Some Thoughts Concerning Michael Horton’s Three Recent Articles on Protestants Becoming Catholic

Jun 19th, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Michael Horton is the editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation, a co-host of the White Horse Inn, and the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California. Recently he posted three articles responding to the phenomenon of Protestants, and especially Reformed Protestants, coming into full communion with the Catholic Church. In “Did Trent Teach that Christ’s Merit’s are not Sufficient for Salvation?” Andrew Preslar responded to one of Horton’s claims. And in “Sola Scriptura or Non Habemus Papum? A Further Response to Michael Horton” Barrett Turner explained how Horton’s third article does not address the problems with sola scriptura. Here are some additional thoughts on Horton’s three articles, in which I address other aspects and claims in those three articles.

I. “Rome Sweet Home?”


Michael Horton

In the first article, titled “Rome Sweet Home?,” Horton does not provide any argument for Reformed theology or against Catholicism. That’s not his purpose in this article. Rather, he seeks to explain why some evangelicals and Reformed believers are becoming Catholic. He claims that these persons have “an unrealistic ideal and [unrealistic] expectations.” The Reformed world just isn’t as ideal as they expected; they find a dissonance within the Reformed world between confession and practice. Horton’s diagnosis is that these persons have an over-realized eschatology. They do not sufficiently realize that the Church is always in need of reform, and that we shouldn’t expect heaven this side of Christ’s glorious return.

In response, first note that the same eschatological argument would have required that Luther and Calvin remain in the Catholic Church. Of course Horton would add an exception, in the case of what he judged to be a severe problem, justifying departure from the Church. But, then perhaps these Reformed persons becoming Catholic are also discovering a severe problem with Reformed theology. So this selective use of the eschatology argument is ad hoc special pleading, i.e. when it comes to leaving a Church with whose interpretation I (Michael Horton) disagree, do it; but if you propose leaving a church with whose interpretation I agree, you have an over-realized eschatology, and an “unrealistic ideal and expectations.”

Second, he writes,

There is a final home for the saints, the Camelot of Camelots. However, it is not here, not now. Neither confessionalism nor papalism can secure the kind of absolute certainty in what we know that is quite different from—even opposed to—faith in the God whose word we have heard. The church is not our resting place, but the often fallible and disappointing rallying point for sinners called out by God’s grace, born, raised, and expanded only by the faithfulness of its Savior who will not let the gates of hell prevail against it.

Of course the Church Militant is not heaven. To suggest that Catholics think that the Church Militant is heaven, is a rather obvious straw man, and only diminishes Horton’s credibility. There is a middle position between there being no visible catholic Church that Christ founded, and the Church Militant being heaven. And the welcoming home that Catholics offer to new converts does not imply that they have arrived in heaven, but means that they have arrived in full communion with the visible catholic Church Christ founded.

Horton’s claim that “papalism” “cannot secure the kind of absolute certainty in what we know that is quite different from—even opposed to—faith in the God whose word we have heard” presupposes that there can be no “absolute certainty” in faith. But that presupposition itself begs the question, by assuming precisely what is in dispute between Protestants and Catholics. For Catholics, when God speaks we have more certainty in the truth of what He says than any other certainty we can have in this life. See Summa Theologica II-II Q.4 a.8. And as Catholics we believe that God speaks to us through His Church as she expounds the Holy Scriptures in light of the Sacred Tradition. Horton asserts that the Catholic Church cannot give absolute certainty. But is he absolutely certain about that? If so, how and where and on what basis did he get his absolute certainty? And if he is not absolutely certain, then his opinion is not only just another opinion floated up among a sea of opinions, but he asserts it as if it is more than a mere opinion, as if it were magisterially defined dogma. And that seems rather ironic.

Third, Reformed persons who seek to explain why other Reformed Christians become Catholic should let these persons explain their decision on their own terms, rather than engaging in a ‘just-so’ psychoanalysis, which is a kind of ad hominem in that it avoids dealing with the actual problems, evidence, and arguments these persons bring up, and instead treats their bringing up these problems and evidence as symptoms of some intellectual vice involving unreal ideals and expectations. Horton needs, for example, to address the real problems with sola scriptura, and the real problems with sola fide. The psychoanalysis response is uncharitable and unhelpful because the Catholic could do the very same thing to Horton, i.e. claim that he is saying what he is saying because of rebellion or insecurity or comfort or money or reputation or fear of men, or whatever. Horton would easily and immediately recognize such a response as uncharitable, and patronizing. So the Golden Rule calls us not to respond to our interlocutor’s reasons, evidence, and argumentation with deconstructive psychoanalysis of him or her. Insofar as Horton construes the ultimate motivation of these converts to Catholicism as anything less than the love of the truth, unless they themselves claim that their ultimate motivation is anything less than the love of truth, his construal is contrary to charity, for the reasons I have explained in “Becoming Catholic: Deconstruction of a Deconstruction.”

II. “Which Church Would the Reformers Join Today? Avoiding a False Choice”

In the second article, titled “Which Church Would the Reformers Join Today? Avoiding a False Choice,” Horton claims that Protestantism today (mainline and evangelical) “seems increasingly remote from anything that the Reformers would have recognized as catholic and evangelical faith and practice.” He writes, “For a long time now, American Protestants have defined their faith and practice in reaction against Rome. Now, a growing number are defining their faith and practice in reaction against evangelicalism.” As a result, claims Horton, some evangelicals have grown weary of Protestantism in any form, and view their “Reformation episode” as a “gateway drug” to the Catholic Church. He points out that he has heard people say, “If the Reformers were alive today, they’d be Roman Catholic before they would join an evangelical sect.” Horton’s response is to claim that early Protestants would reject the false choice (between evangelicalism and Catholicism), and would hold on to the Protestant distinctives, which the Catholic Church has not adopted.

With all this I do not disagree. But here are some observations concerning this article and some of the claims Horton makes in passing.

First, from the point of view of a Catholic or a Protestant sincerely considering Catholicism and seeing the evidence according to that paradigm, the lack of authority on the part of early Protestants entails that what they would do were they here today is of no consequence. Luther and Calvin had no magisterial authority, and therefore what they would do today has no bearing on what I should do. St. Francis De Sales explains this very well in the beginning section of his The Catholic Controversy (chapters 1-5 of Part 1: Mission).

Second, Horton claims that

“The Council of Trent, which anathematized the Reformation’s convictions, affirmed the importance of grace going before all of our willing and running. Nevertheless, it condemned the view that, once regenerated by grace alone in baptism (our first justification), we cannot merit an increase of justification and final justification by our works. Trent said in no uncertain terms that Christ’s merits are not sufficient for salvation. Everything turned on different understandings of grace (God’s medicine infused to help us cooperate vs. God’s favor toward us in Christ) and therefore justification (a process of inner renewal vs. a declaration based on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness alone).

As Hodge and Warfield pointed out, the explicit convictions of the famous evangelist of the Second Great Awakening, Charles G. Finney, were much further down the Pelagian road than Rome.

Regarding Trent anathematizing the notion that once in a state of grace we cannot merit an increase in justification or final justification, Horton is correct. But in doing so, Trent was not taking a Pelagian position, because Pelagianism maintained the possibility of merit apart from grace, whereas Trent was referring to meriting while in a state of grace, having sanctifying grace and the infused virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Ironically, the Pelagian shoe is on the other foot; see Barrett’s “Pelagian Westminster?.”

Regarding Trent claiming “in no uncertain terms that Christ’s merits are not sufficient for salvation,” Andrew has already addressed that claim here.

Regarding the two conceptions of grace, Horton paints it as an either/or, whereas in Catholic theology grace is not only divine favor, but is also the infused gift by which we are made partakers in the divine nature. See comment #3 in the “Pelagian Westminster?” thread.

Similarly, Horton paints justification as either something instant, or as a process of inner renewal. But again, in Catholic theology justification is both. In one sense it is an instant transformation by the infusion of sanctifying grace and agape, by which we are immediately translated from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. (See the definition given in chapter 4 of Session Six of the Council of Trent.) But in another sense justification refers to the growth over time in the agape which was poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5).

By claiming that the “the explicit convictions of the famous evangelist … Charles G. Finney, were much further down the Pelagian road than Rome” Horton implies that the Catholic Church is in some sense Pelagian. But that’s simply false. Reformed folks sometimes tend to define as partially Pelagian anyone who claims that our actions have any soteriological value. (Think of Warfield’s coined term “semi-semi-Pelagian.”) But that’s not what the term ‘Pelagianism’ historically meant. A similarity between claiming that merit is possible without grace (i.e. Pelagianism) and teaching that merit is possible in a state of grace (i.e. Catholic orthodoxy) does not entail that the orthodox position is partially heretical. That would be poor theological reasoning.

Horton writes,

“After all, despite its critique of the magisterial authority assigned to the pope officially at the Council of Trent, the Reformation differs at least as much from the freelance ministry of “anointed” preachers who act like popes, only without any accountability to the magisterium.

Churches of the Reformation not only challenged the hierarchical government of the Roman Church but the sects who followed their own self-appointed prophets. Yes, said the Reformers, individual members and ministers are accountable to the church in its local and broader assemblies. God doesn’t speak directly to individuals (including preachers) today, but through his Word as it is interpreted by the wider body of pastors and elders in solemn assemblies. Tragically, evangelical hierarchies today are more prone to authoritarian abuses and personal idiosyncrasies than one finds in Rome.”

The problem, of course, with this claim by the early Protestants to be “accountable to the church,” is that they defined “church” in terms of agreement with their own interpretation of Scripture regarding what are the marks of the church, what is the gospel, what are the sacraments, and what is the valid administration of the sacraments and discipline. And for that reason, “accountable to the church” is an exercise in self-deception, because such ‘submission’ reduces to “accountable to those who agree with my interpretation of Scripture,” which is no actual accountability at all. See my post titled “Michael Brown on “Sola Scriptura or Scriptura Solo.” Regarding the authority of Protestant confessions, see the section titled “The Delusion of Derivative Authority” in the article Neal and I wrote titled “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.”

Horton seeks to show how very Catholic-like the early Protestants were, and how this allows evangelicals mistakenly to view their discovery of the early Protestants as a kind of gateway to the Catholic Church. Horton claims

that the Reformation was “a reformation and not a revolution or “do-over. Luther was not the founder of a new church, but an evangelical-catholic reformer. As expressed in the title of one of the great works of Elizabethan Puritanism—William Perkins’s The Reformed Catholic, there is a deep continuity with the undivided church. … The Reformers were eager to show their connection to the pre-Reformation church. They did not believe that the church had basically gone underground—much less extinct—between Paul and Luther. Rather, they argued that a gradual decay had been accelerated by recent emphases and innovations that needed to be corrected. Calvin is recognized by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike as a scholar of the early fathers and his Institutes and commentaries are replete with citations from writers of the East and West. The great theologians of Reformed and Lutheran orthodoxy engaged the ancient and medieval theologians as their own, yet always subject to critique as well as approval on the basis of their interpretation of Scripture according to a shared confession.

This is the continual refrain, that the Reformers never wanted to start a new church, that they continually emphasized that they were merely reforming the Church, not attempting a “do-over,” that they quoted from and engaged the Church Fathers frequently, and that they did not believe that the Church had “basically gone underground” between Paul and Luther. Here’s the problem, however. All those things are fully compatible with it being true that they in fact separated from the visible catholic Church Christ founded, and therefore were necessarily, whether they realized it or not, attempting a “do-over.” All those good intentions are fully compatible with it being the case that they were in fact attempting to re-start the Church on their own, without apostolic authority, just as the Restorationists sought to do in the nineteenth century. It is easy for any heretical or schismatic group to claim that it is the continuation of the Church, and to prop up this claim by referring to its good intentions not to attempt a “do-over,” and by frequent appeals to and engagement with the Church Fathers. But the fact is that the first Protestants went out from the visible catholic Church in which they had been baptized, rebelled against the bishops under whose authority they had been brought up, and arrogated to themselves the authority to set up (or take over) and govern churches according to their own interpretation of Scripture. Luther’s excommunication was not from a local Church only, but from the Catholic Church. He went out from us.

Horton can’t have it both ways. If the Catholic Church that excommunicated Luther was in fact the Church Christ founded, then the sects Luther founded were in fact a “do-over,” not a reform of the Church Christ founded. If, on the other hand, the Catholic Church that excommunicated Luther was not the Church Christ founded, then, contrary to what he says, the Church had gone “extinct.”

Horton closes this article with a paragraph claiming that “Rome is a more confusing place today.” I’m not going to address that claim here, because it will be addressed shortly in a forthcoming post. But Horton does continue in this paragraph to claim the following:

And make no mistake about it: Anyone who does convert out of a desire to surrender responsibility for interpreting Scripture in exchange for the infallible certainty of an earthly teacher is making a very “Protestant” move. At least that first leap is a personal judgment and interpretation of Scripture, every bit as individual as Luther’s “Here I stand.” The decision to embrace any confession or ecclesiastical body is a personal commitment that involves (at best) one’s own discernment of the plain teaching of Scripture.

Horton claims here that because the decision to become Catholic involves private judgment, therefore the move is “Protestant,” and akin to Luther’s “Here I stand.” Horton is correct that the decision to become Catholic (or to believe in Jesus) does require private judgment and the use of one’s own reason. But that does not make doing so a “Protestant” move, because the necessity of relying on human reason and the motives of credibility in coming to faith is something the Catholic Church has always recognized and believed, long before Protestantism ever existed. The Church has always stood against both fideism and rationalism. (See “Wilson vs. Hitchens: A Catholic Perspective.”)

Furthermore, Horton here conflates the role and position of human reason in coming to faith, and the role and position of human reason after discovering divine authority. His claim presumes that because we must rely on human reason in coming to faith, therefore human reason must remain the ultimate arbiter once we are in a state of faith. But surely he himself does not believe that. He knows that even if one must use human reason in coming to believe that the Bible is God’s word, that does not entail that human reason must remain the authority to which Scripture is subject. Of course Horton doesn’t believe that. So likewise, the fact that the use of human reason and private judgment are necessary in order to come to discover the divine authority of the magisterium of the Church Christ founded, it does not follow that human reason must remain the ultimate arbiter standing in judgment over magisterial teachings on the basis of one’s own interpretation of Scripture. But Luther’s “here I stand” was precisely the placing of his own reason and interpretation of Scripture above the authority of the magisterium. Therefore, the necessity of the use of human reason in becoming Catholic does not entail making a “Protestant” move akin to Luther’s “here I stand.” I have explained this in more detail in “The Tu Quoque.”

III. “Who’s in Charge Here: The Illusions of Church Infallibility”

Horton’s third article is titled “Who’s in Charge Here: The Illusions of Church Infallibility.” For a critique of Horton’s overall argument, see Barrett’s post titled “Sola Scriptura or Non Habemus Papam? A Further Response to Michael Horton.” I’d like to address some of the details of Horton’s article. He begins with the following statement:

In my experience with those who wrestle with conversion to Roman Catholicism—at least those who have professed faith in the gospel, the driving theological issue is authority. How can I be certain that what I believe is true? The gospel of free grace through the justification of sinners in Christ alone moves to the back seat. Instead of the horse, it becomes the cart. Adjustments are made in their understanding of the gospel after accepting Rome’s arguments against sola scriptura.

Notice that Horton automatically translates the ‘authority’ question into a ‘certainty’ question. That’s a mistake. Authority is not reducible to certainty. The reason we must obey divine authority is not because it provides us with greater certainty, but because it is divine authority. Whether or not certainty tracks with or corresponds to authority, the ground for obedience to rightful authority does not reduce to our degree of certainty or the degree of certainty that authority provides us.

By using terms like “back seat,” and “horse” and “cart,” Horton implies that the proper method for determining this question is first to figure out from Scripture what is the gospel, and hold on to that no matter what consequences might follow from “Rome’s arguments against sola scriptura.” That method, however, is a question-begging method. It presupposes the truth of sola scriptura and the perspicuity of Scripture regarding what is the gospel. And question-begging evaluations of the Protestant-Catholic disagreement are unhelpful, because they do not give us any reason to choose one paradigm over the other.

Regarding Philip and the eunuch, Horton writes,

Philip did not have to be infallible; he only had to communicate with sufficient truth and clarity the infallible Word.

For many, this kind of certainty, based on a text, is not adequate.

Yes, Philip himself did not have to be infallible. But, if Philip had come to Scripture in the same epistemic condition as the eunuch, Philip too would have needed instruction no less than did the eunuch. Philip did not derive his understanding of Isaiah from Scripture alone. Philip had already been catechized in the Church, by the Apostles. As a deacon, he himself was a man under authority, authorized by the Apostles through the laying on of their hands, having sat under their teaching. Horton implies that Philip attained his certainty “based on a text,” and then transmitted this certainty to the eunuch. But in fact Philip attained his certainty from the Church, and passed that understanding he had attained from the Church, to the eunuch. The fallibility of Philip as a deacon is fully compatible with the infallibility of the magisterium under certain conditions, and therefore is in no way evidence for the fallibility of the magisterium under those conditions.

He writes:

For the Reformers, sola scriptura did not mean that the church and its official summaries of Scripture (creeds, confessions, catechisms, and decisions in wider assemblies) had no authority. Rather, it meant that their ministerial authority was dependent entirely on the magisterial authority of Scripture. Scripture is the master; the church is the minister.

Again, see my post titled “Michael Brown on “Sola Scriptura or Scriptura Solo.” Regarding the authority of Protestant confessions, see the section titled “The Delusion of Derivative Authority” in the article titled “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.”

IV. Horton’s Fifteen Issues

Then Horton lists fifteen issues that he claims people should wrestle with before embracing the Catholic perspective on authority.

His first issue is that “The Reformers did not separate sola scriptura (by Scripture alone) from solo Christo (Christ alone), sola gratia (by grace alone), sola fide (through faith alone).” What the Reformers did or didn’t do is no argument or evidence against the Catholic teaching on authority. Insofar as Horton is implying that one must endorse sola scriptura in order to have faith in Christ, that simply begs the question, i.e. presupposes precisely what is in question between Protestants and the Catholic Church.

His second issue is his claim that “do not go beyond what is written” (1 Cor 4:6) means that only those traditions that ended up contained in the canon of Scripture are “now for us the apostolic canon,” and that the Catholic Church’s affirmation of a continuing apostolic office makes God’s Word “subordinate to the supposedly inspired prophets and teachers of today.” Regarding 1 Cor. 4:6, I have addressed that in my reply to Thabiti Anyabwile in comment #69 of “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement.”

As for whether the continuation of apostolic authority undermines the authority of Scripture, Horton’s claim again begs the question, i.e. presupposes precisely what is in question between the Protestant and Catholic paradigms. If Christ established His Church such that the faith would be rightly known to the laity through the successors of the Apostles, then the function of the magisterium does not make Scripture subordinate to the magisterium, but illumines Scripture, and allows it to fulfill its function in the Church. The Catechism explicitly acknowledges that the magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. (cf. CCC 86) 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.

Horton’s claim also overlooks the distinction in authority between the Apostles and the bishops who succeeded them. (See comment #59 in “Evangelical Reunion in the Catholic Church.”) The bishops do not have the authority to reject or deny the doctrine of the Apostles.

Horton’s third issue is this:

Just as the extraordinary office of prophets and apostles is qualitatively distinct from that of ordinary ministers, the constitution (Scripture) is qualitatively distinct from the Spirit-illumined but non-inspired courts (tradition) that interpret it. Thus, Scripture is magisterial in its authority, while the church’s tradition of interpretation is ministerial.

That conclusion does not follow, because it presupposes that “non-inspired” entails “non-magisterial.” And that presupposition presupposes what is in question between the Protestant and Catholic paradigms, namely, that nothing that is not God-breathed can be binding on Christians. In Catholic doctrine, the ratified decision of an ecumenical council in an area of faith and morals and intended for all the faithful is not “divinely inspired,” but it is divinely authorized, and therefore binding on all the faithful.

Horton’s fourth issue is simply this one line:

To accept these theses is to embrace sola scriptura, as the Reformation understood it.

That’s fully compatible with the truth of the Catholic Church.

Horton’s fifth issue is twofold. First he claims that the Church “did not create the canon but received and acknowledged it.” But this is not a point of contention between Catholics and Protestants, as John pointed out in the comments under Horton’s article.

Then Horton quotes from two Church Fathers. He quotes from St. Athanasius saying that “holy Scripture is of all things most sufficient for us” (NPNF2, 4:23). Phil Porvaznik provides plenty of evidence putting that claim in proper context, according to which St. Athanasius recognizes the authority of tradition and councils, and does not think Scripture by itself is sufficient to adjudicate all such questions, but rather Scripture as interpreted under the guidance of the Tradition and the Church as she follows the Tradition.

Similarly, Horton quotes St. Basil, saying, “Believe those things which are written; the things which are not written, seek not…It is a manifest defection from the faith, a proof of arrogance, either to reject anything of what is written, or to introduce anything that is not” (“On the Holy Spirit,” NPNF2, 8:41).”

The statements Horton quotes from St. Basil are not in St. Basil’s treatise On the Holy Spirit. They are from a footnote in Schaff’s translation of St. Basil’s work On the Holy Spirit. In that footnote, Schaff quotes from bishop Browne who cites a work of St. Basil titled “Adversus Calumniatores SS. Trinitatis” (also known as “De Homilia adversus eos qui calumniantur nos, quod tres Deos colamus“) as the source of the statement, “Believe those things that are written; the things which are not written, seek not.” Then Schaff quotes from Brown citing another work of St. Basil’s, titled “De Fide” as the source of the statement “It is a manifest defection from the faith, a proof of arrogance, either to reject anything of what is written, or to introduce anything that is not.” (While Horton’s ellipsis implies that they are from one source in St. Basil, they are actually from two different works of St. Basil.)

The first quotation, in the Greek is the following (taken from page 870-871 here):

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος, καὶ ὁ Λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος. Τo ἦν περιγράφει τὁ ούχ ἦν. Kαι τὁ θεδς περιγράφει τὁ οϋ Θεός. Τοις γεγραμμένοις πίστευε, τα μή γεγραμμενα μή ζητεί.

And translates:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The “was” cancels the “was not.” And the “God” cancels the “not God.” Believe what is written, what is not written do not seek.

Here St. Basil is not talking about oral tradition. It is not even part of the discussion. Rather, in his response to certain persons who claim that Catholics worship three Gods, St. Basil is talking about what John 1:1 says. It says that the Word was God, and according to St. Basil this negates or cancels the notion that the Word “was not” God. Likewise, it also cancels or negates the claim that the Word was “not God.” So, says St. Basil to these heretical accusers, just believe what the text actually says; don’t look for words to make it say something else. St. Basil’s statement here has nothing to do with the authority of oral Tradition; it is about the content of this particular verse.

The Greek and Latin for the second statement can be found on page 313 here. In context a quick translation reads thus:

But if the Lord is faithful in all his words, and faithful also are all his commandments, confirmed for ever and ever, made in truth and equity, then apostasy from the faith and [the sin] of pride is manifested if anyone rejects anything that is written, or brings in something not written, when our Lord Jesus Christ said: my sheep hear my voice. And a little before he had said, a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. The Apostle [Paul], taking from the example of men, strongly forbids adding anything to the divine Scriptures, or removing [anything from them], saying, if even a man ratifies a covenant, no one can annul it or add to it.

Here St. Basil is talking about adding to or subtracting from the divine Scriptures. The notion is that no one should reject anything contained in the divine Scriptures, and no should add to the divine Scriptures. St. Basil is not talking here about whether there is or is not an oral Tradition, or whether or not that oral Tradition has apostolic authority (for St. Basil, it does have apostolic authority). He is talking about the impermissibility of subtracting from Scripture or adding [new texts] to Scripture. This is fully compatible with believing in the authority of the oral Tradition, as anyone who has read St. Basil knows. Throughout his treatise “On the Holy Spirit,” he affirms the authority of the unwritten tradition. For example, he writes:

But the object of attack is faith. The one aim of the whole band of opponents and enemies of “sound doctrine” 1 Timothy 1:10 is to shake down the foundation of the faith of Christ by levelling apostolic tradition with the ground, and utterly destroying it. So like the debtors,— of course bona fide debtors— they clamour for written proof, and reject as worthless the unwritten tradition of the Fathers. (c. 10)

Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us “in a mystery” by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will gainsay—no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more. (c. 27) (De Spiritu Sancto)

Horton then adds:

Second, although the fathers also acknowledge tradition as a ministerially authoritative interpreter, they consistently yield ultimate obedience to Scripture. For example, Augustine explains that the Nicene Creed is binding because it summarizes the clear teaching of Scripture (On the Nicene Creed: A Sermon to the Catechumens, 1).

Here Horton constructs a strawman, by proposing that the alternatives are “obedience to Scripture,” or obedience to Tradition. But that’s a false dilemma. For the Fathers, Scripture is to be understood through the Tradition, as informed by the light of the Tradition handed down from the Fathers. It seems to me that Horton is glossing over the important distinction between small ‘t’ traditions, and Apostolic Tradition. Small ‘t’ traditions should be evaluated by the Apostolic Tradition, including Scripture-as-interpreted-through-Tradition. But there is no possibility of evaluating Apostolic Tradition by way of interpretation-of-Scripture-from-a-God’s-eye point of view, without bringing assumptions and presuppositions to the text. Such a notion would undermine the very possibility of an authoritative Apostolic Tradition. (I explain why here.)

In addition, he says that “St. Augustine explains that the Nicene Creed is binding because it summarizes the clear teaching of Scripture.” But, that’s not what St. Augustine says. Here’s what St. Augustine writes:

For this is the Creed which you are to rehearse and to repeat in answer. These words which you have heard are in the Divine Scriptures scattered up and down: but thence gathered and reduced into one, that the memory of slow persons might not be distressed; that every person may be able to say, able to hold, what he believes. (source)

St. Augustine doesn’t say that the Creed is binding because it summarizes what is in Scripture. Nor does he say that it summarizes what is “clear” in Scripture. What he says here is something every Catholic can affirm, namely that the words in the Creed are scattered up and down in Scripture, but have been gathered together and reduced into a summary so that it can be memorized and professed. But what Horton says that St. Augustine says, is not something Catholics believe, namely, that the Creed is binding because it summarizes Scripture. Lots of theology books summarize Scripture, but they are not binding, even if they have no interpretive errors. Yes, the Creed summarizes Scripture, but what makes the Creed authoritative is the magisterium of the Church by which it was defined as the Creed of the Church. So Horton has, for lack of a better word, distorted what St. Augustine said, to suit his [Horton's] purpose.

It is worth pointing out as well, that there are a number of claims in this sermon to Catechumens, that Horton himself cannot affirm. Just read the section on the forgiveness of sins (paragraphs 15-16). So Horton is trying to use a work of St. Augustine, to oppose the Catholic Church, while rejecting other Catholic teachings on that very work.

Horton’s sixth issue is worth quoting in its entirety. He writes:

Roman Catholic scholars acknowledge that the early Christian community in Rome was not unified under a single head. (Paul, for example, reminded Timothy of the gift he was given when the presbytery laid its hands on him in his ordination: 1 Tim 4:14). In fact, in the Roman Catholic-Anglican dialogue the Vatican acknowledged that “the New Testament texts offer no sufficient basis for papal primacy” and that they contain “no explicit record of a transmission of Peter’s leadership” (“Authority in the Church” II, ARCIC, para 2, 6). So one has to accept papal authority exclusively on the basis of subsequent (post-apostolic) claims of the Roman bishop, without scriptural warrant. There is no historical succession from Peter to the bishops of Rome. First, as Jerome observed in the 4th-century, “Before attachment to persons in religion was begun at the instigation of the devil, the churches were governed by the common consultation of the elders,” and Jerome goes so far as to suggest that the introduction of bishops as a separate order above the presbyters was “more from custom than from the truth of an arrangement by the Lord” (cited in the Second Helvetic Confession, Ch 18). Interestingly, even the current pope acknowledges that presbyter and episcipos were used interchangeably in the New Testament and in the earliest churches (Called to Communion, 122-123).

First, one can find Catholic scholars saying many things, and this in itself establishes neither any historical truth nor any dogmatic truth. The fact that Horton thinks 1 Tim 4:14 is evidence against either there being a single head in the Church at Rome, or against monepiscopacy in general, makes me wonder whether he has ever witnessed the ordination of a Catholic priest. St. Hippolytus describes the ordination rite in Rome at the beginning of the third century. In that rite, after the bishop lays hands on and ordains the candidate, the existing presbyters all lay their hands on him as well, to offer their prayers for him as well, and as a sign of their fraternity with the bishop and with the one being ordained.

As for the statement in the ARCIC document, Horton has misquoted it, and given the wrong citation. The first statement he quotes actually reads as follows: “Yet it is possible to think that a primacy of the bishop of Rome is not contrary to the New Testament and is part of God’s purpose regarding the Church’s unity and catholicity, while admitting that the New Testament texts offer no sufficient basis for this.” That is in paragraph 7, not paragraph 2. Notice that that is a weaker statement. The statement Horton attributes to the document asserts outright that “the New Testament texts offer no sufficient basis for papal primacy.” But, in actuality, the document only acknowledges that it is possible to think that the primacy of the bishop of Rome is part of God’s purpose, while admitting that the NT texts offer no sufficient basis for this. But even so, why should this be surprising? Is it surprising that the New Testament contains “no explicit record of a transmission of Peter’s leadership” to subsequent bishops? Most of the New Testament had already been written by the time of St. Peter’s martyrdom. It is precisely what we would expect if the NT canon is composed of apostolic books.

In the Catholic paradigm we don’t expect Scripture to contain everything we would like to know about early Church history. In general, the ARCIC document’s statement about the New Testament not offering a “sufficient basis” for papal primacy is exactly the Catholic position regarding many things if we understand ‘sufficient’ rightly, namely, that Scripture is not so clear about all these matters that everyone of good will and reasonable intelligence will come to the very same conclusion. Material sufficiency is not formal sufficiency. And the document’s statement is fully compatible with the notion that in order to understand the true meaning of Scripture regarding the papacy, one needs Tradition. And that’s no surprise, and no evidence against the Catholic paradigm; it is very much within the Catholic paradigm regarding the relation of Scripture and Tradition — see paragraphs 7-10 of Dei Verbum.

Also, it is worth pointing out that documents like the ARCIC document have absolutely no doctrinal authority in the Catholic Church. They are working documents published to allow continuing ecumenical deliberation and exchange, but are in no way intended as teaching documents for the faithful.

Then Horton quotes St. Jerome, “Before attachment to persons in religion was begun at the instigation of the devil, the churches were governed by the common consultation of the elders.” Horton claims that for Jerome the introduction of bishops as a separate order above the presbyters was “more from custom than from the truth of an arrangement by the Lord.”

The Latin can be found on page 562 in the document available at this page. Here’s the Latin:

Oportet enim episcopum sine crimine esse, tamquam Dei dispensatorem. Idem est ergo presbyter qui et episcopus, et antequam diaboli instinctu, studia in religione fierent, et diceretur in populis: Ego sum Pauli, ego Apollo, ego autem Cephae(1 Cor. 1, 12), communi presbyterorum consilio Ecclesiae gubernabantur. Postquam vero unusquisque eos quos baptizaverat suos putabat esse, non Christi, in toto orbe decretum est, ut unus de presbyteris electus superponeretur caeteris, ad quem omnis Ecclesiae cura pertineret, et schismatum semina tollerentur.

Here’s a quick translation:

For a bishop must be blameless, [being] as it were God’s steward. Therefore the presbyter was the same as the bishop, until by the [instigation] of the devil, studies in religion [i.e. factions] began to be made, and it [began to be] said among the peoples: I am of Paul, I am of Apollo, and I of Cephas (1 Cor. 1:12), churches were governed by a common council of presbyters. But when everyone began to consider those whom he had baptized as his own, not Christ’s, it was decreed in the whole world that one chosen among the presbyters should be placed above the rest, to whom all the care of the church belonged, and so all the seeds of schism be removed.

Many things can be said here, but it is important to notice that for St. Jerome, this was not a post-apostolic arrangement. In his view, this took place during the time of the Apostles, in response to the schisms reported by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. So for St. Jerome this is an Apostolic arrangement, that was decreed by the Apostles and binding on the whole Church in the whole world. It therefore has Apostolic authority, not merely the authority of “custom.” Horton makes it sound (unintentionally I presume, but by the selectivity and brevity of the quotation) as though people became attached to certain presbyters by way of the devil, and these people were then elevated to the episcopate by way of their popularity. But that’s not at all what St. Jerome is saying.

In addition, it is important also to note that even to this day, all bishops are presbyters. Ordination to the episcopacy does not mean that one ceases to be a presbyter. So it is quite possible that the Apostles ordained bishops (who were also presbyters), and there were initially a plurality of such bishops even in the same local churches. Then for the sake of order the Apostles decreed that there was to be only one governing bishop in each church, and these bishops subsequently ordained men to the order of [mere] presbyter. See Tim Troutman’s article titled “Holy Orders and the Sacrificial Priesthood.”

I should add too that to understand St. Jerome’s position accurately, it is important to consider other relevant claims he makes. For example, elsewhere he writes:

In fact as if to tell us that the traditions handed down by the apostles were taken by them from the old testament, bishops, presbyters, and deacons occupy in the church the same positions as those which were occupied by Aaron, his sons, and the Levites in the temple. (Letter 146)

St. Jerome sees this three-fold structure as divinely ordained and “handed down by the Apostles.” So, it seems to me that Horton’s attempt to use St. Jerome in support of Presbyterian polity is misleading.

Finally, in this sixth issue, Horton claims that even the current pope (Pope Benedict XVI) acknowledges that the terms (ἐπίσκοπος and πρεσβύτερος) were used interchangeably in the New Testament. Horton seems to think that this either gives away the episcopacy or justifies Presbyterian polity. But if these initial presbyters were also bishops (by ordination at the Apostles’ hands), and if subsequently these bishops ordained some men to the office of bishop, and some others to the office of [mere] presbyter (i.e. men who did not have the charism to ordain others, but could consecrate the Holy Eucharist), then because current Presbyterian elders were not ordained by a bishop, they have no Holy Orders and thus no valid ordination. So the interchangeability of the terms in the New Testament is not enough to justify Presbyterian polity or establish the validity of Presbyterian ordinations.

Horton’s seventh issue is the following:

Ancient Christian leaders of the East gave special honor to the bishop of Rome, but considered any claim of one bishop’s supremacy to be an act of schism. Even in the West such a privilege was rejected by Gregory the Great in the sixth century. He expressed offense at being addressed by a bishop as “universal pope”: “a word of proud address that I have forbidden….None of my predecessors ever wished to use this profane word ['universal']….But I say it confidently, because whoever calls himself ‘universal bishop’ or wishes to be so called, is in his self-exaltation Antichrist’s precursor, for in his swaggering he sets himself before the rest” (Gregory I, Letters; tr. NPNF 2 ser.XII. i. 75-76; ii. 170, 171, 179, 166, 169, 222, 225).

Horton here misconstrues the meaning of the words of Pope Gregory the Great, as Pope Gregory was denying papal primacy. That is sufficiently addressed in the Catholic Encyclopedia article on John the Faster.

Horton’s eighth issue is just a continuation of his seventh, and again based on his misunderstanding of Pope Gregory’s statement.

Horton’s ninth issue is this:

Papal pretensions contributed to the Great Schism in 1054, when the churches of the East formally excommunicated the Church of Rome, and the pope reacted in kind.

The loaded word here is ‘pretensions.’ Did the behavior of certain popes exacerbate tension and in that way contribute to the schism? Unfortunately, yes. But that did not justify the schism, or nullify the authority of the Pope. The Church had endured previous schism from the Church, though none so sizable, significant and tragic. May God bring that schism, and all schisms, to an end.

Horton’s tenth issue is the Western Schism. Horton cites Pope Benedict XVI (writing as Cardinal Ratzinger) as though he is implying that there was no actual pope during the Western Schism. But just to be clear, that’s not what Cardinal Ratzinger was claiming. There was confusion during that time regarding who was the actual pope. But in truth there was always only one actual pope at a time; the other two were anti-popes. And there had been anti-popes at various times throughout the history of the Church, as a very testimony to the significance of the office. (See the list of popes, which also shows the antipopes.) I discussed the Western Schism briefly in comment #277 and following, in the “Kallistos Ware: Orthodox & Catholic Union” thread. What is missing from Horton’s description of the issue is some reason why this should be seen as a defeater for Catholicism or the Catholic Church’s claims.

Horton’s eleventh issue is this:

Medieval debates erupted over whether Scripture, popes or councils had the final say. Great theologians like Duns Scotus and Pierre D’Ailly favored sola scriptura. Papalists argued that councils had often erred and contradicted themselves, so you have to have a single voice to arbitrate the infallible truth. Conciliarists had no trouble pointing out historical examples of popes contradicting each other, leading various schisms, and not even troubling to keep their unbelief and reckless immorality private. Only at the Council of Trent was the papalist party officially affirmed in this dispute.

The comment about Duns Scotus is misleading, as John pointed out in the comments on Horton’s page, because Scotus’s position is fully compatible with the notion of material sufficiency, which any Catholic can affirm.1 So it does not indicate Scotus to be affirming either sola scriptura or the sufficiency of Scripture as obviating the need for a divinely established magisterium. Although D’Ailly claimed that Scripture, being divinely inspired, is greater in authority than a Church declaration, he did not claim that the individual’s interpretation of Scripture was equal to or greater in authority than that of the Church. Regarding the controversy between “papalists” and conciliarists, yes there was such a debate, and it was a cause of struggle and confusion, but again, Horton offers no reason to see this as something incompatible with the Catholic Church being the Church Christ founded, or to believe that the Holy Spirit failed to lead the Church into all truth during this particular debate. Even while Jesus was on earth the Apostles debated among themselves, and yet that is no defeater for their being the twelve foundation stones of the Church, or for having received divine authorization from Christ to be His Apostles. Pointing to periods of difficulty, confusion and debate in the Church’s history is not sufficient to show that the Catholic Church is not the Church Christ founded.

Horton’s twelfth issue is that papal claims were “only strengthened in reaction to the Reformation, all the way to the promulgation of papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council in 1870.” Here too, Horton provides no reason to believe that this is evidence against the identity and orthodoxy of the Catholic Church. He seems to assume either that development is impossible, or that this defining of papal infallibility cannot be an instance of authentic development, but he does not provide any evidence or argumentation for either claim. So, what he says here is fully compatible with the Catholic Church being the Church Christ founded, and is no evidence against it.

Horton’s thirteenth issue is his claim that the Catholic Church makes Scripture out to be insufficient. As one of my seminary professors used to say whenever we would use such a term, sufficient with respect to what? Can a person come to faith through reading Scripture? Of course. But, can a person come to heresy through Scripture alone? Of course, as we can see simply by looking around and surveying all the different Christian sects. One of Christ’s purposes in establishing a Magisterium was not predicated on Scripture being so opaque that no one can come to faith in Him through it, but was so that there would be protection against heresy, and a preservation of the unity of faith through definitive declarations of dogmas and definitive condemnation of heresies. And the history of the Church testifies to the need for precisely such an organ, as dozens and dozens of heresies sprang up over the centuries, and were subsequently condemned by the magisterium, so that the faithful who recognize the Church’s authority could know what is truth and what is error regarding these questions, and thus be preserved in the truth concerning Christ and His gospel.

Horton knocks down a straw man when he points out that people come to faith in Christ through reading Scripture. That’s not the point at issue between Catholics and Protestants in relation to Scripture, since Catholics affirm it. The point at issue is that Scripture is not sufficient to bring all those of at least moderate intelligence, good will, and sincere dependence on the Holy Spirit into one faith. The very continuation of not only the Protestant-Protestant disagreements, but the Catholic-Protestant disagreement is an ever-mounting [five-hundred year] testimony to the insufficiency of Scripture alone to bring all Christians into unity. If Horton disagrees, then he needs to lay out the conditions under which perspicuity in that sense would be falsified. How many more hundreds of years of continuing schism and fragmentation would be required finally to falsify the thesis that Scripture is sufficiently perspicuous to bring all Christians of at least moderate intelligence, good will, and sincere dependence on the Holy Spirit, into unity of faith?

Horton’s fourteenth issue is the claim that the use of human reason in the discovery of divine authority “contradicts” the goal of being subordinate to a divine authority. Horton does not explain how it is a contradiction; he merely asserts that it is. But, in fact, there is no contradiction between using reason to discover divine authority, and then submitting oneself and one’s judgment to that divine authority. Horton’s objection here is an instance of the tu quoque. Again, see “The Tu Quoque” article referred to above.

Horton’s fifteenth issue is his claim, based on Gal. 1:8-9, that St. Paul was not assuming that the true church is beyond the possibility of error, and that he himself was “under the authority of the Word.” Here’s what Horton writes:

Most crucially, Rome’s ambitious claims are tested by its faithfulness to the gospel. If an apostle could pronounce his anathema on anyone—including himself or an angel from heaven—who taught a gospel different from the one he brought to them (Gal 1:8-9), then surely any minister or church body after the apostles is under that threat. First, Paul was not assuming that the true church is beyond the possibility of error. Second, he placed himself under the authority of that Word. Just read the condemnations from the Council of Trent below. Do they square with the clear and obvious teaching of Scripture? If they do not, then the choice to be made is between the infallible writings of the apostles and those after the apostles and since who claim to be the church’s infallible teachers.

Horton draws from Gal 1:8-9 to argue that if an apostle could pronounce his anathema on anyone who taught a different gospel from the one he brought to the Galatians, then “surely any minister or church body after the apostles is under that threat.” The missing qualifier there is, “all things being equal.” If Christ has infallibly prayed for one that his faith may not fail, and has made him a rock and set His Church on this rock such that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it as it rests on that rock, then although in his person a pope is “under threat” of anathema were he to abandon the gospel, yet the office is not, because it is this very office by which the proper understanding of the gospel is maintained, and in which the standard for orthodoxy and heresy with regarding to the interpretation of the Apostolic Tradition (written and unwritten) is established. So Horton’s reasoning here begs the question, because his argument presupposes that there is no such divinely protected office.

I discussed the Galatians passage in more detail in the “The Authority of the Magisterium in Relation to Scripture” section of my previous reply to Horton.

Finally, Horton claims that the anathemas of Trent do not “square with the clear and obvious teaching of Scripture.” But in saying this, Horton presumes that all that seems clear and obvious to a reader of Scripture, is orthodox. That is one of the very assumptions that is part of the Protestant paradigm. And yet some other Protestants think certain things are clear, which Horton himself thinks are heretical. So again, the appeal to the “clear and obvious” only seems to be applied when it agrees with Horton’s judgment regarding what is clear and obvious, and that’s ad hoc.

The easiest passages to misunderstand are those one doesn’t realize one is misunderstanding, because one thinks the meaning is obvious. When, as St. Peter explains, the ignorant and unstable “twist to their own destruction” certain passages of St. Paul, they do not think they are misinterpreting him. They do so out of “ignorance.” The meaning seems clear to them, but in fact they are misunderstanding the meaning. That still happens to this day. The ignorant continue to twist Scripture, while thinking that they are understanding it accurately. That’s why it is not safe to assume (all things being equal) that if the meaning seems clear to oneself, then that perceived meaning must be the authentic meaning, because one could be one of those “ignorant and unstable” people. It is not self-evident to such people that they are in that category. In short, Horton subtitles this third article “The Illusions of Church Infallibility,” but nothing he says here demonstrates that the Church is not infallible in the way that she teaches she is.

V. Conclusion

In my observation, and now in my experience as one who has lived and studied in both communities, one of the primary reasons Protestants and Catholics disagree, is that we bring very different paradigms to our understanding of Scripture. But often (not always) we do not realize that we bring these paradigms to Scripture, and I think that is more often the case with Protestants, because although Catholics (in general) do not understand the Protestant paradigm, Catholics tend to be aware that they are bringing Catholic tradition and magisterial teaching to their understanding of Scripture. Protestants tend to think that they are able to approach Scripture from a God’s-eye point of view, and use that perspective to derive an interpretation that is pure (the center of the hermeneutical spiral is assumed to be either where I am now, or where I will be shortly), by which they can judge all traditions, creeds, and confessions. In order to overcome the Protestant-Catholic divide, we have to understand each other better, and know what assumptions and presuppositions we are bringing to the text, and how and why we believe these assumptions and presuppositions. I wrote about one aspect of this in “The Tradition and the Lexicon.”

May God bring peace and reconciliation between Protestants and the Catholic Church.

  1. For an explanation of the distinction between material sufficiency and formal sufficiency, see Sean Patrick’s post “Is Scripture Sufficient?” []

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  1. Everyone talks beyond each other. Are there not debates and disagreements over what the magisterium says or means? Isn’t the magisterium just a developed opinion adopted and enforced. What proof is there that it is the only correct opinion? A proposition adopted by many doesn’t make it any more truth or authoritative than a different proposition adopted by the few. The Catholics are under the same dilemma they claim we are under, whether they acknowledge it or not. Chronology and majority does not neccesarily validate a proposition.

  2. Michial,

    Assuming that you are correct about the RCC (and you may be, I’m trying to get a handle on all this), how does a Protestant “validate a proposition”. In other words, how do we, using Scripture in the context of ecclesia, define heresy versus orthodoxy and schism versus unity? Our argument must be more than a refutation of the claims of Rome. It must also be a positive assertion of how our paradigm works to arrive at the truth, otherwise we end up with a very uncomfortable agnostic conclusion.

    Burton

  3. Very helpful article Bryan. Thank you for this.

  4. “Chronology and majority does not neccesarily validate a proposition.”

    Michial,

    You are absolutely correct. That is why the Catholic Church does not teach that chronology and majority validate a proposition.

    Instead, the Catholic Church teaches that we attain certainty concerning articles of faith only by way of divine authority. The question then becomes, “What divine authority is there to distinguish truth from error?”

    The presence of debates over the meaning of magisterial statements does nothing to impugn the authority of those statements. And, unlike Protestant debates about Scripture, the Catholic has the benefit of a LIVING guide continually to clarify the meaning of magisterial statements – should need arise.

    And, finally, the proof of the magisterium’s divine authority is the foundation of the Church by Christ, his promise to the Church of divine assistance, and his promise to validate in heaven whatever judgment is rendered by the Church on earth. If you are persuaded that Christ acted with divine authority, and that he founded the Church with these assurances, then the authority of the magisterium is settled.

    -David

  5. I thought this was a great summary of the main problematic points in Horton’s three articles.
    I would like to point out one thing he said in the third that I believe is pretty serious and should be addressed:

    There were indeed written and unwritten traditions in the apostolic church, but only those that eventually found their way by the Spirit’s guidance into the New Testament are now for us the apostolic canon.

    This is found in many Reformed sources as well (e.g. Westminster 1:1b), but it has no basis at all in Scripture. Yet it’s a foundational presupposition that is required for Sola Scriptura, since without that assumption they have no way of (authoritatively) explaining what happened to Apostolic Oral Teaching. As Catholic apologists have pointed out, this admission also entails that neither Jesus nor the Apostles practiced Sola Scriptura, and thus no instructions written by the Apostles to the Christians in the Apostolic Age could have been telling them to engage in Sola Scriptura either (e.g. 2nd Timothy 3:16f couldn’t have had Paul telling Timothy to engage in Sola Scriptura since the Apostles were alive and Apostolic Oral Teaching still existed).

  6. Thanks for this post, Bryan; as a Protestant–better: a “mere Christian”–who is *this* close to becoming Catholic, it’s really helpful. But would you (or someone) say more about Horton’s eleventh issue? You seem confident that there’s no serious objection to Magisterial infallibility here, but your comments strike me as cavalier. If it is true that popes and councils often (or ever!) contradicted one another, is that historical fact not a serious problem for this doctrine?

  7. Well I believe the Bible is the ultimate authority. We can all agree the NT canon is what it is content wise, even though the whole chicken and egg arguments are up for debate as to how it was founded in relation to the early believers. And whether a million people have different opinions on the propositions in the Bible, that doesn’t negate it’s divine authority as being knowable by a fallible man. Nor does it require we have a divinely innerrant interpreter, nor is that interpretation that there must and is one infallible magisterium also without error. But we can agree on the 27 books. So that proposition could be true. Where do we go to determine its truth but the authority of the bible. I believe the bible is the word of God because it says so in numerous places. Do I have a guarantee I will never err in interpreting it?, no. I am sinful, just as sinful as every bishop or man. Just because many disagree on a proposition doesn’t mean it’s interpretation is unknowable. How do I know I know it. I know it because God made it knowable by inspiring men to write propositions in koine common street language of the day language that is knowable, and holds us accountable to know it. How do you know He provided you an infallible knower? Where did he promise that? In the bible? How do you know that interpretation is without error. You have the same dilemma. i know the word is authoritative and it is so not because of my authority to know it but the authority it has as Gods word which tells me it has, and to study it and believe and obey it. Your claims of a magisterium hold no more or less water than any other interpretation, unless its true, and how do we know its true orher than studying the words of God and testing everything to it. Just because there are disagreements doesnt neccestate God promised a magisterium or that the truth is unknowable? With what you guys propose it seems man could never discern any truth from anywhere. Why read the newspaper or my operations manual at work since I can’t k ow it or others disagree. Gods word was written in koine. It’s not a mystical genre requiring different laws and rules of grammar and interpreting God used common men to write knowable propositions in a knowable common tongue.

  8. A salient point with respect to Apostolic Succession and the ARCIC document is this. It matters not how many bishops ruled in a given locale. What makes episcopacy monarchial is that bishops alone are the source for the ministry. You can have many bishops ordaining in a given locale and it not be contradictory at all to the idea of a monarchial episcopate.

    Further, whatever problems the thesis of Apostolic Succession might have, Horton advances not a single uncontroversial case of presbyterian ordination, nor can he since there is no such case in the records. So at best the AS thesis has some difficulties but it still retains the overwhelming preponderance of evidence while the presbyterian model lacks a single uncontroversial case.

    As for the interchangability of terms, that is a two way street. If presbuteros and episcopoi were used interchangably in the NT and the early post-apostolic church, then we cannot assume that presbyters were presbyters in the contemporary sense. And that is what Horton seems to be assuming. But if there is the interchangability of use (which doesn’t necessarily imply interchangability of semantic content) then that is a two way street. If bishops can’t be taken as bishops in the episcopal sense because of the interchangability of terms, then presbyters can’t be taken in the presbyterian sense because of the interchangability of terms. This is why this typical argument bakes no bread for the Reformed position.

  9. To relegate common propositions to being unknowable without an error free knower due to difference of opinion in interpreting common propositions in a common tongue is an epistimelogical cop out.

  10. Hi Michial,

    You seem to want to take the content of the canon as a given, that needs no justification. You said, “We can all agree the NT canon is what it is.”

    But this simply isn’t true. The 27 books are accepted in the West because of the authority of the Roman Church, but they are not universally accepted throughout the Christian world. The Ethiopians, Copts, Syrians, and Armenians all have different New Testaments. There are also some Lutheran groups that have a different New Testament canon. And even in the West, some Protestants protest that the canon is fallible. (R. C. Sproul, for example.) An assured New Testament canon is just a fiction outside of some determining authority.

    Second, even if we grant the canon (for the sake of argument), and even if we grant that it is divinely inspired, this doesn’t give you sola scriptura. You need some other argument to establish that God intends this divinely inspired book to be the Rule of Faith for the Church.

    The Catholic position is that Scripture is inspired and authoritative, but never intended by God to serve as the Rule of Faith. Rather, it is a witness to revelation, revelation, a source for the Church’s prayer and liturgical life, and a divine source for theological reflection. But it is most emphatically NOT the rule of faith. You cannot merely assert this. You need to demonstrate it.

    Finally, you wrote:

    “Just because there are disagreements doesnt neccestate God promised a magisterium.”

    No one here has made that claim. Indeed, if God wanted to leave us in the dark, to withhold doctrinal certainty, he would be perfectly in his rights. We are not owed Revelation, or guidance.

    Our belief in the infallible magisterium is a matter of the historical record and the words of Christ.

    Interestingly, this is one standard that Protestants rarely invoke in defense of sola scriptura. They do not try to prove sola scriptura from the words of Jesus (for obvious reasons). Rather, they attempt to prove it with just the kind of inference you reject.

    Namely – there must be some divine authority to serve as the rule of faith.
    It surely cannot be the Catholic Church,
    Therefore, it must be scripture.

    This is the usual Protestant argument. However, I hope you can see that the conclusion does not follow from the premises, nor is it substantiated by revelation.

    Now, at risk of talking past each other, do you understand my position?

    -David

  11. Michial #9,

    What are the conditions to know that such and so is the right view, is one question. What are the conditions for there to be an ultimately normative judgment about the right view, is a different question. The first is epistemological, the second metaphysical or perhaps even metaethical.

    Protestants perhaps can fulfill the conditions for the first, but perhaps you can explain how they can fulfill the conditions for the second?

  12. To reduce or relegate Sacred Scripture to “common propositions” is an epistemological error.

  13. “Catholics tend to be aware that they are bringing Catholic tradition and magisterial teaching to their understanding of Scripture. Protestants tend to think that they are able to approach Scripture from a God’s-eye point of view, and use that perspective to derive an interpretation that is pure (the center of the hermeneutical spiral is assumed to be either where I am now, or where I will be shortly), by which they can judge all traditions, creeds, and confessions…”

    From a very practical point of view, maybe even in the USA, I imagine it’s safe to assume that neither Protestants nor Catholics, statistically speaking, engage very seriously with the Bible at all.

    Those who do always use Catholic Tradition (which includes magisterial teaching of course) – and in this, in a sense, there is a strange equality because the main advantage Catholics can have is to be aware of this fact. Let’s think of the “traditionalist” Catholics who are rather painfully aware of the need for magisterial teaching, and how very few Catholics actually are aware of the full nature of the living Tradition in which we know and live the Faith.

    It is truly bizarre to see an argument based on saying that Catholics are actually too Protestant – but it would be seriously cool to see it taken at face value and look at all the ways the Church has actually enacted *more* of the Reformers’ ideas than maybe the historical Protestant traditions have…

  14. The problem for Horton, and many others, is that they can’t explain it because Catholicism isn’t simply an issue of QED. It’s more illative than analytic, threads coming together than proof-texts, a cable than an iron bar.

  15. I’m trying to limit my comments on blogs, so I’ll keep this short, and just thrown in a few words.

    I think many of Bryan’s critiques are quite strong.

    From a traditional Lutheran perspective, “Sola Scriptura” is understood very differently. I’ve been sharing this insightful quote for years now (from my pastor), and I’ll do so again:

    “The concept of a contemporaneous existence of the Word of God in a corrupted verbal form, and a pure written form, spawned Chemnitz’s explanation of traditiones in the second locus, De traditionibus. Here he lists the first of eight different types of traditiones as Scripture itself, i.e. the things that Christ and the Apostles preached orally and were later written down. Then follows: 2) the faithful transmission of the Scriptures; 3) the oral tradition of the Apostles (which by its very nature must agree with the contents of the New Testament canon); 4) the proper interpretation of the Scriptures received from the Apostles and “Apostolic men”; 5) dogmas that are not set forth in so many words in Scripture but are clearly apparent from a sampling of texts; 6) the consensus of true and pure antiquity; 7) rites and customs that are edifying and believed to be Apostolic, but cannot be proved from Scripture. Chemnitz rejects only the eighth kind of tradition: [8] traditions pertaining to faith and morals that cannot be proved with any testimony of Scripture; but which the Council of Trent commanded to be accepted and venerated with the same reverence and devotion as the Scripture. The important element of this last of the traitiones appears not to be the fact that such traditions of faith and morals not provable from Scripture actually existed, but that their status of equality with Scripture was foisted upon the church by the Council of Trent.” P. Strawn, Cyril of Alexandria as a Source for Martin Chemnitz, in Die Patristik in der Bibelexegese des 16. Jahrhunderts, Wolfenbu”ttleler Forschungen, Bd. 85, Hrsg. v. David C. Steinmetz, Wiesbaden 1999, p. 213-14.

    I focused on this in a debate that I had with the RC apologist Dave Armstrong. The form of my argument, based again on the following quote above, was very different than Dr. Horton’s.

    Here they are:

    Round 1: http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/my-reply-to-rc-apologist-dave-armstrong-regarding-his-examination-of-martin-chemnitzs-examination/

    Round 2: http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/round-2-with-rc-apologist-dave-armstrong-the-unattractive-body-of-christ/

    Round 3: http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/round-3-with-rc-apologist-dave-armstrong-a-few-good-pharisees/

    (warning: these are pretty long, but they are because I quote a lot from Chemnitz and Gerhard and try to answer most all the questions that Dave was able to throw at me)

    Currently, the debate continues in a way with a delightful Catholic gentleman named Nathaniel (great name) here. We have a wonderful thing going, and I feel like we have definitely dug deep into the issue. He gives me hope for good, honest, ecumenical dialogue:
    http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/reformation-history-what-would-you-have-done/

    Finally, my viewpoint, although I definitely think it is in line with classical Lutheranism (Chemnitz, Gerhard) is not always so understood, although I do think it is more amenable to Roman Catholic sensibilities about the mystery of the Church, particularly as regards its ontological nature and visibility (see this post and the comments I put in there: http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/re-reformation-day-kids-dont-celebrate-divorce/)

    I apologize ahead of time for not being able to further engage persons here. If that means this is not allowed to be posted, I understand. I do generally make time to comment on my own blog (traffic is pretty reasonable there : ) ), but only do that on Mondays.

    Best regards,

    Nathan Rinne

    (Adjunct prof. of theology – Concordia University Saint Paul)

  16. Horton’s critique of Catholic converts reminded me of a comment by Adolf Harnack about Protestant seminaries in his day:

    “I am convinced from constant experience of the fact that the students who leave our schools have the most disconnected and absurd ideas about ecclesiastical history. Some of them know something about Gnosticism, or about other curious, and for them worthless, details. But of the Catholic Church, the greatest religious and political creation known to history, they know absolutely nothing, and they indulge in its regard in wholly trivial, vague and often directly nonsensical notions. How her greatest institutions originated, what they mean in the life of the Church, how easily they may be misconceived, and why they function so surely and so impressively: all this, according to my experience, is for them, apart from a few exceptions, a terra incognita.” (Aus Wissnschaft und Leben (Giessen, 1911), vol. I, p. 97)

    Though the state Protestant and Catholic dialogue seems to be improving—this website clearly demonstrates this time and again—I find it ironic that Dr. Horton would criticize a convert’s knowledge of Protestantism while it is still sadly the case that many Protestant seminaries gloss over much of the first 1500 years of Christendom. Harnack at least was willing to admit that. What modern Protestant scholars would be willing to admit it?

    On that score, what would really constitute sufficient knowledge of Protestantism for Dr. Horton anyway? How could a student claim to understand Protestantism well without attempting to study seriously the source it sprang from?

  17. Bryan,

    I second Emjay’s request for a little more “meat” on your response to Horton’s #11 in his most recent article. Why do the conclusions Horton draws from conciliarist vs papist controversy, three concurrent popes etc not in any way undermine Catholic claims? Is Horton correct that both papist and conciliarist factions rightly pointed to examples of historical contradiction between councils and papal decrees?

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Burton

  18. Emjay and Burton,

    Thanks for your comments; sorry for the delay in replying. If it were true that (a) the ratified decisions of ecumenical councils regarding faith or morals, taught definitively to be held by all the faithful, contradicted each other, or (b) that the definitive papal proclamations to be held by all the faithful on matters of faith or morals contradicted each other, or (c) the teachings in (a) contradicted the teachings in (b), that would not only be a “serious problem” for the doctrine of magisterial infallibility; it would demolish the entire Catholic paradigm. But none of those three has occurred, and Horton does not even point to an alleged case where one of those three occurred.

    Have councils erred? Yes. Think of the Robber Council of Ephesus in 449, or the Council of Rimini in 359. But they did not err when the conditions in (a) were met. Have popes erred? Again yes. Think of the errors of Pope Vigilius and Pope Honorius, and the way Urban VIII handled the Galileo case. But no popes have erred under the conditions specified in (b). The Catholic doctrine of magisterial infallibility is not falsified by errors of the sort just mentioned, because it is a highly qualified doctrine, such that divine protection from error is assured only under very specific conditions. The doctrine would be falsified by errors made under the conditions specified in (a) and in (b), or by contradictions between teachings made under those conditions. But Horton does not provide any concrete examples of cases purported to be of that sort. He speaks only in generalizations: “councils had often erred and contradicted themselves” and “popes contradicting each other.” And that isn’t helpful, because it does not impinge upon the actual Catholic doctrine concerning magisterial infallibility. If Horton thinks either (a), (b), or (c) are true, then he needs to make the case, rather than making only general claims.

    If that seems cavalier on my part, then I don’t see what exactly is wrong with being cavalier in that sense. If a prosecuting attorney says “crimes have been committed,” and the defense attorney responds by pointing out that this doesn’t demonstrate the guilt of his client, I hope that is not what it means to be cavalier, because it seems to me that it is not the task of the defense attorney to make the prosecutor’s case for him. And this isn’t even an ordinary ‘innocent until proven guilty’ situation. When a party goes out from the Catholic Church, as Protestants did in the sixteenth century on the basis of their own interpretation of Scripture, and that party seeks to justify its actions by making a case against the Catholic Church, that party has the burden of proof, just by the fact that they are the ones who went out from the Church. The benefit of the doubt in any such dispute rests with the Church. Any heretic or schismatic can claim to be the Church, and claim that everyone else went out from him. But if it is enough to claim to be the Church, then the “went out from us” criterion would be worthless. So, the visible Church in continuity with the Apostles must have at least the benefit of the doubt in such disputes.

    If, for example, I am under the authority of my bishop who is in communion with the pope and all the other bishops in communion with the pope, and I want to form a schism from them, I have the burden of proof of showing that they are wrong. My schism would not by default be justified until the Catholic Church proves to me that I’m in the wrong. I cannot justifiably assert that I am the Church, and that they are all heretics until they demonstrate otherwise. Otherwise every heretic and schismatic under the Sun would be theologically justified in holding his heresy or being in schism until the Church made a sufficiently persuasive case to him that he is in the wrong.

    So, Horton needs to make a case that presents the Catholic doctrine, and then shows instances or evidence that falsify it; he has not done that. Generalized accusations are simply inadequate to make the case he needs to make to justify the claim that the Church’s doctrine of magisterial infallibility has been falsified, or is a defeater of sorts for the Catholic Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  19. Thanks, Bryan. That’s enormously helpful. Please pray for me.

  20. Bryan,

    Thanks for fleshing that out. As I have been discussing with Michael Liccione over on the Joshua Lim thread, this issue of historical contradiction would be a real deal breaker, but I do have the sense that there only a few circumstances that would potentially qualify as true contradiction between papal and or conciliar decrees (I need to respond to his questions regarding Unum Sanctum and Vatican II, and I will continue that discussion on the other thread).

    Burton

  21. The first commenter asked, Are there not debates and disagreements over what the magisterium says or means? Isn’t the magisterium just a developed opinion adopted and enforced?

    I think this question gets to the heart of where the discussion should lie. Based on Scripture and the consensus of the church fathers is Rome correct in her assertions regarding doctrines such as justification, the Eucharist, etc? I for one think the evidence says “no.” Yet, for many, the magisterium of Rome, with its accepted authority, appears as the trump card.

  22. Jack, (re: #21)

    Yes, there are debates and disagreements among Catholics concerning the meaning of magisterial teaching. When such a debate is widespread and enduring, the magisterium issues a clarification. This happened recently when the CDF issued Responsa ad quaestiones in 2007 to clarify one aspect of Vatican II’s teaching regarding the Church. And Pope John Paul II did something similar regarding the question of the ordination of women, in his 1994 Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in which he wrote:

    Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.

    And when it was asked subsequently whether this teaching is part of the deposit of faith, the CDF issued a Responsum ad Propositum Dubium Concerning the Teaching Contained in “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” in which the answer given was “Affirmative.” The point is, as Ray pointed out in his recent post, with a living magisterium such “debates and disagreements” can be resolved. Without a living magisterium, the only recourse is fragmentation into separate ‘denominations.’

    Regarding the Church’s teaching on justification and the Eucharist, what evidence do you think indicates that the teaching of the magisterium is incorrect?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  23. Bryan,
    Thank you for your response(#22). You commented: with a living magisterium such “debates and disagreements” can be resolved. Without a living magisterium, the only recourse is fragmentation into separate ‘denominations.’

    Two things strike me about your statement. 1) Your statement assumes that without “a living magisterium” debates cannot be resolved; and 2)that without that Roman mechanism the only result has to be fragmentation. I think you present a set of false choices and conclusions.

    I will grant you that there has indeed been organizational fragmentation in protestantism in general since the Reformation. Yet core doctrines of faith and practice have remained, by and large, consistent within the Reformed churches that hold to confessions born of that era. And I might argue that there has been quite a bit of unbiblical innovation within Roman Catholicism since that time also, despite organizational unity.

    Additionally, doctrinal issues and questions can be and are resolved as to scriptural teaching through presbyteries and general assemblies that are binding on churches within those denominations. Does that prevent fragmentation? No. But within the Roman Church, though fragmentation of organization might rarely occur, I would argue that doctrinal fragmentation has taken place in the form of innovations unsupported by Scripture.

    So to claim that by having a magisterium Rome has the right institution to infallibly guide the Church seems to beg the question and, as I indicated, becomes a kind of trump card.

    As to doctrines regarding justification or the Eucharist, I’m sure you are familiar with arguments both for and against Rome’s positions. Regarding the Eucharist, one rarely read book that argues against transubstantiation and the so-called sacrifice of the Mass is by the reformer of the English Church, Thomas Cranmer. The book is Defence of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ (1550). Are you familiar with it? I’ve used some portions of it to interact with transubstantiation. The main thrust is that far from a unified voice of church fathers and Scripture in support of Rome, the witness of the patristic voices is arguably against transubstantiation.

    Again, thanks for responding to this voice out of nowhere on this interesting web site.

    Jack

  24. Jack –

    You said, “Two things strike me about your statement. 1) Your statement assumes that without “a living magisterium” debates cannot be resolved;…”

    What do you mean to resolve a dispute? What will a resolved dispute look like? Can you point to any disputes in history that have been resolved (using your definition of resolve) using the Bible alone?

  25. Jack,

    If I may say that debates without a living Magisterium cannot be resolved in any significant manner. By significant, I mean in a binding and authoritative manner. Take for example a Presbytery that refuses to accept one man’s credentials from another Presbytery because the man holds to Federal Vision views. The local church who tendered the call then votes and leaves the denomination and decides to join another denomination that identifies itself also as Reformed, adhering to the WCF, just like the denomination they left, because that denomination is much more inclined toward the Federal Vision. Thus, without the living Magisterium, fragmentation results, with each group splintering itself off from each other, all the while claiming that Scripture is on their side.

  26. Jack, you said (#21):
    “Yet, for many, the magisterium of Rome, with its accepted authority, appears as the trump card.”
    Yes, just as the apostles and elders in council in Jerusalem in Acts 15 appeared “for many” as the trump card on the issue of circumcision and Jewish ceremonial Law. There were those before the council who interpreted the available evidence differently than the council eventually ruled; and probably some of them continued in their opposing views after the council. But the “trump card” of God-given authority is real, and it outweighs all human opinions.
    If the evidence you referred to against the magisterium’s teachings on justification and the Eucharist is definitive, then it could be a deal breaker for the magisterium’s claims for itself. If it affords a reasonable interpretation in accord with the notion of magisterial infallibility, though, then that “trump card” might still be real. I invite you to continue to investigate.
    Christ reigns!
    –Nathaniel

  27. Bryan,
    re: #24 – That is a quote from your previous comment. I assume that Rome, for instance, considers any dispute as to its teaching on the Eucharist to be resolved, no? The Church came to a resolved or settled doctrinal teaching. Before Trent that teaching was under question, and not by just the Reformers, but the likes of scholars such as Gelasius and Duns Scotus of the 15th century. Now there may be priests today, or even bishops, that disagree but as far as the Roman Church considers, isn’t it resolved?

    Yet of course, the Reformers would, and did, make the case that it was wrongly resolved by Rome, i.e. not in accord with Scripture, which Gelasius and Scotus earlier in time more than intimated. And among the Reformed confessions there is agreement and resolution on that doctrine. The question, as you know, has to do with the final authority looked to in order to come to arrive at right doctrine.

  28. Jack, (re: #27)

    Just to clarify, Fr. Bryan, who submitted comment #24, and I are not the same person. He is a Catholic priest, and I’m not. :-)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  29. #26… Nathaniel,

    This becomes tautological… The Apostles rightly defined doctrine in the first century (the so-called trump card). Today’s Roman Church in the office of the Papacy as “the continuation of the Apostles’ doctrinal authority” (debatable at a minimum) can therefore definitively resolve doctrinal issues by declaration. For the Pope speaks infallibly when it comes to doctrine as the did the Apostles. End of discussion.? So I won’t argue with you. I will only say that, yes there is fragmentation that followed on the heels of the Reformation, yet among the Reformed Churches their adherence to the authority of Scripture, a faithful holding (their confessions and catechisms) emerged as to the teachings of Scripture. With Rome – no fragmentation, a unified, authoritative and unquestioned doctrinal voice that has, nonetheless, allowed error despite claims of infallibility. There we certainly disagree.

    Where we both agree is that there is an ultimate authority, and must be so. The difference has to do with what it is.

    cheers…

  30. Helpful piece, irenic and incisive. The sort of tone much needed. Thanks.

  31. Jack (re #29)

    With Rome – no fragmentation, a unified, authoritative and unquestioned doctrinal voice that has, nonetheless, allowed error despite claims of infallibility.

    What is the error to which you refer?

    Pax Christi,
    Frank

  32. Tom (#25),

    Where there exists no fragmentation and yet truth is compromised there can be a unity, but is it a unity of God’s people in the truth of Christ? So I would proffer that outward unity is not a prima facie case of Rome’s infallibility or correctness of doctrine any more that fragmentation of Protestantism after the Reformation disproves the faithfulness of confessional doctrine among the Reformed. One can say there might be a correlation, but it seems that is a far as one could take it.

    cheers…

  33. Frank (31),

    I would humbly suggest error as to the doctrines of transubstantiation and justification, to name two. By the way, the Reformed confessions and catechisms have a unified voice in respect to Rome on these two doctrines.

    cheers…

  34. Jack (re#33)

    By what authority would you declare the doctrines of transubstantiation and justification erroneous?

    Pax Christi,
    Frank

  35. Frank (34),

    I wouldn’t by any authority, myself, personally make a declaration as to justification or the Eucharist. It is not mine to make… But the Reformed Churches in their Confessional Standards according to the authority of Scripture, which I hold and submit to, have made such declarations.

    Blessings…

  36. Jack (re #35):

    OK.

    Then, to get to the nub of the question, I guess: by what authority do those Confessions change the teaching on the nature of the Eucharist (let’s stick to just one issue) held by the Catholic Church prior to the Reformation?

    I imagine you will answer, “Scripture.” But Scripture is silent on the matter of transubstantiation, that is, we cannot find that word in the NT. Therefore, any teaching on this question must come from an interpretation of the Scriptures. So I ask: what motive do you have for believing/submitting to the interpretation found in your Confessional Standards on the nature of the Eucharist?

    In Him,
    Frank

  37. Frank… 36,

    The Scriptures may be silent as to the actual word “transubstantiation” but it is not silent as to the Lord’s Supper and the meaning of eating and drinking of the body and blood of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. Transubstantiation is nothing less than a doctrine of how to understand the Supper. Scripture does address this, as do I on my blog…

    Blessings to you…

  38. By the way, Frank…

    Regarding your “observation,” by what authority do those Confessions change the teaching on the nature of the Eucharist (let’s stick to just one issue) held by the Catholic Church prior to the Reformation?

    They didn’t change anything concerning the teaching regarding the nature of the Eucharist. They harkened, to those that would hear, back to the teaching of the Apostles and the early church fathers.

    Blessings of our Lord to you…

  39. Jack (#37)
    If I might put in a question here, can you give me an example of how Scripture addresses the issue of the Lord’s Supper in such a way as to make transsubstantiation impossible?

    jj

  40. To say “impossible” is quite a heavy burden, and, I would suggest, not a fair question. But go to John 6. When the disciples are troubled by Jesus’ words concerning eating his flesh and drinking his blood, how does our Lord respond?
    It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

    St. Augustine agrees. As do I.

    Blessings…

  41. Jack (#40)
    Well, OK – though I don’t really see why asking what in Scripture makes transsubstantiation impossible isn’t a fair question. On your web site you quote Cranmer as saying that, since the saying of Christ “…seemeth to command an heinous and a wicked thing; therefore it is a figure…” – which seems a fair jump. Cranmer quotes Augustine as saying “…in the sacraments we must not consider what they be, but what they signify…” – which at most seems to me to be Augustine’s saying that we must not stop at thinking about the being of a sacrament, and not at all to say anything against transsubstantiation. Our Lord’s words that you quote seem to me susceptible of the same interpretation.

    Since most Church fathers’ statements about the Eucharist certainly seem at least consistent with transsubstantiation – there are many quotes here, including Augustine – it seems to me on the principle that he who is in possession has a prima facie case, that it ought at least to be able to prove the impossibility of the doctrine.

    jj

  42. Jack (re: last few posts):

    They didn’t change anything concerning the teaching regarding the nature of the Eucharist. They harkened, to those that would hear, back to the teaching of the Apostles and the early church fathers.

    St. Justin Martyr, an early Church Father:

    “This food we call the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us. For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.”

    “First Apology”, Ch. 66, inter A.D. 148-155.

    St Irenaeus, an early Church Father:

    [Christ] has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own Blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own Body, from which he gives increase to our bodies.”

    Against Heresies, 180 A.D.

    And more directly to the point, you said the Reformers did not “change anything concerning the teaching” about the Eucharist. But I asked you:

    by what authority do those Confessions change the teaching on the nature of the Eucharist…held by the Catholic Church prior to the Reformation?

    but your answer sidestepped the question about the teaching of the Catholic Church. So, since the Catholic Church teaches transubstantiation and the Reformers did not, I will ask again, by what authority did they make this change? You will say, I believe, Scripture.

    Brother, we can bat quotes from ECFs and verses from John 6 and 1 Corinthians back and forth all day, but the real difference in our beliefs comes down to the differences in who we believe teaches the truth about what has been revealed, and therefore to which authority we will submit. So, I will again ask what motive you have for believing/submitting to the Confessional Standards whose interpretation of Scripture denies transubstantiation? This is the central question.

    Pax Christi,
    Frank

  43. John,
    Why not fair? You ask to prove a negative. Just try to do that on any topic.

    You write: On your web site you quote Cranmer as saying that, since the saying of Christ “…seemeth to command an heinous and a wicked thing; therefore it is a figure…”

    That is not a Cramner quote, but the words of Augustine. So the following words of Augustine are immediately preceded by his former words above. What he is saying is that the sacrament being consecrated and signified as the body and blood od Christ, our spiritual nourishment, is this very bread and wine which we eat. Indeed it is a mystery, i.e. a sacrament. And what those elements are signifying and imparting is a sure means of God’s grace through the free salvation wrought by the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to all that believe in Him… i.e. not to be taken as carnal eating of the corporeal body and blood of our Lord, but rather spiritually eating and drinking of Christ unto eternal life.

    “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” John 6:63

    Blessings…

  44. Frank (42)…

    As you say, we can bat quotes back and forth. And those words of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus are far from dispositive and are qualified in other places by the same writers that lend support to a “spiritual” eating and drinking of the Supper. So I don’t think you can lean on these church fathers for a weight of evidence supporting transubstantiation.

    So what motive have I for my belief in the Reformed confessional standards regarding transubstantiation? I will plead the learned Catholic theologian Duns Scotus’ opinion, “the words of the Scripture might be expounded more easily and more plainly without transubstantiation; but the Church chose this sense, which is more hard…”, written in the 15th century.

    What is your motive?

    Blessings

    And the Confessions more easily comport with Scripture.

  45. Jack,

    Well, sorry to split hairs here, but I do not think Duns Scotus is cited in the WCF. I might be wrong.

    I’m actually not trying to argue the case for transubstantiation, even though, as a Catholic, that is what I believe about the Eucharist. The original topic of this post (Cross’s response to Horton) is about the authority of the Catholic Church’s teachings and the different views held by Horton and Cross. So, the focus of our dialogue ought to be (per CTC’s guidelines) something related to that specific topic. I was just trying to begin the discussion by engaging you on a challenge you made to this Catholic teaching. This is why I am now narrowing it down to the “motives of credibility.”

    Your real answer is in the postscript: “and the Confessions more easily comport with Scripture.” To refine the point, I think what you’re saying is the Confessions more easily comport with “the Reformed interpretation of Scripture.” I would suggest this must be the case because both the Reformed Confessions and Catholic teaching on the Eucharist are fundamentally derived from Scripture and the only explanation for the different views must be that the two parties are interpreting the Scriptures in different ways.

    Therefore, would it be fair to say that your answer to my question about your reasons for believing the Reformed Confessions is that the Confessions “more easily comport with the interpretation of Scripture” that you personally believe is a true, faithful, authoritative interpretation?

    In Him,
    Frank

  46. Jack (#43)

    Why not fair? You ask to prove a negative. Just try to do that on any topic.

    OK – but not quite proving a negative. It seems to me that the history of the interpretation of Jesus’s words for most of history means that you would at least want to make a strong negative case? But, yes, if by ‘proof’ you mean ‘make it impossible for a reasonable man to accept’ then it would be unfair – and, for the matter of that, I think it would be difficult to deal in that way with any common Christian doctrine.

    So perhaps what I should have asked for was strong negative evidence.

    You are quite correct that those words are Augustine’s – my mistake, and sorry! Nonetheless – and in view of other quotes from Augustine in that link I placed in my comment – it seems to me that Augustine’s saying that it is a ‘figure’ is not at all the same as saying that it is still bread and wine.

    But of course that may have been what he meant.

    jj

  47. Jack,

    A question and a comment:

    1. If St. Augustine were alive today, would he be a member of your church, the (Roman) Catholic Church, or would he start his own church? Why? (for some preliminary reading, see “St. Optatus on Schism and the Bishop of Rome“)

    2. We do not believe we partake of the “carnal” Christ. The Eucharist is the true “Body and Blood of Christ”, and the bread and wine do substantially change, but what they become is not flesh and blood like you and I (physical). No, the flesh and blood we partake of is a sacramental presence of the true (not just “spiritual”) Body and Blood of Christ. The difference is both in the mode of Christ (Resurrected Body) and in the mode of partaking (Eucharistic sacramental species). Let me leave you a bit of an article from a friend of mine (Fr. Ryan Erlenbush):

    Does transubstantiation effect a physical change?

    In reaction to the Protestant heresy, many Catholics have lost the important distinction given by the Council of Trent according to which we are able to distinguish the difference between Christ’s presence in heaven and his presence in the Sacrament. Some Catholics will even start to speak of the Eucharist in highly physical terms, as though the presence of Christ were physical. Here, the real problem lies in the hidden presumption is that, unless a thing is physical, it is not real – hence, following this errant reasoning, it would seem that a sacrament is not really real, if there is no physical change.

    A citation from Cardinal Ratzinger will suffice to correct this error: “But [the doctrine of transubstantiation] is not a statement of physics. It has never been asserted that, so to say, nature in a physical sense is being changed. The transformation reaches down to a more profound level. Tradition has it that this is a metaphysical process. Christ lays hold upon what is, from a purely physical viewpoint, bread and wine, in its inmost being, so that it is changed from within and Christ truly gives himself in them. […] [The Eucharist] is not a thing. I don’t receive a piece of Christ. That would indeed be an absurdity.” (God and the World, 408)

    The future Pope speaks with extreme clarity: “From a purely physical viewpoint” the Eucharistic species is “bread and wine” because the change is not to be understood “in a physical sense”. However, on a more profound level (on the level of being and of essence, indeed the level of substance), transubstantiation is a radical change by which what was once bread and wine now has become the body and blood of our Savior.

    Also see “How the Mass is a sacrifice, and why so many deny this doctrine“.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  48. Jack,

    I think the question about the Eucharist goes even further. If Abraham’s prophecy, that “God will provide the lamb,” refers to the lamb of the Passover, then we are talking about a sacrificial lamb. If Jesus is that Lamb, and according to John the Baptist, He is, then what He did at the Last Supper is to provide a sacrificial Eucharistic Meal of Himself, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. Note: The Sacrifice of the New Covenant is maintained in a Meal, ala the Passover meal introduced by Moses, and perfected in Christ Jesus.

    It is a Meal which must be eaten if, per John 6, one is to have Life from Jesus Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

    When I was fleeing evangelicalism, I did look at both the Lutherans and the Calvinists. I don’t remember seeing “sacrificial” associated with their communions. ? I could not mistake it in scripture. I found that the oldest Churches recognized the sacrificial nature of this Meal. I did not find it in Protestantism.

    Cordially,

    dt

  49. Jack, (re: #23)

    I do believe that without a living magisterium, doctrinal and interpretive debates cannot be resolved such that all sincere truth-seeking persons of at least average intelligence can agree concerning all the essentials, such that they come to profession of “one faith,” shared communion, and governmental unity. But this belief is not a presupposition or a priori assumption on my part. It has been confirmed by the last five hundred years of Protestant history, which began with exponential fragmentation (see Bossuet’s History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches.) In his interview regarding Dominus Iesus, Pope Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger) said the following:

    Fortified by 500 years of experience, modern exegesis has clearly recognized, along with modern literature and the philosophy of language, that mere self-interpretation of the Scriptures and the clarity resulting from it do not exist. In 1928 Adolf von Harnack said, with typical bluntness, in his correspondence with Erik Peterson that “the so-called ‘formal principle’ of old Lutheranism is a critical impossibility; on the contrary, the Catholic one is better”. Ernst Käsemann has shown that the canon of Sacred Scripture as such does not ground the Church’s unity, but the multiplicity of confessions. Recently, one of the most important Evangelical exegetes, Ulrich Luz, has shown that “Scripture alone” opens the way to every possible interpretation. Lastly, the first generation of the Reformation also had to seek “the centre of Scripture”, to obtain an interpretive key which could not be extrapolated from the text as such. Another practical example: in the clash with Gerd Lüdemann, a professor who denied the resurrection and divinity of Christ, etc., it has been pointed out that the Evangelical Church cannot do without a sort of Magisterium. When the contours of the faith are blurred in a chorus of opposing exegetical efforts (materialist, feminist, liberationist exegeses, etc.), it seems evident that it is precisely the relationship with the professions of faith, and thus with the Church’s living tradition, that guarantees the literal interpretation of Sacred Scripture, protecting it from subjectivism and preserving its originality and authenticity. Therefore the Magisterium does not diminish the authority of Sacred Scripture but safeguards it by taking an inferior position to it and allowing the faith flowing from it to emerge.

    As I wrote in the post (in my reply to Horton’s thirteenth issue):

    The point at issue is that Scripture is not sufficient to bring all those of at least moderate intelligence, good will, and sincere dependence on the Holy Spirit into one faith. The very continuation of not only the Protestant-Protestant disagreements, but the Catholic-Protestant disagreement is an ever-mounting [five-hundred year] testimony to the insufficiency of Scripture alone to bring all Christians into unity. If Horton disagrees, then he needs to lay out the conditions under which perspicuity in that sense would be falsified. How many more hundreds of years of continuing schism and fragmentation would be required finally to falsify the thesis that Scripture is sufficiently perspicuous to bring all Christians of at least moderate intelligence, good will, and sincere dependence on the Holy Spirit, into unity of faith?

    Perhaps you can answer that question. Of course I understand that you can point to agreements among certain groups of persons, concerning doctrinal positions. But agreements of this sort are reached simply by not counting those who still disagree. That is one of the problems I pointed out here with the position held by Christianity Today’s senior managing editor, Mark Galli. The perspicuity of Scripture is neither demonstrated nor confirmed by creating an ad hoc interpretive ‘consensus’ merely by excluding those who don’t share that interpretation. Evangelicals support the claim that the Bible is perspicuous regarding, for example, the prohibition of homosexual acts, by appealing to the consensus among persons who share their hermeneutical paradigm, and excluding from the interpretive ‘sample’ those who view Scripture through a hermeneutic in which the Scripture’s essential moral injunctions must be distinguished and distilled from the temporary cultural norms and values belonging to the cultural conditions in which the biblical authors wrote. If an appeal to natural law is necessary here, in order to know which hermeneutic to adopt, it defeats the purpose of supernatural revelation regarding this moral injunction.

    Yet core doctrines of faith and practice have remained, by and large, consistent within the Reformed churches that hold to confessions born of that era.

    In my opinion, that’s the equivalent of saying that those who have retained a certain interpretation of Scripture have retained that interpretation of Scripture. It doesn’t demonstrate anything about the ability of Scripture to resolve interpretive disagreements.

    And I might argue that there has been quite a bit of unbiblical innovation within Roman Catholicism since that time also, despite organizational unity.

    In order to evaluate that argument, I’d have to see that argument. What “unbiblical innovations” are you referring to, that have been added since the rise of Protestantism in the sixteenth century?

    Additionally, doctrinal issues and questions can be and are resolved as to scriptural teaching through presbyteries and general assemblies that are binding on churches within those denominations.

    They are only ‘binding’ if you want to stay in that denomination, i.e. if that denomination’s interpretation fits your own. And that’s not binding at all. I cannot be bound by a denomination’s decision if the basis for my ‘submission’ to that denomination is its conformity to my interpretation of Scripture. In the body of the post above, see the paragraph that begins, “The problem, of course, with this claim by the early Protestants to be “accountable to the church,” ….”

    I would argue that doctrinal fragmentation has taken place in the form of innovations unsupported by Scripture.

    Again, I’d have to see the actual argument, in order to evaluate it. I can’t evaluate an argument you “would” give, but don’t actually provide. What does “doctrinal fragmentation” even mean?

    So to claim that by having a magisterium Rome has the right institution to infallibly guide the Church seems to beg the question and, as I indicated, becomes a kind of trump card.

    If the magisterium of the Catholic Church was established by Christ, and endowed with divine authority such that he who listens to it listens to Christ, and he who refuses to listen to it, refuses to listen to Christ, then yes, it is a ‘trump card,’ so to speak, just as if Christ were present, His interpretation of any passage of Scripture would be a ‘trump card.’ The question therefore, is whether the magisterium has this divine authority. I don’t see how that begs the question. If without any substantiation I were merely to assert that the magisterium has divine authority, that would beg the question against the Protestant paradigm. But if I present evidence that this is how Christ founded His Church (see, for example, the book titled Studies on the Early Papacy by Chapman, in our list of suggested reading), then I don’t see how that begs any question in relation to the Protestant paradigm.

    Are you familiar with it? I’ve used some portions of it to interact with transubstantiation. The main thrust is that far from a unified voice of church fathers and Scripture in support of Rome, the witness of the patristic voices is arguably against transubstantiation.

    Yes, I’m familiar with Cranmer’s work. I think he is quite mistaken, and that the witness of the patristic voices is in fact on the side of transubstantiation, even though that word was not then used. Regarding Cranmer’s appeal to Gelasius, Tim Troutman treats that in “The Church Fathers on Transubstantiation.” Also, the statements in the Fathers that the Eucharist is a “figure of the Body and Blood of our Lord” are fully compatible with the truth of transubstantiation. That’s because transubstantiation does not remove the significatory character of the sacrament. (Mathison makes this same mistake in his criticism of the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist in Given For You.) The Eucharist, in Catholic doctrine, is still a sign. It is a sign precisely because it points to something that is not visible to our senses, in this case, the presence of Christ’s Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, because the accidents of bread and wine remain. See comments #4, #20, and #24, at this post. In those three comments I explain how the Catholic position, according to St. Augustine, avoids the Capharnaite error. Avoiding this error allows the Eucharist to remain a sign and figure, even while, as St. Augustine points out:

    He walked here in the same flesh, and gave us the same flesh to be eaten unto salvation. But no one eats that flesh unless he first adores it; and thus it is discovered how such a footstool of the Lord’s feet is adored; and not only do we not sin by adoring, we do sin by not adoring. – St. Augustine Commentary on Psalms 98:9

    If the Host and Precious Blood were a mere figure, we would not be right to adore them. Only if they are in fact Christ’s Body and Blood, can it be a sin not to adore them.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  50. Frank (45),

    F: Your real answer is in the postscript: “and the Confessions more easily comport with Scripture.” To refine the point, I think what you’re saying is the Confessions more easily comport with “the Reformed interpretation of Scripture.”

    Either way as I think the two are closer together than Rome is with Scripture on a number of points. And as to Scotus and transubstantiation (which I was asked by someone to explain my objection thereof), he writes: the words of the Scripture might be expounded more easily and more plainly without transubstantiation; but the Church chose this sense, which is more hard…” What is his meaning here?

    blessings…

    My only point is the voice of “tradition,” as to Scripure, is far from unified on this an other doctrinal points.

  51. Jack, (re: #33)

    You wrote:

    I would humbly suggest error as to the doctrines of transubstantiation and justification, to name two.

    Could you be more specific and spell out exactly which Catholic doctrine concerning justification is in error, in your opinion, and which verses of Scripture are contrary to that Catholic doctrine concerning justification? Thanks.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  52. Frank (46)’

    So perhaps what I should have asked for was strong negative evidence.

    Read Thomas Cranmer’s Defence of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ (1550) and his Answer (1553) to Bishop Gardiner’s response to “Defence…”

    Jack

  53. Jack, (re: #50),

    I don’t see how Scotus’s statement that you are quoting, in any way supports the notion that the voice of Tradition regarding the Eucharist is “far from unified.” Scotus himself affirmed the doctrine of transubstantiation, since it had already been defined at the fourth Lateran council (AD 1215) as follows:

    There is one Universal Church of the faithful, outside of which there is absolutely no salvation. In which there is the same priest and sacrifice, Jesus Christ, whose body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine; the bread being changed (transsubstantiatio) by divine power into the body, and the wine into the blood, so that to realize the mystery of unity we may receive of Him what He has received of us. And this sacrament no one can effect except the priest who has been duly ordained in accordance with the keys of the Church, which Jesus Christ Himself gave to the Apostles and their successors. (Can. 1)

    Lots of verses could be “expounded more easily” without the defined doctrines that lay down interpretive and doctrinal boundaries. Think of all the verses that could be easily expounded if it weren’t for dogmas involving terms such as “consubstantial” (homoouious), and one person in two natures. The ease of exposition of Scripture apart from such dogmas does not entail anything about the degree of unity or disunity of the Tradition regarding the doctrine.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  54. Jack (re#50):

    Thank you for your reply. If you do not wish to discuss the issue of “motives of credibility”, please let me know. You have not yet answered my question below, which addresses that issue. So I’ll give it one more shot:

    Therefore, would it be fair to say that your answer to my question about your reasons for believing the Reformed Confessions is that the Confessions “more easily comport with the interpretation of Scripture” that you personally believe is a true, faithful, authoritative interpretation?

    Is this or is this not a fair characterization of your position? If you have a different reason for believing what is contained in the Reformed Confessions (as they pertain to any doctrine whatsoever), I would be interested in knowing what that reason is.

    In Him,
    Frank

  55. Brent(47),

    Baltimore Catechism – After the substance of the bread and wine had been changed into Our Lord’s body and blood, there remained only the appearances of bread and wine.

    Your quote re: Ratzinger – “From a purely physical viewpoint” the Eucharistic species is “bread and wine” because the change is not to be understood “in a physical sense”. However, on a more profound level (on the level of being and of essence, indeed the level of substance), transubstantiation is a radical change by which what was once bread and wine now has become the body and blood of our Savior.

    Are we then agreeing that believers indeed partake of Christ’s body and blood spiritually and not physically and that the actual bread and wine remain? After the words of institution, Paul names the elements bread and cup (1 Co.r 11:26).

    But we’re getting into the tall grass here and this post of Bryan’s is not about the Eucharist. So as to not hijack it, for my part, I’ll cease regarding it.

    cheers…

  56. Bryan (53),

    Indeed Scotus did affirm Rome’s teaching on transubstantiation. The point is that, according to him, this is to be done at the expense of the easier and plainer reading of Scripture, while accepting the “harder” or more strained interpretation of Rome. Reformed Christians would agree with Scotus’ assessment.

    Frank(54),

    I really don’t know what you mean by “motives of credibility.” But to answer your question, which I wasn’t trying to avoid…

    Therefore, would it be fair to say that your answer to my question about your reasons for believing the Reformed Confessions is that the Confessions “more easily comport with the interpretation of Scripture” that you personally believe is a true, faithful, authoritative interpretation?

    Yes, I believe the Reformed confessions are true, faithful, and authoritative interpretations of Scripture, received as such by those churches that adhere to them.

    In the same way, I would suppose that you “personally believe” that Rome is the true, faithful, and authoritative interpreter of Scripture, received as such by those who are faithful Roman Catholics.

    Ultimately the individual personally makes a judgment.

    blessings to you both…

  57. Jack, (re#56):

    By “motives of credibility” I mean “the rational grounds for accepting divine revelation” – which plays out in a variety of ways, one of which would be the grounds for believing that the Catholic Magisterium is what it claims to be – the divinely appointed teaching office for defending and clarifying the Deposit of Faith, whose authority is given to it by Jesus Christ and is protected from error by the Holy Spirit.

    But you and I are not in the same epistemic boat with regard to “personal judgement.” The Protestant, following the principle of primacy of conscience (“here I stand, I can do no other”), submits to his denomination’s creeds and confessions because they “comport with” his personal interpretation of Scripture. If his denomination were to introduce a change in its creeds or doctrines or practices that were in conflict with the Protestant believer’s personal interpretation of Scripture, and the Protestant could not in good conscience change his view to agree with the changes in his denomination, his only recourse is to move to another church or denomination that confesses doctrines, etc. that do agree with that believer’s interpretation of Scripture – or start his own church, as Luther, Calvin, etc. did. What this reduces to is that the individual Protestant has as his highest authority his own personal interpretation of Scripture. The Protestant is his own magisterium.

    The Catholic, on the other hand, believing in the divinely appointed nature of the Magisterium (primarily, but not exclusively, on the basis of the “binding and loosing” passages in Matthew 16 and 18) submits to the interpretive authority of the Magisterium because he believes it is divinely appointed and therefore speaks with divine authority. If the faithful Catholic’s personal interpretation of Scripture should happen to conflict with Magisterial teaching, he defers to that teaching because he believes the Magisterium teaches with Christ’s own authority.

    Christ did not authorize Luther or Calvin or Cranmer, etc. to “bind and loose” – he gave that authority to his Apostles, and they to their successors down through the ages. Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer are not successors to the Apostles. To claim, many Protestants do, that the Apostles did not pass down their teaching offices and authority to any successors is to subscribe to ecclesial deism.

    For a brilliant and much fuller explanation of the different epistemic positions of Protestants and Catholics, I highly recommend Ray Stamper’s post entitled “The Catholic and Protestant Authority Paradigms Compared.”

    In Him,
    Frank

  58. re #56

    Jack,

    You wrote: Ultimately the individual personally makes a judgment.

    Good by me. However note that the judgment I ultimately made was in favor of what Jesus said. Jesus said, “I tell you most solemnly, if you do not eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you will not have Life in you.” Jn 6:53.

    After hearing it, many of His followers said, “This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?” Jn 6:60

    After this many of His disciples left Him and stopped going with Him. Jn 6:66

    And as they were eating He took some bread, and when He had said the blessing He broke it and gave it to them. “Take it,” He said, “this is My Body.” Then He took a cup, and when He returned thanks He gave it to them and all drank from it, and He said to them, “This is My Blood, the Blood of the Covenant, which is to be poured for many.” Mark 14:22-24

    You wrote: Yes, I believe the Reformed confessions are true, faithful, and authoritative interpretations of Scripture, received as such by those churches that adhere to them.

    If the individual believes what Jesus actually said, where would he or she go to find the Church which actually believes what Jesus said? That is what I went through on the way from evangelicalism to Catholicism. I did check in with Luther and Calvin, yet swam the Tiber.

    There is an interesting conclusion to John 6. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “What about you, do you want to go away too?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe, we know that you are the Holy One of God.” Jn 6:67-69

    It is of particular interest to me because when I completed this journey, I found myself standing next to Peter, and I had absolutely no doubt about Who Peter was standing next to. That is a Catholic thought.

    Cordially,

    dt

  59. Frank,

    you wrote: If his denomination were to introduce a change in its creeds or doctrines or practices that were in conflict with the Protestant believer’s personal interpretation of Scripture, and the Protestant could not in good conscience change his view to agree with the changes in his denomination, his only recourse is to move to another church or denomination that confesses doctrines, etc. that do agree with that believer’s interpretation of Scripture – or start his own church

    You offer a false choice. As a churchman in a confessional Presbyterian church I could and would stay in that church. And if there is a need for reconsideration of the doctrine in question by the entire church, there is a church order by which an individual, local church, or presbytery can initiate the revisiting of that issue. But, as it is said, the devil is in the details. What would you do if at some time the Pope announced an authoritative “further” understanding of Christ that undermined his humanity or divinity or? Not that I would expect that at all. It’s not all about just one’s “personal choice” as your caricature implies.

    But I do agree, we are operating from different epistemological positions.

    Yet, as a Roman Catholic, you “believe” certain interpretations of Scripture that, as you argue, establish and reinforce your acceptance of the Papal office and its teachings as the final authority. So when that Office speaks, that settles it. As you demonstrate, acceptance of that belief, of that Office is based on an interpretation of Scripture, Matt. 16 & 18 that you espouse and believe, along with Rome.

    blessings…

  60. Jack, (re#59):

    You offer a false choice. As a churchman in a confessional Presbyterian church I could and would stay in that church. And if there is a need for reconsideration of the doctrine in question by the entire church, there is a church order by which an individual, local church, or presbytery can initiate the revisiting of that issue. But, as it is said, the devil is in the details. What would you do if at some time the Pope announced an authoritative “further” understanding of Christ that undermined his humanity or divinity or? Not that I would expect that at all. It’s not all about just one’s “personal choice” as your caricature implies.

    I should not have presumed to know what you, as an individual, would do in the scenario I outlined. But the point still holds, as any look in the Yellow Pages under “Churches” will confirm. Even in the days of the Magisterial Reformers this principle was at work. If it were not, we would have only one Protestant denomination, Lutheranism.

    Yet, as a Roman Catholic, you “believe” certain interpretations of Scripture that, as you argue, establish and reinforce your acceptance of the Papal office and its teachings as the final authority. So when that Office speaks, that settles it. As you demonstrate, acceptance of that belief, of that Office is based on an interpretation of Scripture, Matt. 16 & 18 that you espouse and believe, along with Rome.

    What I believe is that only the Church personally founded by Jesus Christ has the authority to infallibly interpret the Scriptures, because it is the Body of Christ and Christ, the Head, in the power of the Holy Spirit, protects it from error. And I believe this because I believe in the God-Man Jesus Christ, who teaches us to “take it to the Church” (MT 18:17) – and there is only one Church He personally founded.

    So, in the order of knowing it goes: 1) I believe Jesus Christ is God, one with the Father and Holy Spirit; 2)He establishes a Church on the Rock of Peter with the power to bind and loose; 3) the teachings of that Church are divinely protected from error, as He promised. Protestants and Catholics both believe #1, but only Catholics believe #2 and #3 in the fullest historical sense.

    We are in the same epistemic boat when it comes to #1 — our “motives of credibility” for our belief in the Triune God are the same. We are in different boats as regards #2 and #3 because Protestants believe the true Gospel was lost and the Church failed. Have you considered what this would mean regarding Christ’s promise that “the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it”? It would mean that Christ could not keep this promise to protect the Church. And if He could not keep that promise, was He really God?

    In Him,
    Frank

  61. Frank(60),
    So, in the order of knowing it goes: 1) I believe Jesus Christ is God, one with the Father and Holy Spirit; 2)He establishes a Church on the Rock of Peter with the power to bind and loose; 3) the teachings of that Church are divinely protected from error, as He promised. Protestants and Catholics both believe #1, but only Catholics believe #2 and #3 in the fullest historical sense.

    Agreed. Does #3 include the teachings of Vatican II?

    To much to cover and really do justice to the topic. I would invite you to read this article by Michael Horton, titled “WHAT STILL KEEPS US APART?” from the book, Roman Catholicism – Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Divides and Unites Us, as these issues have been better researched and expounded upon by others.

    http://www.the-highway.com/Horton_cath.html

    Quote, in part:
    One further note must be added to the discussion of Rome’s official (and, therefore, binding) pronouncements. Prior to Vatican II, a devout Catholic and Protestant in America would happily work side by side but would not even dream of attending an event sponsored by the other person’s church. But the Council radically changed the ethos of parish life for Catholics. The Mass was now conducted in English, the charismatic movement brought Catholics into closer proximity to evangelicals, and Bible studies were encouraged. Protestants began to exult that Rome was going through the Reformation after five centuries of rejection. Upon closer inspection, however, Vatican II appears to have sown the seeds of its own destruction, and that is attested to by many Catholic theologians who, after three decades, are wondering if the Council unleashed Protestant liberalism in the Catholic Church.

    Vatican II not only did not contradict previous dogmas and decrees; it is itself even more seriously flawed at key points than Trent. The universalism of Karl Rahner, Hans Kung, and Hans Urs Von Balthasar found its way into the Council’s official pronouncements. (See chapter 4 for more on this.) It is not an overstatement to say that whereas Trent avoided the Pelagian heresy, though condemning justification by faith alone, Vatican II embraced the naturalistic perspective.

    again – blessings to you.

  62. Jack, (re: #61)

    If you want to know what Vatican II teaches, I recommend looking at the documents of Vatican II, not Michael Horton’s misrepresentation of those documents. Where in any of the Vatican II documents do you think universalism is taught?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  63. Bryan,

    Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.

    Horton didn’t say universalism was taught in Vatican II. He did say that it had found its way in some of the pronouncements.

    No longer repentance and faith in the Savior Jesus Christ is necessary, but now so-called good deeds according to one’s conscience, aided by grace will suffice for salvation? Sure sounds like a move towards universalism. “Without blame on their part?” I thought all were guilty of sin, which sort implies blame or guilt (Romans 1 & 2). But maybe the pronouncement doesn’t mean what it says…

    -Jack

  64. Jack,

    Are we then agreeing that believers indeed partake of Christ’s body and blood spiritually and not physically and that the actual bread and wine remain? After the words of institution, Paul names the elements bread and cup (1 Co.r 11:26).

    Under the “appearance of bread and wine” we receive the sacramental (not just ‘spiritual’) Body and Blood of Christ. There is a change of the bread and wine, but not at the level of physicality, but at the level of substance. This “substance” goes beyond mere physicality, as God said that those things visible were made by those things invisible (Heb 11:3). So, the bread and wine do become for us the Body and Blood of Christ; yet not “with, in or by”, but actually “as” meaning that what was — in its substance — bread and wine is now for us the Body and Blood of Christ. As St. Augustine taught his catechumens:

    “That Bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God IS THE BODY OF CHRIST. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, IS THE BLOOD OF CHRIST. Through that bread and wine the Lord Christ willed to commend HIS BODY AND BLOOD, WHICH HE POURED OUT FOR US UNTO THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS.” (Sermons 227)”

    “What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that THE BREAD IS THE BODY OF CHRIST AND THE CHALICE [WINE] THE BLOOD OF CHRIST.” (Sermons 272)

    Notice that the Catholic can reconcile your quote from St. Augustine (earlier) with the Catholic doctrine, but I find the converse to be more difficult with these. Somehow trying relating this comment to the article, I think the previous sentence summarizes a “motive of credibility” for a Protestant exploring the claims of the Catholic Church.

    Regarding St. Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians, Catholics, too, use the terms bread and cup in the Eucharistic liturgy:

    “When we eat this bread
    and drink this cup,
    we proclaim your death,
    Lord Jesus,
    until you come in glory.”

    I highly recommend the articles for which I linked earlier. If we are going to discuss this further, I’m happy to move it to another thread.

    Peace in Christ,

    Brent

  65. Brent,

    Thnks for the offer, but I don’t need to pursue this. I do think that over the centuries Rome has moderated its stance somewhat. Thomas Cranmer, who authored the confessional Article (Church of England) on the Eucharist mentioned above, was burned at the stake by Rome, via Queen Mary, primarily for his teaching of that doctrine, of which the core tenet is stated:

    The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.

    and in England’s BCP- in the Holy Communion, also of Cranmer, states:

    WE do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

    and spoken by the clergy upon distributing the elements:

    THE Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.

    THE Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.

    Grace and peace…

  66. Jack (re#60):

    Does #3 include the teachings of Vatican II?

    Short answer: yes. I will also echo what Bryan Cross wrote to you in #62.

    So how do you make the assent of faith to what is taught by your Confessions if they are not protected from error?

    In Him,
    Frank

  67. Frank,

    Again, a tautology: By definition Rome’s teachings are infallible. Therefore her teachings are free from error.
    This is an article of faith for the RCC. So, when a particular teaching or proclamation is questioned, the response is the Matt. 16 & 18 interpretation that Rome doesn’t err.

    The Reformed Confessions and Catechisms are supported not by man, but the Word of God. Our faith looks heavenward not Rome-ward.

    Blessings to you, Frank…

  68. Jack (re: #63)

    You wrote:

    No longer repentance and faith in the Savior Jesus Christ is necessary, but now so-called good deeds according to one’s conscience, aided by grace will suffice for salvation?

    No one who has attained the age of reason, can be saved without repentance and faith in Christ, even if he does not know His Name as “Christ.” The statement you quoted does not say that repentance and faith are not necessary for salvation. It is teaching that God does not fail to give sufficient grace to each person for salvation, even those who have not heard the full account of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s not universalism, because it does not say anything about what percentage of persons will be saved, let alone that all persons will be saved.

    “Without blame on their part?” I thought all were guilty of sin, which sort implies blame or guilt (Romans 1 & 2). But maybe the pronouncement doesn’t mean what it says…

    The “without blame on their part” is not about actual or original sin in general, but instead about the sin of neglecting or ignoring or spurning the “explicit knowledge of God” offered in the gospel of Christ. It is talking about persons who through no fault of their own are ignorant of the gospel; it is not denying original sin, or that all persons commit sin. So the statement is teaching that God does not hold persons in invincible ignorance concerning the gospel blameworthy for not believing the gospel. If they commit other sins, they are blameworthy for those sins, but they cannot be guilty for the sin of “not believing the gospel” if they have never had an opportunity to hear the gospel. That’s not universalism.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  69. Bryan,

    So, is the RCC saying that salvation is available apart from the hearing and believing of the Gospel? I will grant that elect baptized infants are saved, as the election of God through through the sacrament of baptism is efficacious unto salvation. But to say that unbaptized adults, striving to do good according to their own consciences, with some infusion of grace and apart from believing the Gospel, are saved… Well, from a Scriptural point of view seems a quite a stretch. But this is where The Reformed Churches differ from Rome as to authority of doctrine… Scripture or Rome’s declarations. So we disagree, and upon that we certainly can agree!

    Bryan, thank you for indulging my thoughts on your post-thread. Blessings…

  70. Jack (re#67):

    Again, a tautology: By definition Rome’s teachings are infallible. Therefore her teachings are free from error.

    This is not a valid, Jack, because your premise is flawed. When you cite “by definition” you are glancing over the divine nature of the Author of this “definition.” You are implying that the Catholic Church defined herself or founded herself, but it is Jesus Christ who founded this Church and gave her protection from error in formally promulgated doctrines touching upon faith and morals. Do you deny that Jesus Christ founded a Church in Mt. 16? That Church is historically continuous with the Catholic Church of today in ecclesial structure, sacraments and apostolic succession.

    Your Confessions and Catechisms are, in fact, man-made, even if they quote Scripture, because they rely on the fallible interpretations of Scripture promulgated by the early Reformers and any others charged with composing the Reformed Confessions. Those authors do not enjoy divine protection from error, because they were mere men founding their own churches.

    In Him,
    Frank

  71. Frank,

    You asked… “Do you deny that Jesus Christ founded a Church in Mt. 16?”

    Of course not. But Christ’s Church was founded upon Him, i.e. faith in Him as Savior – the Son of God sent for salvation, not in the so-called apostolic succession connected to Peter. But rather upon Peter’s exclamation:

    16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

    The Church is established and kept by the truth of the Gospel of Christ. As Paul wrote in Romans 1, “the gospel, the power unto salvation.”

    Apart from the gospel there is no church. Maybe we agree to disagree here?

    Blessings…

  72. Hi Jack,

    your # 71. What good would Jesus’ renaming of Simon be to “Peter” if he was not the Peter (rock) he was to build His Church on?

    Blessings
    NHU

  73. Jack, #71,

    There certainly are issues and perspectives on which we disagree, and I sense neither of us wants a protracted back and forth on these. So be it.

    I do wish you had addressed the question I posed in #66, which was “So how do you make the assent of faith to what is taught by your Confessions if they are not protected from error?”

    In Him,
    Frank

  74. Jack –

    So, is the RCC saying that salvation is available apart from the hearing and believing of the Gospel?

    I’m sure Bryan will answer your question, but in the meantime, I direct you to this section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which covers justification by faith as understood by the Catholic Church.

  75. Jack, (re: #69)

    So, is the RCC saying that salvation is available apart from the hearing and believing of the Gospel?

    It is possible by the working of the Holy Spirit, to have faith in God, and love for God, without having heard about Jesus as the Second Person of the Trinity, and His incarnation, crucifixion, and ascension. There are a number of examples in the Old Testament of “righteous Gentiles” who are treated in Scripture as God-fearers, even friends of God, but who were likely unaware that God intended to send His Son to die as a sacrifice for our sins. Think of Moses’ father-in-law Jethro, Hiram of Tyre, Rahab, the people of Ninevah, Namaan, Job, even those during the time of Noah who repented at the last moment, after the door of the ark had already been closed — on Holy Saturday Christ went to Abraham’s bosom and preached to those “spirits in prison.” (1 Pet 3:19). And the New Covenant doesn’t damn such persons, or make their condition impossible. But, as Dominus Iesus points out, such persons are in a gravely deficient condition, especially and to the degree that their understanding of God is incorrect. It is much more difficult to be saved without the fullness of the gospel and the means of grace available in the Church. (Dominus Iesus, 22)

    You wrote:

    But to say that unbaptized adults, striving to do good according to their own consciences, with some infusion of grace and apart from believing the Gospel, are saved… Well, from a Scriptural point of view seems a quite a stretch.

    The Church doesn’t teach that such persons “are saved,” but that they can be saved, i.e. it is possible. To be saved they would have to be in a state of grace when they die, and that would require perfect contrition for their sins, i.e. contrition based on love for God above all things, not only on fear of hell, or on the harm their sin had done to their life or their family. I recommend listening to Prof. Feingold’s answers to questions 3 and 4 of the Q&A following his lecture on Actual Grace, which is the second lecture at “Lawrence Feingold on Sanctifying Grace and Actual Grace.”

    The gospel of Christ and the grace offered through the sacraments of the Church are the ordinary means by which we are to grow up into the fullness of conformity to Christ. But because the Holy Spirit is at work in the hearts of all men, and because God is omnipotent, the Church does not rule out the possibility that persons in a condition of invincible ignorance concerning the fullness of the gospel, the means of grace and the Church, can be saved. And the testimony of Scripture supports that teaching, which is not universalism but rather a recognition of the power and mercy of God who desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). St. Paul isn’t being redundant there. Knowledge of the truth about God is very important, but it is not the essence of salvation; we’re not saved fundamentally by gnosis, but by grace. And that’s why even children can be saved, not by denying that they sin, but by the grace that does not absolutely require for salvation a complete understanding of the doctrine of God, the Trinity, and the incarnation, etc.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  76. to my brothers at C2C

    Thank you.

    While you permit me to respond, something much better is occurring. You introduce me to things I never knew, you bring me to a new way to view things, you remind me of things learned and then forgotten, your arguments add depth to my understanding, and I am blessed by your efforts.

    I also find that I am able to apply some of your arguments in other arenas as I stand up for our common faith. Accordingly you have a share in my efforts which is keenly appreciated.

    God bless each and every one of you.

    Cordially,

    dt

  77. One piece of evidence in support of my reply to Horton’s sixth ‘issue’ above is a statement from St. Irenaeus regarding Acts 20:17. That verse reads, “And from Miletus he [i.e. St. Paul] sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders [πρεσβυτέρους] of the Church.” Concerning this passage, St. Irenaeus, writing around AD 180, says the following:

    But that Paul taught with simplicity what he knew, not only to those who were [employed] with him, but to those that heard him, he does himself make manifest. For when the bishops and presbyters who came from Ephesus and the other cities adjoining had assembled in Miletus, since he was himself hastening to Jerusalem to observe Pentecost, after testifying many things to them, and declaring what must happen to him at Jerusalem, he added: “I know that you shall see my face no more. ” (Against Heresies, III.14.2)

    St. Irenaeus indicates here that St. Luke’s use of the term πρεσβυτέρους did not mean that there was no distinction between bishop and presbyter, but rather that the term ‘presbyter’ in its broader sense included both bishops and [mere] presbyters.

  78. Bryan (77),

    Just to add another perspective…. From an acquaintance and Greek scholar (has taught at Catholic U and RTS), commenting to me on your take:

    Well, regardless of what Irenaeus believed, the text clearly indicates that Paul summoned the elders (presbyters) in v 17, he spoke to them ( a deictic particle that can only point to something in the text previously expressed – namely the elders).  In his statement to them he says that it is for this reason, namely the guarding of the flock, that the Holy Spirit has made them overseers/ bishps (episkipoi) v 28.  There is absolutely no textual reason to distinguish offices here.  It does not say that Paul is speaking to one group that is distinct from another in v 28.  The motivation for using a different term seems clear as bishop has the connotations of shepherding and this is what Paul is talking about.  Presbyter has more of the connotation of overseeing and ruling.  

    Further evidence that this is what Paul does is found in Titus 1 vv 5-7: Titus is commanded to appoint elders in Crete and these elders are to maintain a well-ordered household because a bishop, as God’s steward, must be above reproach (v. 7).  You would have to argue that Paul is talking about bishops here exclusively and identifying them by the broader category of elder.  That seems like a stretch to me.  In this view an elder is an office we know precious little about since they’re all turning into bishops.  Is Paul talking about Bishops in 1 Timothy.  Maybe they would say that all these elders that Paul is speaking about are bishops… yes!  That’s what we think.  This is the same office.

    It seems to me from the quote that Irenaeus isn’t arguing for a distinction between the offices, but mentioning a distinction in passing to make another point.

  79. Jack, (#78)

    If your friend thought that I was claiming that St. Irenaeus is arguing here for a distinction between bishop and [mere] presbyter, then your friend misunderstood me. The distinction is well-known to St. Irenaeus. My point, in comment #77, is that St. Irenaeus, who recognized the distinction between bishop and [mere] presbyter, showed in the statement I quoted that he viewed ‘πρεσβυτέρους’ as capable of referring to both bishops and [mere] presbyters.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  80. Hi Bryan (79),

    If I’m reading things correctly, I think your point is what my above quote is speaking to. Paul in the Acts passage is not making a distinction between an office of bishop and a separate office of presbyter. “Presbyters ” and “bishops” used by Paul in that passage are referring to the same men in the same office. So in this passage the Greek for “presbyter” is inclusive of or interchangeable with “bishop” (shepherd, overseer or carer of souls), inasmuch as bishop describes the shepherding function of an elder in relation to the his flock, i.e. elders are shepherds or bishops – not two distinct offices.

    Now Irenaeus might have been indicating that there is a distinction of office here. And you seem to be saying that based on Irenaeus, the word presbyter can be or is inclusive of two offices (bishop and mere presbyter). But that take doesn’t necessarily follow from Irenaeus’ words. And if Irenaeus is making that point (which the text doesn’t seem to support), he undermines that understanding by next quoting Paul without qualification. For when speaking to all those (presbyters) gathered, Paul refers to them jointly as bishops, no distinctions. Thus the point made in the quote: There is absolutely no textual reason to distinguish offices here. You might gather support from other sources, but I think this Scripture passage is insufficient at a minimum.

    blessings…

  81. Jack, (re: #80)

    I agree that in this passage in Acts, St. Paul and St. Luke are not making a distinction between presbyters and bishops. Whether that is because all the men assembled there in Miletus were bishops (and therefore also presbyters), or because the term ‘presbyter’ is being used there to refer to a group of men, some of whom were bishops, the others being [mere] presbyters, I do not know. Acts 20:27 does not entail that all the men present were bishops; [mere] presbyters, under the authority of the bishop also participate in overseeing the flock. Also, as I pointed out in my previous comment, I’m not claiming here (in comment #77) that St. Irenaeus is arguing here (III.14) for a distinction between bishop and [mere] presbyter. He shows elsewhere that he is well aware of the distinction. For example, he writes:

    Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. (Against Heresies, IV.26)

    And, for example, he writes:

    Cerdo was one who took his system from the followers of Simon, and came to live at Rome in the time of Hyginus, who held the ninth place in the episcopal succession from the apostles downwards. (Against Heresies, I.27.)

    And of course St. Irenaeus, who had spent some time with the Church at Rome, knew that there were at any one time a plurality of presbyters in the Church at Rome. Hyginus was not the ninth presbyter in the Church at Rome; there had been many more presbyters. He was the ninth bishop of the Church at Rome, indicating obviously that St. Irenaeus was well aware of the distinction in office.

    You wrote:

    And you seem to be saying that based on Irenaeus, the word presbyter can be or is inclusive of two offices (bishop and mere presbyter). But that take doesn’t necessarily follow from Irenaeus’ words.

    I agree that it doesn’t “necessarily follow” from what he says in III.14 alone. But when you take into consideration the whole of his corpus, and his explicitly stated awareness of the distinction between bishop and [mere] presbyter in other places in his writing, as well as the universal practice of the Church regarding the distinction between bishop and [mere] presbyter at the time St. Irenaeus is writing this work (c. AD 180), then what he says in III.14 indicates that he believed that St. Luke’s use of the term πρεσβυτέρους did not mean that there was no distinction during the life of St. Paul between bishop and presbyter, but rather that St. Luke was using the term ‘presbyter’ in its broader sense such that it included both bishops and [mere] presbyters.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  82. Question, for Jack/Bryan/whomever:

    Jack, you quote (#78) an acquaintance (and Greek scholar) as saying, “The motivation for using a different term seems clear as bishop has the connotations of shepherding and this is what Paul is talking about. Presbyter has more of the connotation of overseeing and ruling. ”

    Since…

    1. “episkopos,” when used outside of Christian context in day-to-day Koine Greek, means “overseer,” and the term “episcopate” from Acts 1 is translated in some Bibles as “office of leadership”; and since…

    2. “presbyteros,” when used outside of Christian context in day-to-day Koine Greek, means “elder,”

    …why does this scholar-friend say that, of the two, presbyter has more connotations of overseeing and ruling? I’d think it would be the converse, with an “elder” being accorded the respect one gives an older brother, and “overseer” the higher respect of someone who’s in charge over many people.

    And why does he associate “episkopos” instead with “shepherding?” Wouldn’t that rather be the connotations with “poimen?” Was he getting confused about which word’s connotations he was referencing?

    Jack, you know this friend so I guess you can speak to his intended logic. But anyone who knows more about Greek than I do and who can explain this, feel free to answer.

  83. R.C. (82),

    Well, I’m certainly no Greek scholar, to say the least, but looking at vs. 28,

    “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of God…”

    I don’t think the point is that presbyter/elder and bishop have distinct different meanings (they’re basically interchangeable in Paul’s letters), rather that in this verse the use of the word “bishop” gains contextual meaning from Paul’s admonition to care for the flock – i.e. as shepherds – and as shepherds feeding that flock – i.e. the church of God. The previous use of the word presbyter seems to speak more to the general office of ruling or oversight.

    From Strong’s Greek Concordance…
    episkopos: (used as an official title in civil life), overseer, supervisor, ruler, especially used with reference to the supervising function exercised by an elder or presbyter of a church or congregation.

    So in this case an elder/presbyter/bishop in the church would be one who oversees, rules, supervises, and shepherds….

    My non-scholarly 2 cents! Cheers,
    Jack

  84. Jack,

    Thanks very much for your reply.

    Do you feel that the definition from Strong’s gives shepherd connotations to either episkopos or presbyteros? It doesn’t say shepherd; so if we’re arguing from the words as they existed prior to Christian usage I don’t think we’d get a livestock-herding connotation from either “overseer” or “elder.”

    Of course I don’t deny that in all Christian practice, one of the duties of an episkopos is to shepherd some portion of Jesus’ sheep. I’m just saying that this notion comes to us after-the-fact. If we had no exposure yet to Christianity, those connotations wouldn’t be there.

    And, neither would any connotations that led us to believe that all episkopoi are presbyteroi, or that all presbyteroi are episkopoi. There’s nothing about the word “overseer” that says “an older person” and there’s nothing about “an older person” that immediately implies “has oversight authority over me” save in the general respect-your-elders sense. Knowing Christian practice as we do, we apply the connotations derived from our own church lives to these words, but the connotations are not, I think, present when one compares a sheep-herder, a Roman construction team foreman, and a randomly-selected greybeard. A non-Christian Greek would not see those three men, and see them as all being the same.

    So I don’t think the civic life connotations give us much. These words are being used as loan-words in the earliest New Testament writings, and may not yet have fixed definitions. Any of Paul’s letters will likely have this rough-and-ready imprecision. But by the time we get to the second century and the writings of the early fathers (Irenaeus, Ignatius of Antioch) they’ll have acquired specific usages in the Christian context. They’ll be terms of art. They’ll be “Christian lingo.”

    That, I suppose, is where we’d have to look for evidence of any distinctiveness of the episkopoi among the other presbyteroi.

    Another thing about the definition you cite: I don’t really see it as injurious to the Catholic view.

    I suppose I could throw a little suspicion on that definition purely by noting that it’s Strong’s Concordance…. By which I mean, the person writing that definition was not Eastern Orthodox or Catholic, and may have taken their denominational presuppositions into the definition.

    Anybody could do that and I’m not intending to pick on the highly respected scholarly work, including the numbering system used by, well, just about everybody.

    But for the purposes of the question in dispute, isn’t it slightly suspect to say, “Hey, as a Protestant, I think that episokopos and presbyter always refer to identical offices,” and then go on to say, “and, look here, this dictionary provided by this Methodist scholar and his team defines episkopos (in a church context) as referring to presbyters!” Well, yes, I’m certain it does!

    Anyhow, I could take that approach, but it seems unnecessary: The definition actually fits the Catholic view just fine, provided we tweak it ever so slightly; e.g. “episkopos: (used as an official title in civil life), overseer, supervisor, ruler, especially used with reference to the supervising function exercised by an elder or presbyter who oversees a church.” (Replacing “of” with “who oversees” and striking out “or congregation.”)

    For of course a bishop, in the Catholic view, always is (at minimum) a presbyter, and typically oversees a Church (as in, “The Church sojourning at Ephesus” or “The Church sojourning at Rome”).

    Anyhow these are all observations, not really arguments. I wanted to know why your friend seemed to assign certain connotations to the Greek words. It seems pretty clear to me that those connotations come from familiarity with centuries of Christian usage, not from anything particularly shepherdly about overseers or overseerly about elders or elderly about shepherds in the pre-Christian usage.

    Why make the distinction?

    Well, because if we use the definitions of the words in Greek as arguments for what they meant in the writings of very early Christians, we must be careful to not drag any anachronistic connotations in.

    Likewise, a hundred years later, when we see the same terms, we must realize that by that time, the terms have become lingo and have thus acquired whole new sets of connotations. For Irenaeus, an episkopos will be shepherd-like because all his life he’s seen episkopoi acting as pastors (poimen). And he knows that his audience already knows all that and doesn’t need it explained. But if he’d had no exposure to Christian authority structures and the new meanings they gave to those terms, he’d have no reason to connect them.

  85. R.C. (84),

    You: Do you feel that the definition from Strong’s gives shepherd connotations to either episkopos or presbyteros? It doesn’t say shepherd; so if we’re arguing from the words as they existed prior to Christian usage I don’t think we’d get a livestock-herding connotation from either “overseer” or “elder.”
    Me: Scripture, i.e. Paul’s words give the connotation of shepherd to “overseer and/or elder” in this instance. That is the controlling context as far as Church doctrine is concerned. Strong’s simply equates the words presbyter and bishop.

    You: Another thing about the definition you cite: I don’t really see it as injurious to the Catholic view.
    Me: True, not necessarily. It depends how one wants to define that view.

    You: I suppose I could throw a little suspicion on that definition purely by noting that it’s Strong’s Concordance…. By which I mean, the person writing that definition was not Eastern Orthodox or Catholic, and may have taken their denominational presuppositions into the definition.
    Me: and if it were a Roman Catholic concordance would that likewise raise suspicion of bias in your mind?

    You: Well, because if we use the definitions of the words in Greek as arguments for what they meant in the writings of very early Christians, we must be careful to not drag any anachronistic connotations in.
    Me: Indeed. Therefore whenever possible, let the plain reading of the passage control the meaning. Scripture is, by and large, perspicuous. Two nouns or descriptives, presbyters and bishops, are being used by Paul to address the same group of men.

    Blessings…

  86. Jack (85),

    Thanks for the reply.

    Got it; it’s fine to draw connotations for early Christian usage of a term from whatever Paul is saying about it. I’d gotten the impression that there was some argument intended to show that the one word necessarily implied identity with the other word in pre-Christian usage. I don’t see any evidence of that at all. But that Paul would use the terms interchangeably during those first three decades is exactly what we should expect.

    I guess the next step is this: Given that Christian usage begins by using loan-words which initially have no fixed “Christian-lingo” meaning, and develops specific “Christian-lingo” definitions for those words over time, do you grant that in the earliest Christian writings (e.g. Paul’s earlier letters) we probably have Paul using episkopos and presbyteros in a fashion which was entirely correct (indeed, inerrant) for their mid-first-century usage, but which a hundred years later would be incorrect…not because the truth has changed, but because the usage of the words has?

    What I mean is this: By the time we hit Ignatius of Antioch, writing his various letters en route to his martyrdom, we have a really obvious distinction being drawn between episkopos and presbyteros. And that’s a guy who was trained in Christianity by the Apostle John, who was made bishop of Antioch by Peter after the death of Evodius, who had been put in place by Peter after Peter finished “planting” the church there. We may presume that Ignatius had learned his lessons sufficiently well to have gained the trust of the apostles, for Peter to have placed him in leadership in this way. He’s not just making stuff up.

    But the earlier we go, the more loosey-goosey everyone is about using these terms because they aren’t yet official, “ecclesial” terms, but loan-words from secular Greek.

    So consider this scenario:

    ————-

    It’s the year 55. You are a Christian, a friend of Peter himself, and Peter has just introduced you to a fellow named Evodius, whom Peter calls one of Christ’s Stewards in the Messianic Kingdom. Later in the conversation Peter refers to Evodius as “the shepherd” (poimen) for all the Christians in Antioch. A minute or two later, Peter states that the heretics can’t properly celebrate the Eucharist because they lack that gift from Christ, but that Evodius and “all the other elders (presbyteroi) in Antioch” can do so.

    So let us say that you’re an analytical, picky, detail-oriented sort, and you ask Peter why he just called Evodius an “elder” rather than “overseer.” As the shepherd of all the Christians in Antioch, isn’t he more of an “overseer?” Isn’t it more accurate to call all the other presbyters Evodius oversees “elders,” and this fellow Evodius an “overseer?” How will Peter respond?

    He’ll say, “Well of course he’s an overseer. I just finished introducing him to you as our chief guy in Antioch and saying that all the other presbyters there are supposed to follow his lead (and he ordained some of them, besides). But that doesn’t make him any less a presbyter! Sure, his hair isn’t white just yet — give him a few years, and he’ll look more like an elder! — but he’s a mature Christian who’s been with us almost since the beginning, and he’s full of sound doctrine, which is why I put him in a position of leadership.”

    So then you ask, “Well, what about all those other elders in Antioch? Are they overseers, too?”

    At this point Peter looks a little put out. (He’s famously impatient when people start making things too complicated, and actually winces whenever he reads some of Paul’s letters.) “Well, yes, in the sense that the faithful look on them as leaders and are to respect them. And of course they celebrate the sacrifice and preach Christ crucified. So they’re overseers of the flock in that way. They can’t go ordaining anyone, however: They haven’t been given that authority by Christ through us. So are they leaders? Sure. Are they overseers? Sure. Are they overseers in some of the same ways that Evodius is? Sure. Are they overseers in ALL the same ways Evodius is? No. But they still have a great gift from Our Lord through us, through the laying on of hands.”

    Fast-forward a few decades. Peter and Paul have been martyred in Rome, and folks have been following the early habit of using terms like poimen and presbyteros and episkopos interchangably, as Peter did. But you’re not the only picky and analytical Christian out there, and by the year 90 even the patient, kind, elderly Apostle John is getting sick of having to clarify things every time he uses these terms. Worse, after the Jerusalem temple was destroyed by the Romans, people started using the term hierus for the Christian clergy, a term which formerly was mostly only used for the Jewish priests of the Old Covenant. So now four terms are floating around.

    The result of this is more confusion, which leads to the following conversation, which takes place near Antioch sometime before the end of the first century:

    “Look. From now on, let’s all agree to use our terms the same way so that we don’t have to clarify everything.”

    (Nods of agreement from around the table.)

    “Let’s do it this way: When we say hierus we mean anyone who may consecrate the Eucharist (unless we’re talking about the Old Covenant Levite guys for some reason). When we say presbyteros we mean the same. When we say episkopos, we mean guys who can consecrate the Eucharist AND ordain…which means for practical intents and purposes that we’ll want to have one of those in every region, to ordain new presbyters as the number of Christians in that region grows. And we’ll call someone a poimen whenever there’s a group of congregants whom he shepherds through his preaching and admonition.”

    Someone objects, “Does that mean we’ll only call someone a poimen if he’s an episkopos?”

    Someone else says, “No, because on Any Given Sunday, if there’s more than one place where Christians gather for the Eucharist, we can’t have the episkopos at both of them simultaneously. He’ll be at the biggest of course, which is usually the oldest. But at Antioch and elsewhere we already have other meeting places. Call ‘em ‘satellite campuses’ if you will. And Ignatius, like Evodius before him (God rest his soul), has assigned some of his presbyters to handle those, and everyone already calls those guys “poimen” even though everyone knows that Ignatius is now the chief poimen in Antioch.”

    (brief silence)

    “Okay, so anyone who does the Eucharist for a regularly meeting group, that’s a poimen. But the episkopos is the main, chief poimen. When he’s present, any poimen who can’t ordain defers to him, because he can. He’s like the apostles that way. And the poimen who can’t ordain, we’ll call a presbyter, but not an episkopos, because from now on we’re going to use the term episkopos for the guys who oversee not only the flock, but also the other presbyters. Clear enough?”

    At this point, a nearby deacon who’s a bit slow on the uptake (and unknown to him, a distant ancestor of Kevin Kline) says, “What was the middle part again?” But the conversation breezes on….

    “Okay, so a poimen preaches and offers the sacrifice at a regular gathering, which means he’s a hierus. Which means he’s at minimum a presbyteros. But some presbyteroi are also episkopoi, meaning they can ordain…right?”

    “By George, I think he’s got it.”

    (brief silence)

    “Who’s George?”

    “Forget it. Are we agreed? Is this a good way to avoid confusion from here on out?”

    (in a slightly doubting tone-of-voice:) “Maybe. I can see how it’s less confusing…a bit. But you know, this isn’t quite the way that Paul used those terms. Sometimes he’d call an episkopos a presbyter.”

    “Well, an episkopos IS a presbyter.”

    “Okay, but at least one time he called a presbyter an episkopos, too.”

    “Yes, but we all know what he meant. He meant that in the absence of someone who could ordain, someone who could officiate at the Eucharist was also serving as a leader, overseeing those who gathered to celebrate it. Nobody’s denying that. But we’re all tired of having to explain who has what authority, and we need to have words which will allow us to draw distinctions.”

    “Well, what about using the Jewish terms? I mean sometimes we call the presbyters ‘Levites’ and the episkopos ‘Kohen’ or ‘Priest,’ right?”

    “Yeah, but mostly only among those of us raised as Jews. I mean we see the fulfillment of God’s promises a bit better than most of our Greek brethren (no offense to those Greeks present). The Greeks don’t usually have much exposure to any of that.

    “So, yeah, it’s theologically correct, but is it practical? We’d have to explain all that Old Covenant terminology to every new Greek we baptize…and they constitute most of our new converts these days! Haven’t you ever heard of being ‘seeker-sensitive?’ No. Let’s stick with Greek terminology. Few people know any Aramaic, let alone Hebrew, but everyone knows Greek. Haven’t you noticed how whenever we start discussing some of Paul’s more complex writings, all the Greek guys laugh nervously and say, ‘That’s Aramaic, to me?’ So let’s keep it simple.”

    ————-

    Obviously I’m taking some creative liberties in the above scenario. But hopefully it illustrates a few points:

    1. The fact that two terms are used interchangeably early on, when they’re mere loan-words without strictly defined ecclesial definitions, doesn’t mean there aren’t distinctions to be drawn. It just means that mutually-exclusive usages for the two terms isn’t how people are currently drawing those distinctions.

    2. The fact that we find distinctions being drawn later, using the same terms, doesn’t mean that the distinctions themselves are mere innovations or deviations from sound doctrine. It just means that usage has evolved.

    3. All of this is perfectly plausible and expected in normal human experience. But there’s no reason to expect any of it to be recorded in Scripture in an explicit way. The authors of the New Testament were writing to Christians who, they assumed, had already been taught all the basics about “repentance from dead works, and baptisms, and the laying on of hands” and so on. These authors assumed that they needn’t bother to explain these basics all over again…so they didn’t. Those basics are “in” the New Testament in the sense of being assumed, but they’re not explicitly spelled out because not one of the books of the New Testament was written to be a Catechism or an RCIA curriculum.

    Thus, if you try to start from the New Testament alone and reverse-engineer all the basics that way, you’ll have to fallibly deduce a lot of things and fallibly fill in a lot of holes about matters which the authors of the New Testament books assumed their readers already knew. (Small wonder if some of those deductions go wrong! Small wonder if other people, attempting the same process, come to different conclusions!)

    But such gaps in Scripture would be unremarkable for the early Christians, especially the Jews, because the Old Covenant Scriptures weren’t “sufficient and perspicuous” either. They were revered as the Word of God, of course…but if all you have is the Torah, the Ketuvim, and the Neviim, you don’t even have enough detail to do some of the sacrifices! (Not an insignificant detail!) You couldn’t “reverse engineer” Judaism from those texts alone and even hope to get it right. The oral tradition, which was the context in which the those Scriptures were meant to be read, allowed you to fill in the missing instructions.

    Likewise, it’s only by looking at some of the early fathers that you’ll be able to fill in some of these blanks more reliably for Christianity. This isn’t scandalous; it’s normal. After all, one doesn’t spurn to use 1st- and 2nd-century non-Christian writings to help understand the definitions of Greek words. How much more, then, is it okay to use 1st- and 2nd-Century Christian writings?

    If it’s natural for Ignatius of Antioch to say (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 8:2, Epistle to the Trallians 7:2) that in a given city there’s one bishop assisted by many presbyters, then by that time it’s probably natural for everyone else, too…at least in the environs of Antioch. The terms, apparently, have evolved since Paul’s day: No great surprise. Terms do that.

    “But they aren’t used in Scripture that way!” one might object. No great surprise. Why should they be? When Paul was writing, nobody was using them that way yet.

    “But there’s no clear, obvious passage in the New Testament to indicate that some presbyters have a different level of authority than others!” No great surprise. Why should there be? It’s not like the New Testament contains a Catechism. Many basic doctrines are clear and obvious in the New Testament, they aren’t all clear and obvious. No New Testament book was written as an exhaustive list, let alone a dictionary, of all the basic doctrines.

    One can assert that all the basic doctrines are sufficiently-clearly stated in Scripture that any honest-minded reader will be able to derive them without error. But that’s a pretty bold doctrinal statement in-and-of-itself…and one, obviously, not found in Scripture. (Peter’s remark about people misunderstanding Paul’s “hard to understand” writings, “to their own destruction,” would tend to contradict it, in fact.)

    That, at least, is how I approach it.

    The alternative, it seems, would be to suggest that a guy taught Christianity by the Apostle John and who was made leader of the church at Antioch by Peter was, a few decades later, busily making up unorthodox stuff while he was being carted off to Rome to be martyred.

    I find that hard to swallow, y’know?

  87. R.C.,

    Seriously, just a little more concise? I find wading through all your assumptions, hyptheticals, and fictional narratives just a bit hard to follow, let alone to swallow. Let me know when this comes out in Cliff Notes… ;-)

    The above tome of yours reminded me of one of your earlier commets with which I do agree:

    we must be careful to not drag any anachronistic connotations in.

    Indeed.

    May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you this Lord’s day…

  88. As Doug Wilson has stated, “I don’t believe that I am always right, but I always believe that I am right.”

    (I have no idea whether the quote is original with him, but it clearly states the right to have convictions and to stand for them without apology.) Behind all of our convictions, however, lie a conglomeration of concepts AND sentiments. To place our sentiments off limits is to limit the conversation. I don’t believe Michael Horton is engaging in an ad hominem attack on RC converts. He is merely acknowledging what everybody knows…any conversion includes emotional as well as intellectual motivations. I cannot even begin to imagine what would make me reconsider Reformed theology. I do not believe anything intellectual exists which would be forceful enough. Now, I couldn’t say that if I had little to no familiarity with church history or the development of doctrine. Then something I didn’t expect could easily trip me up. (I’m not saying I know nearly as much as I’d like to know. Just that I don’t anticipate any major surprises. I am suspicious, therefore, when so many on this blog encounter “shocking new revelations” in their studies. )

    When so many Protestant SEMINARIANS start converting, I can only imagine one thing to be the cause: some sort of trauma (stress, grief, remorse, shame, pride, fear, uncertainty). These are well-educated men and women leaving convictions they had previously fully understood and committed themselves to. Repudiation of a former commitment doesn’t happen very often in academia, seldom at all. The only instances I am even aware of happened as a result of conversion to Christianity. (Of course, many undergraduates “find themselves” and “repudiate” their upbringing, but for most of them, this “new” identity is their first true commitment.)

    In terms of ordinary folks in the pews, of those I have personally known who have converted to Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, none were committed to Reformed theology…or any particular Protestant school of thought for that matter. They were in flux, waiting for a place to land.

    I respect those here who have changed their minds and their commitments. That takes courage and a lot of hard work. But if I converted, I would expect others to “just-so” psychoanalyze my decision as stemming from hidden emotions. And I am convinced that they would, at least in part, be correct.

    –Eirik

  89. Eirik,

    When so many Protestant SEMINARIANS start converting, I can only imagine one thing to be the cause: some sort of trauma (stress, grief, remorse, shame, pride, fear, uncertainty).

    That is condescending and patronizing, not to mention uncharitable. I can only assume that your reason for making such an assumption is because your mother dressed you up as a little girl when you were young. (See what I did there?)

    Repudiation of a former commitment doesn’t happen very often in academia, seldom at all.

    Newman? Bouyer? Kreeft? Howard? Neuhaus? Beckwith?

  90. Eirik (re:#88),

    Greetings (again)! You wrote:

    In terms of ordinary folks in the pews, of those I have personally known who have converted to Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, none were committed to Reformed theology…or any particular Protestant school of thought for that matter. They were in flux, waiting for a place to land.

    I’m an ordinary guy in the pew and have never been to seminary, but as a Protestant, I *was* very committed to the “5 Sola’s” and to Calvinist soteriology. So much so, that in my last Protestant ecclesial community, before returning to the Catholic Church, I pressed for Reformed theology to be drawn out more explicitly from the Biblical texts, in the sermons, than it actually was at the time. Ironically, I was then disciplined by this same community when I “reverted” to Catholicism. Ahh, life is interesting! :-)

    You also wrote:

    When so many Protestant SEMINARIANS start converting, I can only imagine one thing to be the cause: some sort of trauma (stress, grief, remorse, shame, pride, fear, uncertainty). These are well-educated men and women leaving convictions they had previously fully understood and committed themselves to.

    I notice that you only listed what you would probably say are negative (or at least less than positive) reasons for the conversions of Protestant seminarians to Catholicism. Do you truly believe that these students had (and have) *no* positive reasons for becoming Catholic?

    On the question of certainty playing a role in Catholic conversions, if you haven’t read this, it might be helpful: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/12/desperately-seeking-certainty-or-the-obedience-of-faith/

  91. JJS–

    You may have found it condescending and patronizing and uncharitable, but I can assure you I meant no disrespect. I don’t remember my mother dressing me up, but perhaps it happened. I know without a doubt that my emotions were quite involved when I “converted” from Lutheranism to Presbyterianism. I would love to know exactly how much they contributed.

    I am not trying to discount intellectual motivations; I’m just trying to round out the discussion. This site is not just about theology, but conversion. There’s going to be an emotional element. Since you bring it up, Howard, Kreeft, and Neuhaus seem less emotional in their decisions than Newman and Beckwith. Just my take on it.

    Christopher–

    Hey, again!

    [You sound pretty "passionate" about your purely "intellectual" reversion to Catholicism. :-) ]

    Look, guys, I’m sure you’re both right. I probably shouldn’t have brought it up. But at least for us Protestants, it’s the unacknowledged elephant in the room. It in no way negates (or should in any way intrude upon) the theological arguments. But it happens to be a fascinating sidelight that beckons for exploration.

    Have a great day!

    –Eirik

  92. Eirik (re:#91),

    Of course I don’t claim that my reversion to Catholicism was “purely intellectual.” Human beings are creatures of both intellect and emotion. It would hard to imagine a conversion in which there were no emotions at all.

    The issue to which I referred, in my last comment to you, is that you clearly only referred to rather dark factors (stress, grief, remorse, shame, pride, fear) as your speculative”reasons” for the conversions of Protestant seminarians to Catholicism. Isn’t this slightly condescending on your part? Can you not imagine an informed conversion to Catholicism in which joy plays a major role?

    As for certainty, given that various Protestant denominations cannot exegetically agree among themselves as to what the Bible even teaches on multiple issues, from baptism to whether salvation can be lost or not– is it so unreasonable to posit that God may have instituted an ecclesial teaching authority to resolve these questions, rather than simply leaving us with a situation where the questions are continually debated by disagreeing denominations and individuals?

    What about the huge numbers of illiterate Christians around the world who cannot even *read* the Bible, so as to study it (and the various competing theologies which “Sola Scriptura” Christians hold) and eventually reach their own understandings/interpretations of what it teaches? Where do these brothers and sisters fit in a Reformed paradigm?

  93. Eirik (#91
    It is, of course, inconceivable that a religious conversion could not involve emotion – at least, I find it impossible to imagine. My conversion (from the Reformed faith, which I think I understood well – at least as well as both wide and deep reading could make me) to the Catholic Church was very emotional. There were two principal emotions – deep longing for what, if it were true, the Catholic Church was able to offer me; and overwhelming terror for the consequences of my becoming a Catholic if the Church were not what it said it was.

    What is upsetting to me, and, I doubt not, to all converts to the Catholic Church, is the implication that, i>really, our expression reasons for becoming Catholics were just rationalisations. That actual reasons were purely psychological and irrational.

    Naturally, I could be neurotic as anything, and so badly in denial that I cannot recognise my own rationalisations for what they are. In that case, I suppose, there is little point in talking to me. But I think there is little point in your bringing up emotion unless you think something like this to be the case. That emotion accompanies religious conversion is surely true. That it causes it and is the only real motive for it, if correct, means that you are wasting your time in talking to us.

    So I suggest that you not talk about motivations. We all think that we are Catholics because we believe it to be true, and we think we have reasons for believing that. You’d be more sensible, I think, to concentrate on the reasons, supposed or actual.

    jj

  94. Eirik,

    I will come right out and say it. Becoming Catholic represented the culmination of my passionate pursuit of the One whom I have loved my entire life: The Truth, The Way, the Life (that’s Jesus Christ, btw : ) ). Emotions? You bet. But, just because I fell in love with my wife, doesn’t mean that I didn’t have an enormous amount of rational grounds for marrying her. In fact, she was considered by most in my community the “one you would want to marry”. That was for a whole gambit of reasons that had nothing to do with emotion and more to do with emotional stability, spiritual maturity, and practical ability.

    Nevertheless, I am emotional about her and I am emotional about Christ. Why? Because I love them both. And there reaches a point in your pursuit of Christ where you are willing to follow him wherever he leads you. He is your guide. So, as I traversed the road to Rome, it was very emotional. Emotional in the sense of, “LORD!!!! Please throw me off of this path. Please, Lord, I cannot believe you seem to be leading me to become Catholic”(insert tears, tears, and more tears). Becoming Catholic meant giving up so much, and it sure made the whole narrative of my Christian existence up to that point much more difficult to understand.

    Trauma? Sure. But I would call it “Protestantism induced trauma.” As in, “why are all of these contradicting truth claimants running around in the name of Christ true Bible-believin’ Christianity”. Why? Is it even biblical? So, yes there is trauma; and if you want to find its source, open a phone book under “church” or drive down the street and knock on a few church doors, and I’m sure you can find it.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  95. Eirik,

    [Comment updated]

    In your efforts to “round out the discussion,” you are making two claims that at best stand in tension with each other.

    On the one hand, you wrote:

    When so many Protestant SEMINARIANS start converting, I can only imagine one thing to be the cause: some sort of trauma (stress, grief, remorse, shame, pride, fear, uncertainty). [emphasis added]

    But on the other hand, you wrote:

    I am not trying to discount intellectual motivations; I’m just trying to round out the discussion.

    What gives? I acknowledge that there is a difference between some kinds of causes (e.g., efficient causes) and motivations, but I am not sure that the psychological states in your list can themselves can be causes (either efficient or final) of conversion. Unless we can specify the sense in which these states are causes, it might be better to classify them as something else. I can understand how the desire to find relief from stress, grief, remorse, shame, pride, fear, and / or uncertainty could be a motive for conversion, and thus the (putative) relief from these ills could be a final cause, or purpose of conversion.

    A thorough analysis of the causes of conversion will depend upon an assessment of the position to which one has converted. Thus we will not agree on the causes until we agree on the nature of the case. In the case of conversions to the Catholic Church, the grace of God is a cause of conversion, since he moves the will to believe. (A free act of the will is also the cause of conversion, since the will is not moved by grace as the staff is moved by the hand, but in accordance with its own nature.) Now, I don’t expect you to agree that the grace of God is a cause of conversions to Catholicism, which just highlights the fact that we need to get to the source of our disagreement over the Catholic Church before we can assess the causes of Catholic conversion in a non-question-begging way.

    As for (final) causes in the sense of motivation for conversion, it only makes sense to allow Catholic converts to explain their own motives / purposes. It makes little sense to sit around and just imagine what are someone else’s motives when you could simply ask them. That is the quickest way to learn the truth of the matter, assuming, of course, that that is what one is after.

    Andrew

  96. Eirik, (re: #88)

    I’ll add to what Andrew just said. You wrote:

    To place our sentiments off limits is to limit the conversation.

    Of course, no one here is doing that, nor did I do so in my article above. No one is claiming either that our sentiments are “off limits” with respect to the topic of conversation, or that our sentiments had no role whatsoever in our becoming Catholic. So, that would be a strawman of our position.

    He is merely acknowledging what everybody knows…any conversion includes emotional as well as intellectual motivations.

    No, he is doing more than that. He is implying that emotional reasons — not theological reasons — are the fundamental, determining reasons.

    When so many Protestant SEMINARIANS start converting, I can only imagine one thing to be the cause: some sort of trauma (stress, grief, remorse, shame, pride, fear, uncertainty).

    There is no need to resort to your imagination; you can simply observe the factors they themselves claim to be the cause. Finding out that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded is a sufficient reason, a reason these seminarians themselves give. So, you don’t need to imagine some hidden traumatic psychological cause, because a theological reason is already being given. Of course I understand that you don’t find that theological reason compelling, but that’s because you don’t believe the Catholic Church’s claim about herself to be true. Hopefully, however, if you discovered you were presently in schism from the Church Christ founded, and without the Eucharist, those would be sufficient reasons for you to make whatever changes necessary to rectify that situation. So there’s simply no need to posit psychological or emotional factors are the fundamental causes, and it is arrogant and patronizing to posit such a thing when these seminarians give theological reasons, and when you have not engaged, let alone refuted, the arguments they are giving.

    But if I converted, I would expect others to “just-so” psychoanalyze my decision as stemming from hidden emotions. And I am convinced that they would, at least in part, be correct.

    What JJS said in #89 about your childhood is probably the source of the sentiments that drove you to write everything you said in #88. So, we can dismiss it (and anything else you might say), because it is not stemming fundamentally from a pursuit of truth above all else, but from subconscious factors originating in psychological experiences in your personal history causing you to criticize those who disagree with you, only in order to boost your own self-esteem and emotional security. Of course I’m being facetious, but hopefully my point is obvious: if you seek to live by the sword of deconstructive psychological analysis of those with whom you disagree, you instantly die by that same sword. To draw that sword is to commit intellectual and theological suicide, because it is a universal acid that necessarily reduces your own reasons for holding your Reformed position to similar factors, in just the way that a Dawkins or Dennett might propose.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  97. Bryan you said to Eiruk

    “Hopefully, however, if you discovered you were presently in schism from the Church Christ founded, and without the Eucharist, those would be sufficient reasons for you to make whatever changes necessary to rectify that situation. So there’s simply no need to posit psychological or emotional factors are the fundamental causes, and it is arrogant and patronizing to posit such a thing when these seminarians give theological reasons, and when you have not engaged, let alone refuted, the arguments they are giving.”

    I am not a seminarian but have have been steadily investigating the claims of the Catholic Church, and have just informed my pastors that I have come to the end of my journey. I have great difficulty articulating why it is that believe that I can trust the papacy. Everyone thinks that I am “chucking my brains out the door”; to use their wording. They all are understandably bewildered by my move and I feel badly that I don’t know how to explain things sufficiently. I found myself without a church because I didn’t know if I could count on Luther and Calvin having sound soteriology and ecclessiolgy when those two things clearly go togther and there are differences among the Reformed. Because we are talking about an ancient religion, I cannot see how I am to have a principled way to know if those aspects(soteriolgy and ecclessiolgy) were rightly reformulated to be in keeping with the belief and liturgy of the Apostles. In other words, I have know idea what accretions should be kept and which should be shaved off and I don’t know how the Reformed Fathers would have an enlightenment about how to rightly do this either. I just believe that it is playing with fire to “clean-up” ancient rites.
    But, I admit that I did not adaquately explain this to my pastors, so I for the most part I just linked them to articles here because I hoped that if I told them that these were the arguments that convinced me that they would read them and at least see that my reasons were not emotional or ill informed even if they didn’t come to the same conclusions. You are right about the harm of patronizing and incharitable remarks, I am still aching from the words of my pastor. He said that my reasons to move towards Catholicism are not cogent and that I have mental health issues and am really “running from something” and that he and I should work on ‘that something’ rather than pretend that my difficulties are theological and epistemic. Further, I am told that I will be considered an unbeliever. This is very hard to take coming from men that I love and respect. I am convinced, rightly or wrongly, that I am making the right decision based on the evidence, but I cannot convince anyone else of this. But I will not stoop to saying that my pastors and my family and friends are not Christians. I have no way of knowing this or anything about their emotional health either. Psycho-analysis isn’t helpful and it is really hitting below the belt.

    ~Alicia

  98. Alicia,

    I’m sure you know this already, but I wanted to let you know: nothing you’ve written here suggests that you are any more neurotic than I am, or anyone else here. Never forget that God loves you. You have a right and a duty to use your reason, just as you have a right and a duty to listen to your conscience and to pray and to trust in God. Nobody should make you apologize for doing your best.

    Even if I didn’t agree with you, I would still commend your courage and take your mind and heart seriously. As a matter of fact, I do agree with you, so I commend you all the more.

    Jesus loves your pastor and the men and women of your Church even more than you do, so just leave them in His hands and don’t worry about them. He knows what He’s doing.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  99. Alicia (re:#97),

    Dear sister in Christ, I (and many others here, I am sure) have been through so much of what you describe in your above comment. Most of my friends didn’t understand my reversion to Catholicism. I was formally disciplined by my Protestant elders and congregation and told that I was an apostate who had shipwrecked his faith. I had to forgive these brothers and sisters and move on (while still caring for them and wishing for restoration), but I still feel the loss of their friendships. The loss grieves me, but God has given the strength to continue and persevere. You are not alone. God is with you, and the prayers of the Church, in time (here on earth) and in eternity, are with you. If you need, or just want, to contact me on Facebook, please feel free. Pax Christi.

  100. Alicia,

    Please be assured of our prayers for you as you travel this road. I am saddened but not surprised that your Pastor said that to you. Pray for him and others like him. Often it really is a matter of “Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they speak.”

  101. Christopher (#92)

    1. I only included “dark factors” because I don’t personally believe the Catholic claims to be true. I believe the RC church, in fact, to be injurious to true spirituality. In a crude analogy (I am not in the slightest sense applying this to you), an alcoholic may exude joy upon “falling off the wagon” but the “dark factor” of substance dependence was the hidden cause, no matter how much he waxes poetic concerning his adoration for the taste of ale. And I wouldn’t for a moment doubt the sincerity of his sensual preferences.

    2. Conservative Reformed denominations among themselves agree every bit as much on theology as the Catholics do among themselves (and do a better job of enforcing orthodoxy among their constituents). I do not believe it is unreasonable to posit an ecclesial teaching authority. I just believe it is unreasonable to posit the Roman Catholic magisterium as that authority.

    3. The RC church has a huge problem with syncretism among illiterate third-world Christians. I sincerely believe these Christians would be much better served by Reformed churches who tolerate far less variance on theological tenets and practices.

    I hope you know I was joking about your purely “intellectual” conversion (that’s what the big “smiley face” was for). I always enjoy your comments. I truly mean nothing personal by mine. We disagree on fundamental spiritual issues. That alone causes hard feelings.

    I love you in the Lord,

    –Eirik

  102. JJ (#93)

    I believe it to be almost impossible for even the most brilliant–the most balanced and solid of minds–to recognize their own rationalizations. That’s why God gave us each other.

    You’re probably right that I shouldn’t have brought it up in this forum. Some of you have been beaten up pretty badly by the churches you converted from, who feeling betrayed perhaps, don’t hold back.

    You must keep in mind, however, that many Protestants do not consider Roman Catholicism as a valid Christian expression. You are not “separated brethren” but lost souls. If they love you, therefore, they are going to fight tooth and nail for your return. Anything less would display a sort of indifference, a veritable disregard for your spiritual safety.

    This is not a balanced dialogue we have here. By and large, you all want us to see the light and enhance our walk. We want you back in the arms of Jesus.

    Personally, I take the stance that the RC church itself is invalid, but each parishioner may or may not be in Christ. Heck, I tend to think that Benedict 16 himself is in the faith. But I fight through some rather thick cognitive dissonance to maintain that stance. I would not recommend anyone staying in Catholicism.

    It’s difficult these days to take such stances. Chick-fil-A is presently in a huge mess for simply being itself. There is more and more an unwritten rule that one cannot oppose same-sex marriage without being bigoted toward and disrespectful of homosexuals. In a somewhat similar way, Catholics can get bent out of shape if not considered a “brother or sister” in the faith. I am actually indifferent toward being considered a brother in the faith by Catholics. In the long run, I will not be judging you, and you will not be judging me. Our differences are significant. I don’t really want them white-washed over. Too much smiling and back slapping may obscure our serious mission here.

    I believe in respectful discussion. I believe we can display genuine love one for another.

    I love you, and I’ll be fighting for you.

    –Eirik

  103. Brent (#94)

    Look, I can match you joy for joy. But my “pursuit” was being tracked down by the Hound of Heaven. I came into the Reformed world kicking and screaming, kind of like C.S. Lewis’ observation of being the “most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.” That’s just it. It wasn’t MY pursuit, but God’s pursuit of me. I have read many “journeys to Rome” and they mostly appear humanistic…it was where THEIR pursuit took them…up this hill of philosophy and down that valley of theology.

    I simply don’t get the whole problem people have with thousands of “Protestant” denominations. First off, most of them are not Protestant in any meaningful sense. And secondly, how did we get all these denominations? They didn’t split off from Eastern Orthodoxy! It’s a WESTERN phenomenon. As for the Roman Catholics, read a little Reformation history, the papacy fomented most of this with its suffocation of learning in Medieval times and then its theological inflexibility in the Renaissance, all for political ends.

    I’m not at all convinced that on your journey you looked at every aspect of the situation.

    Much love, nonetheless….

    –Eirik

  104. Andrew (#95)

    You got me. I should have made an attempt to be more accurate and consistent.

    I hope my point still came through. You are exactly right that what you see as relief from stress, guilt, or uncertainty…I might see as wallowing deeper in them.

    –Eirik

  105. Bryan–

    Look, Horton disagrees with your decision. So he has the choice of making your “fundamental, determining reasons” to be categorized under…

    A. Faulty rational judgments, or

    B. Psychological considerations.

    You could tag him with a charge of ad hominem for either one.

    But you’re right, he should have made a much better case theologically.

    Honestly, Bryan, I find the whole claim that the church Christ founded resides in Rome to be so utterly ludicrous that it requires no refutation: it is self-refuting. It’s part of the problem here: how can any reasonably educated person swallow such a thing?

    Normally mild-mannered Carl Trueman gets a little testy with Brad Gregory’s mischaracterization of the pre-Reformation church:

    http://www.reformation21.org/articles/pay-no-attention-to-that-man-behind-the-curtain-roman-catholic-history-and-the-e.php

    I must admit…I get a little testy from time to time, too. The RC claim just doesn’t seem anywhere near reasonable. I believe that magisterial error and heresy are inherently schismatic and that the present RC church is the one in schism. Because of its hierarchical structure and history, it has made it exceedingly difficult for those who remained faithful.

    Psychoanalysis is not inherently destructive. Our emotions are part of the bigger picture here. And you as converts perhaps should answer to the emotional reasons why you renounced earlier commitments. For myself, I do not mind my subjective side being dragged through the mud.

    I would never want this to be a very big part of the conversation, but I do believe it is important enough a factor to warrant discussion.

    I offer you my hand in Christian love,

    –Eric

  106. Alicia–

    For what it’s worth, I believe your pastors are behaving badly. That having been said, I do believe you are placing yourself on the wrong path. It really doesn’t matter so much what your reasons are. It matters whether your conclusions are correct.

    If you remain a Protestant, I pray that you seek out a faithful church that first and foremost CARES about you.

    If you proceed into the Catholic church, I pray the Holy Spirit might give you friends and reading materials that lead you closer and closer to the One who Loves you, the One who will never forsake you.

    May He comfort your heart,

    –Eric

  107. Hi Eirick! You wrote something that I find fascinating:

    I know without a doubt that my emotions were quite involved when I “converted” from Lutheranism to Presbyterianism.

    The part about your emotions is not what fascinates me, it is the fact that you converted from Lutheranism to Presbyterianism.

    Luther believed that his personal interpretations of the scriptures were correct. Calvin believed that his personal interpretations of the scriptures were correct. And neither Calvin nor Luther held the same interpretations of scriptures. Which means that, at a minimum, either Luther or Calvin was preaching heresy. One thing that Luther and Calvin did agree on, however, was that the scriptures are without error.

    Here is what fasinates me. For you to decide that it was Luther, and not Calvin, that was interpreting the scriptures in a heretical manner, means that you must have some standard that you used to measure Luther’s interpretations. That standard enabled you to determine that Luther was a heretic. But I don’t see how that standard can be the scriptures, since Luther, Calvin and you (presumably) believe that the scriptures are without error.

    You are personally determining that the interpretations of scripture made by Luther are in error. But what is the standard that you used to decide that Luther interpreted scriptures wrongly? Is it not the standard that you are measuring Luther’s interpretations of scriptures against merely your own personal interpretations of the scriptures?

    If your “gold standard” for weighing and sorting various interpretations of scriptures is not merely your own personal interpretations of the scriptures, then what is it?

  108. Eirik,

    In #91 you say:

    I am not trying to discount intellectual motivations; I’m just trying to round out the discussion.

    Yet in #88 you say:

    “I can only imagine one thing to be the cause: some sort of trauma (stress, grief, remorse, shame, pride, fear, uncertainty).”

    Clearly if there are intellectual motivations which you are “not trying to discount” it cannot be the case that you “can only imagine one thing to be the cause”.

    So which is it? Is it indeed true that you “can only imagine one thing to be the cause?” Or is it instead the case that there actually are intellectual motivations which should not be discounted – which you do discount when you state that only some form of trauma could be the cause?

    And just as a freebe for your consideration, what do you suppose was the cause of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus? Was it “intellectual motivations”, or was it only the case that there was “some form of trauma” involved?

    Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that you were to answer “Some of both.” Would the fact that there was “some form of trauma” involved in ANY way take away from the motives of credibility Saul evaluated in the light (pun intended) of that event, or the “intellectual motivations” of Saul’s conversion? Would the trauma involved mean that we should assume (as I’m sure that his former colleagues amongst the Pharisees and Sanhedrin assumed) that Saul’s conversion should be considered due purely to psychological factors like “stress, grief, remorse, shame, pride, fear, uncertainty?”

    Pax Christi,
    Jeff Holston

  109. Eirik (#102

    I believe it to be almost impossible for even the most brilliant–the most balanced and solid of minds–to recognize their own rationalizations/

    But this sounds as though there is no hope for us ever to know whether we know the truth – sort of extreme post-modernism. And if the solution is:

    That’s why God gave us each other.

    then, leaving the aside the question why my neighbour’s hang-ups should be preferable to my own, I need to know which ‘other’ I should listen to. Do I listen to those who…

    …do not consider Roman Catholicism as a valid Christian expression… but lost souls…

    Either – as I believe – Jesus intended to leave us a Body that was unified and catholic, whose words I could listen to when I am led astray by my own rationalisations – or, as I think, there is no hope for us to know whether we know the truth. Bible alone is insufficient. I don’t even know how to know that the Bible is the (written) Word of God with certainty unless I have Christ Himself to tell me, either directly or through His apostles – His ‘sent-ones.’ Peter and Paul and James and John can no longer tell me. They cannot even identify which writings are reliable.

    Newman th0ught there was no logical stopping place between Catholicism and utter infidelity. He emphasised ‘logical’ since, as you say, none of us is perfectly logical. But I think He was right. For you to take this position:

    Personally, I take the stance that the RC church itself is invalid.

    implied, I think, that you have a standard by which to judge the Church itself. That standard is, I presume you would say, the Bible. But you must:

    – know that the Bible is the standard
    – know that your understanding of it is correct, and not the result either of errors of thinking nor of those wicked rationalisations

    You will, I know, have reasons for both of them. I can only deal with you by assuming that those reasons are your real reasons and not try to segue aside to supposed rationalisations.

    jj

  110. Eirik,

    Honestly, Bryan, I find the whole claim that the church Christ founded resides in Rome to be so utterly ludicrous that it requires no refutation: it is self-refuting. It’s part of the problem here: how can any reasonably educated person swallow such a thing?

    I offer you my hand in Christian love

    Kinda like where you said you didn’t want to discuss intellectual reasons for converting and then said you can only imagine ONE thing being behind these conversions (trauma, etc.).

  111. Eirik (#105:

    Honestly, Bryan, I find the whole claim that the church Christ founded resides in Rome to be so utterly ludicrous that it requires no refutation: it is self-refuting. It’s part of the problem here: how can any reasonably educated person swallow such a thing?

    I suppose this correction may be unnecessary, but in case it is not – you do understand, do you not?, that the location of Rome is not of the essence of the Church. The papacy was in Avignon during the 70-odd years of the ‘Babylonian Captivity.’ Supposing that one day the Church’s leadership were forced out of Rome and had to make its home in, I don’t know, maybe Auckland, where I live :-), the Church would be the Church Jesus founded nonetheless.

    The point of the Church is not Rome per se – nor even the Pope – there is no Pope for a while when a Pope dies, and the period of Popelessness has, at times in the past, extended to years. The point of the Church is that Jesus’s Body is just that – a body – with its internal organic unity, structure, etc – and that belonging to Christ means being in the Church. You yourself, because you are baptised, are in the Church, albeit not so healthily ‘in’ as though you were a believing Catholic.

    Just thought I’d try to make that clear :-)

    jj

  112. Eirik,

    Thank you for wishing me the best, but I must take issue with something you said.

    “If you proceed into the Catholic church, I pray the Holy Spirit might give you friends and reading materials that lead you closer and closer to the One who Loves you, the One who will never forsake you.”

    I believe, and I may be wrong, that there is a kind of gnosticism in the Reformed Church. You see, I believe to the best of my ability that I am already in the hands of the one who loves me. I could come into contact with less spiritually minded people and in either faith group as well as wrong theological material. How do you spot a true Christian?
    I don’t mean to detract from the kindness that you show because you want me to hold onto the truth that while people will forsake me, our Lord never will, thank you for saying that, but Eirik, my epistemic uncertainty is warranted.

    I’ve come to the conclusion if the Catholic Church isn’t true than Christianity is a farce. All of Protestantaism has adopted ad hoc what aspects of Roman Catholicism they agree with and they discard the rest. This means that there are many little popes running around. I hope that you will read this link.

    Blessings to you!
    Alicia

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2012/06/sola-scriptura-or-non-habemus-papam-a-further-response-to-michael-horton/

  113. “The psychoanalysis response is uncharitable and unhelpful because the Catholic could do the very same thing to Horton, i.e. claim that he is saying what he is saying because of rebellion or insecurity or comfort or money or reputation or fear of men, or whatever. Horton would easily and immediately recognize such a response as uncharitable, and patronizing.”

    Well said.

    Having been raised in an evangelical church and making the decision to become Catholic, I know the personal struggle, the loss of friends, the strange looks from family members and the second guessing from fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as to both my intent and my position in Christ.

    I offered some comments on Dr. Horton’s blog to include both a call for reunification of true followers of Christ under the proper authority which He provided as well as some theological questions at the heart of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide. My comments and answers to their questions included scripture references (and no references to statements by Rome) knowing that my protestant brothers would not accept anything else as proof.

    The response was to ignore the questions posed, ignore the Biblical references and then brand me an idolater, a cultist, outside of God’s love and among the damned. Though I provided a personal profession of my faith, it feel on deaf ears. Though I insisted that I do not “worship” anything or anyone but God – and that the honor, respect and adoration I have as a Catholic for Mary and the saints is not only fitting, but is not idolatry, there was no understanding or willingness to do so.

    Perhaps the best analogy I can supply for this ill-fated debate style would be:

    Person #1 places a saddle on a Person #2’s cow.
    Person #2 says, “Why did you place a saddle on my cow?”
    Person #1 says, “That’s not a cow – it has a saddle on it. It obviously is not a cow.”

    What frustrates me time and again as a once-Protestant-now-Catholic is that fellow Christians want to tell me what I believe as a Catholic and they are so wrong, and yet, I have to remember that until a few short years ago I was likely saying or at least thinking the same way.

    When will we a Christ’s Body again all pull in the same direction, under the same leadership and authority to fulfill His commandments?

  114. Eirik (re:#101),

    Replying to me, you wrote:

    Conservative Reformed denominations among themselves agree every bit as much on theology as the Catholics do among themselves (and do a better job of enforcing orthodoxy among their constituents). I do not believe it is unreasonable to posit an ecclesial teaching authority. I just believe it is unreasonable to posit the Roman Catholic magisterium as that authority.

    I understand your view in the first sentence. I understand it, because I shared it for years (as a “Reformed Baptist”).

    Individual professing Catholics can and do believe many various things– some of those things, lamentably, being heretical (according to the official teaching of the Catechism, which, in the words of Pope John Paul II, provides “a sure norm for teaching the faith). It is obvious that there are many professing Catholics who do not believe much of what the Church officially teaches in its universal Catechism for all Catholics worldwide.

    The issue here, though (at least the issue that I was attempting to address in #92, perhaps not clearly enough), is that, in belief and practice, the actual *confessions/statements of faith* of the many different Protestant denominations (*even* those of “conservative Reformed denominations”) differ among themselves. There is no one, universal, worldwide “Protestant Catechism,” or even “Reformed Catechism,” which can be a binding document for all Protestants in general, or for all Reformed in particular.

    The reasons for this theological/ecclesial disunity in Protestantism are, simply, the principle and the practice of Sola Scriptura itself– *not* only Solo Scriptura but Sola Scriptura as well. Historically, from the early days of the Reformation until now, Sola Scriptura has not brought unity to Protestants in belief and practice. I see no way that it ever can do so, due to the very principle of the *final* primacy (after all other factors have come into play and have been considered) of the individual conscience in interpreting Scripture.

    If you simply want to define “conservative Reformed denominations” as “those denominations which agree with the confessions which I personally agree with, based on my study of Scripture, then you can obviously find “unity,” to a great degree among those particular denominations. However, consider Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists. Working from the same basis of “Sola Scriptura,” they cannot agree on the timing (infants or adults only?) and mode of baptism. Especially if one is a parent, this is quite an important issue! Sola Scriptura cannot settle it among Presbyterians and R.B.’s., in order to bring them to unity on the matter. Consider the Federal Vision controversy. Doug Wilson and Peter Leithart believe in and practice Sola Scriptura. They also believe themselves to be faithful to the Westminster Confession. However, they and the CREC and Auburn Avenue Pres. have been denounced as heretics by many other Reformed Protestants– who *also* believe in and practice Sola Scriptura and who believe *themselves* to be faithful to the Westminster Confession.

    Sola Scriptura and historic Reformed confessions, have brought a sort, and a degree, of unity in belief and practice among *certain* conservative Reformed demoninations. Even this unity is now fraying with the Federal Vision issue. I sincerely and deeply love my Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ, most certainly including you! For this reason, and many others, the ecclesial and doctrinal fragmentation of Protestantism pains me.

    The Magisterium of the Catholic Church, and her binding, worldwide Catechism for all Catholics, based on Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, provide a living, speaking, teaching voice which has lasted for 2,000 years. This voice is here for us because of Christ Himself, who instituted it, and because of the Holy Spirit, who guides it in official teaching on faith and morals. I sincerely hope, in Christian love for you, that one day, you will see the need of this visible teaching voice.

  115. Apparently in response to Jason Stellman’s post yesterday, Peter Leithart tweeted today:

    In reply, Fr. Damick wrote:

    Maybe my sample size is really, really small, but I honestly haven’t yet met a convert to Rome (or Orthodoxy, one must also assume) who’s done it to be “edgy and shocking.” I’m sure there are some out there, to be sure, but just about every voice lifted in articulation of such a conversion is not one of rebellion or slavish fad-following. Rather, these converts actually seem to believe they’ve found the true Christian faith.

    Fr. Damick is right. Here again, as I pointed out in my article above (in reply to the first of Horton’s three articles), it is more charitable to allow persons who make this decision to explain their reasons, rather than engage in deconstructive psychoanalysis that imputes to them some motive other than love for the truth. The difficulty for Reformed theology, as others have pointed out, is that given the notion of the perspicuity of Scripture, it follows that Reformed pastors or seminarians who become Catholic must be either ignorant, stupid or evil. But on account of their training and experience, they can’t be ignorant or stupid. Therefore they must be evil. And the way they are assumed to be evil takes the form of assuming that their motives are something less than love for the truth above all things. In this case, it is assuming that their motives are to be fashionable, cool, edgy, or part of a fad.

  116. Are you aware that the Jason Stellman link has been down all day?

  117. John, (re: #216)

    Yes, we took it down for the time being, at Jason’s request.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  118. Bryan (115),

    The difficulty for Reformed theology, as others have pointed out, is that given the notion of the perspicuity of Scripture, it follows that Reformed pastors or seminarians who become Catholic must be either ignorant, stupid or evil. But on account of their training and experience, they can’t be ignorant or stupid. Therefore they must be evil.

    Given that your complaint is a lack of charity by Reformed visa-vis those who convert to Rome, wouldn’t charity on your part allow for a fourth option, i.e. the person converting is simply in error? So, rather than ignorant or stupid or evil (which I think is unfairly drawn from Horton’s article), can it not be possible (at least in Reformed eyes) that doctrinal confusion is at the core of such decisions?

    Jack

  119. Jack (#118)

    The difficulty for Reformed theology, as others have pointed out, is that given the notion of the perspicuity of Scripture, it follows that Reformed pastors or seminarians who become Catholic must be either ignorant, stupid or evil. But on account of their training and experience, they can’t be ignorant or stupid. Therefore they must be evil.

    Given that your complaint is a lack of charity by Reformed visa-vis those who convert to Rome, wouldn’t charity on your part allow for a fourth option, i.e. the person converting is simply in error? So, rather than ignorant or stupid or evil (which I think is unfairly drawn from Horton’s article), can it not be possible (at least in Reformed eyes) that doctrinal confusion is at the core of such decisions?

    I think Brian’s point is that if Scripture is perspicuous, and if these men are well-versed in Scripture, it would seem impossible that they could be in error. The perspicuity of Scripture ought to mean that, since they are clearly neither ignorant nor stupid, they must have some bad intent in becoming Catholics (if the Catholic Church is wrong). The logic is that if Catholicism is wrong, then Scripture must not be perspicuous – at least not sufficiently perspicuous to prevent a well-instructed and intelligent person from becoming a Catholic. If Scripture is that perspicuous, then these men cannot simply be in error; they must be engaging in evil acts (agree that calling their persons evil may not be the best way to describe the situation). They must have some ulterior motive rather than following truth.

    jj

  120. Jack,

    I think in this case, what we are after is the reason for the error. We all agree that there is a perception of error. I can make an error for four reasons: (1) ignorance (of some fact), (2) stupidity (lack of intelligence), (3) willful desire to err (we might call this “evil”), and (4) misunderstanding (due to the obscurity of the text).

    I happen to manage a program, where we teach reading comprehension. I have seen all four of these reasons for error in practice. If a text is easy to understand, one has sufficient intelligence, and is not missing some fact, that person will get the question right. If someone gets the question wrong, it can be due to (4). However, (4) can many times be due to a relative level of intelligence that is missing that can be acquired through instruction and/or practice (they have the cognitive tools, just not the skills or practice).

    So, regarding Sacred Scripture, the person who claims perspicuity of Scripture cannot admit (4), given that the doctrine of perspicuity claims that the Scriptures are not obscure, at least regarding what is necessary for salvation. So, if one does not understand Scripture like the Reformed do (e.g., a Reformed seminarian who becomes Catholic), by consequence of the doctrine of perspicuity, they must claim for the aberrant either (1), (2), or (3). For the seminarian, (1) and (2) seem unlikely, so (3) is the likely reason. Hence, Peter Leithart’s tweet (how ironic that a claim of faddism would be tweeted).

  121. jj and Brent,

    It seems to me that you are shifting away from the obvious inference of Bryan’s comment, i.e. framing the Reformed explanation of reasons why one converts to the RRC in an uncharitable way. According to him, one can only be stupid, ignorant, or evil. That construction, ironically as I said, is uncharitable .

    Now Brent brings in a 4th, i.e. misunderstanding (due to the obscurity of the text). My response is that this is but a minor move away from the assigning of “bad” intentions (stupid, ignorant, evil) by Reformed to the RRC converts and doesn’t address my comment. But even given your 4th option, Brent, your desire to dismantle the perspicuity of Scripture disallows error in judgment on the part of the individual converting. Frankly, defining things as you do sets up a caricature, but I have no desire to debate that. But suffice to say, I think you load too much into your view of perspicuity in order to discredit it.

    Let’s see… someone could ask me for directions on how to get from point A to point B in a city. I could give him clear and perfect directions. He could listen intently and hear them clearly. He still must understand correctly what he hears and make right judgments as he executes those directions. Along the way he may come to a landmark that my directions clearly noted and yet in his understanding it doesn’t seem right or the same as I explained. He makes a judgment that this particular landmark is not the one I noted, even though it is. He mistakenly walks on, rather than turning. He can make errors of judgment (interpretation) along the way (seasoned with his own misunderstandings) that in no way impugn my directions. And no one said interpreting and judging correctly is always easy.

    Clarity of Scripture regarding the essential doctrines of salvation through faith in Christ does not ensure one will necessarily understand all Scriptural teachings clearly nor ensure, even if he does, that at a later time he will not confuse that clarity. And that error in judgment is a result of the fact that we all are fallen and thus can err at certain points. And that would be a more charitable explanation of why either I’m not a Catholic or you’re not Reformed. And the supposed flaws of sola scriptura are much less troubling to me than the clear flaws of the infallibility of the papal office as demonstrated by historical fact and certain clear words and teachings of Scripture. And obviously, we disagree on this fundamental point.

    Jack

  122. Jack –

    Just a very short note to highlight a small but very important detail. You offer:

    “And the supposed flaws of sola scriptura are much less troubling to me than the clear flaws of the infallibility of the papal office as demonstrated by historical fact and certain clear words and teachings of Scripture.”

    You do realize that the Doctrine of Infallibility applies not to the entire office – or even the person during the course of his office, but to that officeholder only when speaking in the very rare “ex cathedra” – do you not? And that many of the real problems which have at times stained the men holding the office may not even be in dispute. They remain human – they are not without fault; they in themselves are not infallible. The Church recognizes and freely admits that it is still men who are called to an office of great responsibility.

    However, in regard to the Sola Scriptura the “supposed problems” are systemic and entirely pervasive in that permeates and affects the entirety of the doctrinal structure. One must first go outside of what scripture itself offers to raise it to its supposed supremacy and authority.

    In short, the Papal Office, its authority and the doctrine can remain intact as it does not self-constrict while Sola Scriptura undermines itself to the point of collapse because of its initial self-conflict.

    My thoughts.

    Nathan

  123. Jack (#121),

    The problem is, clarity is subjective. If the man did not successfully make it to point B, it was because your directions *weren’t* clear to him, unless you posit he was willfully refusing your advice. This lack of clarity could be for many reasons: lack of information, assumptions on both your parts on what constitutes clarity, etc. This is not to impugn you and your motives.

    I don’t see how the doctrine that Scripture is necessarily perspicuous to the common man concerning the things of salvation allows the possibility that a pastor or seminarian, much less anyone else who has truly looked at the Bible, could simply be mistaken. Therefore, either Scripture is not perspicuous enough to clearly arbitrate disputes or these men who submit to Rome are evil.

    If that is not what the doctrine of perspicuity is, please explain it.

    IC XC NIKA

    Garrison

  124. Jack,

    this is but a minor move away from the assigning of “bad” intentions (stupid, ignorant, evil) by Reformed to the RRC converts

    What do you mean? How is it “but a minor move away”? In the example you gave about going from point A to point B, either your directions were imprecise or ambiguous, or the person taking the directions did not adequately pay attention to you (by taking notes instead of relying upon auditory memory).

    your desire to dismantle the perspicuity of Scripture disallows error in judgment on the part of the individual converting.

    I have no such desire. I completely understand that the Reformed doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture doesn’t apply to all of Scripture, but only to those truths necessary for salvation. However, it is precisely with regard to those truths — on your view — that the RC convert has erred. The RC convert is not simply just becoming a different kind of Protestant, he is leaving the gospel (see Sproul’s question to the Pope).

    What I am not clear about, though, is why error, on your view, occurs. You seem to be saying, “people just make mistakes because that is what we do”. Why? I don’t every once in a while add 2 + 2 and get 5. Do we err because we are sinful? But, that would seem to equate sin with making a mistake like forgetting to spell “tesst” right. Did Adam, before the fall, never fall (out of a tree or something — make a mistake)? Is that what you mean? If so, how is it possible for someone to even get the “truths of Scripture” right? Do they need some special grace that aids them to come to the Reformed doctrines of salvation?

    Would that constitute the 5th option?

    (5) not being spiritually enlightened

    Since you brought it up, I’ve always thought the Reformed position on Scripture demands that I (when I was Pentecostal and now Catholic) was either a devil or a dud (either spiritual or intellectual).

    Peace to you on your journey

  125. Nathan,

    Yes, I’m aware that the Doctrine of Infallibility applies not to the entire office – or even the person during the course of his office, but to that officeholder only when speaking in the very rare “ex cathedra.” But in order to be more precise, I will amend my sentence in this way:

    *And the supposed flaws of sola scriptura are much less troubling to me than the clear flaws of the infallibility of the papal office, historic canon law and bulls, and various RRC councils as demonstrated by historical fact and certain clear words and teachings of Scripture… not too mention what is a more-than-convenient-glossed-over take on the historical development of the Papacy and its exercise over the centuries.*

    And, again, we disagree completely as to the truth of your last sentence.

    Jack

  126. Jack (#121)

    It seems to me that you are shifting away from the obvious inference of Bryan’s comment, i.e. framing the Reformed explanation of reasons why one converts to the RRC in an uncharitable way. According to him, one can only be stupid, ignorant, or evil. That construction, ironically as I said, is uncharitable .

    I am puzzled. Surely you don’t think that Bryan himself thinks that a man can only be stupid, ignorant, or evil. He thinks – and I am inclined to agree with him – that the limitation of error to these three is a proper inference from the idea of the perspicuity of Scripture. I take him to be challenging you to show that Scripture’s perspicuity – at least to the level of making it obvious that Catholicism is seriously erroneous – that this doesn’t mean that a Catholic convert cannot be in honest error.

    It would seem to me either that one must abandon that level of perspicuity of Scripture, or else limit the reasons for becoming Catholic to one of the three. I don’t see anything uncharitable in making the inference. Neither Bryan nor I think that a man cannot be in honest error. He, and I, think this a necessary implication of the perspicuity of Scripture.

    jj

  127. PS – IOW, the claim is that, if honest error can explain men becoming Catholics, then at least the perspicuity of Scripture is not such that it must make it obvious to the well-taught that Catholicism is wrong.

    jj

  128. Ha! :) Jack – that was a… quite an amend. Well done! Are you sure you didn’t forget anything? I jest in good nature.

    Back to the point. Your original comment asks whether or not there could be a fourth option – “simply in error.” I would say that this is certainly conceivable, but even less likely than the other three choices and I can only offer my personal experience as “evidence.”

    (a) Ignorance – I am better educated than many people – not as much as some. My decision was well informed and not one made in haste. I made a profession of faith early in life, was educated in a Bible believing church, graduated after 13 years in a Christian School.

    (b) Stupidity – I am more intelligent than many people – and not nearly as intelligent as some. It was a long, drawn out process in which I honestly learned just as much about the Protestant position as I did about the RCC actually teaches.

    (c) Willful Desire to Err/Evil – My desire to convert was not born of a flippant desire as that desire and decision came with sacrifice of existing personal and family relationships. Neither was this desire was (and you will have to simply trust me on this one) not born of evil intent for if I wanted to leave “the church,” why would I not simply leave it altogether?

    d) Misunderstanding/ Error – I spent years wrestling over the decision. I fought over it internally and with others some who were for – some against.

    I go through those to demonstrate that while all are viable, none would seem to make sense to me in hindsight. The time commitment in searching, the discussions, the reading, the RCIA classes – literally years of my life in order to make this decision. Honestly, this decision was far more difficult internally than my initial encounter with Christ and my initial decision to trust Him. I cannot imagine that anyone would commit to such an “ordeal” without proper motivations, but I will state that they and your 4th are still possible.

    The utter shock to Protestants is so severe to learn that one is leaving the fold for the RCC that even improbable scenarios have to offered as explanations. In my mind, it would be similar to learning that a fellow American would be choosing to denounce US citizenship to become a citizen of Russia. Offensive to our western ears – is it not?

    “Why would someone do such a thing? Have they recently become evil – or have they always been evil? Obviously, they must not be educated. There is no way they can know what they should know in order to make a proper decision – they must be ignorant or stupid.”

    And yet – none of those have to be true in the least. In fact, one has to admit that another real option is that “they arrived at the correct decision.”

    And… there is, in fact, the obvious fifth option: “They are indeed correct.” Maybe moving to Russia is simply the right thing to do?

    Peace to you,

    Nathan

  129. Brent,

    You wrote: What I am not clear about, though, is why error, on your view, occurs.

    I wrote:
    “And that error in judgment is a result of the fact that we all are fallen and thus can err at certain points… ”

    And will add…” err at certain points” as to judgment, discernment, understanding, reasoning. But not all error is willfully conscious, though still an effect of the fall. You may have too narrow a view of sin and its effects.

    You wrote: Since you brought it up, I’ve always thought the Reformed position on Scripture demands that I (when I was Pentecostal and now Catholic) was either a devil or a dud (either spiritual or intellectual).

    Your understanding is an inaccurate view of the Reformed position, and a gross inaccuracy at that. You should do some reading… Calvin’s Institutes?

    Garrison,

    You wrote: If that is not what the doctrine of perspicuity is, please explain it.

    I would suggest you avail yourself of some Reformed theologians. Here’s Bavinck:

    The doctrine of the perspicuity of Holy Scripture… means only that the truth, the knowledge of which is necessary to everyone for salvation, though not spelled out with equal clarity on every page of Scripture, is nevertheless presented throughout all of Scripture in such a simple and intelligible form that a person concerned about the salvation of his or her soul can easily, by personal reading and study, learn to know that truth from Scripture without the assistance and guidance of the church and the priest. The way of salvation, not as it concerns the matter itself but as it concerns the mode of transmission, has been clearly set down there for the reader desirous of salvation. While that reader may not understand the “how” of it, the “that” is clear.

    There are, nonetheless, many doctrines that do not pertain directly to personal salvation. And one would be prudent to seek the guidance of others in the form of ordained clergy or the Church. This is the purpose for the confessions and catechisms of the Reformed and Presbyterian denominations, which are in agreement. It tells one what the Church confesses and teaches as to faith and doctrine. And all of the above operates in conjunction with the sovereign operation of God, the Holy Spirit. And no, it is not, in my mind, an indictment of those confessions that other Protestants and Evangelicals have taken their own separate paths.

    An interesting and pertinent article by Dr. Carl Trueman:
    http://www.reformation21.org/articles/pay-no-attention-to-that-man-behind-the-curtain-roman-catholic-history-and-the-e.php

    Jack

  130. John,

    you wrote: PS – IOW, the claim is that, if honest error can explain men becoming Catholics, then at least the perspicuity of Scripture is not such that it must make it obvious to the well-taught that Catholicism is wrong.

    I don’t disagree with that. The well-taught can still fall into error. But see the above definition of perspicuity of Scripture.

    Nathan,

    I thought you’d enjoy my amendment. I thought I wouldn’t hold back!
    ;-)
    As to your fifth option – though it is a possible valid option, it doesn’t pertain to Bryan’s critique which initiated my comments.

    Jack

  131. Jack,

    Since I own and have read Calvin’s Institutes a couple times, used the book in a class, and studied under a Calvin scholar (who got his Ph.D. the same place Trueman did), could you correct my view instead of just telling me it is wrong.

    Is the “gospel”, the “that”, forensic, penal substitionary atonement?

    Sincerely,

    Brent

  132. Brent,

    Sorry for the misunderstanding visa-vis Calvin, but when you wrote – I’ve always thought the Reformed position on Scripture demands that I (when I was Pentecostal and now Catholic) was either a devil or a dud (either spiritual or intellectual)…. – I took it that you possibly had little Reformed exposure. I still think your view in that quote is inaccurate.

    I have no desire to offer corrections to your view as I don’t think you see your view as in need of correction. And I don’t understand your last question.

    Jack

  133. Jack (#130)

    I don’t disagree with that. The well-taught can still fall into error. But see the above definition of perspicuity of Scripture.

    OK – clear, and perfectly consistent, given how you define the perspicuity of Scripture. The elders in my Reformed Church would definitely have said that the perspicuity of Scripture meant that any well-informed and intelligent person who, nevertheless, became a Catholic could not have had honest motives. They said that to me (and most of my Reformed friends as well), so I presume their definition of the perspicuity of Scripture must have included the idea that becoming a Catholic could not be an honest error on the part of the well-informed and intelligent.

    I suppose Bryan may have assumed something of the sort as your own idea of the perspicuity of Scripture. Given that, I wouldn’t call his conclusion uncharitable, only mistaken about what you think the perspicuity of Scripture means.

    jj

  134. Jack, (re: #118)

    You wrote:

    Given that your complaint is a lack of charity by Reformed visa-vis those who convert to Rome, wouldn’t charity on your part allow for a fourth option, i.e. the person converting is simply in error? So, rather than ignorant or stupid or evil

    To be in error reduces to one or more of the three horns of the trilemma: either ignorance of the truth, or sinful rejection of the truth, or incapacity to grasp the truth. That’s why it is not a fourth category.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  135. Jack – I did indeed appreciate it as well as the good natured exchange. Forgive me as I jump in midstream and catch up.

    In regard to the Perspicuity of Scripture, while I was reared with this belief and once accepted it at face value, what confuses me is that it does not define “which pages, which passages have clarity and which do not.”

    I realize that in reality it really cannot , but since it cannot it is then left to the individual, lay or “ordained” to decide for oneself whether or not they can, in fact, decide for oneself. This seems like a dangerous, ambiguous, tail-chasing doctrine.

    “Scripture – which commands full authority – is clear enough to provide something as essential as the primary requirement of salvation, but not clear enough to provide understanding for the less essential doctrines which is why we have denomination seminaries at which the seminarians are taught through denominational tradition and our method of exegeses how to see past the apparent lack of clarity in the scriptures.”

    It would seem, just as one is pregnant – or not, that scripture would be clear – or not. And self-diagnosis is often in error which has been demonstrated by the myriad of christian-branches since Luther. If you care to share some perspective… ?

    My thoughts.

    N

  136. Bryan wrote:
    To be in error reduces to one or more of the three horns of the trilemma: either ignorance of the truth, or sinful rejection of the truth, or incapacity to grasp the truth. That’s why it is not a fourth category.

    Well, I guess that settles it…

  137. Jack (re: 136),

    You’re being sarcastic, but sarcasm doesn’t answer Bryan’s point. I, for one, am still not sure how to understand your “fourth option.” Given the perspicuity of scripture as classically articulated by the Reformed, someone who fails to understand it (i.e., is in error about its meaning) on central Christian doctrine must either (1) not have read it carefully, (2) be perversely refusing to understand it, or (3) be unable to understand due to a lack of literacy or intelligence. To propose that they’re in error because they’re in error (which is what your fourth option seems ultimately to be) is tautological and thus seems like a refusal to answer. Perhaps you could clarify further.

    best,
    John

  138. Jack, I confess to being puzzled yourself. I can only assume that you mean that becoming a Catholic isn’t something that contradicts anything fundamental to salvation – at least, your description of the perspicuity of Scripture seems to mean that a man can learn there what he needs to be saved, and that if he things he has learnt there that the Catholic Church is Christ’s will for all men – well, that has no implications for his salvation, though there might be lesser matters that would be wrong in the Catholic Church.

    Yet, somehow, I doubt you would consider the Catholic Church to be wrong only on lesser matters.

    Or are you one of these people who thinks that anyone who becomes a Catholic may be saved, but only despite the teachings of the Church? But I think most of the converts on this site are pretty convinced of all the teachings of the Church.

    jj

  139. John S,

    No, I wasn’t really being sarcastic. That was my response of resignation to Bryan’s dismissal of the possibility of any so-called 4th option. I think the confusion lies with the fact that those here simply do not agree with what I wrote. So be it.

    Human beings are not computers… i.e. good data in equals good product out. Rome supposedly has good data in on all doctrinal issues, yet there are many superstitions and unscriptural deviations of doctrine religiously and fervently held by millions within Catholicism, so much so that even the doctrines of salvation as taught in the Nicene Creed are sidelined in their lives. The clear teaching on birth control and, to a lesser extent, abortion is routinely ignored and not embraced and yet life goes on for those doctrinally wayward sheep as Catholics in good standing…

    So, understanding the reasons for doctrinal error, in my view, can be much more complex that the simple 1,2,3 of stupid, ignorant, evil. But then again, maybe you feel content to apply one of those labels to the errant Catholic “faithful” who are taught under the exalted and effectively clear teaching office of the Papacy.

    Jack

  140. Hi Jack,

    I agree that human beings are not like computers. Options 1 through 3 are some of the ways in which we are not like computers. There are a lot of variations within those options, but I think they pretty much cover it. In your example above, something went wrong in the recipient of your objectively clear directions. That something has to be…well, something.

    Maybe we should drop the analogies. I’m still curious as to what the Reformed doctrine of perspicuity is claiming? I mean, it doesn’t sit in a vacuum. It’s tied to the distinctively Reformed views of what doctrines are essential to the Gospel: e.g., sola fide. So I think it’s fair to ask what options there are besides ignorance, ill will, and deficient intelligence when you have folks who read the Bible and don’t think it teaches sola fide. Especially when some of those folks once did believe in sola fide. So it’s not simply that I disagree with what you wrote. I genuinely want to know what non-tautological fourth option there is that isn’t one or more of those three.

    And yes, I do think that those Catholics who fail to adhere to the Church’s clear teaching — whether on the divinity of Christ or on the sinfulness of contraception — are doing so out of one or more of those three options, especially the first two: ignorance and willful disobedience.

    Sorry if I misdiagnosed your rhetorical device in your previous comment. Am I wrong, though, to take “the exalted and effectively clear teaching office of the Papacy” as sarcastic? I just don’t get what you’re going for there. I understand that you have little regard for the papacy, but surely there are better and more straightforward ways to make your point when talking with those who do.

    best,
    John

  141. John S,

    you: In your example above, something went wrong in the recipient of your objectively clear directions. That something has to be…well, something.

    Error in judgment, i.e. faulty reasoning due to the effects of sin, yet not attributed to evil intent. That is why the individual should not assume he alone can discern all doctrinal questions, but should look to the consensus voice of the Church.

    Copied from an earlier comment defining perspicuity – Here’s Bavinck:

    The doctrine of the perspicuity of Holy Scripture… means only that the truth, the knowledge of which is necessary to everyone for salvation, though not spelled out with equal clarity on every page of Scripture, is nevertheless presented throughout all of Scripture in such a simple and intelligible form that a person concerned about the salvation of his or her soul can easily, by personal reading and study, learn to know that truth from Scripture without the assistance and guidance of the church and the priest. The way of salvation, not as it concerns the matter itself but as it concerns the mode of transmission, has been clearly set down there for the reader desirous of salvation. While that reader may not understand the “how” of it, the “that” is clear.

    you asked: Am I wrong, though, to take “the exalted and effectively clear teaching office of the Papacy” as sarcastic?

    Yes, you are wrong. The RRC presents the teaching office of the Papacy as described in your quote of my words, and yet all kinds of deviations and errors have followed in millions of Catholic members. If the Papacy is a more sure and effective infallible source of truth than that of Scripture then why? Why so much stupidity, or ignorance, or evil among the Catholic faithful?

    Jack

  142. Hi Jack,

    On the question of the perspicuity of scripture, I appreciate the quote from Bavinck for its clarifying value. There are a number of mini-knots that would need to be untangled in order to move forward in the discussion about perspicuity—I probably agree with more of the quote than you might suspect, though I may spin it somewhat differently than you and Bavinck himself do—but I want to leave all that aside for now.

    Instead, I’m curious as to what you make of those who are at one time Reformed—and are convinced that the Reformed understanding of scripture is correct—and then, based on their study of scripture, cease to be so convinced? I was never Reformed, but I was once Protestant, and I was quite persuaded of sola fide. I can assure you that I am desirous of my salvation and that I’ve spent a goodly amount of time in personal, prayerful study of the Bible. And yet it was my renewed and intensified study of the New Testament itself, even before beginning to read much in historical theology, that caused me first seriously to doubt and then finally to reject the doctrine of sola fide. What gives?

    You wrote:

    That is why the individual should not assume he alone can discern all doctrinal questions, but should look to the consensus voice of the Church.

    How does one objectively determine “the consensus voice of the Church”?

    Okay, we’re obviously on different pages as to the meaning of “sarcasm.” Sarcasm is when you say the opposite of your own meaning, usually implying that what you’re saying is ridiculous. So, regardless of what anyone else thinks, unless you think that the pope exercises an “exalted and effectively clear teaching office,” then for you to characterize it that way is sarcastic. That’s fine. I just genuinely don’t get the purpose of it.

    Your question about whether “the Papacy is a more sure and effective infallible source of truth than that of Scripture” is ill framed. The pope is not a source of truth, but an interpreter—and yes, in some cases an infallible interpreter—of the truths found in the deposit of faith. The way your question sounds to Catholic ears is the way it might sound if I asked you why you bother listening to your pastor’s sermons, as if your pastor is a more sure and effective infallible source of truth than that of Scripture—shouldn’t you just stay home and read your Bible for yourself? Of course, you would (rightly) identify those as wrongly framed questions.

    You asked, “Why so much stupidity, or ignorance, or evil among the Catholic faithful?”

    Well, first because they’re human, and they’re sinners. The Church is a hospital for sinners. When you read the Fathers a lot—heck, when you read the New Testament—you realize that the Church has always been full of ignorant and disobedient people. On top of that, we happen to live in a generation that has been plagued by enormous upheaval in the Church—unspeakable scandals, terrible catechesis, and sometimes openly dissenting leadership. There are enormous problems to be addressed. I want to be part of the solution, so I teach catechesis at my parish, lead a Bible study, ask for the grace to witness to the truth and joy of the Faith with my life, and pray for those who have strayed. The first two, I hope, address the problem of ignorance of the Church’s teaching; the latter two, the problem of disobedience.

    best,
    John

  143. Hi Jack,

    You wrote (#139)

    The clear teaching on birth control and, to a lesser extent, abortion is routinely ignored and not embraced and yet life goes on for those doctrinally wayward sheep as Catholics in good standing…

    You are mistaken about their good standing. Those who practice artificial contraception or abortion are in a state of mortal sin unless and until they repent and avail themselves of the sacrament of Confession.

    Pax Christi,
    Frank

  144. Jack,

    You ask – “Why so much stupidity, or ignorance, or evil among the Catholic faithful?”

    John in his response points out that the Church is comprised of sinners and goes on to explain the issue of education/catechesis. I would like to expand on the this second point and offer a third reason.

    The Church has indeed recognized the need for better education. This was demonstrated as recently as the incorporation of the new missal last fall. Lessons were learned from the abrupt changes and lack of preparation which occurred with Vatican II (lack of explanation/lack of education) and the priests were given several months to educate on the “what’s” and “why’s.” Like John, many diocese have individually also affirmed the need for much better catechesis to be completed. There will always be those who stray or fall away, but The Church is trying to limit how many do so from “ignorance.”

    Rome has a responsibility to lead and to respond to issues and this responsibility includes to speak with one voice for the entire Church. It moves more often slower than many would like, but does so to also limit the amount of confusion across the globe. The Church exists in numerous languages and cultures; these must move together.

    Today, laws and regulations sometimes are outpaced by science and technology and we can see and feel the stretching occur in government. The Church is affected in sometimes having to provide moral guidance based on new science and similar to government, The Church is forced into action, and the structure and magnitude of the body is geared toward slowness of change.

    Coming about on an aircraft carrier takes several long minutes versus a speed boat. IBM does not often make huge changes overnight. There have been years – and sometimes an entire generation – a specific devotion – or an entire diocese which has erred. The goal is to correct these, but also bring them back into full alignment with Rome as The Church moves forward and addresses new questions and new challenges.

    Even in 1517, what timeline did Luther expect to have his concerns addressed by a global organization? A week? A year? A decade? A generation? Change did occur within The Church and the majority of Luther’s concerns were addressed. Pity he did not have a little more patience.

    My thoughts.

    Nathan

  145. Frank & Nathan,

    I am reminded, among many other examples, of the turmoil of the 4th century. Even after Nicea, Arianism flourished in many parts of the Christian world, including among individuals holding important political and ecclesiastical positions. Implementation was not easy and did not happen overnight.

  146. John S,

    Regarding your question What gives? pertaining to a Reformed person converting to the RCC…
    I don’t think anything “gives.” There are many who convert from RCC to Reformed or other Protestant denominations. No one can say for sure all the goes into these kinds of decisions. By the way, speaking from personal experience and study, there is quite a difference between generic Protestant Evangelical and Reformed.

    Sarcasm? I’d like to think of my comment more along the lines of irony, which I suppose can be considered a mild form of sarcasm. Certainly there was no intent to ridicule, but to make a point.

    The Pope as source of truth: Indeed, ill-framed on my part, yet the central point remains. As the final and true interpreter of Biblical truth, he (the office) is the only source for final understanding that truth among Catholics, no? Whereas, the pastor in a Reformed Church is not the final interpreter of Scripture. Our Church confessions and catechisms teach what is necessary to confess and hold. And anyone ordained must subscribed to those standards.

    My point regarding “Why so many… in the RCC” wasn’t to inquire, but again to emphasize that even with the infallible teaching office of the Papacy, in which doctrinal confusion is supposedly not possible, there is yet a disturbing amount of doctrinal confusion in the RCC.

    By the way, you mention Bible study. You probably know that that is something which was disallowed in the RCC (except by clergy) until recent times. And it’s a practice that was established by the Reformation churches. Again, I find that more than a little interesting.

    cheers…

  147. Frank,

    You are mistaken about their good standing.

    I wasn’t referring to the state of their souls, rather, that all-too-often there is little or no discipline for those Catholics who espouse birth control or promote a “pro-choice” position. At the parish level it would seem these things are often not dealt with. Thus, in effect, those individuals remain in good standing.

    Jack

  148. Nathan,

    Regarding Luther you wrote: Pity he did not have a little more patience.

    He was excommunicated by Leo. He then demanded a hearing to clear himself. He still was hoping for reform of the RCC. That, in fact, was the desire of the other reformers – to reform Rome not leave it. Luther defended his view at Worms under a safe-conduct pass from Rome. Upon leaving for home, that safe-conduct was revoked and he was declared an outlaw and thus anyone could justly kill him. He nonetheless escaped and returned to Germany under the protection of the state.

    Patience?

  149. Jack (#147),

    Failure to properly discipline Catholics who use artificial birth control or who procure abortion is a problem. The failure to impose the canonical penalties for Catholics who cause scandal in this way or who present themselves for Communion does not, however, affect their standing within the Church.

    A Catholic in a state of mortal sin has himself broken his bond of communion with the Church, and is therefore de facto not “in good standing.” The condition of the soul in relation to the Body of Christ is the only sort of “standing” that matters before God. The “good standing” you’re referring to is mere public appearance.

    Pax Christi,
    Frank

  150. Hi Jack,

    Regarding your question What gives? pertaining to a Reformed person converting to the RCC…I don’t think anything “gives.”

    Surely something gives, unless you think the Roman Catholic Church is a perfectly acceptable alternative for a Bible-believing Christian. Do you?

    There are many who convert from RCC to Reformed or other Protestant denominations. No one can say for sure all the goes into these kinds of decisions.

    That’s true, but it behooves Catholics to pay attention to the stated reasons of those who leave the Church and to respond to them as well as possible, not to throw up our hands and say, Well, stuff just happens, who can say why? I assume that the Reformed would wish to respond similarly, which is why, without claiming to come to definitive judgments on any particular case, it’s worth asking what the possible reasons are for folks leaving what you believe to be the true Christian faith. It does seem to me that in the case of someone who clearly understood and professed the Reformed faith, then abandoned it, the only logical conclusion on Reformed terms is that he never “really” had it in the first place. The “T” and the “P” in TULIP make that pretty inevitable, unless I’m missing something, which I may be. What do you think?

    By the way, speaking from personal experience and study, there is quite a difference between generic Protestant Evangelical and Reformed.

    Well aware of it. But so what? I get that you Reformed folks are very proud of your intellectual tradition and your exemption from Mark Noll’s famous “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” But I thought that on Reformed terms, I as an Evangelical Protestant reading my Bible carefully and with solicitude for my salvation should have had just as much access to the clarity of sola fide as anyone else. If I “need” the WCF or some other traditional Protestant confession in order to see it properly, both perspicuity and sola scriptura are undermined. Given the path you’re pursuing, I’m having trouble seeing how perspicuity isn’t just being gratuitously asserted. If so, of course, it can just as easily be gratuitously denied.

    Sarcasm? I’d like to think of my comment more along the lines of irony, which I suppose can be considered a mild form of sarcasm. Certainly there was no intent to ridicule, but to make a point.

    Sarcasm is a form of irony (not vice-versa). It’s hard not to read some of your previous comments as mocking, but I’ll take your word that ridicule wasn’t intended. I hope you’ll take mine that that’s how they came across, and that there are better ways to make a point so as to be heard as sympathetically as possible and to foster constructive dialogue, which I assume is what you’d want.

    Regarding the pope, no, he is not “the only source for final understanding [of] that truth among Catholics.” Ecumenical councils and the universal teaching of the ordinary magisterium are also considered infallible. I’m also curious as to where you think your confessions and catechisms derive their authority? Are they final arbiters? If so, on what ground? If not, then who or what is? The answer can’t be “the Bible,” because the meaning of scripture is precisely what’s at stake.

    Again, I don’t think there’s actually a whole lot of “doctrinal confusion” in the Catholic Church. There is a disturbing amount of ignorance and/or disobedience.

    You claim that Bible study “was disallowed in the RCC (except by clergy) until recent times.” Can you produce one single magisterial document that says that Catholic laypersons are not allowed to study the Bible?

    I’d still like an answer to my question about determining the “consensus of the Church.” I honestly have no idea how a Reformed person would go about doing that without an awfully rubbery view of “consensus” and a predetermining idea of “the Church.” Is that the method that Luther and Calvin followed? How about the Westminster Assembly (on which, see Andrew Preslar’s very interesting but mostly neglected article “Westminster in the Dock”)?

    best,
    John

  151. Jack –

    My point regarding “Why so many… in the RCC” wasn’t to inquire, but again to emphasize that even with the infallible teaching office of the Papacy, in which doctrinal confusion is supposedly not possible, there is yet a disturbing amount of doctrinal confusion in the RCC.

    But the same internal shades and doctrinal differences can be identified among and within:

    Presbyterians (PCA, Orthodox, Evangelical, ARP, Cumberland, Cumberland PCA, WPCUS, RPCUS), Baptists (Alliance of Baptists, American Baptists, Reformed Baptists, General Conference, Conservative Baptists, Free Will, Independent, National Conference, Separate, United Conference, etc), Lutherans (Evangelical, Free, Concordia, Anglo-Lutheran, Independents, etc), Anabaptists (Amish, Old Order Mennonite, General Assembly Mennonite, General Conference Mennonite, Church of the Brethren, United Brethren, Dunkards, Grace Brethren), et al.

    Considering that any one of these protestant groups looks at all the others as being in part or wholly in error, it would seem difficult to say that the entire RCC is illegitimate because of internal shades or factions of error, otherwise one must then question the legitimacy of all the aforementioned as well, if one were to be intellectually consistent.

    “Patience?” Yes, patience. Sometimes we can hold and proclaim “truth” and use it incorrectly.

    On 15 June 1520, Luther was formally warned by Rome to remain silent in Exsurge Domine. He had already stated his case, first in 1517 as well as subsequently. He spoke what he felt compelled by his conscience to speak. It was heard loudly – and clearly and his place in 1520 would be to humbly, prayerfully request that The Holy Spirit provide guidance to the considerations.

    Example: A private in the army is deeply concerned and sees a need for change and makes his Lieutenant, his Captain, his Colonel as well as his General aware of the issues and his recommended solutions. He is given a “that will be all,” by the General himself indicating that the message has been received. Should the private continue to talk? Should he go and raise his own army? Or obey his orders?

    Should Luther, a monk, have served out his duty and obey orders in quiet obedience to his oath having made sure that his voice and message had been heard – and wait for The Holy Spirit to guide Rome knowing and trusting that God was still in control of His Church?

    How long would or should a local PCA pastor tolerate a congregant’s causing division before asking and then demanding silence under threat of church discipline? Truth applied can be used to build up – and it can tear apart if not wisely and properly handled.

    Patience, discernment, perspective are what would have better balanced the truths that Luther recognized.

    My thoughts.

  152. Jack –

    Apologies, but in re-reading my recent post, I realize that the first point should have been more fully developed.

    Not only should it be noted that shades and doctrinal differences be noted among all branches of the Protestant churches, but one should recognize while Protestant brothers seem to expect perfection of the RCC (and the lack thereof then becomes a point of criticism against the RCC), the RCC readily recognizes that it is and will not be perfect.

    It claims only infallible in interpretation of Truth during very specific circumstances and would even go further to accept its internal imperfection/variations. Furthermore, it does not require immediate separation simply because any shades or variations exist unless and until they have been deemed heretical and there is an unwillingness for members to submit to Church rulings. Additionally, shades and variations are due in part to the RCC recognizing a hierarchy in the levels of doctrine and the required submission and obedience (Full Assent of Faith/Ordinary Assent and Submission of the Will & Intellect).

    This seems to be contrasted with certain Protestant circles where scriptural truths have been extrapolated to the “Nth” degree so that hemlines and haircuts will immediately draw lines and cause division. Granted, a harsh and extreme example, but true nonetheless.

    My point is that for one to offer that the “RCC is ‘wrong’ because of shades and variations,” one first must assume that shades and variations are inherently “wrong” and also do so from one’s own position being “shadeless and without variation.” The former does not seem to be established and the latter does not seem possible.

    Is the Church 100% homogeneous? Was it ever? Is it meant to be? Or can we in fact be in unity and under one leadership without being in total agreement? I think we can. The disciples argued among themselves – sometimes even over petty issues, but their submission to the authority and their structure remained independent of their disagreements.

    My thoughts.

  153. John S,

    Trent- Ten Rules Concerning Prohibited Books Drawn Up By The Fathers Chosen By The Council Of Trent And Approved By Pope Pius[1]
    Since it is clear from experience that if the Sacred Books are permitted everywhere and without discrimination in the vernacular, there will by reason of the boldness of men arise therefrom more harm than good, the matter is in this respect left to the judgment of the bishop or inquisitor, who may with the advice of the pastor or confessor permit the reading of the Sacred Books translated into the vernacular by Catholic authors to those who they know will derive from such reading no harm but rather an increase of faith and piety, which permission they must have in writing. Those, however, who presume to read or possess them without such permission may not receive absolution from their sins till they have handed them over to the ordinary. Bookdealers who sell or in any other way supply Bibles written in the vernacular to anyone who has not this permission, shall lose the price of the books, which is to be applied by the bishop to pious purposes, and in keeping with the nature of the crime they shall be subject to other penalties which are left to the judgment of the same bishop. Regulars who have not the permission of their superiors may not read or purchase them.

    From Vatican2. – DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON DIVINE REVELATION
    Past: Catechisms generally taught that not all revealed truth was contained in Holy Scripture. A biblical theology was largely lacking. The Bible played a secondary role in the religious life of the faithful. Ecclesiastical authority narrowly restricted modern scriptural study. The biblical movement met with many difficulties.

    Future: The view that all religious truth is found in the Bible is permitted by the Church. Scripture and tradition form a unity. Development within doctrine is possible. The Church’s teaching authority is not above the Bible but must serve it. Genuine science is fully recognized in biblical research. Scripture study must be the soul of theology. Preaching and proclamation must be biblical in approach. The scriptures are inerrant only insofar as truths of salvation are concerned; this inerrancy does not extend to secular statements. All are to diligently study the Bible, and provision is made for translations and for cooperation in this with non-Catholics.

    Jack

  154. Hi Jack,

    No dice. Regarding your first citation, yes, I freely admit, as will anyone who knows anything about the history here, that the Church has always been concerned to ensure the spiritual safety of the faithful when reading scripture, and has thus sometimes issued restrictions with regard to the conditions under which the faithful may read the Bible privately. But that doesn’t add up to a prohibition, which is what you’d originally claimed. The Protestant revolt, grounded as it was in the elevation of personal interpretations of scripture, understandably gave the Church reason to be extra cautious when it came to vernacular translations (hence the wording, “Since it is clear from experience…”). Note that within 40 years or so of the document you cited, the Douay NT was published; 30 years after that, the OT followed. In any event, you haven’t produced a prohibition on laypersons reading the Bible, because there isn’t one, but only a restriction against reading unapproved translations or editions without the proper permission, issued at a particular time in history to respond to a particular concern in the life of the Church.

    I know you won’t like that, but that’s because, at the end of the day, protestations of the “ministerial authority” of confessions and creeds notwithstanding, you place the individual between the Church and the Bible — i.e., solo scriptura.

    I’m thankful indeed to live in a time and place when literacy levels are high, good scriptural and catechetical resources are readily available, and there is a great deal of ecumenical cooperation in the area of biblical study and translation. You should be, too, as I’m sure you are. But that doesn’t mean the Church was wrong in her pastoral judgment in the 16th century. She may have been — this is a matter of discipline and prudential judgment, after all, not of dogmatic definition of faith and morals — but I’m not so sure.

    For more information on the various historical moments involved here, you could consult the 1912 Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on Scripture under the heading “Attitude of the Church towards the reading of the Bible in the vernacular.”

    Regarding the second, where did you get that summary of Dei Verbum? It like a highlight reel of all the stale stereotypes about the “discontinuity” of the Council, and it’s terribly misleading in spots. Read the actual text of Dei Verbum, not just a summary of it, and read the papal encyclicals on scripture that preceded the Council if you want to get a better sense of the issues that were at stake. They are very complex.

    In any event, it doesn’t answer to the request I made, because it says nothing whatsoever about laypersons reading the Bible.

    best,
    John

  155. Jack,

    Correction: the Douay was published soon after Trent in the 16th century. The document you cited is from, I believe, the end of the 18th century.

    John

  156. John S,

    You are coming across as if you are lawyering:

    My words in response to your writing about you leading a bible study:
    “By the way, you mention Bible study. You probably know that that is something which was disallowed in the RCC (except by clergy) until recent times.”

    Now its about anyone at all reading the Bible or having a Bible or?… It’s about laymen leading a Bible study. That’s the context.

    The second citation was from this Roman Catholic site: http://vatican2voice.org/

    Jack

  157. Jack,

    Haha, not trying to lawyer, just trying to be precise. But you’re right, we were talking past one another. When you said, “By the way, you mention Bible study. You probably know that that is something which was disallowed in the RCC (except by clergy) until recent times,” I thought the antecedent to the bolded “that” was “Bible study,” not “[a layman] leading a Bible study.” If the latter i’s what you meant, then, yes, I don’t imagine that was terribly common until the last few decades.

    Thanks for the link. I clicked around the site a bit. Looks to me like a mixed bag. I still think it plays on oversimplified stereotypes, and I don’t think it’s a great summary of Dei Verbum.

    best,
    John

  158. One other thing, Jack — I do, for the record, submit the teaching at the Bible study I lead 100% to the authority of the Church. This is not the kind of situation that the post-Tridentine Church was responding to.

  159. Nathan,

    All I’m pointing out is that the Papal teaching office doesn’t make the RCC immune from doctrinal ignorance, superstition, and unbiblical belief and practice in different parts of its Church. If all you are saying is that sola scriptura hasn’t kept that from happening in the Protestant world. No argument. It would be silly to claim otherwise. But Rome claims a superior model. Don’t minimize these problems among Catholics. My employers are devout Catholics. Go to Mass every morning. Yet they hold a number of superstitious beliefs as to effectual prayer and miracles relating to Our Lady of Guadalupe. The church named after her is one block from my work. “Our Lady” is arguably held, by many, in a more devoted and worshipful way than the Lord Jesus, who is rarely mentioned in religious conversations.

    My point is the RCC model isn’t necessarily working any better, and I would venture worse. It works great for institutional unity, agreed. But I don’t not think the purpose of sola scriptural is to guarantee organizational unity.

    Contending for the faith, fighting doctrinal error and apostasy has been going on since the birth of the Church and, I would suggest, is the main calling of the Church in this age. The N.T. is full of that evidence and witness.

    Truth applied can be used to build up – and it can tear apart if not wisely and properly handled.

    In light of Rome’s response to Luther and the other Reformers, one could say that your statement, at a minimum, cuts both ways.

    Jack

  160. Jack,

    I’m late to the conversation here, but how, in your opinion does the Protestant model allow for fighting doctrinal error and apostasy? How would that look in a “real world” situation (such as Federal Vision, etc)? Can any Protestant model produce a defined orthodoxy that is binding on all believers, or does it only apply to the Christians who have joined themselves to that particular denomination?

    Burton

  161. I hate to jump in on a conversation but I thought the following comment was outrageous:

    “Yet they hold a number of superstitious beliefs as to effectual prayer and miracles relating to Our Lady of Guadalupe. The church named after her is one block from my work. “Our Lady” is arguably held, by many, in a more devoted and worshipful way than the Lord Jesus, who is rarely mentioned in religious conversations.”

    In the same way that the intercession of any Christian is effectual only by the power of God, so Mary’s intercession is effectual only by the power of God. I do not see how this is “superstitious”. What is so superstitious in believing that God is powerful enough to answer prayer and even bring about miracles because of our prayer? Would any Protestant say it is superstitious to believe that Paul raised someone from the dead? (Acts 20) Probably not. Then why would it be supersitious to say God can perform miracles through the intercession of Mary?

    “Our Lady” is arguably held, by many, in a more devoted and worshipful way than the Lord Jesus, who is rarely mentioned in religious conversations.”

    Mary is not worshipped by Catholics. I hear Christ mentioned very often in religious conversations, so this is just silly. BTW, how often is Christ mentioned in the mass and how often is Mary mentioned in the mass? Just something to consider.

  162. Pio – to clarify – I do not think that Jack is stating that all Catholics worship Mary – or even that the Catholic doctrine teaches “worship,” but rather that there are some within the RCC who have gone too far and beyond Rome’s doctrine. I believe that his observation was a point toward an “apparent confusion within the RCC” and questions its ability to control and mitigate that confusion in doctrine. Jack, please correct me if that is wrong.

    To Jack specifically —

    But Rome claims a superior model. Don’t minimize these problems among Catholics.

    No, they do occur, I do not mean to minimize. I apologize if it came off that way. Errors contrary to Truth should be countered.

    The point I am offering is that Catholics approach the shades/variations/divisions within the protestant circle from a different angle than do Protestants view Catholics in the following way (I admit freely this is from my personal experience – and so if you offer a different perspective, I would be more than willing to consider it):

    “Do Catholics claim that the structure is superior?” Yes, of course, but not because of a claim in the lack of divisions or because the Pope is infallible, but because of Christ’s revelation and his blessing and charge to Peter in Matthew 16 coupled with Paul’s instructions as to how the succession of leaders is to be through specific criteria, approval and anointment by existing leaders. Infallibility rests on the authority which is resting on “red letter” scripture, not vice versa.

    In contrast…

    ”Do Protestants claim that their structure is superior?” Yes, of course, and it is attributed to the authority of Scripture and which would suggest that it will yield a better result than what it broke away from and what was/is being criticized. Additionally, any criticism of the shades, variations and even rebellion within the RCC is offered in a manner which first prejudges the source and model rather than the merit of the authority under which it operates (i.e. infallibility is assumed to be impossible ergo any souls who would subscribe to the doctrine must be lost while the RCC views the Protestant community as a whole as separated brethren).

    In short, Protestants look at the divisions in the RCC and say “See? Where is the infallibility – look at the divsion?” while RCC looks at the divisions among Protestants and the reaction is simply “Hmm. To be expected, but one of reasons offered to criticize Rome is that shades/variations cannot coexist with proper interpretation (i.e. infallibility) – and yet shades and divisions within your structure.”

    The position is claimed that Scripture claims for itself authority beyond profitability – and is not only authoritative, but is supreme and rests on itself to claim such and to do so diminishes itself (Matthew 16, 1 Timothy 3 and Titus) to claim that supremacy and authority which to the Catholic mind is extremely confusing to the point the properly catechized “cradle-Catholics” have a difficult time even communicating with “cradle-Protestants” and vice-versa.

    I am not sure that I am making that clear and I do not want us to talk past each other. Does what I offer make sense? I am not trying to minimize the issues within the RCC. They are there and they are real, but I believe there is a real difference in how we perceive each other’s shades/variations/divisions.

    My point is the RCC model isn’t necessarily working any better, and I would venture worse. It works great for institutional unity, agreed. But I don’t not think the purpose of sola scriptural is to guarantee organizational unity.

    That is perhaps the keystone question. Are the models dependent on the subjective degree of “how well it is working” or dependent on from what objective authority the models are formed?

    I do not believe that the purpose of Sola Scriptura is for unity because (obviously from a Catholic perspective) it is a doctrine born out of, based upon a desire to and which has a continual proclivity to divide.

    “Truth applied can be used to build up – and it can tear apart if not wisely and properly handled.”

    In light of Rome’s response to Luther and the other Reformers, one could say that your statement, at a minimum, cuts both ways.

    Yes, it absolutely does, but your statement does not respond to the weight and consequence of Luther’s decision, action and result in remaining in obedient silence.

    And the double-edge truth would reaffirm and not diminish the necessity for Rome to not only move slowly and precisely in the careful consideration of issues and questions, but in regard to the careful planning and execution of implementation, training and education as well.

    Luther as a member of the clergy should have understood this, but he apparently did not. In 1517 Luther recognized the RCC as legitimate authority as he sought to reform it. His position changed when he was excommunicated not for making his concerns known to Rome, but for failing to obey and remain silent. His position suddenly changed. All of a sudden the Church and its authority was no longer legitimate.

    It was a new revelation, and new “truth.” And one which seem to contradict his own new position that Scripture, Truth and the ability to find that Truth was completed many centuries before with the last stroke of John’s pen.

  163. Nathan,

    Pio – to clarify – I do not think that Jack is stating that all Catholics worship Mary – or even that the Catholic doctrine teaches “worship,” but rather that there are some within the RCC who have gone too far and beyond Rome’s doctrine. I believe that his observation was a point toward an “apparent confusion within the RCC” and questions its ability to control and mitigate that confusion in doctrine. Jack, please correct me if that is wrong.

    You are correct. That is what I was saying. No time to respond to your other comments… Hopefully tomorrow. Let me just say, I don’t think I have a knee jerk reaction to Rome. I was baptized as an infant in the RCC. My Mom was a faithful Catholic, and she, I do believe, having died is with the Lord. Our disagreements are over doctrine and history, not caricatures of Catholicism. Even Calvin, who was no friend of the Papacy, acknowledged that there were many true churches under Rome during his time, despite the serious disagreements with Rome.

    Cheers, and thanks for clarifying my remarks…
    Jack

  164. Thank you for clarifying.

  165. In a White Horse Inn article titled “A Reformed Farewell to Benedict XVI,” posted today, Michael Horton discusses some of the history of the conciliar movement in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and then concludes with a final paragraph which I have responded to below in smaller sections. He writes:

    But this tale does clear our eyes from the foggy mists of sentimentalism. Is the Roman Catholic Church united by an unbroken succession from St. Peter? Roman Catholic theologians—and especially historians—know that an uncomplicated “yes” will not do.

    If the question is simply whether the succession is “unbroken,” then an uncomplicated “yes” will do, because the question (as worded) is a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question. Tracing the authentic succession through periods such as the Western Schism can be complicated. But the existence of an unbroken succession from St. Peter to the present pope is not nullified, falsified, or refuted by the difficulty of tracing that lineage through periods of schism and antipopes. Here Horton implicitly conflates the unbroken succession with the tracing of that succession.

    He then asks:

    Are the church’s decisions irreformable?

    Only those decisions meeting all the conditions of infallibility are irrevocable.

    Then what about the Council of Constance? Even the Council of Basel was a duly constituted synod. Whose conclusions are binding?

    The conclusions of a council are not ipso facto binding as dogma, but require ratification by the pope, and popes can (and sometimes do) ratify only some of the conclusions of a council. That is the case both with Constance and Basel.

    At the very least, Rome has compromised its claim of an unbroken unity—not only between councils and popes, but within the papal line itself.

    Horton asserts this, but has provided no argument or evidence demonstrating this to be case. Merely asking questions such as “Are the church’s decisions irreformable?” and “Whose conclusions are binding?” in no way shows that the line of succession from St. Peter to the present pope has been broken, or “compromises” the Catholic teaching concerning the line of succession.

    It can invent theories of “anti-popes” to preserve its claim to valid succession. But even if one were to accept the idea in principle, history has already provided too much contrary evidence. Romantic glances across the Tiber are thwarted by the reality.

    Horton is obviously aware of the Catholic position regarding antipopes, because he refers to it here. But instead of refuting it, he uses the word ‘invent,’ implicitly suggesting that the notion of antipopes was merely made up by the Catholic Church. But that begs the question, i.e. presupposes precisely what is in question. If the papacy is what the Catholic Church teaches, then any “false claimant of the Holy See in opposition to a pontiff canonically elected” is an antipope. Horton gives no evidence or argumentation showing that the notion that there can be (and has been) antipopes is false.

    At the end of the day, this story provides one more reminder that the church that is created by the Word and stands under that Word, with all of its besetting sins and errors, is still the safest place to be in a fallen world and imperfect church.

    Of course as a Catholic, I agree that we should be in the Church Christ (the Logos) founded. But here Horton equivocates by conflating the uncreated Word (i.e. the Logos), with the created words of Scripture and the spoken words of humans preaching from Scripture. The inscripturated words inspired by the Holy Spirit and preserved in Sacred Scripture are not the Uncreated Word, because the former’s existence is contingent upon God’s having chosen to create the world, whereas the Logos is not contingent at all. What Horton means by his statement is that we should be a member of the set of persons who sufficiently conform to [Horton's interpretation of] Scripture, a set that is brought into existence and increases in numbers when that interpretation is preached. The safest place to be, according to Horton, is belonging to the community constituted by the members of that set.

    Here’s the problem. In 2007, in a blog post he has not retained in his archives, Horton’s colleague R. Scott Clark wrote:

    Remember, since the 16th century, revisionists and errorists have always said, “We’re just following the Bible.” That was the loudest refrain of the Socinians, who ended up denying the Trinity. They denied the deity of Jesus, the substitutionary atonement and justification by works all on the ground that, they were just following the Bible. All heretics quote Scripture. The question in this controversy is not the normativity of the Bible but who gets to interpret it. (emphasis mine)

    Just two weeks ago Clark tweeted a similar claim:

    All heretics quote Scripture. The gnostics did it… The Anabaptists quoted Scripture and the Socinians quoted Scripture.

    On this point, Clark is exactly right. Anyone can claim that the set of persons sharing his own particular interpretation is the one “created by” Scripture and which “stands under” Scripture. The Anabaptists do the same thing, and the Socinians did the same thing, and so has every heretical group in Church history, as Scott rightly notes. The problem, however, is that Horton is in this very same position. He defines ‘Church’ as that which his created by and stands under Scripture, but in actuality he is defining ‘Church’ as that which sufficiently conforms to his own interpretation of Scripture, and is thus treating his own interpretation of Scripture (and that of those who share his interpretation) as if it is Scripture itself. According to Horton, the Catholic Church with all its difficult Church history involving power struggles and antipopes and schisms and councils, is unsafe. In contrast to all that, the safe place to be, Horton is arguing, is in the bosom of Horton’s own interpretation of Scripture, because [by implication] that does not involve any power struggle or usurpation at all. However, from a Catholic point of view, the Protestant movement as a whole involve arrogating interpretive authority from the Church’s Magisterium to the individual. So Horton’s solution ‘avoids’ the messiness of history and power struggles and the question of interpretive authority by having the reader step over the Protestant-Catholic question and simply conform to Horton’s interpretation of Scripture treated as Scripture itself.

    But as Clark’s statement shows, the question is “who gets to interpret it”? That is, whose interpretation is authoritative, and why? And the notion that “my interpretation is authoritative because I’m right” just begs the question. The idea that following Horton’s interpretation of Scripture puts us in a safe place, away from power struggles, is, to use Horton’s phrase, “thwarted by the reality.” The last few weeks has seen a flurry of online posts between Reformed pastors regarding whether or not to observe Lent. Even the debate over who gets to define ‘Reformed’ hasn’t been settled. Just four days ago Clark tweeted, “Why is James White, a Baptist, considered a spokesman for the Reformed faith, at least w/o an asterisk?” Of course there are theological debates among Catholics as well, but the existence of Catholic Magisterial authority makes those debates soluble in principle, whereas the Protestant debates involve what Richard Beck calls “meta-biblical choices” and therefore leave no non-arbitrary, non-violent means of resolving them.

    It is “safe” to follow Horton and his interpretation of Scripture only if he truly has divine interpretive authority, and his interpretive authority is greater than that of the Catholic Magisterium, something Horton has not yet established.

    In gratitude to Pope Benedict XVI, in the very last hour of his pontificate.

  166. A quote from Dr. Horton’s blog post:

    However, Benedict XVI has regularly been impressive on these counts. Living alongside Protestants in Germany, he often engages Reformation views with more sympathy and knowledge than most—especially more than many Protestants who convert to Rome and trade on caricatures of the evangelical faith based on the worst of evangelicalism.

    Bryan – not that the above would sway your thoughts or approach in any way, but nonetheless worth considering…

  167. Hello Jack, (re: #166)

    I agree with Horton on that point, and with you, that what Horton says in the selection you quoted, is worth considering. And I’m grateful for it.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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