradition” that Paul spoke of in his letters; how they worked; how the “traditions” became written down; other methods by which the “traditions” were “transmited” (or not).

  298. Brent #272:

    You said:

    Let me give you an example using your argument against Apostolic Succession — at least one particular leg of the argument. You would have me to hold that because “succession” is a “concept” that doesn’t emerge until the 2nd century and only in anti-Gnostic literature (scary!), that I should reject it as a novelty. On your view, the apparent novelty of it confirms it as a mere assertion of Rome. However, if I were to take this principle and apply to elsewhere, you would have me to deny the “concept” of “Trinity” because it is clearly from the second or third century (mostly third), and comes to us only in anti-Adoptionist, Sabellian and Arian literature. Therefore, on this view, “Trinity” is a mere assertion of Rome.

    This is inaccurate. Here is why. Broadly, there are two ways that doctrines may be said to develop. And if we want to explore things at a granular level, I’m sure there could be said to be more. However, for the purpose of this comment (in the spirit of discussion “interpretive paradigms”, let’s just talk about these two. Newman used the same word/concept to confuse the two, (and here is more on the concept). Here is just a brief summary of that notion:

    My own reasons for not becoming Roman Catholic have not changed. It was precisely the problem of doctrinal development that I found unsatisfactory. I believe that J. B. Mozley’s The Theory of Development provides the decisive critique of [John Henry] Newman on development of doctrine. Mozley argues that Newman commits a logical fallacy of amphiboly by not distinguishing between two different kinds of development. Newman is correct that there is genuine development in the early church….the “development” of incarnational and Trinitarian doctrine that takes place at Nicea, Chalcedon, etc., is really simply the necessary logical unfolding of what is already clearly present in the New Testament. If Jesus is fully God, then he must “of the same substance” as God. If the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equally God, and yet there is only one God, then God must be three persons in one nature….

    Mozley speaks of this kind of development in terms of what I will call “Development 1.” Development 1 adds nothing to the original content of faith, but rather brings out its necessary implications. Mozley says that Aquinas is doing precisely this kind of development in his discussion of the incarnation in the Summa Theologiae.

    There is another kind of development, however, which I will call “Development 2.” Development 2 is genuinely new development that is not simply the necessary articulation of what is said explicitly in the Scriptures.

    Classic examples of Development 2 would include the differences between the doctrine of the theotokos and the dogmas of the immaculate conception or the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the former, Marian dogma is not actually saying something about Mary, but rather something about Christ. If Jesus Christ is truly God, and Mary is his mother, then Mary is truly the Mother of God (theotokos). She gives birth, however, to Jesus’ humanity, not his eternal person, which has always existed and is generated eternally by the Father. The doctrine of the theotokos is a necessary implication of the incarnation of God in Christ, which is clearly taught in the New Testament. However, the dogmas of the immaculate conception and the assumption are not taught in Scripture, either implicitly or explicitly. They are entirely new developments.

    The same would be true, of course, for the doctrine of the papacy. The New Testament says much about the role of Simon Peter as a leader of the apostles. It does not say anything explicit, however, about the bishop of Rome being the successor to Peter. The Eastern fathers, e.g., Cyprian, interpret the Petrine passages that Rome has applied to the papacy as applying to all bishops.

  299. John, (re: #297, 298)

    You wrote:

    It is not “begging the question” to “assume Sola Scriptura”

    In logic the phrase ‘begging the question’ has two meanings, one of which is to use the conclusion of one’s argument as one of the premises in that argument. That form of begging the question is internal to the argument, i.e. a relation of premises to conclusion. Another form of begging the question is external to the argument itself; it is a dialectical form of begging the question, between two persons or two paradigms. This occurs when you defend your position to your interlocutor by way of an argument that uses premises your interlocutor does not accept. This form of begging the question does not necessarily beg the question in the first sense, because the argument’s conclusion need not be used in the premises of the argument. But it does beg the question in the dialectical sense, because one or more premises of the argument are part of or presuppose precisely what is in dispute between you and your interlocutor. In this case one’s argument presupposes something that belongs to one’s own paradigm and does not belong to one’s interlocutor’s paradigm. So this dialectical sense of begging the question involves using what is in dispute between you and your interlocutor to support or defend your position against that of your interlocutor. Most introductory logic courses teach only the internal sense of begging the questions, where the conclusion of an argument is included in the premises. But for this dialectical sense of begging the question see Doug Walton’s book devoted to this particular fallacy: Begging the Question: Circular Reasoning as a Tactic of Argumentation (Greenwood Press, 1991).

    So, given that Protestants hold sola scriptura, and Catholics do not, and given what I just wrote regarding the dialectical sense of begging the question, it follows that in any dialogue aimed at unity in the truth between a Protestant and Catholic, any argument that assumes the truth of sola scriptura begs the question against the Catholic interlocutor and against the Catholic paradigm.

    As for the passages from Deuteronomy, you are interpreting them to mean that there can be no divinely authorized oral Tradition alongside what is written in Scripture, and that there can be no divinely authorized Magisterium to provide the divinely authorized interpretation of Scripture. But another possible interpretation of those verses is that they are prohibiting adding to or subtracting from divine commands. And the existence of a divinely authorized oral Tradition and Magisterium is fully compatible with that interpretation of these passages. So when you say, “It does seem incumbent on the Roman Catholic, rather, to provide the explanation of why this principle is not adhered to, for example, in the Dei Verbum selection that is given,” you are presupposing your interpretation of these verses. And that begs the question against the Catholic position, because you have no authority to stipulate with divine authority that these verses must be interpreted so as to rule out the Catholic way of understanding them. (If you did, you would in effect be contradicting yourself, by exercising magisterial authority in order to assert that only Scripture has divine authority, or that these verses must be interpreted to be saying that only Scripture has divine authority.) You are treating your interpretation of these verses, as it were no interpretation at all, apparently because you do not realize that there are other possible ways of interpreting them.

    Also, the quotation from Witt in #299 does not show that apostolic succession was even a development, let alone an accretion.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  300. As much as I like my view from the bleachers, I’d like to jump in here. From my perspective, the standard Catholic response to a Protestant challenge here is something to the effect of, “nope, can’t argue that, it’s off limits due to (insert fallacy).” I’m curious what, from a Catholic perspective, would demonstrate the Catholic faith is false? As in, if the given Protestant challenges are always breaking the rules, what type of challenges would not break these rules? From the bleachers it can look like the “game” never get of the ground because someone is always calling a foul. (I’ll scurry back to the bleachers now)

  301. Bryan 299:

    any argument that assumes the truth of sola scriptura begs the question against the Catholic interlocutor and against the Catholic paradigm.

    Where, even, to begin? First, I apologize for not knowing the definition of “begging the question in the dialectical sense”.

    It is very clear that we begin with different assumptions. I will begin by stating that I do not accept “the Catholic paradigm”, and given my long term investigation into these things, the diligence with which (I believe) I have wrestled with these issues, I am not likely to do so. Further, I would hope that you (and your readers) would understand that, given both my own personal history, and the backdrop of all of Christian history, that I do have reasons for accepting sola Scriptura and not accepting the Catholic paradigm. Whether or not I can state them with the philosophical precision you require is another matter.

    That said, I have made an effort to discuss these differences within the context of a discussion of “interpretive paradigms”. In the midst of that, given my limitations of time, I am asked other questions [in this thread] which seem to require less time and effort to respond to. In good faith, I make the attempt to respond to these questions in general terms — with the understanding that this is not a classroom, and I am not being held to scholarly rigor, but only to communicate my understanding of these things in general terms (but with specifics attached), which is a level that most of the readers here will understand things.

    … it follows that in any dialogue aimed at unity in the truth between a Protestant and Catholic, …

    The very definition of “unity” may be discussed. I have posted an article this morning which discusses a clarification on the definition of unity, and precisely the kind of “unity” that Paul is talking about in different instances. Do you have any comments on that?

    As for the passages from Deuteronomy, you are interpreting them to mean that there can be no divinely authorized oral Tradition alongside what is written in Scripture, and that there can be no divinely authorized Magisterium to provide the divinely authorized interpretation of Scripture. But another possible interpretation of those verses is that they are prohibiting adding to or subtracting from divine commands. And the existence of a divinely authorized oral Tradition and Magisterium is fully compatible with that interpretation of these passages.

    Being “fully compatible with” does not demonstrate where, in history, this existed, or how it functioned. Nor does it demonstrate how such hypothetical “divinely authorized oral Tradition and Magisterium” in the Old Testament became translated (or “developed” somehow) into a “divinely authorized oral Tradition and Magisterium” either in the New Testament or in later church history. Nor, finally, do you say where, precisely, in Roman Catholic doctrine and dogma, these things are articulated. Perhaps you have a link to that.

    So when you say, “It does seem incumbent on the Roman Catholic, rather, to provide the explanation of why this principle is not adhered to, for example, in the Dei Verbum selection that is given,” you are presupposing your interpretation of these verses. And that begs the question [in the dialectical sense, I assume] against the Catholic position, because you have no authority to stipulate with divine authority that these verses must be interpreted so as to rule out the Catholic way of understanding them. (If you did, you would in effect be contradicting yourself, by exercising magisterial authority in order to assert that only Scripture has authority.) You are treating your interpretation of these verses, as it were no interpretation at all, apparently because you do not realize that there are other possible ways of interpreting them.

    It seems as if you are requiring me to begin by “presupposing the Catholic position”, a thing I will not do. I will, for the sake of argument, not object if you clarify that position for me, but if you (and your readers) continue to ask me questions in good faith, requiring that I “presuppose the Catholic position”, how will I be able to respond?

    I freely admit to having no authority at all. And no philosophical training. Are you more interested that I am able to articulate precisely the two definitions of “begging the question”? Or do you (and your readers) genuinely want to know what I think about a given topic? I am merely an inquirer who, with my own simple reading of the Scriptures and an understanding that “those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them”, sees “contradictions” shall we say, and is seeking to operate within a “culture of persuasion”, as I quoted Steven Wedgeworth above.

    Thus, I know of those (i.e., the early “Protestants”) who rejected Roman Catholic claims to authority, and without being able to come here and articulate a complete and thorough systematic theology, such as that of Bavinck, for example. Steve Hays has noted, “As a practical matter, no one has explored every nook and cranny [of theology and history]. Rather, everyone hires a guide to scout out the territory and show him the shortcuts…. In that event, you check out the guide rather than the trail to make sure he’s not going to lead you astray”.

    Having gone some distance down the trail, and having seen the “apparent contradictions” that Newman wrote about, and that you have written about, I do not choose to accept that “somehow, my own interpretation is wrong, and what “the Church” teaches is somehow correct, even though I don’t see it”. For a time in my life — some 35 or more years, I would say, I accepted Roman Catholic authority, but then, perceiving far too many of these “difficulties”, I have “checked out the guide”, multiple guides, in fact, and I have chosen (not in authority, but based upon a simple reading) to reject one particular guide (the “Roman Catholic guide”) as being trustworthy.

    Also, the quotation from Witt in #299 does not show that apostolic succession was even a development, let alone an accretion.

    I was not using the Witt quote to show that apostolic succession was either a development or an accretion, merely to illustrate a principle which seems to make a lot of sense. How is it that you are suggesting that I intended it to mean that?

    By the way, hi Salvador (300), thank you for your encouragement.

  302. Salvador,

    How about this:

    Pax,

    Ray

  303. John, (re: #301)

    There is no need to apologize for anything. In my paragraph (in #299) about begging the question I was only trying to make sure we all (not just you) understand what it means to beg the question. It is important, if we are to make any progress, that we’re all on the same page with respect to these basic rules of reasoning and fallacies, etc.

    I understand that you do not begin with the Catholic paradigm. And I hope you realize that I surely don’t expect you to begin your discussion here by assuming the truth of the Catholic paradigm. Of course not. So, it is clear, on the table, that you are standing within, and beginning from a Protestant paradigm, and I (and presumably any other Catholic participants in this discussion) are standing within, and beginning from a Catholic paradigm.

    So the challenge (for both of us) is finding a way to adjudicate between the two paradigms, without begging the question in the dialectical sense I described above.

    You asked if I had any comments on your article on unity. You won’t find me disagreeing with you on this point, at least on the point that no one should compromise what he believes to be true, for the sake of unity. So, I think you should not compromise anything you believe to be true, for the sake of unity with, say, Catholics. And likewise, I shouldn’t compromise anything I believe to be true, for the sake of unity. So, in my opinion, the ecumenical dialogue between Protestants and Catholics should never carry with it any assumption that either or both sides should compromise what they believe to be true. I wrote about that in 2009, in (if I remember correctly), the first thing I wrote for CTC — a post titled “Two Ecumenicisms.”

    When I say “unity in the truth” (in comment #299) I simply mean agreement regarding the truth. When we (i.e. Catholics and Protestants) discuss here the Catholic-Protestant disagreements, we all are engaged in an activity aimed at agreement regarding the truth. You think that attaining that goal looks like all of us agreeing on the truth of Protestantism, and we (Catholics) think that attaining that goal looks like all of us agreeing on the truth of Catholicism. But nevertheless, the goal when entering into this sort of dialogue is still unity in the truth, i.e. agreement regarding the truth.

    Regarding my reply to your citation of verses from Deuteronomy, yes, my reply does not show where in history the oral Tradition and Magisterium existed, or how it functioned, or any continuity between the oral Tradition under the Old Covenant, and the oral Tradition under the New Covenant, or any relation between the prophetic and priestly authorities of the Old Covenant, and the Magisterium of the New Covenant. Nor did my reply show where in Catholic doctrine and dogma these things are articulated. Explaining all those things wasn’t my intention. I merely intended to point out that there are different ways of interpreting those passages in Deuteronomy, and that at least one of those ways is compatible with Catholic doctrine. Therefore, it would be question-begging (in the dialectical sense) to appeal to those passages as though they are incompatible with the teaching of Dei Verbum regarding the role and relation of Scripture to the Tradition and the Magisterium.

    You wrote:

    It seems as if you are requiring me to begin by “presupposing the Catholic position”, a thing I will not do.

    No, I’m not requiring that of you. I don’t expect you to do that. I’m asking of you only what I ask of myself when I enter these discussions, namely, that I try to avoid begging the question when I present my arguments. That’s not easy to do, and I’m not implying that I always avoid doing so. (I know I don’t.) But, I do know that we cannot resolve the disagreement between Catholics and Protestants by exchanging question-begging arguments against each other’s positions.

    I do agree with the quotation you cite from Hays. No one has investigated every theological and historical nook and cranny. We all rely on guides, to various degrees, and in various areas. There are certain guides you trust more than others, and the same is true for me, that I trust certain guides more than others. But, I think it is safe to assume that we do not trust all the same guides, at least not to the same degree. And when that is the case, how do we resolve our disagreement? Here’s what won’t work. You appeal to your authorities, and I appeal to mine. At that point, we would be at a stalemate, precisely because you don’t accept my authorities, and I don’t accept yours. It would be question begging, at that point, if we each kept simply appealing to our respective authority. So, in such a situation, we must step back and either (a) examine the respective positions, and the evidence and argumentation for each, and/or (b) examine the respective evidence and argumentation for the reliability and authority of the guides to which we are appealing, if we are to make progress toward unity in the truth (i.e. agreement concerning the truth).

    You wrote:

    I was not using the Witt quote to show that apostolic succession was either a development or an accretion, merely to illustrate a principle which seems to make a lot of sense. How is it that you are suggesting that I intended it to mean that?

    Ok, maybe I misunderstood you. In #272 Brent argued that the line of reasoning you were using against apostolic succession proves too much. You responded in #298 by quoting Brent’s argument, and then replying with the Witt quotation. So, it seemed to me that you were claiming implicitly that the distinction Witt makes (drawing from Mozeley) between these two senses of the term ‘development’ somehow refutes Brent’s argument. If you didn’t intend the Witt quotation to do that, then I misunderstood you.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  304. Hi Salvador,

    I think understand what you’re saying. As Catholics, we’re allowed to argue about every issue of scriptural, historical, theological, and philosophical importance. But some arguments against the Catholic faith either have serious problems which must be addressed up front to avoid a never-ending discussion (think about circularity, confusion of terms, assuming the conclusion, making a bald assertion without backing it up, etc), while other arguments against the Catholic faith are so far removed from the post under discussion that discussing them “early”, so to speak, would prevent the issue currently being discussed from ever being settled. In particular, I think there are several reasons why the CTC team frequently refocuses questions in the way you described:

    (1) The argument someone has proposed to them has a serious logical problem at its core. For example, if someone said: “It doesn’t make sense to believe in Jesus Christ, because there is no evidence for any of his supposed miracles in early non-Christian writings, and even insufficient evidence that he existed in the earliest non-Christian writings,” what would you say? You would probably be tempted to say: “Yes, there is at least some evidence that he existed in the earliest non-Christian writings,” and then you would be tempted (but not give in!) to say “and this evidence in non-Christian writings also implicitly admits that he is divine,” and so forth. But wouldn’t it make more sense to say: “Well, before we discuss this issue, let’s settle one thing first: there is no reason that non-Christian writings should settle this issue. To assume a priori that all Christian writings are dishonest would . . . ” and so on. This is the kind of thing that people in the CTC team have to do a lot. And rightly so, since to avoid making these kind of points out of misguided charity would produce a discussion so full of logical problems that it would be a greater miracle than Fatima for anyone to learn anything from it.

    (2) Not all Protestant interlocutors do this, but some make statements like: “the following one verse of scripture implies that Catholicism is false because this verse mentions the following theological concept, but when it mentions that concept, it doesn’t use the words Catholics use to describe it.” Look, this is at best one step removed from the kind of logical problems that I mentioned above. The Church has never claimed that scripture directly implies by formal logic the explicit doctrinal content of every paragraph in the Catechism. We don’t believe that formal logic applied only to the content of scripture, without the conscious use of any other material or beliefs, implies very much about any of the problems at issue between the Reformed and Catholics. What we do believe is that that scripture clearly implies the content of Catholicism when scripture is rightly understood. And in order for scripture to be thus rightly understood, there will have to be some kind of metric applied to it; both to help iron out scripture’s many apparent contradictions in a systematic way, and also so that scripture is understood continuously with the earliest traditions of Christianity (whose precious content the early Christians also died in order witness to, and maintain, and pass on to their descendents). Now, considering this difference in our paradigms, every Protestant must ask themselves: “how will saying ‘But Jesus didn’t explicitly mention the formula of absolution when He gave the apostles the ability to forgive sins!’ move the dialogue towards truth? Might it not be more useful to address the difference in paradigms before I point out something that could not possibly be convincing to someone who does not use my own (Protestant paradigm)?”

    (3) The point already in question needs to be answered before another supposed contradiction or fault in Catholic theology and doctrine is discussed.

    (4) The new supposed problem already has been discussed on another thread, and needs to be discussed there.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  305. Salvador,

    I should add that there are of course lots of options for useful contributions that question whether the Catholic church’s claims could possibly be true:

    (1) Show that the Catholic claims are self-contradictory.
    (2) Show that the Catholic claims are not only insufficiently implied by the scriptures (see above), but that they are actually directly and clearly contradicted by the scriptures.
    (3) Show that the majority of the Patristic evidence explicitly contradicts the Catholic claims.
    (4) Show that the Catholic claims, if true, ought to have been explicitly mentioned in Patristic evidence; then show that these claims are not mentioned in Patristic evidence.
    (5) Show that even if the patristic and scriptural evidence does not explicitly rule-out Catholicism, it makes some other kind of “ism” more likely than Catholicism is.

    Now, I think the unique consistency of the Catholic universe with scripture and tradition (and itself) is so mind-bendingly awesome that none of these five are going to defeat the Church by a long-shot — in fact, searching to see if any of these five are defeaters for the Church is as good a way as any to talk yourself into being a Catholic! :)

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  306. John,

    I think Bryan has sufficiently defined for you what I mean by “begging the question.”

    Apart from that, he does not see fit to provide a “canon”

    If God did not see fit, then “self-attestation” does not get us a canon. If God did not see fit to give us a canon, we don’t have one.

    This is inaccurate. Here is why. Broadly, there are two ways that doctrines may be said to develop. And if we want to explore things at a granular level, I’m sure there could be said to be more. However, for the purpose of this comment (in the spirit of discussion “interpretive paradigms”, let’s just talk about these two. Newman used the same word/concept to confuse the two, (and here is more on the concept).

    I’ve read and studied Newman’s use of the term development, and he goes out of his way to differentiate between an organic development and an art-ful one (artificial — something genuinely adding to the deposit of faith — a corruption). Moroever, the definition of Development 1 and 2 as an argument in favor of Development 1 begs the question because it assumes “that which is not simply the necessary articulation of what is said explicitly in the Scriptures” is the only valid Development as it relates to dogma. It begs the question, however, because what is in question is precisely that definition as an argument in favor of Development 1. On Mozley’s view, Development is merely the weight of logic working itself inevitably out. As thus, the history of Christian dogma is the history of the mathematician of theology. The deposit of faith, again on this view, is not an inestimably rich treasure — but a pot quickly running out of the gold of rationally unassailable adducible principles.

    (Salvador, I’m not merely claiming “foul”, for logic’s sake. I’m claiming “foul” for truth’s sake. An argument that would “get off the ground”, would be one that could demonstrate (1) why Development 1 and 2 are non-compatible, (2) why we should prefer Development 1 to Development 2, and (3) on what grounds is Development 2 impermissible .)

  307. Gentlemen:

    I’d like to augment what Brent just said about Mozely’s distinction between Development 1 and Development 2. I shall simply argue a bit more explicitly that said distinction presents a false dilemma.

    According to the conservative-Protestant IP that, e.g., Mozely, John Bugay and Dr. William Witt employ, the only legitimate sort of development is D1, by which the “necessary implications” of various Scripture passages are drawn out more fully by later theologians and the Church. Now when I see that word ‘necessary’ used in such a context, as a philosopher I immediately think deductive necessity. In a deductively valid argument, the conclusion follows from the premises necessarily as a matter of logical form. For instance, the argument

    1. All men are mortal
    2. Socrates is a man
    3. Ergo, Socrates is mortal

    is deductively valid, because we can easily recognize it as of the form universal instantiation: “All As are B; s is A; ergo, s is B,” which is valid for every substitution-instance. Of course that is only one of many valid logical forms; every one exhibits the deductive necessity of their substitution-instances. Many of those could be operative in exegesis. So, if by “necessary implications” the adherents of the conservative-Protestant IP mean deductive necessity, then according to them, the only legitimate form of doctrinal development is that which shows how the doctrines in question follow by deductive necessity from a set of propositions to be drawn from Scripture.

    When it occurs, such development simply draws out and makes explicit what’s already there in the sources–Scripture, or on some accounts, Tradition more broadly–and thus does not add anything to the deposit of faith given “once for all to the holy ones.” That’s because valid deductive arguments in general supply us with no more information than the premises already contain at least implicitly. And on Mozely’s conservative-Protestant IP, any other alleged “development” which goes beyond that gets dumped into the bin labeled ‘D2′ and trashed for adding, illegitimately, to the Word of God contained fully in the deposit of faith.

    But there is a third alternative. It’s unfortunate that Newman’s “organic” metaphor of development was introduced a century before the discovery of DNA, because that discovery affords theologians a perfectly clear example of the sort of development Newman was defending, in which DD is neither mere logical deduction nor illegitimate addition. Rather, the developments in question are natural without being logically necessary.

    To see why, suppose you’re a new biology student studying a molecule of DNA under a microscope. It would be a pretty double-helix, but you wouldn’t know exactly how all the sequenced strands in the helix relate to each other functionally; you would just observe their spatial arrangement. To learn something more about how the nucleic-acid strands are related, you’d rely on the careful work done by scientists to label and “map” their amino-acid building blocks according to letters A, C, G, and T. Then you would learn that DNA strands and sequences of different types give rise to different organisms and parts of organisms. So far, so good.

    But the crucial point is this: Without knowing in advance what sorts of creatures various instances of DNA give rise to, you could never logically deduce, from the building-blocks and the structure of DNA itself, just what sorts of creatures they give rise to. That just these DNA molecules give rise to just those sorts of creatures is not a matter of deductive necessity. The development instructions encoded in strands of DNA, and in the genes and chromosomes built up out of them in turn, follows laws of nature that supervene on, rather than logically arise from, the base-level organic matter. One might argue that the necessity is physical rather than logical, and that could well be true. We could then have a nice philosophy-of-science debate about the sense in which, and the degree to which, biological laws are deterministic. The truth is by no means obvious. What is obvious, though, is that the development of mature organisms from DNA is a natural development, bringing out what’s already there in germ, without also being a matter of logical necessitation.

    Now supposing for argument’s sake that distinctively Catholic doctrines are true, they are developments more like that of organisms from DNA than like the conclusions of deductively valid arguments. All the necessary information is there from the beginning, but its presence and nature is by no means clear until the development occurs and matures. Then we can see in retrospect how the development from the original “deposit of faith” is natural according the law of the analogia fidei and the other criteria Newman formulates.

    Of course the conservative Protestant will object here that this is all very speculative, and even ad hoc. For it did not generally occur to Catholic theologians to make a big deal out of doctrinal development until it became undeniable that distinctively Catholic doctrines could not simply be deduced, logically, from Scripture and other documentary sources from the first few centuries of Church history. But consider this: if the Magisterium’s claims for itself are true, and the Catholic FPOF is what Dei Verbum says it is, then there is just no way that a comprehensive orthodoxy can be logically deduced from Scripture and other documentary sources from the first few centuries of the Church. For the Magisterium exercises the charism of being the “sole authentic intepreter” Scripture and Tradition, so that the sources of divine revelation can be reliably understood and received and deduced from only in conjunction with the Magisterium’s interpretations thereof. If, on the other hand, the conservative-Protestant IP were true, there would be no need for a charismatic magisterium; we would need only an academic magisterium to reliably receive and understand divine revelation through its sources. I leave it to our readers’ study of history to judge how reliable academic magisteria are on such matters.

    The upshot of my DNA metaphor is that it enables us to see how Newman presents a theory of development which is neither D1 nor D2, but a D3 whose results can only be ruled out if we reject the idea of a charismatic magisterium to adjudicate its products.

    Best,
    Mike

  308. Michael Liccione #294:

    Not only did the Jews themselves have oral traditions that predated the writing of the OT and contributed to it; they developed other such traditions that helped to interpret their scriptures (ever hear of the Talmud?).

    Yes, Michael, I’ve heard of the Talmud. Let me elaborate.

    In his section on “Rabbinic Literature”, Everett Ferguson (“Backgrounds of Early Christianity”, Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, © 1987, 1993, 2003) notes the following:

    Rabbinic literature developed in two major periods: after the collapse of the Bar Kokhba revolt in the 130s [AD], and after the establishment of a Christian empire under Constantine and his successors in the fourth century. To the former period belong the formation of the Mishnah and the earliest Midrashim (second-third centuries),to the latter the compilation of the Talmuds (fifth-sixth centuries). Our treatment of this literature will not follow a strictly chronological order but will group the writings by their compilations and literary types.

    At the beginning of the first century the two leading rabbis were Hillel (c. 50 B.C.-AD 10) and Shammai, and their schools dominated the pharisaic interpretation of the law until A.D. 70. The school of Shammai prevailed in the reorganization of Judaism and so assumed the ascendancy in Jewish life. In general, the school of Shammai adhered to a stricter interpretation of the law, so that the Mishnah takes special note of those instances where they were more lenient than the school of Hillel. When similarities to the attitude of Jesus are found in rabbinic literature, one should remember that this literature reflects the later development when the more lenient views of Hillel prevailed and that the stricter views of Shammai prevailed during Jesus’ ministry (490-491).

    We should keep in mind what Jesus thought of this “oral tradition”. Oscar Cullmann notes (“The Tradition”, in “The Early Church”, London, UK: SCM Press Ltd, ©1956) “Jesus rejected in a radical manner the paradosis of the Jews” (pg 60). Consider how Jesus put it:

    So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

    So it’s interesting you should bring up “the Talmud” in defense of “oral traditions” that “predated the writings of the OT and contributed to it”. Your timing is a bit off.

  309. Michael Liccione #294:

    Not only did the Jews themselves have oral traditions that predated the writing of the OT and contributed to it; they developed other such traditions that helped to interpret their scriptures (ever hear of the Talmud?).

    Here’s a bit more, from Ferguson, on the Talmud and its function:

    The authoritative compilation of the oral law in the Mishnah [predecessor of the Talmud] was the achievement of Rabbi Judah the Patriarch (or Prince) at the end of the second century. He was the great-great-grandson of Gamaliel the Elder and is often cited simply as “Rabbi.” ….

    Rabbi Judah’s compilation of the oral law in written form and with a few minor additions is the Mishnah, a topical collection of legal rulings. The word comes from a verb meaning “to repeat,” and so means “study.” That Tannaim (lit. “repeaters”) were the rabbinic scholars of the first and second centuries whose interpretations are collected in the Mishnah. More specifically, the Mishnah is a codification of the Halakah (Pl. Halakoth). The verb Halak means “to walk,” and halakah referred to an authoritative legal decision on how one was to conduct himself according to the law. (Note the frequency of “to walk” in the practical, ethical selections of the New Testament Epistles – e.g. Gal 5:26; Eph 4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15; Col 4:5; 1 Thess 4:1).

    The process of interpreting the Scriptures, the written law, was called midrash (exposition). Whereas Mishnah was the law codified in topical forms, midrash was commentary that stated rabbinic interpretation of the laws are arranged according to the order of the biblical text. Not all midrash was halakic, or legal; it also includes haggadah, which refers to all biblical interpretation that is nonhalakic, that is, all edifying and informative commentary.

    When the Mishnah itself was commented upon, the result was Talmud, derived from a word for “study,” or “instruction”. The commentary on the Mishnah [within the Talmud] was called Gemara, from the verb gemar (“to complete”), the Amoraim (“speakers”) were commentators on the Mishnah of Rabbi Judah.

    So the Talmud is a commentary upon a commentary upon the Law. It was produced later than the 2nd century, and perhaps as late as the sixth century.

    You said:

    If the scriptures were altogether perspicuous, there would have been no point in a Talmud, and no need for judges, prophets, and those “sitting in the seat of Moses.” Moreover, Jesus’ way of interpreting the Scriptures never did seem plausible to most Jewish scholars in the first century. Are you prepared to deny that they were either unlearned or willfully irrational? If you are, then you’re logically committed to denying that the Scriptures were perspicuous enough to enable them to see the culmination of divine revelation.

    Let me ask you the question: do you stand with “most Jewish scholars in the first century” in thinking that “Jesus’ ways of interpreting the Scriptures” were not plausible?

    The Mishnah and the Talmud, in Jesus’s day, had not yet been written down. These were largely the repetition (“repeaters”) of legal decisions and also the exposition of Scripture. Jesus’s comment upon this system of “tradition” (before it had been written down) was: “for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God”.

  310. I’m continuing to address Michael Liccione #294:

    Not only did the Jews themselves have oral traditions that predated the writing of the OT and contributed to it; they developed other such traditions that helped to interpret their scriptures (ever hear of the Talmud?).

    You mentioned, with some derision, “your latest scholarly enthusiasm”, and then you asked me, “ever hear of the Talmud?” So I feel quite justified in demonstrating for you some of my other “scholarly enthusiasms”, some of which you would do well to pay attention to, and also, to let you (and other readers here) know what I know on the subject of “Talmud”, “oral tradition”, and how these related, specifically, in early church history.

    In two previous comments, I’ve gone to some length describing (a) how Jewish “oral tradition” worked, (b) what the different kinds of Jewish oral tradition were (Mishnah, the Halakah, midrash, the Gemara, etc.), (c) what Jesus thought about Jewish “oral tradition”, and (d) the fact that the various forms of Jewish “oral tradition” was actually written down at some point.

    The notion is that in the earliest church, there was a parallel situation. For example, there was not simply “oral tradition”; this was comprised in part of “apostolic tradition” and, for the sake of simplicity, “non-apostolic traditions”.

    Oscar Cullmann is very careful to articulate this difference.

    Regarding the first, he notes that Paul writes in various places, especially 1 Corinthians 11:23, “I received (the tradition) from the Lord” (“ἀπὸ τοῦ κυρίου”). This means, he says, “I received it through a chain of tradition which begins with the Lord”. 1 Cor 15:3 and 1 Thess 2:15, for example, also describe a part of this “apostolic tradition” which is “from the Lord”.

    Why “from Kyrios”? Why not “from the Church”?

    This passage is usually, but wrongly, treated in isolation, and has given rise to two different interpretations. The one maintains that the passage is not concerned with tradition in the usual Jewish sense, which would necessitate the presupposition of a chain of successive human intermediaries, from whom Paul received the account, but that is a question of a direct, immediate revelation from the Lord. This came to Paul in a vision, just as in Galatians 1.12 he asserts that he has not received the Gospel from men, but by a direct revelation, an apokalypsis–an obvious reference to Christ’s appearing on the road to Damascus (60).

    Cullmann himself takes a second view: that Paul does have in mind “tradition in the usual Jewish sense”, but with a whole new content. Not the “halakic” content, but instead, a new tradition “from the Lord”.

    I shall show that, seen in this perspective, the designation Kyrios (1 Cor 11:23) can be understood as not only pointing o the historical Jesus as the chronological beginning and the first link of the chain of tradition, but to the exalted Lord as the real author of the whole tradition developing itself within the apostolic church (62).

    This, according to Cullmann, “best explains St. Paul’s direct identification of the apostolic paradosis with Kyrios: the Lord himself is at work in the transmission of his words and deeds by the church; he works through the church” 62).

    Cullmann is very careful at this point to outline the rest of his argument:

    The course of our argument in this chapter will now be as follows. In the first section we shall undertake to show that for Paul the paradosis, in so far as it refers to the confession of faith and to the words and deeds of Jesus, is really Church tradition which has a parallel in the Jewish paradosis. [Cullmann notes here in a footnote that “this point seems important because J. Danlielou (his Roman Catholic interlocutor) is inclined to reserve the word ‘tradition’ for the post-apostolic tradition, and to call the apostolic tradition “from the Lord” [spoken of here] as ‘revelation’. While justifiable to a certain extent in principle, this use of the words seems to me to lack precision. The objective “revelation” is the person and work of the incarnate Christ”.]In the second section we shall bring out the relation of this tradition to the direct apokalypsis of the Lord to the apostles. In the third section we shall examine this conception of paradosis against the background of Pauline theology and see if it is paralleled in Johannine thought. Finally, in the fourth section, we shall discuss the relation between this tradition and the apostolic office (62-63).

    Some of this should not be in question for either side: Jesus rejected Jewish tradition; Christ himself (“the exalted Lord”) is the real author of the whole tradition developing itself within the apostolic church. This concept of “tradition” is “attested in the rest of the New Testament”. After an analysis of John 14:26 and 16:13 he suggests is precisely concerned with “the relation between the historical Jesus and the risen Lord … “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you [men in front of me] all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (that is, you men who are sitting here in front of me: apostles whom I have chosen and whom I will send). (71).

    Crucial, however is “the relation between this tradition and the apostolic office”. This promise (and I’ve heard “infallibility” defended based on John 16:13) was not made to “the Church” which came after the Apostles.

    Christ himself distinguished “these men sitting in front of me” both here (“all that I said to YOU”), and in John 17:20 (“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…”

    Without getting too long here, there was an “apostolic tradition”, the content of which was “from the Lord”.

    Fourthly, he discusses “the relation between this (apostolic) tradition (“from the Lord”) and the apostolic office”.

    For those who are squeamish about challenges to “the Catholic paradigm”, feel free to tune out here.

    Yes, there was “apostolic” tradition (“from the Lord”). But, there was also a non-apostolic tradition – in the words of Cullmann, “ecclesiastical” traditions. Here, he asks, “Does this favorable estimate of the apostolic paradosis justify the attribution of the same normative import to later ecclesiastical paradosis? The Catholic Church claims that it does; and this is because it identifies the authority of the post-apostolic Church which preserves, transmits and interprets the apostolic message with the authority of the apostles”. He cites his interlocutor, above, J. Danielou, as saying “In this transmission and interpretation of the message, the Church enjoys a divine, infallible authority as did the apostles as recipients of Revelation”. (Of course, note that he wrote this prior to the time when Dei Verbum was written).

    But is this identification justified? In order to answer this question we must inquire into the relation of the apostolic office to the Church.

    The problem of the relationship between scripture and tradition can be viewed as a problem of the theological relationship between the apostolic period and the period of the Church. All the other questions depend on the solution that is given to this problem. The alternatives—co-ordination or subordination of tradition to scripture—derive from the question of knowing how we must understand the fact that the period of the Church is the continuation and un-folding of the apostolic period.

    Here he acknowledges that (as a Lutheran) he takes a very “Catholic” view of Church and sacraments. “In fact, I would affirm very strongly that the history of salvation is continued on earth (through the Church). I believe that this idea is present throughout the New Testament, and I should even consider it the key to the understanding of the fourth Gospel”. (He later wrote a work entitled “Salvation History”).

    Nevertheless, he says,

    The time within which the history of salvation is unfolded includes the past, the present, and the future. But it has a centre which serves as a vantage-point or norm for the whole extent of this history, and this centre is constituted by what we call the period of direct revelation, or the period of the incarnation. It comprises the years from the birth of Christ to the death of the last apostle, that is, of the last eye-witness who saw the risen Jesus and who received, either from the incarnate Jesus or the risen Christ, the direct and unique command to testify to what he had seen and heard. This testimony can be oral or written (76).

    Richard Bauckham, in his “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony” (Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, UK: Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Co, ©2006) confirms this account at great length.

    Bauckham concludes, “In this book, I have followed Samuel Byrskog in arguing that the Gospels, though in some ways a very distinctive form of historiography, share broadly in the attitude to eyewitness testimony that was common among historians in the Greco-Roman period. These historians valued above all reports of first-hand experience of the events they recounted. Best of all was for the historian to himself have been a participant in the events (direct autopsy). Failing that (and no historian was present at all the events he needed to recount, not least because usually some would be simultaneous, they sought informants who could speak from firsthand knowledge and whom they could interview (indirect autopsy). This, at least, was historiographic best practice, represented and theorized by such generally admired historians as Thucydides and Polybius (479).

    Thus, as a cut-off point, the concept of “history still within living memory” “was the only point of history that should, properly speaking be attempted” (479).

    The value of getting history from “participant eyewitness testimony” was thus a key in the production, especially, of the Gospels.

    He uses “the Holocaust”, and the eyewitness testimony of the survivors,to say, “the testimonies of the survivors of the Holocaust are in the highest degree necessary to any attempt to understand what happened. The Holocaust is an event whose reality we could scarcely begin to imagine if we had not the testimonies of survivors”.

    “Authentic testimony from participants is completely indispensable to acquiring real understanding of historical events” (499). And, “the exceptionality of the event means that only the testimony of participant witnesses can give us anything approaching access to the truth of the event” (501).

    This is why Cullmann is (and others are) able to “cut off” the period of “revelation” at the death of the last of the apostles.

    Papias knew this. He said that he preferred oral testimony. But in describing some very bad “oral traditions” that Papias was relating, Cullman wrote, “Above all there is the obscene and completely legendary account [in Papias’s oral tradition] of death of Judas Iscariot himself.”

    The period about 150 is, on the one hand, relatively near to the apostolic age, but on the other hand, it is already too far away for the living tradition still to offer in itself the least guarantee of authenticity. The oral traditions which Papias echoes arose in the Church and were transmitted by it. For outside the Church no one had any interest in describing in such crude colours the death of the traitor. Papias was therefore deluding himself when he considered viva vox as more valuable than the written books. The oral tradition had a normative value in the period of the apostles, who were eye-witnesses, but it had it no longer in 150 after passing mouth to mouth (Cullmann, 88-89).

    This is why, after this period, the only “apostolic tradition” that existed was that which was written down. This is Kruger’s “canonical core” – written documents which reliably carried the “apostolic witness”, the “apostolic tradition” which came “from the Lord”. “Oral tradition” was not sufficient to guarantee it.

    Even the Jews, in writing down “the Talmud” (and other sources prior to it), knew that “oral tradition” that “repeating”, was not sufficient to guarantee that the correct message was being “handed on”. It had to be written down, and only written sources from the Apostles and their immediate representatives (i.e., Luke, Mark) could accurately recount that message.

    By that point, the value of “oral tradition” had ceased.

    It was not about “authority”. It was about “the validity of the testimony about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ”.

  311. John,

    I confess that much of the recent back and forth between you and Michael goes a bit over my head. I understand the need for academic precision and nuance, but I suspect that many Protestant lurkers such as myself have trouble keeping up. I do appreciate your thorough contributions. I think that one of my chief difficulties with the Protestant IP is its apparent inability to objectively distinguish between orthodoxy and heresy, and to even define schism. If we all gather around the Word to hear it read, but we disagree on what it means, does anyone have the authority to judge which meanings are true and which are false? For example, I just don’t see how anyone can read the Bible and the early writings of the Church and come away with any conclusion other than that our salvation is in some way dependent on our works of love. It seems to me that Luther just got that one wrong. And on issues of human sexuality and abortion Protestants are all over the place, with no obvious means of judging the orthodox position on these issues. I need a simple explanation of how the Protestant IP can lead to objective orthodoxy in these and other cases, or a simple explanation of why I am asking too much (or just misunderstand the issues at hand).

    Thanks,

    Burton

  312. Hi Burton, I understand the care you are taking to think this through. I was a cradle Catholic from a fairly devout family — I cared about it — I heard the Protestant “gospel” as a teen; left the RCC, but came back in my early 20’s. But by my late 30’s (just after the two ECT’s), after looking thoroughly, I decided I could not any longer remain a Roman Catholic. Couple of quick comments on your comments:

    I understand the need for academic precision and nuance, but I suspect that many Protestant lurkers such as myself have trouble keeping up. I do appreciate your thorough contributions.

    Christian history is 2000 years long — Biblical history much longer than that. There’s truly a lot to have to comprehend. I have used history as a kind of “framework”, upon which I can hang other things, like different doctrines from similar time periods. That much helps me at least to keep everything straight. A book like Gregg Alison’s “Historical Theology” traces the individual doctrines across time (in a fairly non-detailed way.

    I think that one of my chief difficulties with the Protestant IP is its apparent inability to objectively distinguish between orthodoxy and heresy, and to even define schism. If we all gather around the Word to hear it read, but we disagree on what it means, does anyone have the authority to judge which meanings are true and which are false?

    If we all gather around the Word and hear it read, is the thing we all come away with going to be hugely different? Especially if we’re all interested in hearing and understanding what’s said. I understand a need for precision, but as Calvin noted, God accommodates our weaknesses in Scripture. There is a very real reason why the form of communication in the Pentateuch, for example (the culture, etc) seems so different to us. God was speaking to a different culture, at a different time, and accommodating His message to the specific needs of a group of people in the Ancient Near East. You don’t have to have “authority” to “judge”. God has all the authority. True, some know more than others; some are better teachers than others. But there’s so much of God’s word which requires no “judgment”.

    For example, I just don’t see how anyone can read the Bible and the early writings of the Church and come away with any conclusion other than that our salvation is in some way dependent on our works of love. It seems to me that Luther just got that one wrong.

    I’ve done some studies (some of which are mentioned here) to the effect that the Apostolic fathers, for instance, got many things wrong (note what I said about Papias and Clement just in this thread). Irenaeus and Tertullian were better theologians, because they had more of Scripture readily available to them (Kruger’s “canonical core”). The 4th and 5th century theologians were better still. Hilary of Poitiers and Ambrosiaster (who wrote a commentary on Romans) made some very Protestant-like statements on Justification. Chrysostom and Augustine were better still (while being hindered by their “ecclesiology”). Things got muddy during the middle ages, but Luther was really the first person who totally relied on Scripture, and he was the first person to get it right.

    And on issues of human sexuality and abortion Protestants are all over the place, with no obvious means of judging the orthodox position on these issues.

    I need a simple explanation of how the Protestant IP can lead to objective orthodoxy in these and other cases, or a simple explanation of why I am asking too much (or just misunderstand the issues at hand).

    Consider that God trusts you, and he doesn’t require that you come to a systematic theology that’s “infallibly correct” in every jot or tittle. Consider that God didn’t require such a thing from Israel. Consider that the “early church” may not have been Protestant denominationally, but they certainly were not unified geographically (with many differences from location to location). (Consider Cyril vs Nestorius; consider filioque vs non-filioque. Consider that most conservative Protestants aren’t that far apart on their core doctrines; (at that link, see too how Protestant doctrines compare with the Roman Catholic notion of “the deposit of faith”). Consider that “unity” is God’s job, not ours.

  313. John,

    Please forgive my obtuseness, but I didn’t see an answer to my question in your response. Specifically, on what basis does the Protestant paradigm (Sola Scriptura) objectively distinguish heresy from orthodoxy, and how does it define schism versus unity? My sense from your answer is that if we really want to hear what the Bible has to say, we be able to recognize orthodoxy for ourselves (each individual). How can I trust your assessment of which church fathers got it right, especially if I disagree with you?

    Unity, it seems from your answer and the link, is not something that we should expect prior to Christ’s return, so schism has no real meaning until then? Am I understanding you correctly?

    Burton

  314. John Bugay –

    If you believe this…

    Consider that God trusts you, and he doesn’t require that you come to a systematic theology that’s “infallibly correct” in every jot or tittle. Consider that God didn’t require such a thing from Israel. Consider that the “early church” may not have been Protestant denominationally, but they certainly were not unified geographically (with many differences from location to location). (Consider Cyril vs Nestorius; consider filioque vs non-filioque. Consider that most conservative Protestants aren’t that far apart on their core doctrines; (at that link, see too how Protestant doctrines compare with the Roman Catholic notion of “the deposit of faith”). Consider that “unity” is God’s job, not ours.

    … then why are you here?

    If God doesn’t care if we are systematically correct, and if God doesn’t care that our differences matter, and if it is God’s job to maintain unity and not yours, than why have you been posting on these things here and elsewhere on the internet? Surely you must believe we are either in heresy or schism and that this matters.. How do you make this determination?

  315. Burton (313), I appreciate your question. You asked:

    Specifically, on what basis does the Protestant paradigm (Sola Scriptura) objectively distinguish heresy from orthodoxy, and how does it define schism versus unity?

    I’m not going to answer it again, but again, in the spirit of Michael Liccione’s search for paradigms, I’ll give you some insight into how I answer it myself. As Sherlock Holmes has famously said, and “Young Spock” famously quoted him, “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, HOWEVER IMPROBABLE, must be the truth?”

    Quoting Steve Hays:

    sola scriptura doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It functions in conjunction with a doctrine of God’s special providence. It is God’s will that his people believe certain things. So, in practice, everything we believe isn’t revisable. Providence introduces a principle of stability into doctrine.

    Now, we don’t know in advance what might be revisable. And each up-and-coming Christian generation must personally appropriate the Christian faith. Everything is subject to reexamination, but that doesn’t mean everything is actually revisable–for reexamination can (and often does) confirm or refine preexisting doctrine.

    With that in mind, I produced (above) Steve’s short answer on how we effect this re-examination:

    Steve Hays has noted, “As a practical matter, no one has explored every nook and cranny [of theology and history]. Rather, everyone hires a guide to scout out the territory and show him the shortcuts…. In that event, you check out the guide rather than the trail to make sure he’s not going to lead you astray”.

    Of this quote, Bryan said (#303):

    I do agree with the quotation you cite from Hays. No one has investigated every theological and historical nook and cranny. We all rely on guides, to various degrees, and in various areas. There are certain guides you trust more than others, and the same is true for me, that I trust certain guides more than others. But, I think it is safe to assume that we do not trust all the same guides, at least not to the same degree. And when that is the case, how do we resolve our disagreement? Here’s what won’t work. You appeal to your authorities, and I appeal to mine. At that point, we would be at a stalemate, precisely because you don’t accept my authorities, and I don’t accept yours. It would be question begging, at that point, if we each kept simply appealing to our respective authority. So, in such a situation, we must step back and either (a) examine the respective positions, and the evidence and argumentation for each, and/or (b) examine the respective evidence and argumentation for the reliability and authority of the guides to which we are appealing, if we are to make progress toward unity in the truth (i.e. agreement concerning the truth).

    If you are looking for “ultimate authority”, let me ask you, how are you progressing on the “filioque / no-filioque” question? For centuries, that question has not been solved, all the while using the “here’s what won’t work” process that Bryan outlined in the bolded section above.

    Based on the experiences of the two “one true churches” over the centuries, I decided some time ago at least not to take uncritically everything that they say at face value. In fact, over time, this is where I have come to see the Holmsian “impossibility” and ruled it out. The Roman Catholic Church posits that you must accept, or reject their authority in toto. You can’t just accept the doctrines you’ll accept, and reject the ones you don’t like. It’s all or nothing. So I have rejected it in toto.

    Bryan said something a bit different here:

    From a Catholic point of view, we never assume as part of our theological methodology that a prima facie contradiction within the Tradition is an actual contradiction. Out of humility toward the Tradition, we instead assume as a working hypothesis that the appearance of a contradiction is due to our own ignorance or misunderstanding. So from a Catholic point of view, if we have at hand an explanation that integrates the apparently conflicting pieces of evidence, we already have a good reason to accept it rather than conclude that there is an actual contradiction.

    I will admit up front, I am a bit less sanguine about this process than Bryan is. I wrote yesterday about the start of my process – looking first at the Marian doctrines (themselves seemingly just “appeals to authority”, not in any way based on historical truth or facts. And I continued along that path).

    My optimism lies rather within the locus of the following: (a) God exists, and he has a plan; (b) God, being God, has a tremendous ability to communicate with us, and (c) God, being God, also created our ability to receive what God communicates to us. After all, God is God. God speaks “and there was light”, “and there was light. He said, “Let there be an expanse … and it was so”. Things like that. It’s tremendously personal, maybe you’ve experienced it. (And then again, maybe not … not everyone hears from God in this way. You are right to be skeptical that I and others have, and also, it is fair to ask, why are there many others who haven’t?)

    But I’m going to give you another reason not to be skeptical, but hopeful. And it is the fact that the Bible is, in spite of all the rampant skepticism, becoming more and more verified and verifiable in its accounting of history. Ancient Egyptian chariots are found under the Red Sea. There is more archaeological evidence than ever for King David and what the Biblical accounts say about him. And Darrell Bock, a New Testament scholar from Dallas Theological Seminary, notes in his 2007 Commentary on Acts notes, “(1) classical historians respect Luke as a historian as they use him (Nobbs 2006) and that (2) a careful look at the details of Acts shows that, where we can check him, Luke is a credible historian” (pg 6).

    What does this mean? As Bock also says, one should not read Acts “and rule the role of its key player (God) out of bounds before Luke starts to string together the events and their circumstances in ways that point to God’s or Jesus’s presence and action … “ “This also shows the crucial importance of doing careful work in backgrounds, especially Jewish and Greco-Roman sources. More NT scholars” are benefitting than ever before – and we are benefitting from their labors –at being “equipped in Second Temple Jewish study and classical literature”.

    There was a time when “critical scholarship” was (rightly) criticized for being too critical. But what we are seeing is something we would not expect to see: Critical scholarship is confirming, not debunking, the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and the missions of the Apostles to spread that message.

    On the other hand, what Critical scholarship is debunking is the historical story that Roman Catholicism had been telling about itself for centuries. I grew up Roman Catholic, and I grew up believing that Peter was the first pope, that there was a second pope, and a third pope, all with the same jurisdictional authority down through time. Recently, I’ve done two studies on this historical topic, one with the moniker House Churches in Ancient Rome and The Nonexistent Early Papacy, and neither of them supports the historical account I learned growing up, not by a long stretch.

    One line that I’ve seen Bryan write a lot is that this fact or that fact “is not inconsistent with Roman Catholic doctrine” (and all roads seem to lead to Rome, that is, to the seat of Roman Catholic authority). However, when you add up all the facts (and yes, they can be and have been checked against one another), the prevailing Roman Catholic history about its own authority has come up sorely lacking.

    I’ll go you one further. Growing up, I never heard about “the college of apostles, with Peter as its head”. I never heard about (what you hear about all the time today, and that is, a “Petrine ministry”). I’m far more willing to believe that, given some of the things I’ve been writing about, Ut Unum Sint was more a concession to the historical pressures (the discrepancy between Vatican I on the papacy and the historical research of the next century) than it was an overture to ecumenism.

    I’m more willing to concede that where there is “consistency” with Roman Catholic doctrine about “the Church” and the actual facts, it is because those who “after the fact” have crafted Roman Catholic doctrine, have been fortunate enough to have the benefits of time and hindsight in crafting their message. More than anything, they had the opportunity to tie up loose ends.

    In the end, “truth” has more authority than anything. “What’s true” is normative. “The truth shall set you free”. This truth, however, more than ever, speaks of the genuine truthfulness of both the nation of Israel of the Old Testament, and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ within the context of the world as articulated and understood by the Old Testament scriptures. As Bock said, “we must read Acts open to such a balanced view of its historical approach – in terms of its poetry, history, and cultural setting – as well as to the option of divine activity”.

    It’s that “divine activity” that’s the key to everything. Is God real? And is he really working in the pages of Scripture? If so, he will really work with you on that as well.

  316. Fr Bryan (314):

    why are you here?

    If God doesn’t care if we are systematically correct, and if God doesn’t care that our differences matter, and if it is God’s job to maintain unity and not yours, than why have you been posting on these things here and elsewhere on the internet? Surely you must believe we are either in heresy or schism and that this matters.. How do you make this determination?

    There are other categories beside “heresy or schism” and if you looked at my comment above to Burton, I believe that the most important category is “what’s true”. Not “what’s true” in the sense that “after further review”, the Roman Catholic Church can come up with a version of its own doctrine that is “not inconsistent” with history. My overriding interest is to understand the broad sweep of what God is actually doing in history – Old Testament and New Testament (and of course, in Church History as well).

    Your statement “If God doesn’t care if we are systematically correct” is actually a bit of a mischaracterization of what I said. While I don’t believe He requires that the individual comes to a systematic theology that’s “infallibly correct”, that’s not to say that there aren’t better or worse theologies, or that we ought not to strive for what’s better. We do need to approach Him in faith, and that does require a substantially correct understanding of who He is and what He has done for us. What I would say to Burton is that even though he has been exploring this for years, God is not pressuring him.

    Why have I been posting? Because, while I do have an over