Some Thoughts Concerning Michael Horton’s Three Recent Articles on Protestants Becoming CatholicJun 19th, 2012 | By Bryan Cross | 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?”
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.
“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.
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.
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 in 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.
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.