Is Certainty a Bad Thing? Certainty, Infallibility, and the Reformed Tradition

Aug 1st, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Is it wrong to desire certainty in our act of faith?  If you peruse the Reformed blogoshpere these days, you might come to that conclusion. As more and more Reformed Christians join the Catholic Church in search of doctrinal certainty, an all-too common response from the Reformed world has been to impugn this desire for certainty as somehow illegitimate. Instead, we are told, “All we can do is commend ourselves to God, keep vigilant, and keep on our knees.” Presumably, then, the best we can do is hope that we shall not be led into doctrinal error. We can have no assurance that we will not actually err.


The Incredulity of Saint Thomas
Caravaggio

As someone raised across the two worlds of American Evangelicalism and Reformed Protestantism, I confess to finding this line of reasoning strange and novel.  Growing up, I cut my theological teeth on Francis Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis.  In seminary, I discovered the likes of B.B. Warfield, the Hodges, Graham Machen, Carl Henry, and David Wells –all of whom would be astonished, I think, to learn that we could not be certain in our act of faith. Indeed, the whole 20th century Reformed and Evangelical apology for traditional Protestantism against liberalism and modernism was that it offered the only rational basis for sure knowledge of ethics and metaphysics.

But it is not just 20th century Protestants who took this line. In graduate school, I turned to a much deeper study of the sources of the Reformed tradition. There I found no skepticism at all about theological knowledge, provided it was derived from Scripture as interpreted by Spirit-illumined ministers of the Gospel. Granted, the early Reformers allowed for human depravity and were not surprised by religious dissent, but they believed that Christians could arrive (were in fact morally obligated to arrive) at certainty and agreement regarding the core doctrines of the faith.  Moreover, one of the earliest arguments for sola scriptura was that it would allegedly provide doctrinal clarity whereas the multiplicity of Catholic authorities had brought only confusion.

Where, then has this new-found assault on certainty come from? How does it compare to earlier Reformed statements on religious epistemology? The answers, I think, are more historical, social and psychological than exegetical or theological. Early in the Reformation, there was a very broad range of topics about which certainty  was believed both possible and necessary. Calvin, for example, did not hesitate to assert that proper Eucharistic theology is necessary for salvation.  (See his Petit traicté de la Saincte Cene.) With each passing generation, however the promise of agreement became more and more elusive. Eventually, Protestants were forced by circumstances to declare themselves theologically pure in the most narrowly sectarian way, or else continually and reductively to redefine what counts as “core,” or “essential.” In some cases (Schleiermacher, Barth, and some evangelicals) this “core” was redefined in non-doctrinal terms altogether.

Against this theological reductionism, the Catholic Church begins to appear an attractive alternative.  Catholicism offers a principled way to distinguish dogma from mere theological opinion.  Rather than admit the impossibility of doctrinal certainty arising from Scripture alone, however, Reformed detractors now impugn the very desire for the certainty promised by Catholicism.

To be fair, Michael Horton, Wes White and the others who have made these claims do not personally ascribe to the radical theological skepticism I think their critique suggests. They do acknowledge a type of theological certainty. However, I would like to place their view of certainty in historical context, and ask why it has failed to satisfy the restless heart of the ex-Reformed.

Certainty and the Catholic Tradition

If you are going to object to the quest for doctrinal certainty in the Catholic Church, I think it is very important that you understand just what the Catholic Church offers. Some Reformed Christians of my acquaintance object to the Catholic doctrine of an infallible magisterium on the grounds that “there is no infallible list of infallible pronouncements,” or “Catholics disagree on the status of such-and-such a dogma,” or “where is the infallible interpretation of such-and-such a verse?”  What such objections amount to, it seems to me, is – “If you cannot give me an infallible answer to every question I have, then your infallibility is of no use.”

All of these objections miss the mark. The point of the extraordinary Magisterium (councils and ex cathedra pronouncements) is not to give an infallible answer to every question, but only to intervene on those questions that the Church deems essential to the faith. There are many issues on which the Magisterium has refused to dogmatize. (See the Congregatio de auxiliis, for example). There are others for which the ordinary teaching of the church is deemed sufficient.

In all of these cases, what must be born in mind is the distinction between dogma and theological opinion. The Catechism: “The Church’s Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes in a definitive way truths having a necessary connection with them . . . Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure.” (CCC, 88)

What the Catholic Church promises, then, is not an answer to every question, but a principled way, established by divine authority, to differentiate dogma from mere opinion, and to do so in a way that allows for certainty in our act of faith. As we shall see, the historic Reformed tradition makes very similar claims, but on a very different basis.

Certainty in the Reformed Tradition

Zwingli

Ulrich Zwingli offered one of the earliest apologies for the doctrine of sola scriptura. In his Clarity and Certainty of the Word of God (1522), he argued that a spirit-illumined reading of Scripture could provide far more certainty and clarity than any appeal to competing Catholic authorities:

When the rabble of carnal divines that you call fathers and bishops pronounce upon a doctrine about which there is a doubt, are you enlightened, and do you know with absolute certainty that it is as they say? . . . [You] put your trust in fallible men, who can do nothing without the grace and spirit of God . . . You believe that men can give you certainty, which is no certainty, and you do not believe that God can give it to you. . . .You do not know that it is God himself who teaches a man, nor do you know that when God has taught him that man has an inward certainty and assurance. . . . If you think there can be no assurance of certainty for the soul, listen to the certainty of the Word of God. The soul can be instructed and enlightened – note the clarity – so that it perceives that its whole salvation and righteousness, or justification is enclosed in Jesus Christ. [1]

Zwingli here specifically contrasts the lack of certainty in Catholicism with the absolute certainty one has of one’s salvation from Scripture and the Spirit. This emphasis on soteriology and pneumatology continues to be a mainstay of Protestant hermeneutical theory, and the response to Catholic claims about authority.

Calvin

Anyone familiar with Calvin’s struggle for “doctrinal purity” in Geneva, his imposition of a common catechism, the legal strictures placed on theological dissent, and the harsh words he uttered against other Protestants  cannot doubt that he thought doctrinal clarity was both possible and necessary. (See How John Calvin Made me a Catholic.)

Not only did Calvin believe in doctrinal certainty, he also believed that failure to agree with an ordained minister was a sign of reprobation.  On Friday June 28 and Saturday June 29, 1549, Calvin preached two sermons that must have goaded the individualists in his congregation.  Calvin taught that the mother of all superstition and idolatry, and the cause of all dissension is the belief that one can “discern between the good and the bad apart from the rule of God.” [2]  He made it quite plain, however, that the office of discerning good from bad belongs exclusively to the ordained ministry.  Those who obey this rule are the elect, those who disobey the reprobate.  Calvin says:

We see that those who have charge of the word of God, their office is to discern what is good in order to approve it and what is bad in order to condemn it.  And when men submit themselves to the doctrine that we preach, we [should] regard them as those in whom God is working [i.e., the elect].  On the contrary, those who draw themselves back, we [must] hold them in derision. [3]

In a number of places, Calvin equates opposition to ministerial teaching (i.e., the Reformed Magisterium) as rebellion against God himself.  Some deny that the ministry of the prophets continues in the church, Calvin says, but this is “execrable blasphemy.”  Though his word may be pronounced by a mortal man, “we must be completely certain that God ratifies from heaven whatever is pronounced here in his name.”  Those who oppose a prophet, Calvin explains, oppose not the prophet but God.  “If someone brings us the word of God and he is despised among us,” he preaches, “we must not look to mortal men as if it were to them that we had done injury, but let us know that God will always be their guardian, and let us feel that it is him we have offended.” [4]

This is why the mature Calvin could even affirm the doctrine of implicit faith. The majority of the faithful, he held, are unable accurately to derive doctrinal conclusions from Scripture, but must be content with an implicit faith in the teaching of the ordained ministry.

The Westminster Confession on Certainty and Infallibility

Zwingli and Calvin were naive in their belief that Scripture-interpreted-by-the-Reformed-ministry would provide doctrinal clarity and theological unity. By the time of the Westminster Assembly, theological pluralism was a fact of Protestant life.  Rather than give up the hope for clarity and unity, however, the Westminster divines articulated a nascent theological reductionism.  According to Westminster, certainty might not be possible for every issue, but God did promise infallibility and certainty regarding those doctrines necessary for salvation.

In chapter one, the WCF treats of Holy Scripture, its composition, nature, authority, clarity, and interpretation. For our purposes, the most interesting part is how the confession addresses the problem of Scriptural interpretation. It acknowledges that “all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all,” yet it asserts that “those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them .” WCF I.vii

The confession is equally interesting when it considers the kind of knowledge available to the elect regarding those doctrines “necessary for salvation.”

The Confession:

[S]uch as truly believe in the Lord Jesus . . . may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace . . . This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probably persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God.  XVIII.I (Emphasis mine.)

Certainty. Infallible. Assurance. This is the language of the Confession, though limited to the doctrines and knowledge of salvation.

Protestantism and Theological Reductionism

Why did some Reformed Protestants take the reductionistic path? Scripture does not call for theological reductionism. Paul could exhort the Corinthians “to agree on everything.” Clearly, Calvin and the early Reformed tradition envisioned something much more solid than the current Reformed fare.  The answer, I think, is historical. Although the process of doctrinal disintegration began immediately with the Reformation (and is reflected in the WCF) it had reached a fever pitch by the 18th century.

As I have discussed elsewhere, the 18th century revivals were disastrous for Protestant Ecclesiology and hermeneutics. As Protestants across denominations began to testify to the same saving experiences, revival proponents concluded that denominational differences did not matter. George Whitefield, for example, remarked:

I saw regenerate souls among the Baptists, among the Presbyterians, among the Independents, and among the Church [i.e., Anglican] folks—all children of God, and yet all born again in a different way of worship: and who can tell which  is the most evangelical.

And again,

It was best to preach the new birth, and the power of godliness, and not to insist so much on the form: for people would never be brought to one mind as to that; nor did Jesus Christ ever intend it. [5] (Emphasis mine.)

Whitefield’s remarks are very far removed from the sentiments of Calvin and the early Reformed Tradition, but they are emblematic of the emerging direction of Reformed Ecclesiology. Eventually, some schools of Reformed theology would move away from doctrinal affirmations of any sort.

Certainty, the Blogosphere, and the Reformed Tradition

The historic Reformed tradition promises doctrinal certainty. Zwingli believed in certainty at least regarding the soteriological core  of the Christian faith. Calvin had a much more robust notion of doctrinal certainty, based on the authority of the Reformed Magisterium. Westminster, like Zwingli, promises certainty and assurance regarding the question of personal salvation.

Some contemporary writers, like Horton, recognize the more robust, classical Calvinist view of certainty and religious authority.  To Horton, it seems incredible that anyone could defect from a “Reformational” view of Scripture and authority, and seek certainty from the elusive and questionable Catholic magisterium. The question then arises, “Why would so many ex-Reformed Christians find the Reformation option ultimately unsatisfying?”

Assessment:

Horton would have us believe that anyone who defects from the Reformed faith must not really have understood the Reformed faith, and its nuanced view of Scripture, tradition, and ministerial authority. But this is not true. There are a number of problems with the Reformed view, so that even a fully-orbed Reformational view of Scripture fails to satisfy the ex-Reformed.

To begin with, we note that the historic Reformed faith is as interested in the question of certainty and assurance as any Catholic. Zwingli uses the language of absolute certainty; the WCF speaks of an infallible assurance. The problem enters in with the basis of that certainty. The Reformed tradition offers two approaches.

First, there is the infallible assurance that WCF lodges in the individual conscience. This is the theme, taken in a highly reductive sense, of the Evangelical tradition. Second, there is the magisterial authority – worthy of implicit faith – that Calvin asserts. Writers like Horton and Keith Matthison seek to blend the two, emphasizing the final authority of Scripture, while stressing both Scripture’s soteriological core and the role of authorized interpreters. Let’s take each view in turn.

First, the subjectivist view. The subjectivist dimension to Reformed theology is particularly problematic when considered in light of the WCF teaching on false assurance (basically, that false assurance is possible). (XVII.i)  If infallible assurance is possible, and false assurance is possible, then there must be some way to differentiate an infallible witness of the spirit from a spurious one. What is that way? What could it possibly look like?

Here is where I would like particularly to challenge our Reformed readers. Can you give a coherent description of how one could distinguish a genuine from a spurious claim to illumination? I imagine that the true and the genuine could be distinguished only by what philosophers of mind call qualia: those utterly subjective and ineffable elements of consciousness that color our perceptions, like the way that green appears to me. I can give no coherent description of what green “looks like,” nor can I know with certainty that my “green” is not your “orange.” This is what philosophers call the “inverted spectrum” problem.

I can think of no coherent way to differentiate genuine from spurious claims to illumination that does not fall prey to the inverted spectrum problem.  It is always possible, it seems to me, that my experience of “true faith,” is really your “hypocritical and passing faith.” This is rendered even more likely by the Reformed doctrine of original sin. If my every thought and inclination is depraved, then even my most perfect act of faith and trust must be deficient. In the final analysis, it seems to me that Reformed subjectivism can provide certainty of only one proposition: “I am the subject of something; I have had an experience.” But that purely interior experience can tell me nothing certain and objective about the world outside my mind.

Another problem with the subjectivist view is that it wrecks havoc with ecclesiology. This may not bother Schleiermacher or the radical evangelical, but it should seem problematic to anyone with an even slightly empirical doctrine of the Church. Without an external authority to check my private experience, the church necessarily reduces to “Me and whoever agrees with me.” This is, in fact, precisely the answer to religious pluralism given by one recent critic of Catholic converts. He writes, “The way forward is to separate oneself from all that is evidently doctrinally and morally corrupt [sic!] and fellowship with small groups of like-minded believers.”

What of the Reformed Magisterum? Many Reformed Christians acknowledge the authority of creeds, confessions, and Church ministers. These serve allegedly as a check on the private interpretation of individuals. The problem with this view comes in the criteria we must use to identify that Magisterium, and the degree of authority we ascribe to it.

The Reformed tradition clearly rejects apostolic succession, miracles, or any other empirical criteria for recognizing the Magisterium. Calvin’s view was that the Reformed Magisterium be recognized by its fidelity to “The Word.” Horton stresses the hermeneutical centrality of “the Gospel.”  The problem with these is that they reduce, in the end, again to subjectivism.  Who gets to be the judge of an authority’s fidelity to “The Word?” Who judges fidelity to “The Gospel?”  This very question befuddled the Genevan church in Calvin’s day, which was wracked over just these problems of biblical interpretation and the criteria for religious authority.

There is a way to illustrate this from something in the field of finance. In my business (investments), you NEVER give unqualified investment advice. You always qualify it with a lengthy, legal disclaimer saying, in effect, “This investment advice really should not be construed as investment advice. Really, its just for educational purposes. If you act on it and lose your shirt, remember that we never told you to act on it.” In the end, the Reformed Magisterium reduces to something similar. The only infallible interpreter of Scripture is Scripture itself. The only infallible assurance is the subjective assurance of salvation. Therefore, any pronouncement of the Reformed Magisterium is qualified by, “But, we’re really not certain of this. Make sure you check it against Scripture.”

Again, in his own ministry, Calvin had no credible answer to this problem. When members of his congregation challenged him on biblical exegesis, he would respond by insulting them, impugning their motives, questioning their election, and asserting his own divine authority. (Oh, and by urging the city council to enact legal strictures against, and punishments of theological dissent.)

Another problem with the Reformed view of Scripture and authority is the glaring historical record, the very reason for evangelical reductionism. However you construe theological certainty, there just hasn’t been any in Protestant history. The only way you can say otherwise is to assert some doctrinal core (based on subjective criteria) and then to go poking through history looking for theological bedfellows. But this hardly does justice to the actual theological pluralism of Protestantism – of even the Reformed tradition. (If anyone doubts the existence of Reformed pluralism, please take a peak at Janice Knight’s Orthodoxies in Massachusetts.)

Closely related to this is another problem: the putative “clarity” of Scripture’s soteriological core. One of the mainstays of Reformed hermeneutics is the alleged clarity of those doctrines “necessary for salvation.” By this, the WCF means the whole complex of ideas related to justification, imputation, faith-alone, atonement, etc. Increasingly, the claim that these are clear even to the unlearned seems less and less credible.

At risk of provoking shrieks and catcalls, I invoke N.T. Wright and the “New Perspectives.” Anyone who has read Wright’s Justification can hardly question his commitment to sola scriptura, his seriousness as an exegetical scholar, and his rejection of traditional Reformed soteriology. Now, it is one thing to reject Wright on exegetical grounds (as many do). But then what to make of the WCF claim that the core doctrines of the faith are so plain that even the unlearned (elect) can grasp them in Scripture? Do we really conclude that Wright is among the unregenerate simply because he disagrees with the Reformed doctrine of justification? To many ex-Reformed, this appears an egregious case of special pleading.

There is yet another problem with the “soteriological core” view of Scripture’s clarity. Positing a clear “core” of soteriological doctrines, and a less clear penumbra of ecclesiology is one way to distinguish essential from non-essential. But, it is atrociously ad hoc. Who says we should divide essential and non-essential this way? Calvin clearly didn’t limit the “essentials” to only soteriological data. Neither did Nicaea. Nor does Scripture itself. (“Agree on everything,” says Paul.)

Then finally, there is the actual teaching of Scripture about religious authority. Many of the ex-Reformed were persuaded in favor of the Catholic Magisterium on the basis of Scripture itself. The ultimate problem with the Reformed view of biblical authority (however you construe it) is that it is unbiblical. Scripture simply knows no doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Scripture says much, however, about the authority of the Church.

Conclusion

More and more Reformed Christians are becoming Catholics in search of doctrinal certainty. They have recognized that Protestantism has no principled way of objectively distinguishing dogma from opinion. The Catholic claim to be able to do this is not only attractive and satisfying, but it is objectively grounded in revelation and history.

Some Reformed writers have criticized this quest for certainty. They object to this search for “hard edges.” Instead, they urge humility and prayer, veneration of Scripture alone, and a limited reliance on ministerial authority and tradition. They acknowledge that these measures are prone to failure and cannot provide absolute certainty, but they suggest that they provide enough certainty to guarantee a saving knowledge of Christ.

We have placed this objection in historical context. We see that the early sources of the Reformed tradition were not reticent about promising doctrinal certainty, but that over time Protestantism was subjected to a type of theological reductionism. This reductionism is a challenge to the Reformed view of doctrinal certainty. We have also called into question a central claim of the Reformed view of Scripture: that there is a (Reformed) soteriological core that is so clear as to be reasonably beyond question. We have also questioned why theological certainty should be limited to only soteriological issues?

Finally, it is not true that all Reformed converts to Catholicism are ignorant of Reformation history and doctrine. I, for one, was raised fully in the reductionistic, evangelical school of Reformed history. When I began to study the Reformation in earnest, however, I discovered the more robust view of ecclesiastical authority, liturgy, and sacramental life. I also discovered an intolerance of schism, and a real desire for doctrinal unity on even (seemingly) trivial questions. Inspired by this more robust, Calvinistic vision of doctrinal unity, theological certainty, and ecclesial life, I pursued a systematic investigation of Scripture, history, and tradition to discern which communion had the strongest claim to orthodoxy, historical continuity, and biblical fidelity.  Study of history, Scripture, and tradition made the Calvinist claim to authenticity incredible to be. It made the Catholic claim credible.

____________

[1] Cited in Zwlingli and Bullinge, ed. G.W. Bromley (Westminster/John Knox, 1953), 83-84.

[2]Supplementa Calviniana  6: 54. Cited hereafter as SC.

[3] Calvini Opera 6: 48. (Cited hereafter as CO): “En cela nous voyons que ceulx qui ont charge de la parolle de Dieu, leur office est de discerner ce qui est bon pour l’approuver et ce qui est meschant pour le condampner.  Et quant les hommes se rengent à la doctrine que nous portons que alors nous les regardions comme ceulx en qui Dieu besogne.  Au contraire ceulx qui s’en retirent que nous les ayons en mespris.”

[4] SC 5: 3, 11; 6: 122: “Et de dire que les prophetes n’ayent plus de lieu, mais qu’il nous fault contenter de la doctrine de l’Evangile, c’est un blaspheme execrable.”  “Combien que cela nous soit annoncé d’ung homme mortel, nous en debvons estre tout certains, d’autant que Dieu ratiffie au ciel ce qui est icy prononcé en son nom.”  “Voila donc l’intention du prophete: c’est de monstrer à ceux qui on mesprisé sa doctrine qu’ilz n’auront [pas] seulement à faire à luy, mais à Dieu.  Voila qu’il faut que nous notions, que si on nous apporte la parolle de Dieu et [qu’]il y a mespris en nous, il ne faut pas que nous regardions les hommes mortelz comme si c’estoit à eux que nous pens[i]ons faire injure, mais que nous congoissons que Dieu sera tousjours leur garand et sentions que c’est luy que nous avons navré.”

[5] Journals (London: Banner of Truth, 1960), 458, Cited in Mark Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys (Downers Grove: IVP, 2003), 13-15.

119 comments
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  1. In the world of American Evangelicalism and Reformed Protestantism they can never settle teaching of Christ to be binding on the believer. Like the teaching of Baptism in the Catholic Church is binding on the Catholic and has been define for all which one could go out in die for. Now in the world of Protestantism the teaching of Baptism will never be settle and will always be up in the air as a theological opinion of a certain Protestant church. The Lutheans of the world could hold a council and define what Baptism is for the baby, child, adult and could never bind this to the Reformed Baptist church as a true teaching of Christ.

    Just my two cents anyways,,,, God bless everybody.

  2. Excellent. Thank you David.

  3. One of the attributes of true faith is certitude, considering the writings of Fr. Thomas Dubay, who wrote ‘Faith and Certitude’. He went on to say that in the face of faith, ongoing doubt and dissension is rather a mark of intellectual lack of well being.

    The Apostolic faith is binding. We waiver, but then experience the pull, the draw to bring us back to center, the binding work of true faith.

  4. (“Agree on everything,” says Paul.)

    This is not true. See Romans 14:5, where Paul explicitly allows for Christian disagreement. The point of Paul’s exhortations to unity are often that Christians need to humbly accept one another, even when they disagree.

    Overall, however, this is an interesting analysis. “Assurance” is a major theme of doctrinal debates over the past centuries. I find it interesting that Trent rejected the Reformers’ assertion that one could have soteriological assurance. This, of course, was a major issue for Luther. It is really Protestantism’s claim to offer individual soteriological assurance that has failed, and in response to the failure of the Reformation, many are turning instead to the ecclesiological assurance offered by Rome (which is not to judge such a move).

  5. I am currently engaged in an interesting discussion along these lines (under the recent “Papacy” post) with the folks over at Green Baggins. TurretinFan, Stephen, David et. al. – would love to hear your thoughts on this essay. Can the RCC really offer the assurance and certainty you describe, given the role one’s personal interpretation plays in both recognizing the Truth in Scripture and in recognizing the purported authority of any magisterium, including that of the RCC?

    Burton

  6. Dr. Anders writes:

    The ultimate problem with the Reformed view of biblical authority (however you construe it) is that it is unbiblical. Scripture simply knows no doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

    Exactly! The doctrine of Sola Scriptura has no scriptural basis. It seems to me, that many Protestants merely presume that Sola Scriptura is true without ever examining why they believe it is true. This Protestant convert explains why that is a problem:

    … an episode occurred one night in a seminar I wasn’t ready for. An ex-Catholic graduate student named John raised his hand. He had just finished a presentation for the seminar on the Council of Trent. The Council of Trent, you’ll recall, was the Church’s official response to Martin Luther and the Reformation.

    In about an hour and a half he had presented the Council of Trent in the most favorable light. He had shown how many of their arguments were in fact based on the Bible. Then he turned the tables on me. The students were supposed to ask him a question or two. He said, “Can I first ask you a question, Professor Hahn? You know how Luther really had two slogans, not just sola fide, but the second slogan he used to revolt against Rome was sola Scriptura, the Bible alone. My question is, ‘Where does the Bible teach that?'”

    I looked at him with a blank stare. I could feel sweat coming to my forehead. I used to take pride in asking my professors the most stumping questions, but I never heard this one before. And so I heard myself say words that I had sworn I’d never speak; I said, “John, what a dumb question.” He was not intimidated. He looked at me and said, “Give me a dumb answer.” I said, “All right, I’ll try.” I just began to wing it. I said, “Well, Timothy 3:16 is the key: ‘All Scripture is inspired of God and profitable for correction, for training and righteousness, for reproof that the man of God may be completely equipped for every good work….'” He said, “Wait a second, that only says that Scripture is inspired and profitable; it doesn’t say ONLY Scripture is inspired or even better, only Scripture is profitable for those things. We need other things like prayer,” and then he said, “What about 2 Thessalonians 2:15?” I said, “What’s that again?” He said, “Well, there Paul tells the Thessalonians that they have to hold fast, they have to cling to the traditions that Paul has taught them either in writing or by word of mouth.” Whoa! I wasn’t ready. I said, “Well, let’s move on with the questions and answers; I’ll deal with this next week. Let’s go on.”

    I don’t think they realized the panic I was in. When I drove home that night, I was just staring up to the heavens asking God, why have I never heard that question? Why have I never found an answer? The next day I began calling up theologians around the country, former professors. I’d ask them, “Where does the Bible teach sola Scriptura? Where does the Bible teach us that the Bible is our only authority?” One man actually said to me, “What a dumb question coming from you.” I said, “Give me a dumb answer then.” I was catching on. One professor whom I greatly respect, an Oxford theologian, said to me, “Scott, you don’t expect to find the Bible proving sola Scriptura because it isn’t something the Bible demonstrates. It is our assumption; it is our presupposition when we approach the Bible.” That struck me as odd; I said, “But professor, that seems strange because what we are saying then is that we should only believe what the Bible teaches, but the Bible doesn’t teach us to only believe what the Bible teaches. Our assumption isn’t taught by the Bible.” I said, “That feels like we’re cutting off the branch that we’re sitting on.” …

    Ref. THE SCOTT HAHN CONVERSION STORY:
    Protestant Minister Becomes Catholic

    http://www.star.ucl.ac.uk/~vgg/rc/aplgtc/hahn/m1/sctcnv.html

  7. Burton:

    David has done an excellent job of explaining why Reformed Protestantism cannot offer “certainty” about how to distinguish binding doctrine from theological opinion. Your worry, exacerbated of late by Stephen Wolfe’s criticisms of my article beginning here, is that Catholicism cannot offer such certainty either. I’m preparing a new article to answer Wolfe in detail, but in the meantime I offer a few thoughts.

    In Catholic theology, the evidence showing the assent of divine faith to be reasonable has traditionally been called “the motives of credibility” (MCs), which, to a degree, are publicly available as a dataset. But we cannot expect our imperfect knowledge of the MCs to necessitate intellectual assent to revealed truth by means of arguments whose premises are drawn from a publicly available dataset. Nobody knows all the pertinent data, and even if some did, their intellects would not be compelled by logical necessity to interpret them as means by which God speaks to us with his plenary authority. Divine faith, by which we believe God on his authority, is a gift of grace freely accepted or freely rejected; without it, one can only see the pertinent dataset as a collection of facts about human experience, action, and thought. Given as much, the most we can expect of citing the MCs, even in principle, is to show that making the assent of faith is more reasonable than refusing to do so. But even that showing is contingent on a full knowledge and understanding of the MCs, which few if any people possess. Certainly the average believer does not possess it, and even the “experts”–historians, theologians, and philosophers–disagree about how to interpret the MCs. Clearly, God does not expect us to make the assent of faith solely, or even mainly, on the basis of a scrupulously conducted investigation of the dataset, from which logically impeccable inferences are made to justify the assent of faith with certainty. The purpose of citing the MCs must accordingly be apologetic rather than dispositive: to defend the assent of faith as reasonable, not to present grounds that would rationally necessitate it.

    Now Wolfe criticizes my argument by pointing out that, even granted that there can be “reason enough” to embrace the Catholic interpretive paradigm (IP) for distinguishing binding doctrine from mere opinion, that would not supply the “certainty” needed for faith unless one could first “know,” by evidence drawn from the pertinent sources of data, that the Magisterium’s claims for itself are true. To be sure, no such knowledge is forthcoming. For said claims, if true, are themselves part of the deposit of faith calling for the assent of faith; and if one could do what Wolfe says the Catholic apologist must do, then the deposit of faith would have to be a deposit of knowledge, not of faith. But it does not follow that one who sees the Catholic IP as more reasonable than the Protestant cannot have the certainty of faith. And Wolfe should know that, because he does not apply the same standard to his own account of Reformed Protestant faith. Even though he presents the assent of faith for the Reformed Protestant as entailing certainty, he does not claim that it’s the result of demonstrative arguments from a publicly available dataset. Rather, the assent of faith as he understands it is the result of the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit regenerating the believer’s heart and enabling him to “see” the truth of “the narrow Gospel”–i.e., “forensic justification”–along with that of other truths connected with that doctrine by logical necessity. So not even he believes that the certainty of faith results from “proof” akin to what can be found in mathematics and natural science: logically necessary inferences from axioms and publicly available facts. So if the certainty of faith does not so arise, whence does it?

    Well, Wolfe maintains that the regenerated believer can “know” that he is illumined by the Spirit, and thus “know” both that the Protestant canon is the inspired, inerrant word of God and that, at least on points deemed “essential,” his interpretations thereof are correct. On that account, even though the formal object for the assent of faith is objective, the grounds for the certainty of that faith are primarily subjective. Such grounds are what’s called, in the Catholic apologist’s parlance, “bosom-burning.” But on such an account, there’s no reason in principle why, as a Catholic, I cannot just as well say that rendering assent to the Magisterium’s claims for itself, under the inspiration of the divine gift of faith, so enlightens me that I am certain I recognize the deposit of faith for what it is. How can the uncommitted inquirer be certain whose certainty is justified? Wolfe does not say. He can’t appeal to the data alone, so he doesn’t; but then neither can he expect the Catholic to either.

    This suggests that the question as Wolfe originally framed it needs reframing. The question is not whether the regenerating and illuminating grace of the Holy Spirit is necessary for us to recognize divinely revealed truth as such; we agree that it is. The question is which way of conceiving the formal, proximate object of faith–the Catholic or the Protestant–is more reasonable, given that no such way can be necessitated by reason alone. That question cannot be answered by insisting that either side prove its case from the publicly available dataset. It can be answered only by examining how each IP actually operates on the data so as to distinguish divine revelation from human opinion. The more reasonable approach will be, among other things, the more objective. And the Catholic approach clearly is that, if Wolfe’s account of the Protestant approach is accurate. So Wolfe’s criticism of my argument for the Catholic IP goes by the boards, and the question remains exactly as I had left it.

    Best,
    Mike

  8. David DeJong (re #4),

    In response to David Ander’s claim that St. Paul exhorted the Corinthians to “agree on everything,” you wrote:

    This is not true. See Romans 14:5, where Paul explicitly allows for Christian disagreement.

    Actually, this is true, as you would have seen had you followed up David’s reference by turning to 1 Corinthians 1:10, where St. Paul writes:

    Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no schisms among you: but that you be perfect in the same mind and in the same judgment.

    What Paul writes in Romans 14:5 does not nullify this passage in 1 Corinthians, so to render it “not true.” Of course, the same holds vice versa. I think that there is a pretty easy way to harmonize the two verses, e.g., 1 Corinthians 1:10 refers to doctrine while Romans 14:5 refers to discipline. But it simply won’t do, on orthodox grounds, to dismiss one or the other passage as “not true.”

    Andrew

  9. Hello everyone,

    I look forward to digesting this post in the near future.

    For now, a couple other places that touch on this issue.

    In this first post, this gentleman points out why it is difficult for the Reformed to grant certainty because of their view of temporary faith in the heart:

    http://upstatelutheran.blogspot.com/2010/02/calvin-on-temporary-deep-in-heart-faith.html

    (to be fair, William Tighe’s comments should be read as well)

    In this second Called to Communion post, Andrew and I have been having an ongoing discussion on Aquinas’ view of certainty vis a vis that of Luther and the Lutheran reformers. I am taking a break for now, but will be continuing this conversation with Andrew (if he still desires) at the end of October:

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/08/st-thomas-aquinas-on-assurance-of-salvation/

    Phillip Carey’s say on the subject is likewise indispensible (i.e. the different ideas of faith between Lutherans and Calvinists):

    http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2012/07/luthers-assurance-of-salvation-baptism.html

    Blessings to all! Carry on.

    +Nathan

  10. Andrew,

    Ah, you posted here to! Hello.

    I agree what you say, but then again, I also agree with this: http://bible.cc/1_corinthians/11-19.htm (you can have the last word here – I won’t have time to drop by again for a while…)

    +Nathan

  11. It does seem more and more apparent that Protestantism leads to a Christian theological nihilism …

  12. I think “certainty” is critically important as it relates to practical questions of morality. When I was Protestant, I was uncertain whether particular actions were sinful (say, missing church while on vacation), and so I committed them, thereby putting my soul in jeopardy. Now that I am Catholic I am certain these actions are sinful and seek to avoid them.

  13. One more comment: If it pleased God to reveal Himself, then it ought to have pleased Him to do so in such a way that we can know what He meant by what He said.

  14. Andrew:

    Rom 14:5 is not about discipline; it is explicitly about doctrine. What do Christians do about the Sabbath day?

    Look, of course I’m not saying that either Rom 14:5 or 1 Cor 1:10 is “not true.” What I would say is that I don’t think Paul is advocating complete doctrinal unity in 1 Cor 1:10. Rather, he is opposing schisms and factions. For example, to say “I follow Peter” is to divide the unity of Christ’s body (and here I think 1 Cor 1:17 is a rebuke to current Roman ecclesiology, which is basically a giant “Cephas party”).

    Your interpretation of 1 Cor 1:10 will not hold up as you keep reading the epistle and come to chapter 8. Again, Paul explicitly allows for different Christian opinions on food sacrificed to idols, but he does not want those with “knowledge” to cause the weak to stumble. Christian unity is advocated not by means of demanding complete agreement on every issue but despite the fact that there is not complete agreement.

  15. David DeJong,

    What I mean by “doctrine” is a matter of Christian belief that is not relative to places, times, or persons. Doctrine embodies an absolute truth claim. By “discipline,” I am referring to a matter of Christian practice that can, within the permission of the Church and the conscience of the person, vary from time to time, place to place, person to person. There is also a broader sense of the word “discipline,” i.e., a regulation of life, whereby some disciplines are absolute, as expressive of moral laws or revealed truth concerning what is binding on all Christians (e.g., truth-telling, chastity, the Sunday obligation).

    On this understanding, Romans 14:5 clearly pertains to matters of discipline in the restricted sense given above. St. Paul is not teaching that people are at liberty to hold falsehoods or to do what is intrinsically wrong or opposed to Christian duty. There is no indication that his remarks about observing the day are a reference to Sunday, the Christian sabbath. That reading would not only be eisegetical, it would be contrary to the whole of the Christian tradition.

    On the other hand, 1 Corinthians 1:10 is about doctrine–on this we are in agreement. (Since I did not give an interpretation of the passage beyond this, it is strange that you would claim that my interpretation “will not hold up….”) Concerning 1 Corinthians 8, whether or not one should eat food sacrificed to idols is a matter of discipline, as explained above. If it were a matter of doctrine, or discipline in the absolute sense, then St. Paul’s instructions would amount to giving the Corinthians permission, in some cases, to do that which is intrinsically wrong and to believe that which is false.

    St. Paul was given both revelation and authority from God to preach the truth that is in Christ Jesus. Thus, it seems to me that the most natural reading of the positive injunction in 1 Corinthians 1:10, “that you be perfect in the same mind and in the same judgment,” refers to matters that have been declared (by Paul and others so authorized) to have been revealed by God. This is not a command to be in complete agreement on every question that could possibly come up, at least, not until an authorized person or persons declares that the question pertains to divine revelation, and declares the truth of the matter concerning what has been revealed on the topic at hand. In fact, Paul issues just such an authoritative clarification of the truth beginning in 1 Corinthians 1:13. He does the same sort of thing several times in this and many of his other epistles. If St. Paul were giving Christians permission to disagree about divine revelation, in matters of faith and morals, then he would be undercutting his own mission and authority.

    Andrew

  16. Nathan,

    In 1 Corinthians 11:19, St. Paul was not sanctioning heresies, as though such divisions should be fostered by the Church; rather, he was indicating what purpose these divisions serve in the providence of God.

    I have not forgotten about our exchange on assurance. At some point, I will get back to that thread. Its good to hear from you.

    Andrew

  17. David (re:#14),

    You write that in I Corinthians, chapter 8:

    Christian unity is advocated not by means of demanding complete agreement on every issue but despite the fact that there is not complete agreement.

    No one is stating here that St. Paul is asking for “complete agreement on every issue” that one comes across in life. However, Christians must know what truly *is* essential for agreement. Over the centuries, Protestant denominations have gradually pared down their lists of the “essentials” (on which Christians must agree, in order to even rightly be *named* as Christians) and “non-essentials” (on Christians which may legitimately disagree). The modern Protestant list(s) of “essentials” has become much shorter than that of the Reformers, who provide a very sharp contrast, when one studies them.

    In Luther’s “Sola Scriptura” understanding, one’s view of the Eucharist was a Scriptural “essential,” and he broke with Zwingli over it. Calvin spoke of those who rejected infant baptism as enemies of the faith. Modern Protestants may believe such views and actions to be fairly ridiculous, but such an opinion can only really rest on the assumption that the *current* list of essentials is correct, and that the older ones were, in some way, wrong themselves. How do we know? Can we know? (Obviously, as a Catholic, I have reached certain conclusions, concerning those questions, but I’m just posing the question to you.)

    In I Corinthians 1:10-12 (RSV), St. Paul writes:

    10 I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apol’los,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”

    Now, certainly all Christians would affirm that they “belong to Christ,” whether they are Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian/Calvinist, Baptist (whether Calvinist Baptist or “free will”), and so on. However, given St. Paul’s words above, could he not, in some sense, be presciently warning us about the very denominational divisions that we see in Protestantism, whether they are the more hard-edged, “longer list of essentials” sort of divisions that we see in the 16th century, or the shorter, “let’s just agree on the basics” Protestantism of today? (Who decides what are “the basics”?)

    The divisions of Protestantism are still there, even though the reasons for them are now relegated to disagreements over supposed “secondary issues,” such as baptism and eternal security. (Again, who has decided that these even are “secondary issues”?) The Reformers would be appalled at such doctrinal reductionism.

    Ultimately, how does any of this disagreement over doctrine and practice fulfill St. Paul’s appeal that we “be united in the same mind and the same judgment”? Does not the existence of Lutheranism, Calvinism, Wesleyanism, etc. serve as a visible sign that Christians have not listened rightly to St. Paul’s words in the Scriptures?

  18. Christopher,

    You ask, how can we know which list of essentials is correct? I don’t think we can know infallibly or certainly. All I think we can do is make our best case, informed by Scripture, tradition, history, as to what the essentials are. I don’t think doctrine of the sacramentals can be essential by definition since different denominations sacramental theology are deeply rooted in their philosophical apparati. I.e if one is a Thomist Aristotelian one will have a very different sacramental theology than if one is a nominalist.

    I would say the primary reason many today are more ok with a smaller list of essentials is because we are ok with interpretive plurality. As soon as you recognize that Scripture is ambiguous and that there is not going to be interpretive agreement on every issue (e.g. baptism) and that sincere Christians can sincerely disagree, then you need to account for that in your construal of “essentials.” The Reformers did reject and even persecuted those who held adult baptism, also because in those days such a position was subversive to the state. I think Protestants are much better off now recognizing that the list of essentials is smaller than Luther or Calvin tried to make it.

    I think there is one way in which the existence of many denominations shows that people haven’t been listening to Paul: many Christians believe it is more important that they be right than that they be unified. I’m not sure the Bible places as much of a premium on being “right” as many Christians do.

  19. Andrew P.,

    I don’t think, overall, we disagree. I do think, however, that the division between “doctrine” and “discipline” that you are making was foreign to much of early Christianity. E.g. it would seem by the definition you give that circumcision is a matter of discipline (practice that can change over time) but Paul treats it as doctrine, in Galatians. (His response on that issue is much more severe than his response on Sabbath observance in Rom 14.)

    Of course, I agree that Paul insisted that all Christians agree on what was known to be divine revelation. The fact is, many such matters of “discipline” were thought to be matters of divine revelation and so Christians ended up in sincere disagreement. Paul’s solution to this was in a sense to invent the distinction between doctrine and discipline to which you are appealing, which is to say, that in some cases Christians who think they disagree on matters of divine revelation, are actually disagreeing on a matter of discipline, and therefore ought to remain united and not separate from one another.

    Best,

    Dave

  20. Two observations.
    1) WRT unity, there are two kinds about which Paul speaks — one which is given now for us to preserve, and the other which has not yet been given, but which we are promised will be the culmination of God’s working in the church in history. The problem is that these two are often confused with one another, and so we find ourselves grasping for the one we haven’t been given, at the expense of the one we were told to preserve.

    Paul speaks of these two types of unity in Ephesians 4. We are told to walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This is the unity which we have now, the unity which we all have as through faith in Christ, which unity can only be maintained through forebearance, love and humility. There is another kind of unity which we are promised several verses down, which might be characterized as ecclesiastical unity, or intitutional unity, and it is the kind of unity which God says He will grant over time, as we all “grow up.” So we haev unity in Christ now, but we will eventually all grow up to the full measure of the stature of Christ, at which time we will truly have the other kind of unity.

    But, because we are sons of the grasper Adam, and have to have THAT piece of fruit RIGHT NOW, we forsake the blessings of the unity we’ve been told to preserve in love, and we strive for the unity which can only be given by God in His time. We want to drive dad’s car, but we’re only 12. Every internet fight about the “unity” of the church could probably be boiled down to this inversion of the unity concept — we want what we haven’t been given yet, and in order to get it we’ll gladly reject what we has been intrusted to us. It’s much easier to fight than to love, after all. That is my answer to the “but-what-about-all-the-denominations?” gripe. What about them? Forbear in humility, that’s what. Forebear with each other in Christ for now — God will grow us up into the other kind of unity in His good time. That’s the first observation.

    2) The second is this. There are two kinds of assurance spoken of in this blog post, and it appears to me that there has been some equivocation going on between them. The distinctions between them need to be maintained. There is the assurance of faith, and then there is the assurance of biblical interpretation. Both valid topics of conversation, both imporatant theological and pastoral concerns, but they’re not interchangable. It seems like the general argument of this blog post is this: “Reformed folks are losing their assurance OF SALVATION, so they turn to the RCC for assurance OF INTERPRETATION.” But even if this characterization of reformed folks losing their assurance of salvation over time were true (and I do not accept that it is), it wouldn’t make rational sense, and here’s why. If my problem as a reformed guy is that I lack assurance of my salvation, the last thing I’m gonna do is run to the RCC which has dogmatically declared (in Trent) that I cannot have assurance of salvation. The two assurance problems are distinct, and one of them doesn’t solve the other. They’re not causally connected in that way. I see this as a flaw in the general argument presented in the post.

  21. Hi Charles,

    Thanks for the comments.

    I understand the distinction you are drawing between two types of assurance. However, I’m not equivocating. The reason is that assurance of salvation, in the Reformed view, is conditioned on clear understanding of at least some doctrinal propositions derived from Scripture. I reference this above in the quote from WCF:

    “those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding .”

    On Reformed terms, assurance of salvation does not come from special revelation, but from certainty that I have met the requirements for salvation laid down in Scripture. I cannot be certain of my salvation (on Reformed terms) unless I am certain about what Scripture requires for salvation.

    -David

  22. Dave (re #19),

    The distinction that I am drawing is a logical distinction, between that which is absolute and that which is relative. That distinction was not foreign to the Church at any time in her existence. In fact, St. Paul employees just such a distinction in his arguments concerning justification; e.g., justification by faith is an absolute (thus Abraham is called to witness, having been justified before being circumcised), while the requirement of circumcision is relative, some OT texts that seem indicative of the contrary notwithstanding.

    Paul does treat of circumcision as a doctrine in the sense that his theological opponents (the Judaizers) held the false doctrine that circumcision is absolutely required for Christians. In response, Paul points out the relative nature of circumcision (e.g., as an Old Covenant ordinance that is no longer binding) and sets forth his doctrine of justification by faith in Christ, apart from works of the law.

    I disagree with your claim that St. Paul “invented” the distinction between that which is absolutely binding, as a matter of faith or morals or Christian obligation, and that which is merely disciplinary. It is true that people then and now confuse the two, which is why Paul, invoking his authority as an Apostle, clarified the difference on a number of key points, in several of his epistles. This authoritative clarification of that which has been revealed is how Christians, then and now and throughout history, come to understand what is of the essence of the faith, and what is perhaps de bene esse, for the good, but not absolutely required.

    Andrew

  23. David,
    Thanks for the reply. I think I understand now the connection you’re drawing between assurance of interpretation and assurance of salvation. Fair enough. But in clarifying I think you’ve revealed what I believe to be an insufficient understanding of the Reformed concept of justification (the thing about which the reformed allegedly are not so much assured). It looks like you’ve set the thing up in a way that would make sense to a RC, and transferred RC thinking over to what you believe to be a reformed set-up. But it doesn’t translate, and I think that’s why I didn’t get it at first. Let me explain what I mean.

    Here’s the way you set this up, as I see it: There will be a propositional test at the pearly gates (please, allow me some eschatological latitude here for the sake of the relevant issue), and if we answer the test questions right, we get in. “Do you believe such and such?” “Yes.” “Did you in your life hold to the Church’s doctrine of such-n-such?” “Yes.” etc. Now the RCs have the advantage here, your argument goes, because the Pope had the answer key all along, and so RCs all know what’s going to be on the test. They might not answer all the questions correctly, so in that way their assurance cannot be absolute; but they’ve got a pretty good idea what is expected of them because at least they could have known what the questions were going to be. Thus, their interpretive assurance helps their salvation assurance. But the reformed guy on the other hand is at a disadvantage, you say; not because he’s worse at test-taking than the RC, but because he never knew ahead of time what the answer key looked like. He *thought* he had formulated a lot of right answers, but never knew for sure because he refused to look to the Pope who had the answer key all along. And so in this way, the Reformed guy’s lack of assurance of interpretation translates into his lack of assurance of salvation. Does that about do it?

    That’s a logical argument, but it yields an untrue conclusion because it is built upon a premise that any reformed guy worth his salt would vehemently reject: that justification is contingent upon the believer’s proper understanding of certain theological propositions. It is an unrealistic set-up, and it reveals an incomplete understanding of the reformed mind. Another way of saying it is that you have created a scenario where there is sola scriptura without sola fide or solus Christus. You’ve created a fictional justification narrative, but left out the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness, which means you’ve left out the central thing that would make the scenario Reformed to begin with. Your scenario might make sense if we stipulate first that the reformed guy is wrong about justification; but to the reformed it makes no sense at all. If you walked up to my pastor right now and said salvation comes from “certainty that I have met the requirements for salvation laid down in Scripture,” you’d have walked headlong into a bible study.

    Now in a way, a reformed guy could slyly agree with that statement, knowing in his mind what the “requirements” actually were, and knowing that what you meant by “requirements” is something else entirely. And what I mean is this: the reformed believe that salvation is truly by works of righteousness. Yes, and I will repeat it: Justification, to the reformed, can only be by perfect obedience to God’s holy law. But to the reformed, Christ’s perfect obedience has been imputed to His people, and their sins were imputed to Him (see Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo, and Paul’s Romans 5). And so the only question in the mind of the reformed is whether or not he is in fact one of God’s people.

    But (and this is VERY important) that question is NOT answered by whether or not I have perfect, or even very good, knowledge of the scripture. The evidences God does provide for our sonship are: 1)His promises, 2) His chastening, and 3) the Spirit’s testimony. To elaborate: 1) God promises that those who trust in Christ for their salvation are fellow heirs of the Abrahamic promise, 2) The writer of Hebrews encourages us by explaining that chastening is evidence of our sonship, and 3) Paul declares plainly that the Spirit testifies *in our hearts* to our sonship (Romans 8:16, Galatians 4:6). It could be accurately stated that I believe I am a child of God because 1)I believe I am a child of God, and 2) I do not believe I got to be one by something I did right. This isn’t a reduction of reformed thought over time — this is what Luther *started* with.

    I believe I am a child of God, and to be perfectly honest, I believe it beyond the remotest shadow of a doubt. I believe, without reservation, that God has saved me and will preserve me — and I have no fear to the contrary. There is only one unknown for me: how bad is it going to hurt? In other words, how much whacking and pounding is God going to have to do to me to get me into the shape He requires? And this does motivate me considerably unto holiness. But fear of condemnation does not, for there is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ, and we are in Christ by the grace of God through faith in Christ, NOT by our theological prowess or assent to a list of propositions.

  24. David (re:#18),

    Thank you for the reply, brother. You write:

    You ask, how can we know which list of essentials is correct? I don’t think we can know infallibly or certainly. All I think we can do is make our best case, informed by Scripture, tradition, history, as to what the essentials are.

    If we can’t know, with certainty, which list of the “essentials” of the Christian faith is correct, how can we know that we have not fallen into heresy at a given time? This may seem like a “gotcha” question, but it’s actually a very real question to me.

    Two years ago, a friend of mine, reading and interpreting Scripture as informed by his historical and theological research, came to the conclusion that the doctrine of the Trinity is “unBiblical,” and that those who hold to it are unduly influenced by pagan thinking that gradually “crept into” Christianity. I talked with him at length about this conclusion, reasoning from the Bible and from church history. He had a “Scriptural” refutation for every Biblical argument that I made for the Trinity. When I appealed to the long pedigree of the doctrine in church history, he replied that, yes, most people who claim the name of “Christian” have been wrong on the Trinity throughout history, and that Scripture tells us that only a relatively small number of people will hold to the true faith.

    How would you reply to my friend? In your view, what answer does Protestantism offer to his non-Trinitarian perspective of “true Christianity,” which he has come to via reading and interpreting the Bible and researching history?

  25. Dave (#18),

    I don’t think doctrine of the sacramentals can be essential by definition since different denominations sacramental theology are deeply rooted in their philosophical apparati.

    That idea is foreign to Christian history. Simply because there are those who deny a doctrine does not mean that doctrine is neither right nor essential. Otherwise, Arians have just as much of a right to be at the table as everyone else. Sacramental theology (especially as it pertains to the Eucharist) is the norm in the Church today as it has been throughout the Church’s history.

    I think there is one way in which the existence of many denominations shows that people haven’t been listening to Paul: many Christians believe it is more important that they be right than that they be unified. I’m not sure the Bible places as much of a premium on being “right” as many Christians do.

    How does doctrinal reductionism cut down on denominations? Answer: it doesn’t. This is seen in the ever-increasing multiplicity of denominations in Protestantism. As you admit, the Bible alone cannot guarantee doctrinal unity (even on what is necessary for salvation!). How does it prevent us from descending into relativism? Your view leaves no room for the Church (an institution) as the final judge of what is and is not part of the Deposit of Faith.

    IC XC NIKA

    Garrison

  26. Chris,

    How would you reply to my friend? In your view, what answer does Protestantism offer to his non-Trinitarian perspective of “true Christianity,” which he has come to via reading and interpreting the Bible and researching history?

    I imagine I would reply much as you did. I don’t think Protestantism and Catholicism are really on different footing when it comes to opposing non-Trinitarians. We both would endeavor to convince our dialogue partners using Scripture, tradition, etc. I know it has been claimed on this website that Catholicism’s epistemological position is much more secure but I’m not convinced. Protestants can also appeal to the promise of the Spirit to guide the church into all truth, etc. To be sure, Protestants won’t assert an infallible church – but, to do so would move the argument onto different grounds, and I believe would be to put the cart before the horse. To make the character of the eternal God as Triune depend on the infallibility of the church would be problematic.

  27. Dear Charles Long,

    Thanks again for the dialogue.

    I’d like to respond to your claim that no Reformed Christian would dare say that justification depends on assent to theological propositions. Would you please consider the following from paragraph 37 of the Irish Articles of Religion, 1615:

    37. By justifying Faith we understand not only the common belief of the Articles of Christian Religion, and a persuasion of the truth of God’s word in general: but also a particular application of the gratuitous promises of the Gospel, to the comfort of our own souls: whereby we lay hold on Christ with all his benefits, having an earnest trust and confidence in God that he will be merciful unto us for his only Son’s sake. So that a true believer may be certain, by the assurance of faith, of the forgiveness of his sins, and of his everlasting salvation by Christ.

    It seems to me that this runs contrary to your thesis.

    Now, I grant you that this is not universally held by all Protestants. I can remember debates we used to have in college on this exact subject: “Is explicit knowledge of just. by faith necessary in order to be just by faith?” I can say that opinions were divided among my reformed and evangelical friends.

    On the other hand, would you counter that no doctrinal propositions are normatively necessary for saving faith, even in an inchoate form? That would seem a lot like Schleiermacher to me, and would tend to confirm my views on Reformed theological reductionism.

    Thanks,

    David

  28. The question of certainty must be carefully defined. There are two types of certainty that I want to distinguish between: 1. Reasonable certainty; and 2. Epistemological certainty.
    Epistemological certainty is notorious for being elusive. It seems that the “inverted spectrum” levels the certainty in the RCC as much as it does the reformed tradition. This is precisely my problem with the Catholic critique of the reformed view. They administer an examination using criteria that their own system cannot sustain. Let me give an example:
    Suppose this: Protestants are in disagreement with these 10 truths (call them 10x; x=belief in truths). We cannot reach any unanimity concerning our certainty of which view is best in a way so as to result in unified belief in what we all perceive to be “certain” truth.
    The Catholics gallop in with confidence to settle the matter. You all offer the opportunity to experience unified certainty on these 10 truths (10x).
    Now the certainty that you all offer is contingent upon one prime truth: the infallible authority of the magesterium. Now, epistemologically y’all can be no more certain of this prime truth (the infallibility of the magesterium), which determines these other 10 truths, than we can about the ten truths themselves, at least epistemologically. And that, since this prime truth is no more certain than the others, then in itself it can’t offer any real, reliable, significant certainty regarding the disputed 10 truths (10x); so as to be superior to the certainty the Protestants themselves have. Though they (RC) can offer unity, they cannot guarantee infallibly that this unity is “unity in the truth.” After all what good is “unity in falsehood?”
    Uncertainty with the prime truth cannot yield a justified or warranted certainty with regard to the 10 truths (10x) that exceeds the certainty with which one holds to the prime truth (infallible magesterium).
    As fallen men, we are capable of only a certain amount of certainty, let us say 80 units. Your 80u’s of certainty in the magisterium creates a barrier that prevents your certainty in any other truth from rising above 80u’s. This applies to Protestants as well. Now, the appeal that RC’s are making to me is basically this, I can have a maximum of 80u’s of certainty in all areas of doctrinal dogma. Now, I will say that if this exists, then it is a glorious reality that every Christian should long to be a part of. However, if it is false then it necessarily plunges you into doctrinal errors that by definition, because, when a member of the RC, you will never be able to break from any heresy that is propagated. That is the problem with an institution that claims doctrinal infallibility and turns out to be fallible; it is a catastrophe; a unified catastrophe. Now, Protestants on the other hand are open about the 80u cap on certainty, at least I am, and the only way we can approach a warranted or justified amount of certainty in some divine truth is: The Holy Spirit of God must grant a knowledge of it, by whatever means that He chooses; when He grants repentance, we repent; when he gives us eyes to see the glory of Christ, we see the glory of Christ and are certain of him. (I am just as certain of Jesus Christ as I am of the reliability of my own sense perception.)

    Now, what is being argued for by reformers, in my estimation, is that one can have reasonable certainty when (though not only when) the source of information is itself infallible. The RCC position is that there must also be an infallible interpretive tool alongside of the infallible source of information for any real certainty to be experienced by the individual; *more* certainty with the magisterium is not denied, but *any* certainty is what is rejected.
    There can be degrees of certainty concerning doctrines as taught in the New Testament without this tool. Can you have epistemological certainty, such that, you are certain that your view is correct; or, can is there a tool that can determine beyond the shadow of a doubt which belief is consistent with the NT, and which is not? NO, but you can demonstrate that your position is more warranted and/or justified, and that particular reasons or evidences lend more credibility to your position as compared to another position. Also, one can put forward potential defeaters. A defeater is something that removes the justification of sustaining a specific belief.
    Dr. Anders has put forward a couple of defeaters for those who are in the reformed camp. I plan to put forward some of my own defeaters for the RC position while answering some of the Anders-like rebuttals to the reformed position in some later writings.

    Man’s Depravity
    What about the issue: Since we are all depraved, we cannot reach any significant amount of certainty. There are a couple problems with this. Depraved, for Christians, is only half of the story, and is better understood as what we “were.” The abiding presence of this nature is what gives us all of the difficulties in understanding what is true truth and false truth; this is known as the noetic effects of sin. It is this same phenomenon that plagues the Catholic Church as well. Though it plagues us, it doesn’t make reaching “reasonable certainty in truth” impossible.

    What the RCC wants us to do is to accept their beliefs for specific reasons; then they put forward the positive benefits of it. These benefits are alluring, but they also come with pitfalls (to put it nicely; if protestants are correct.)
    Let me explain. The RC apologist will say, “do you want more certainty that your beliefs in these core doctrines is true (deity of Christ, Trinity, etc…), then come to Rome.” Then, along with this certainty there also comes the necessity of also affirming the beliefs that have arisen from corrupt popes, corrupt councils, and bad methods (I will substantiate some of this later). The lure of Rome is the unity on core doctrines that it offers, or more so a stronger basis for unity on core doctrines, especially the early councils; and by this a stronger continuity with the early church. The repellant of Rome is the heretical teachings that have been circulated by pagan popes, under corrupt leadership; which teachings are authoritative in spite of who established them. In other words, if Rome teaches a heresy, then its followers can’t ever break away from such a teaching without leaving Rome as a whole. The RCC by definition cannot admit to establishing doctrines that turned out to be heresy because their whole system is built on this impossibility.
    Rome comes out and says that what they offer is at least beneficial and actually necessary for the church. No one denies that if it is true, from our finite perspective, that is a valuable commodity that the church will be edified by. However, they should also say, that if the RCC is wrong that you will be forced to continue in heretical beliefs with no way of ever knowing which beliefs are heretical, and with no authority to ever question it; or if you do question it, and try to demonstrate it as a heresy, you will be anathematized.
    One of the issues that came up just prior to the reformation was the issue of ad fontes, which means “back to the sources”. One major issue that arose from this was the RC’s veneration of the Latin Vulgate which was a Latin translation of the Greek NT. This Latin version superseded the Greek version and many beliefs were actually built on things that were poorly translated into the Vulgate. “An excellent example is found in the Vulgate translation of the opening words of Jesus’s ministry in Galilee (Matthew 4:17) as: “do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This translation creates a direct link between the coming of God’s kingdom and the sacrament of penance. Erasmus pointed out that the original Greek text should be translated as: “repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Where the Vulgate seemed to refer to an outward practice (the sacrament of penance), Erasmus insisted that the reference was to an inward psychological attitude—that of “being repentant.” [Mcgrath, Alister (2009-10-13). Christianity’s Dangerous Idea (p. 33).]
    There are many such examples where the Roman Catholic Church actually built doctrines on disputed issues and with their “official” decision ended such discussions. What if the discussions were ended prematurely, what if there was evidence that is yet uncovered that will somehow act as a defeater to the previous decision? This is what Rome is offering a safe haven from any concern for such a thing. But in doing this they set themselves up to never have the freedom to call heresies heresies, especially when matters of spotting heresies of the dogmatic kind is most important.
    Some of what I have written is open for attack and is up for being called a straw man. Surely I know that they church is no longer bound to the Latin Vulgate and so my point does not stand according to a RC apologist. However, one of my issues with the narrow definition of faith and morals as the magesterium’s only area to shine with infallibility. It seems that Rome has painted their target around the arrow. In any case, is it not true that the majority of doctrines espoused by the NT have a significant impact on faith and morals, even when we are oblivious as to the extent of this impact?
    All of my arguments fall if the RCC can prove that the RCC has been endowed by God to infallibly establish doctrines so as to avoid all doctrinal heresies (I say inerrantly establish doctrines), for the entire life of the church. This, I think is their weakest link. They can do a good job of showing how useful such a commodity would be if we had it. They can point to the many issues that arise from not having it, but they can’t prove it is true; not very persuasively at least.

    Certainty is a good thing, it is not a bad thing. I want it. You want it. We all want it. But at what cost are we willing to pursue certainty? Let me give one last example: If you were on the Titanic, would you want to spend your first night certain that the ship was unsinkable, or not? Certainty is alluring; at least it is to me. Sometimes, though, it is not warranted and it is really dangerous. So, what if the information was offered before you got onto the ship? You see, from my vantage, Rome offers me certainty in some very appealing areas like: continuity with the early church, deity of Christ, Trinity, or “me being a dummy”. However, simultaneously offered alongside such things is: the works of satisfaction, doctrines of Mary as co-mediator, indulgences, prayer to the saints… I’m sure Dr. Anders would respond “so you keep the ones you want and get rid of the others.” My response: “I don’t want on the Titanic.” And by sinking, I don’t mean that she will cease to be an institution, but that she will be plagued with doctrines that have abandoned the purity of the original sources and with absolutely no means or correcting herself.

    On the matters of Justification and your use of NT Wright: It is proper etiquette not to go to a Protestant to tell a person what a Roman Catholic believes. In fact we would generally discount such a person on the grounds that they have disagreements that beg for straw men. Now, these “new perspective” guys, when discussing the beliefs of the 1st century Jews ignore some very important sources of information and insights into the Jewish practices and beliefs of the time. Which sources as I talking about? Matthew Mark Luke and John. They say, you can’t go to a Christian account to get an accurate account on the Jewish beliefs of the day; it is improper etiquette. But, most of these 4 guys were Jewish, and their sources were certainly Jewish; not to mention that they were recording the words and actions of God in the Flesh. Was legalism a problem with 1st century Judaism? Jesus thought so; Luke 18:9, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.”

    (Footnoted: Another example of this is these words from the council of Toulouse : “We prohibit the permission of the books of the Old and New Testament to laymen, except perhaps they might desire to have the Psalter, or some Breviary for the divine service, or the Hours of the blessed Virgin Mary, for devotion; expressly forbidding their having the other parts of the Bible translated into the vulgar tongue” (Allix, Ecclesiastical History, II, p. 213).
    Another example is Honorious. I know that the Roman Catholic Church will use some fancy foot work to elude such remarks and demonstrate that they do not level their claims. But, people like Honorious is not what you expect to find if the magisterium is infallible.
    Also: It is not difficult to list the many abuses and corruptions that clouded the history of the late medieval church. There was much to criticize, from the pope down to the most menial of the clergy. [Mcgrath, Alister (2009-10-13). Christianity’s Dangerous Idea (p. 22).]
    One of the main ways that we can check the claim to infallibility is by examining the history of the pope, the infallible teaching authority to see if they have been kept clean from corruption. There is a difference in bad actions when compared to bad beliefs. Have they always been kept clean of bad beliefs? Have they ever taught anything as authoritative that other eras of the church have condemned as wrong? These types of questions can demonstrate the inconsistency of the Catholic church, or exonerate them. From what I have studied, it has demonstrated inconsistency. )

  29. Andrew Preslar #22

    Again, I don’t really disagree with you. I objected to the initial statement: “‘Agree on everything’ says Paul.” It sounds like you agree with me that Christians do not in fact need to agree on everything, as they do not need to agree on matters of “discipline.”

    As far as whether Paul invented the distinction or not, it’s hard to say. It seems plausible considering: 1) Paul was certainly a genius, definitely (on a human level) the brightest writer in the NT; 2) Paul reflected more profoundly on the new covenant, the law, and Christian ethics than any other early Christians (to my knowledge); 3) in his epistles Paul clearly has non-negotiable doctrines Christians must accept as well as debatable matters on which they may hold various opinions and he reasons through these matters carefully; 4) I’m not sure we see this type of ethical reasoning (in the context of the church) prior to Paul. But it’s not a claim I would stake a whole lot on.

    Thanks for the conversation.

  30. Josh (#28):

    About 2/3 of the way through your comment, you write:

    All of my arguments fall if the RCC can prove that the RCC has been endowed by God to infallibly establish doctrines so as to avoid all doctrinal heresies (I say inerrantly establish doctrines), for the entire life of the church. This, I think is their weakest link. They can do a good job of showing how useful such a commodity would be if we had it. They can point to the many issues that arise from not having it, but they can’t prove it is true; not very persuasively at least.

    As I explained in my #7 above, that way of framing the issue is incorrect. I argued that no article of faith–such as the inerrancy of Scripture, or the Catholic Magisterium’s claims for itself–can be “proven” by “logically impeccable inferences from axioms and a publicly available dataset.” If any could be so proven, it would be an article of knowledge, not of faith. So the question is not whose way of distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy can be “proven” to be correct, but which way is objectively the most reasonable. Such “certainty” as the believer enjoys comes as a result of the assent of faith, not as a prior condition of that assent. That’s because faith is a free gift of grace which, once freely accepted, draws one into the life of that God who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

    You also write:

    I know that the Roman Catholic Church will use some fancy foot work to elude such remarks and demonstrate that they do not level their claims. But, people like Honorious is not what you expect to find if the magisterium is infallible.

    Also: It is not difficult to list the many abuses and corruptions that clouded the history of the late medieval church. There was much to criticize, from the pope down to the most menial of the clergy. [Mcgrath, Alister (2009-10-13). Christianity’s Dangerous Idea (p. 22).]

    One of the main ways that we can check the claim to infallibility is by examining the history of the pope, the infallible teaching authority to see if they have been kept clean from corruption. There is a difference in bad actions when compared to bad beliefs. Have they always been kept clean of bad beliefs? Have they ever taught anything as authoritative that other eras of the church have condemned as wrong? These types of questions can demonstrate the inconsistency of the Catholic church, or exonerate them. From what I have studied, it has demonstrated inconsistency.)

    The Catholic doctrine of magisterial infallibility does not entail that every thesis that every pope maintains is orthodox. Nor does it claim that those who exercise the Magisterium will always be good bishops or good men. Nor does it claim that every “authoritative” teaching is de fide. The actual doctrine can be found enunciated in Lumen Gentium §25. Logically, all it entails is that neither the pope, nor the episcopal college as a whole, will ever use its authority to bind the whole Church to what is false. If you want to present a counterexample to that, you must show that some teaching of the Church has been so proposed as to (a) bind the whole Church to it, and (b) satisfy the Church’s own criteria for infallibility, and (c) is false. You have presented no such counterexample.

    Best,
    Mike

  31. David, I might grant that Rome has infallibility in its hierarchy, but to leap from this to doctrinal certainty is another matter. Roman Catholicism is hardly characterized today by doctrinal uniformity compared to sixty years ago.

    But it gets worse. Roman Catholics aren’t sure what to do with Pius 9th’s Syllabus of Errors. This from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

    “The binding power of the Syllabus of Pius IX is differently explained by Catholic theologians. All are of the opinion that many of the propositions are condemned if not in the Syllabus, then certainly in other final decisions of the infallible teaching authority of the Church, for instance in the Encyclical “Quanta Cura”. There is no agreement, however, on the question whether each thesis condemned in the Syllabus is infallibly false, merely because it is condemned in the Syllabus. Many theologians are of the opinion that to the Syllabus as such an infallible teaching authority is to be ascribed, whether due to an ex-cathedra decision by the pope or to the subsequent acceptance by the Church. Others question this. So long as Rome has not decided the question, everyone is free to follow the opinion he chooses. Even should the condemnation of many propositions not possess that unchangeableness peculiar to infallible decisions, nevertheless the binding force of the condemnation in regard to all the propositions is beyond doubt. For the Syllabus, as appears from the official communication of Cardinal Antonelli, is a decision given by the pope speaking as universal teacher and judge to Catholics the world over. All Catholics, therefore, are bound to accept the Syllabus. Exteriorly they may neither in word nor in writing oppose its contents; they must also assent to it interiorly.”

    So we have here a definitive statement by the head of the church and no one is sure what it means for today or whether the syllabus itself qualifies as authoritative.

  32. Josh,

    You wrote:

    Uncertainty with the prime truth cannot yield a justified or warranted certainty with regard to the 10 truths (10x) that exceeds the certainty with which one holds to the prime truth (infallible magesterium).

    The Prime Truth is Christ.

    Christ establishing a Church in possession of an infallible teaching office would be the second truth — and that truth would proceed from Him. The Teachings of that Church — which is His Body — would flow from Him as well (mediated, but nonetheless divinely protected in the “conduit” of the Church). (Note: in the order of being, these truths would not proceed, only in the order of knowing).

    As fallen men, we are capable of only a certain amount of certainty, let us say 80 units. Your 80u’s of certainty in the magisterium creates a barrier that prevents your certainty in any other truth from rising above 80u’s. This applies to Protestants as well.

    This is partly true and partly false. Our fallenness does not imply a necessary fallenness in every act of our intellect. That would mean that, contra St. Paul, we could only kind of know, in some kind of probabilistic terms, the “eternal attributes of God” from creation. But, that is not what he says. He says we can obtain certainty — e.g., “know”.

    However, if it is false then it necessarily plunges you into doctrinal errors that by definition, because, when a member of the RC, you will never be able to break from any heresy that is propagated. That is the problem with an institution that claims doctrinal infallibility and turns out to be fallible; it is a catastrophe; a unified catastrophe.

    I like the way you are thinking here. I think you are getting the force of the Catholic position. But, you must also consider the counter postulate. It would be, at the least, an equally perilous problem for an individual who rejected an infallible guide given to him or her by God, and instead followed his or her own vain imaginations.

    Also consider the force of your argument on the Christian position petite. We might rework your statement to say: “However, if Christianity is false then it necessarily plunges you into intellectual errors that by definition, because, when as a member of the Christian faith, you will never be able to break from any dogma that is believed. That is the problem with religion that claims dogmatism and turns out to be wrong; it is a catastrophe; a unified catastrophe.”

    In other words, your argument just sounds like the re-worked version of a new-atheist’s argument against Christianity. I hesitate to write this, because I don’t believe for a second that you have a similar temperament or desire as a new atheist. However, I find the thinking, grounded in a skepticism about the effects of the belief in the possibility of “supernatural protection from error”, to be troublesome. As Christians, we believe that God became flesh, born of a Virgin, dwelt among us, rose again, etc., so we are far from people who shy away from extraordinary claims because they might in fact lead us to extraordinary deception. If Christ is not God, then we are all dupes of the highest degree!

    Now, Protestants on the other hand are open about the 80u cap on certainty, at least I am, and the only way we can approach a warranted or justified amount of certainty in some divine truth is: The Holy Spirit of God must grant a knowledge of it, by whatever means that He chooses; when He grants repentance, we repent; when he gives us eyes to see the glory of Christ, we see the glory of Christ and are certain of him.

    Yes, you seem to be describing the gift of faith. However, you seem to be saying that He grants you not just the assent of faith, but also the personal, private insight into those dogmas which are the universal truths of the Christian religion. As such, under such a grace, you must be able to articulate those propositions (that had been communicated to you), so that all Christians could know what is the universal truths of the Christian religion. (if you did not mean this, I would ask that you clarify “what” God gives you (personally) knowledge of”)

    Consider your statement “whatever means He chooses”? Does that statement open you up to the possibility that He could have given you an infallible teaching office in His Church?

    I am just as certain of Jesus Christ as I am of the reliability of my own sense perception.

    That might feel true. However, I would argue that you are certain of your sense perception for completely different reasons than you are certain of Jesus Christ. You are certain of your sense perception because it would be irrational to not be certain of your sense perception — because you would have to make an appeal to some sense perception that you trust in order to call into question your sense perception. Meaning, that if you doubted your sense perception, you would have just as much evidence to doubt the particular perception that led you to doubt your perception in general. Your certainty regarding Christ is not rationally unassailable — like arguments for the trust-worthiness of our cognitive faculty — but instead is a gift of faith given to you by the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.

  33. Dear Josh,

    Thanks for writing. You said:

    “Now the certainty that you all offer is contingent upon one prime truth: the infallible authority of the magesterium. Now, epistemologically y’all can be no more certain of this prime truth (the infallibility of the magesterium), which determines these other 10 truths, than we can about the ten truths themselves.”

    The cases you present are not analogous in the way you present. In each case, there are two truths to be ascertained: 1) the identity of the Rule of Faith, 2) The interpretation of the Rule of Faith.

    The Protestant identifies the Rule of Faith as Scripture, and claims the only infallible rule for interpreting Scripture is Scripture itself.

    The Catholic identifies the Rule of Faith as the Magisterium, and says the only infallible rule for interpretation is the Magisterium.

    In both the Catholic and Protestant paradigms, the submission we make to the Rule of Faith cannot be compelled by pure reason. Rather, we each believe that this submission of faith is rational, but ultimately influenced by the movement of divine grace, as well.

    Once we make that submission of will and intellect (the Protestant to Scripture alone; the Catholic to the Church), then comes the second question of interpreting the teaching of the Rule of Faith. And here, the Catholic is at a distinct advantage. Because he submits to a living Rule, that can (and does) continually restate, clarify, and expound upon dogma. The living guide also explicitly identifies some truths as dogmatic, to be held de fide, and distinguishes these truths from others.

    The Protestant Rule of Faith, however, is presumed to be so clear as to need no further infallible clarification. It is this claim and the history of its application that I have sought to examine in the post.

    The hypothetical you suggest – of submitting to an authority that turns out to be fallible – we Catholics obviously reject. We are not ‘mostly’ certain that the Church is the infallible Rule of Faith. We are “certain” (certainty does not admit of degrees) that She is the infallible Rule of Faith. To be ‘mostly certain’ is to admit of doubt and, thus, not to be certain.

    Thank again for writing,

    David

  34. Dear DGH,

    Thanks for writing.

    As I mentioned in the article, this kind of objection really misses the mark.

    The presence of doctrinal disagreement among Catholic theologians does nothing to dim the light of Catholic Dogma. For the purposes of this article, it would be enough if we had only one dogmatic definition in the history of the whole Church – say, Nicaea.

    As long as the Church has a principled way of defining dogma, and distinguishing it from opinion, then my comparison holds. Would you like to take the position that there is NO Catholic dogma that meets this test? Would you really like to hold that Nicaea-Constantinople is disputed by Catholic theologians, and we can’t really know if the Trinity has been dogmatically taught?

    -David

  35. David (#(34)

    The presence of doctrinal disagreement among Catholic theologians does nothing to dim the light of Catholic Dogma.

    I think David’s point is that Catholics may disagree amongst one another, and so may Protestants. The Catholic, however, has a way regarding some issues to know what the Church teaches. The Protestant has not, because he has to decide in advance just what ‘the Church’ is.

    And I think the Protestant feels a great deal more pressure to find out what is right about all sorts of issues. I remember when I was Reformed feeling – since my elders said these were essential matters – that I absolutely must know what the Bible taught about:

    – whether infants should be Baptised (they should)
    – whether free will was a myth (it was)
    – whether Old Testament case law must be followed literally (some said ‘yes,’ some said ‘no’)
    – whether postmillennialism was true (it is)

    and a host of other issues. For most of these, the Catholic knows – or can know if he wishes – that the Church has not defined these matters – although regarding Baptism I can know that the Church says I can baptise my infant – and that I ought to.

    jj

  36. David Anders (RE: #27),

    Fair question. In answer, I will start with two propositions: the first one is true, and the second one is false.
    1) (True) Justification is through faith alone.
    2) (False) Justification is through faith alone PLUS explicit knowledge of, and assent to, the fact that justification is through faith alone.

    Can you see the difference? Our justification is through faith in Christ, and Paul makes this abundantly clear in Galatians and Romans. (Remember, he’s explaining a doctrinal formulation to people who are already in Christ but who yet lack total explicit knowledge of the doctrinal formulation of that fact. In other words, he’s explaining salvation *to the saved*. That should tell us something). I have said many times (since I stole it from someone else) that one of the glorious things about the Reformed view of justification is that it’s true about you whether or not you have wrapped your head around the fact that it’s true about you. In other words, everyone in the history of humanity (except Christ) who has ever been saved has been saved through faith alone, period; and this applies to Roman Catholics every bit as much as it applies to Calvinists. Most of us are way better Christians than we are theologians, and thank God for it – but that statement only means anything in the Reformed economy of justification.

    Now if I proclaim proposition #2 (the false one), then I am proclaiming a self-defeating proposition; for Justification can hardly be through faith *only* if it has another qualifying caveat attached to it. Logically, A + B cannot = A if B is anything other than zero. When you add something to A, it ceases to be merely A. Duh, right? So the proposition must end as the first one does: through faith alone, period.

    And this leads to your quote of the Irish Articles. Doesn’t it list stuff we have to believe in order to be justified? Well, no. Again, if you assume in the background (as I think you do) that there must be *something* we bring to the table, and you begin to fear that you might not know what that something is, it is natural for you to want to identify that one thing which you can bring to the table. So that quote, taken without any more context, and seen through that lens, might look to someone in that situation like THE thing which is required. But when you read the larger context of the Articles, like the whole section “Of justification and Faith,” which includes articles 34-38, it becomes clear that what is being provided in A37 cannot give you what you’re looking for in that regard. A37 must be read in the context of these other articles, which take great care to qualify in many ways that our justification is not by virtue of ANYTHING that comes from or inheres in us, *not even our faith*. I mean, they go out of their way to get this point across. And you only have to read the articles in that section to see this. Any other reading is simply misrepresentative of the Articles. And the same is true of WCF also. (BTW, I am willing to engage in a more detailed exchange over whether or not I’ve represented the Articles correctly here. I will forego for now, let you check it out and, if you still disagree, we can focus on it then if you want.)

    David, I have some sincere questions for the purposes of bringing this down to earth, but I acknowledge that this might be the sort of thing some folks might not care to answer online; so if this is too presumptuous of me, let it pass. How wold you describe your assurance of your salvation? Do you have any? Can it be rated (like, on a scale of 1 to 10)? Upon what does it rest (as in, “I believe I am saved because_____”). Or, perhaps, if I’m asking the wrong questions the wrong way, how could you better describe it? I’m curious to know how all the RC apologetics on this issue translates into a regular man’s relationship to his God.

  37. Dr. Anders,
    You said: “Certainty does not admit to degrees.”
    I understand what you are saying, and in part I agree, but I think it is missing the point that I was making; namely, that many people have unwarranted certainty in unreliable objects. People’s certainty is real even when it is not grounded properly. For example: I feel that there were some who were certain that the Titanic was unsinkable. That didn’t make it unsinkable. Trying to determine the certainty of our certainty is more in line with what I was meaning. I understand that belief in the magisterium is a faith article, and that your faith in the magisterium allows you to have certainty in “x” amount of dogmatic truths, such that your certainty of these truths is clearly advantageous when compared to the Protestant position; however, if your certainty turns out to be misguided, via your faith in the magisterium, then your certainty in “x” amount of dogmatic truths is NOT an advantage. Sure there is unity, but unity in heresy.
    My point is that RC’s are certain of the magisterium, but that there is no way to have infallible certainty on your part. Protestants who are on the outside need to know that certainty in the magisterium is possibly very similar to certainty in the unsinkability of the Titanic. Mormons are certain, Protestants are certain, Catholics are certain, EO are certain, the Syrians are certain; and in terms of our epistemic abilities, we all could be wrong; that is the possibility that we must all grapple with. Catholics are not somehow exempt from this. Catholics then say that they have a better tool to determine whether certainty is grounded or not; then I say, “let me see that tool!” Upon my examination of the tool I see malfunctions and am not willing to “tie the noose.” My alternative is to live with “x” amount of uncertainty in my certainty; though I have certainty on many issues that is equal to yours. The question is whether mine is as well grounded. In cases where mine is not grounded well enough, the Scriptures alone have the ability to constantly shape and mold my certainties throughout my life.
    You said: “And here, the Catholic is at a distinct advantage. Because he submits to a living Rule, that can (and does) continually restate, clarify, and expound upon dogma. The living guide also explicitly identifies some truths as dogmatic, to be held de fide, and distinguishes these truths from others.”
    Catholics are at a distinct advantage “if you are right”, but, “if you are wrong”, then an array of catastrophical disadvantages come along side of the advantages and plunge many people into heretical beliefs that hold them captive like quick sand. That is my point. The Catholics have shown that this interpretive tool is useful if true (I agree); Protestants have shown that this interpretive tool is very dangerous and enslaves people to various forms of heresy, if false. (I mean no disrespect there; sure, you will say that Protestants have not shown this, but I think we have. Indulgences, and works of satisfaction, purgatory, and paying money to get out; these sorts of things. My point is that, If you can demonstrate heresy then you can demonstrate falsehood; and by extension fallibility. )
    You said: “The Protestant Rule of Faith, however, is presumed to be so clear as to need no further infallible clarification.”
    I totally disagree here; though of course you qualified your statement with the word “infallible” so this statement may be a bit misdirected. The Protestant position is that the church is always needing to be reformed. This is where the Catholic church is at a distinct disadvantage. When it teaches things that are not well-grounded, especially as dogma, then it has no way of correcting itself.
    And as far as some of Calvin’s views, or Luther’s views. To put it simply, they didn’t fully understand all of the implications of what they taught and believed; to which I think you would agree. The same is true of the patristic fathers, Augustine, etc… There were many beliefs that contained mostly truth, but that extended the borders of the truth, or narrowed the borders of the truth too much. To use another analogy, if a plane gets off by a single degree, as small and insignificant that seems in the present tense, after 500 miles they can be off by a distance of 10 miles. Did Luther fully understand the implications of what he was teaching; or Calvin? Probably not.
    The same is true for Augustine and some of the early fathers who invested too much authority in the church (it should have been seen as a fallible authority in my estimation); and these beliefs, though seemingly insignificant at the time; would lead to the corruption of the medieval ages.
    I am aware that your knowledge of church history is totally above me. I assume when you misspell a word that you are simply “thinking in the Greek.” So, If anything I have said comes across disrespectfully I apologize, and I did not intend for it to. You are a brilliant guy, much more than I am, and I am humbled by your interaction with me.

  38. Mike,
    #30

    You said ” …but which way is objectively the most reasonable.” That is all that I am looking for. The same is true with the doctrine of the deity of Christ, ” which way is objectively the most reasonable.”

    How can I tell whether I am right on this or that? I ask, ”

    The Holy Spirit enlightens me to certain truths and causes them to appear lovely and attractive, and these truths bear the marks of “reasonableness.” Other truths are learned from inductive or deductive inferences guided by the Scriptures and the Spirit and must be judged by asking ” Which is objectively the most reasonable.”

    The RC’s position doesn’t seem to me to be the most reasonable.

    (Watching tv huh?! lol. What language was it in, Latin? I’m just kidding around. Thanks Mike! )

  39. Josh (#38):

    It seems to me that, once again, you’re framing the issue incorrectly. Thus you wrote:

    You said ” …but which way is objectively the most reasonable.” That is all that I am looking for. The same is true with the doctrine of the deity of Christ, ” which way is objectively the most reasonable.”

    When I spoke of what’s “objectively the most reasonable,” I was speaking of which way of distinguishing between orthodoxy and heresy is the most reasonable. To find such a way is to reliably distinguish divine revelation, which is irreformable truth, from human opinion, which is always provisional and often false. Now the Catholic answer to the question indicates by which authority orthodox doctrine is to be distinguished from heterodox doctrine. But to go further and apply the initial question to each and every article of faith–such as the divinity of Christ–is to bypass authority and leave the question in the hands of the individual inquirer. It thus begs the question against the Catholic answer.

    Accordingly, you write in the first person:

    How can I tell whether I am right on this or that? I ask.

    and you answer:

    The Holy Spirit enlightens me to certain truths and causes them to appear lovely and attractive, and these truths bear the marks of “reasonableness.” Other truths are learned from inductive or deductive inferences guided by the Scriptures and the Spirit and must be judged by asking ” Which is objectively the most reasonable.”

    That boils down to saying two things: “Well, certain propositions attract me, and I’m sure the Holy Spirit is causing them to do so” and “As for the rest, I’ll use my own powers of reasoning.” But you have offered no grounds for believing that it’s the Holy Spirit, as distinct from your personal predilections, that makes certain propositions attractive to you, and no grounds for believing that your inferences are anything more than provisional opinions, as distinct from orthodox doctrine. You neither have nor make any claim to divine authority.

    Accordingly, your approach is irrelevant as well as question-begging, when the issue at hand is how to distinguish orthodox doctrine, and thus divinely revealed truth, from mere opinions which, even if they happen to be true, are not divine revelation. Thus, your approach is unreasonable.

    Best,
    Mike

  40. Dear Charles Long,

    Thanks again for the interaction.

    I understand the distinction you are drawing between justifying faith and understanding justifying faith. You are suggesting (I think) that justifying faith (on Protestant terms) does not require or entail assent (even implicitly?) to any doctrinal proposition.

    I am certainly not unfamiliar with that view. As I mentioned, we used to debate this very issue in college, and I’ve seen others (even respected theologians) who have taken the view you espouse.

    However, I don’t think you can reasonably argue that everyone in the Reformed tradition has taken this position. In fact, I think you are rather in the minority. Calvin, for one, was constantly anathematizing those who disagreed with him (essentially, denying their election) on the ground that they differed on such matters as the nature of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, the mode of baptism, and the nature of election.

    Do you really think, furthermore, that the historic Reformed tradition would allow for the salvation of one who consciously denied the full deity of Christ, for example?

    I’m just not buying it.

    As far as assurance is concerned,
    Have you looked at my article entitled, “Have you been born again?” I really wish you would. I go into this doctrine of assurance quite a bit.

    -David

  41. David DeJong (re:#26),

    Thank you for your continued replies, brother. I see that you would answer my non-Trinitarian friend much as I did, and it’s heartening to know that, at least in a case such as this one, Protestants and Catholics can find common ground in some sense.

    I still don’t think that Protestantism offers nearly as firm an epistemological grounding as Catholicism, though, for being able to distinguish between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, due to a.) Protestantism’s lack of a visible, binding, teaching authority, such as the Magisterium, and b.) the very concept of the perspicuity of the Bible on “essential” matters.

    As I mentioned earlier, the Reformers held to these same concepts of “Biblical perspicuity” and “Biblical essentials,” yet they would disagree with today’s Protestants as to some of the “essentials.” What this means, practically, is that Martin Luther and John Calvin would not consider most of today’s Protestants, *including* most of today’s Reformed, to even be Christians. Think about that. What does that say about the doctrinal reductionism of today’s Protestantism, as compared to the Protestantism of the Reformers?

    Continuing in this vein, as you write in #18, most Protestants today (including most Reformed) are basically okay with “interpretive plurality” on matters such as the Eucharist and baptism. To be clear, I’m *not* saying that most Reformed people are fine with dissenting views being *taught* within their local churches on these matters. However, quite differently than Luther or Calvin, you will not find today’s Lutherans or Calvinists declaring Baptists to be non-Christians (due to Baptist views on “adult, believer’s baptism only” and the Eucharist being purely a “symbolic memorial” of Christ’s death). In a certain sense, this is definitely a happy development– but in another sense, it does display, again, a doctrinal reductionism from the Protestantism of the Reformers.

    David, are you confident, today, that your own list of the “essentials” and “non-essentials” of Christianity is correct? If so, on what basis are you confident that you are correct? The Reformers were certainly confident on their list(s), yet most of today’s Protestants would disagree with them. Where does this end?

    Moreover, when I look over the last 500 years and see a “Protestantism” whose list of “essentials” and “non-essentials” (in terms of what one must believe and practice in order to even rightly be called a “Christian”) fluctuates with each century, I am led to ask, again, a question which I asked in my last comment. If we can’t know, with certainty, which list of the “essentials” of the Christian faith is correct, how can we know that we have not fallen into heresy at a given time?

  42. Josh,

    Hello again. :)

    Just a quick note: If Catholics are wrong on this (papal/magisterial infallibility), it does not disprove apostolic succession or that there is an infallible Church or really anything else we believe. Heck, it doesn’t even prove it’s *possible* for those other doctrines to be wrong. We can just move East and still believe essentially everything we do now. If you are wrong in saying that the Church (we don’t even have to distinguish Rome from the East here) is fallible and that your schism is justified on that basis, however, it doesn’t matter what else you believe because if you have knowingly and willingly rejected Christ’s appointed representatives, you have thus rejected Christ Himself. I just wanted to show what is at stake for both of us.

    IC XC NIKA

    Garrison

  43. Michael,

    In your comment to Josh (#30) you make the following statement:

    “So the question is not whose way of distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy can be “proven” to be correct, but which way is objectively the most reasonable.”

    After several days of interacting with the folks at Green Baggins over the issue of how heresy and schism are defined using the Reformed paradigm, I have come to the conclusion that your opponents in this debate (at least in some quarters) do not share the presupposition that “distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy” in the way you mean it is necessary or even possible. Maybe some preliminary groundwork needs to be laid in this dialogue. Specifically, can agreement be reached on the underlying purpose of defining orthodoxy and heresy? How does the principled means of recognizing orthodoxy impact its ability to fulfill that purpose? etc.

    Burton

  44. Burton,

    A fascinating question! One the things I hoped to accomplish in this, and other posts, was to point out that the Historic Reformed Tradition had no hesitancy about defining orthodoxy and heresy – and, in fact, considered it an essential task of the teaching authority.

    Rejection of this distinction is really a very novel development.

    As to why you would want to distinguish orthodoxy and heresy?
    1) Heresies (which I suppose could vary in severity) may be, likely are, injurious to the spiritual and/or moral health of the individual and society. Consider the heresy of antinomianism, for example, which, in extreme forms, could easily lead to great license and immorality. Or consider the Heresy of Albigensianism, which advocated suicide as a sacrament. Or, consider the heresy of Mormonism, which advocated child-marriage and polygamy, and racism. Etc. etc.
    2) This definition is necessary, also, for the unity of the Church. How else to know whether your continued communion with a body is sanctioned or illicit?
    3) Presumably (from what I read in the Pastoral epistles) such distinctions are enjoined by the divine authority of Scripture.

    -David

  45. Burton,

    Just a quick thought. Mike, myself, and others often use something like the phrase “principled means by which to distinguish divine revelation from mere human opinion”. It seems to me that if we are not going to worry with distinguishing heresy from orthodoxy, then while we might possibly continue to argue that there are grounds for thinking that God has communicated something to mankind, somewhere at some time (i.e. given a revelation); a stance of ambivalence with respect to the need to distinguishing which current explanatory or descriptive accounts of that revelation match what God intended men to know (orthodoxy), over against errant disfigurements of what God intended men to know (heresy), has the practical effect of undermining the very notion or purpose of any divine revelation at all.

    Such a stance explicitly, and in principle, shrouds the content which God intended to reveal within a cloak of human opinion from which it cannot escape to reach the mind of any modern seeker as a revelation from God distinct from some other fellow human’s opinion. And this would mean that the purported answers concerning human meaning and destiny which Christianity claims to provide are just opinions and can, therefore, command our assent no more than the thousands of other competing truth claims about human purpose and destiny which are all around us in a pluralistic society. The Good News reduces to an opinion column and so becomes old news. If all Christianity has to offer modern man is yet another wacky set of notions about God, afterlife, morality, etc. – then to hell with it. The whole point of a “revealed” religion is to offer truth claims which ostensibly stand in contrast to what man can know, or guess at, on his own. Hence, a revealed religion which simultaneously, and in principle, claims that what God intended to communicate to men via revelation is no longer decipherable beyond the level of that same human opinion to which we all had access before ever exploring revealed religion, simply defeats the very purpose of revealed religion.

    What is special about the Good News, or the deliverances of Christianity regarding human meaning and destiny, if we give up on the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy? I, for one, cannot say.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  46. Burton (#43):

    I agree with David that you’ve raised excellent questions. I also agree with him that, historically, the Reformed tradition has not hesitated both to stress the importance of distinguishing between orthodoxy and heresy and to uphold its own way of doing so. And I also agree with Ray’s comment. So I’m not sure what you mean when you say that some of the Green Baggins crowd “do not share the presupposition that “distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy” in the way you mean it is necessary or even possible.” All I can do here is clarify what I mean so that the importance of making the distinction and getting it right is evident to all.

    “Special” as distinct from “general” divine revelation presents truth that cannot be discovered by human reason alone. For that reason, if we are to apprehend such truth, we cannot dispense in principle with trusting authority, the way we can in matters of human knowledge, where anybody with enough talent and opportunity can test the claims of authorities by using the same methods the authorities do. Ultimately, the authority we cannot dispense with trusting is divine authority; thus, to make the assent of faith to divine revelation is to believe God himself. But none of us who live after the time of the Apostles enjoy the privilege of encountering God and his revelation directly in the person of Jesus Christ the Lord. We must necessarily rely on some derivative, secondary authority that we can and do encounter, and that authority must itself bear divine and thus infallible authority if it is to be trustworthy in matters of special revelation. I call such an authority “the formal, proximate object of faith” (FPOF), because we must trust some such authority in order to believe God and thus apprehend the truth he reveals to us. As presented by the Catholic Church, that authority is Scripture-Tradition-Magisterium; as Vatican II indicated, none can stand without the others and each has its own role in conjunction with the others. What is taught by that authority with its full authority belongs to the deposit of faith, and is thus orthodoxy; whatever is incompatible with what’s thus taught is heresy.

    What about the Reformed? Both in general and over at Green Baggins, they certainly do accept a derivative, secondary authority as a bearer of divine authority: namely, the Protestant Bible, which was written by men but, being also inspired by God, is inerrant. For them, the Bible alone is the FPOF. The disagreement between them and the Catholic Church is not about the need for an FPOF to distinguish between orthodoxy and heresy, but about the extent and composition of that authority. Now whatever speaks to us with divine authority must be infallible, since God is infallible and can neither deceive nor be deceived. According to the Reformed and many other Protestants, the only such authority is Scripture, which as such is that “rule of faith” by which others are to be judged. When there’s dispute about which doctrines are orthodox and which heterodox, all we need to do is consult Scripture. But they reject the notion that any body of people can, by divine grace, interpret Scripture infallibly. So for them, Scripture can settle disputes about orthodoxy and heresy just to the extent it is perspicuous, meaning that the correct interpretation is so clearly correct that infallibility is not needed for reaching it. But since Scripture is not perspicuous on every point of dispute, they must and do say that it is perspicuous only about “essentials,” i.e. those doctrines assent to which is necessary for salvation. Thus, their criterion for distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy is the perspicuity of Scripture on essentials. Whether justifiably or not, that criterion functions as such for them in a way very similar to how the Catholic FPOF functions for the faithful Catholic.

    Accordingly, when it appears doubtful to you that the GB crowd “share the presupposition that distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy” in the way I mean “is necessary or even possible,” all I can make of that is that they don’t share what they take to be my “presupposition” that something more than the Bible and our reason is necessary for distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy. But the problem with that lies in the word “presupposition.”

    In the world of Reformed epistemology, a “presupposition” is a belief not requiring justification in terms of some more basic or fundamental belief. The Reformed philosopher Alvin Plantinga calls such beliefs “properly basic.” If you’ll notice, he and many other Reformed thinkers treat such beliefs as the existence of God and the divine inspiration and authority of the Protestant canon as properly basic. I don’t have time here to launch a critique of the notion of “properly basic” belief or of epistemological “foundationalism” in general, of which Reformed epistemology is a non-classical variant. But I will say that applying it to Catholic doctrine and theology is a category mistake.

    That the Catholic FPOF is trustworthy counts as a “presupposition” only inasmuch as theology, unlike philosophy, is a confessional discipline. When we do theology proper as distinct from philosophy or apologetics, we proceed on the assumption that there is such a thing as divine revelation and that its content is given to us through some FPOF. What we confess as the truth just is that content. When we do apologetics, however, the assumption is question is treated as a supposition for argument’s sake, rather than simply asserted as the truth. Thus, in my role as a Catholic apologist, I argue that if the FPOF is what the Catholic Church says, then we have a principled means of distinguishing divine revelation from human opinion. I also argue that Protestantism of whatever variety offers no such means. Thus I’m treating Catholic doctrine about the FPOF as a supposition, but I do not treat it as a properly basic belief as many of the Reformed treat the divine inspiration and authority of Scripture. The entire template of Reformed epistemology is inapplicable to Catholicism. It belongs to a different interpretive paradigm.

    That, I suspect, is the problem the GB crowd has with my approach. But I think it’s a pseudo-problem. How? When you ask “…can agreement be reached on the underlying purpose of defining orthodoxy and heresy?”, there’s one answer that’s true but trivial, and another which is non-trivial but false. The true but trivial answer is that we must distinguish orthodoxy from heresy in order to distinguish true divine revelation from false human opinion. The non-trivial but false answer is that we can’t achieve agreement because we’re operating with different epistemological assumptions. But agreement is achievable, at least in principle, because we can philosophically debate those assumptions so as to discern which are the more defensible.

    Best,
    Mike

  47. David Anders,

    RE: #40

    Does the Reformed tradition set doctrinal boundaries consisting of propositional statements? YES!
    Does the Reformed tradition require conformity to the above as prerequisite for justification? NO!

    Let me explain.
    It is important for the RC to acknowledge the Reformed distinction between what is necessary for justification, and what is doctrinally sound. I think it is difficult for RCs to do this sometimes because, to the RC, justification is an end-game concept — justification is what we’re waiting until the end to see if you attain to or not; and assent to the doctrinal distinctives is one of the deciding factors. But to the Reformed (and this bears out in all the big reformed confessions) justification occurs on the front side, at the moment of faith in Christ for salvation, to be followed by a life of sanctification and conformity to the image of Christ. So the reformed have a very high view of scripture and doctrinal integrity, and have given evidence of that by the sheer volume and quality of reformed confessions, if by nothing else. But the reformed also have a very high view of the sovereignty of God in His working in the heart of a man. Taking these two things together, the reformed have very high standards of confessional precision *to be taught*, but very low standards for the man *who wants to come to God*.

    Take this for example. It often occurs that a man comes to Christ as a complete mess — he has made hash of his life, ruined his relationships, given into addictions, and come to the end of himself; but he has heard the good news that in Christ all of this is forgiven, his death will be turned into life, and he will be made new, so he throws himself upon the mercy of God in Christ, trusting in Him completely because he has nothing left in which to trust falsely. Now just how well is this guy gonna perform before the inquisitor? How correct are his doctrinal formulations going to be? How many test questions are you saying he has to get right? To the reformed, this guy was justified the day he conceded the point to Christ, and this is true regardless of how well this man is ever able to communicate assent to the right formulations of theological distinctives. He may be all over the paper when it comes to doctrine and heresy, but the Holy Spirit and the church will take care of that over time. (Of course, it may be that he gets his life right and then turns out to be an obstinate doctrinal stinker who needs church discipline, but abusus non tollit usus — you’ve got LeFebvre.) But while the reformed position allows that this man is saved, this man is also never going to be allowed to pastor a reformed church (and rightly) while he is in this state of relative doctrinal ignorance, because the church should not allow the right teaching of scripture to be tossed to the wind.

    So when you read the confessions, or the writings of the reformers, you must ask the distinguishing question, “Is this a listing of prerequisites for justification, or is this a listing of doctrinal boundaries?” These two may be one in the same for the RCC (and for the sake of lost souls I sincerely hope not), but they are most certainly distinct in the Reformed tradition. (Now when it comes to the Restoration Movement in America, all bets are off.)

  48. Dear Charles Long,

    So, on your view, a Unitarian, Arian, or Momon polytheist could rationally grasp the doctrine of the Trinity, and the arguments and authorities in its favor, consciously reject the doctrine, and still experience justifying faith – in the sense in which Reformed Christians hold?

    If that is really what you propose, I think you are very, very far removed from historic Reformed Protestantism. We have testimony from the Bolsec trial that Calvin not only consigned Bolsec to hell for his dissenting opinions over election, but even wanted to send him there early! Calvin specifically excluded Anabaptists from redemption on the basis of their theology (and schism from what he considered the true Church.) And that is to say nothing about Servetus! Or about inter-Reformed squabbles in New England.

    But, no matter. If you concede that the Reformed historically thought it important to make binding doctrinal definitions, and to distinguish orthodoxy from heresy – whether or not justifying faith was at stake – and that those distinctions could be clearly drawn – then you’ve really conceded a major part of my argument.

    The question then arises as to whether or not they were justified in holding this on the basis of Sola Scriptura. The other major argument of the paper was that they were not. The Reformed Tradition, I allege, cannot provide a sufficient basis for distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy, as their own history attests.

    Thanks for commenting,

    David

  49. David, if Nicea is a bottom line for you, then why aren’t you Orthodox (as in the Eastern church). Rome had little to do with Constantine’s council.

  50. Hi DGH,

    You misunderstand my point. I am not saying that Nicaea is the only dogma that matters.
    I am responding to your claim that Catholics cannot, in principle, know what dogma is (even though they have a magisterium) since some Catholics disagree on the status of some dogmatic statements.

    In response to this, I point out that if there were even only one dogma (say Nicaea) that could be clearly affirmed as such, then your point would not hold. Naturally, though, I think there are many dogmas that can be clearly known as such. I’d include the dogmatic definitions of every council, as well as Ineffabilis Deus and Munificentissimus Deus.

    The disputes usually enter in when the Popes issue teaching that is not defined as dogma. Even then, the disputes are rarely over whether a certain teaching is true, but rather over how the teaching is defined as true. Thus, in John Paul’s letter ordinatio sacerdotalis there was little dispute about whether the teaching was true (it is, and taught by the ordinary magisterium), but there was some dispute about whether it is infallible by a formal definition. (Probably not.)

    The doctrinal skepticism you allege just doesn’t exist.

    Now, I freely acknowledge that the this doctrinal clarity does not prevent some people from openly dissenting. But we sure as heck know what they’re dissenting from.

    -David

  51. Mike 46,

    Thanks for the clear statement of Catholic and Reformed approaches to orthodoxy and heresy. Both camps want to draw the line between divine revelation and human opinion. Catholicism claims to have a principled way to do this; Protestantism doesn’t have such a principled means (since perspicuity is questionable). But why is it more rational to say that there exists such a principled means? Perhaps a principled means doesn’t exist; perhaps (given a robust doctrine of sin) it is more rational to claim that such a means does not exist.

    The absence of a principled means would not mean that there is no distinction between heresy and orthodoxy or that we could not find it out. An analogous scenario might be: what if God decided not to give an infallible book to his church? If we didn’t have an infallible scripture, could the doctrines about Christ still be true, and be believed? The answer is yes. So, an infallible Scripture is not strictly necessary for salvation, but God in his grace gave it. If such a gift is already a bonus, why is it rational to include that there also must be an infallible interpreter, one who determines what is orthodox and what is not?

    thanks,

    Dave

  52. Chris 41,

    I still don’t think that Protestantism offers nearly as firm an epistemological grounding as Catholicism, though, for being able to distinguish between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, due to a.) Protestantism’s lack of a visible, binding, teaching authority, such as the Magisterium, and b.) the very concept of the perspicuity of the Bible on “essential” matters.

    But, as Josh has pointed out, appealing to the magisterium may be a double-edged sword. If contradiction can be proved, does all Christian truth go down with it?

    As I mentioned earlier, the Reformers held to these same concepts of “Biblical perspicuity” and “Biblical essentials,” yet they would disagree with today’s Protestants as to some of the “essentials.” What this means, practically, is that Martin Luther and John Calvin would not consider most of today’s Protestants, *including* most of today’s Reformed, to even be Christians. Think about that. What does that say about the doctrinal reductionism of today’s Protestantism, as compared to the Protestantism of the Reformers?

    I don’t think the list of “essentials” has changed as much as you claim over the centuries. In the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), the “essentials” that a Christian must believe are said to be the articles of faith, as summarized in the Apostles’ Creed. I think your statement about Luther and Calvin not even considering most of today’s Reformed to be Christians is a massive exaggeration, contradicted by clear statements in Reformed confessions of the 16th century that stipulate that a Christian must believe the articles of the Creed. It is true that a stricter standard was applied to those who would teach. It is also true that their doctrine of “essentials” was complicated by church-state complicity in that time period (opposing infant baptism was at that time to be a rebel, opposing social order; not so, today).

    David, are you confident, today, that your own list of the “essentials” and “non-essentials” of Christianity is correct? If so, on what basis are you confident that you are correct? The Reformers were certainly confident on their list(s), yet most of today’s Protestants would disagree with them. Where does this end?

    To believe the catholic faith is to believe that which has been confessed “always, everywhere, and by all.” (I forget whose formulation that is, but it has a nice ring to it.) I am confident that a list of “essentials,” i.e., that which has been believed “always, everywhere, and by all,” is found in the Apostles and Nicene-Constantinopolitan creeds. I don’t think, to give further examples, that papal infallibility or Mary’s status as co-redemptrix have been believed “always, everywhere, and by all,” and so I would deny that these are truly catholic doctrines.

    Your final question: how can we know we have not fallen into heresy? Again, look to the catholic faith, that which has been believed always, everywhere, by all.

  53. Mike,

    I had a feeling the “presupposition ” was not the word I was looking for. And frankly I’m having a hard time articulating what I believe must be some basic differing assumptions as to the proper role of the concepts of heresy and orthodoxy and how they are to be applied. For instance, its seems to be a given for Reformed apologists that any definition of heresy and orthodoxy cannot be binding on all Christians, presumably since no visible ecclesial body has the authority (or jurisdiction) to define true doctrine for any other than those who have voluntarily submitted to that particular ecclesial body. This, of course, does not change the fact that objective orthodoxy and heresy exist, but that it can in no way be recognized such that it is generally applicable and binding – that is an eschatological and presently unrealizable hope. It also seems that inherent to the RCC definition is the idea that heresy and orthodoxy can and must be definable in such a way as to be generally applicable and binding. If my thoughts congeal better, I may explore this a bit more later. Thanks for your explanations.

    Burton

  54. Dave (#51):

    You write:

    Both camps want to draw the line between divine revelation and human opinion. Catholicism claims to have a principled way to do this; Protestantism doesn’t have such a principled means (since perspicuity is questionable). But why is it more rational to say that there exists such a principled means? Perhaps a principled means doesn’t exist; perhaps (given a robust doctrine of sin) it is more rational to claim that such a means does not exist.

    If there really is a distinction between divine revelation and human opinion, then expecting to find, in divine revelation itself, a principled means of making and deploying that distinction is more reasonable than settling for only ad hoc means of doing so. For if there are only ad hoc means, then the distinction we draw by such means is based at best on human preferences, and at worst is simply arbitrary. Hence it cannot be relied on for distinguishing between divine revelation and human opinion. If, however, there is a principled means, then that means would belong to the irreformable deposit of faith itself, and would thus not suffer from the disadvantages of the ad hoc means.

    You also write:

    The absence of a principled means would not mean that there is no distinction between heresy and orthodoxy or that we could not find it out. An analogous scenario might be: what if God decided not to give an infallible book to his church? If we didn’t have an infallible scripture, could the doctrines about Christ still be true, and be believed? The answer is yes. So, an infallible Scripture is not strictly necessary for salvation, but God in his grace gave it. If such a gift is already a bonus, why is it rational to include that there also must be an infallible interpreter, one who determines what is orthodox and what is not?

    If there is no principled means for distinguishing between divine revelation and human opinion, then no way of drawing the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy can claim to bear divine authority. Hence the drawing of the line between orthodoxy and heresy would necessarily be a matter of opinion–which, in my view, is the very situation of Protestantism as such. Now in principle, some such opinions can be correct, but they could only be recognized as human and provisional opinions. Thus there would be no reliable basis for saying that such opinions signify what God wants us to believe when we believe him.

    Best,
    Mike

  55. Mike,

    Thanks for the response. Here is your first paragraph:

    If there really is a distinction between divine revelation and human opinion, then expecting to find, in divine revelation itself, a principled means of making and deploying that distinction is more reasonable than settling for only ad hoc means of doing so. For if there are only ad hoc means, then the distinction we draw by such means is based at best on human preferences, and at worst is simply arbitrary. Hence it cannot be relied on for distinguishing between divine revelation and human opinion. If, however, there is a principled means, then that means would belong to the irreformable deposit of faith itself, and would thus not suffer from the disadvantages of the ad hoc means.

    The argument here seems to be: a subjective means of distinguishing between divine revelation and human opinion amounts to having no means at all. Is that correct?

    I see what you are saying, but I’m still not sure why it is more reasonable to claim that a principled means exists. We are inherently subjective beings, after all. Perhaps only a subjective means exists because only a subjective means can exist. (In this case, even the Catholic magisterium would be a subjective means.) Perhaps it can be philosophically reduced to no means at all. Still, even on these subjective means, one must wrestle with Scripture, tradition, history, the claims of Christ, etc. Perhaps this is enough; perhaps as finite creatures we cannot expect any more.

    Dave

  56. David,

    You wrote:

    The absence of a principled means would not mean that there is no distinction between heresy and orthodoxy or that we could not find it out.[Emphasis mine]

    To which Mike responded:

    Now in principle, some such opinions can be correct, but they could only be recognized as human and provisional opinions. Thus there would be no reliable basis for saying that such opinions signify what God wants us to believe when we believe him.

    David, does not the absence of a principled means precisely entail “that we could not find it out”? The whole point of a “principled means” is to enable us (give us a means) to establish some proposition as true on higher grounds than mere human opinion/conjecture. Maybe I am missing your point, but I really cannot see how the absence you postulate does not reduce all doctrinal claims to mere opinion claims; and in that case, I would ask why I should be especially interested in such doctrinal claims (Christian or otherwise) over against any number of other explanatory hypotheses concerning mankind, his origin, meaning, destiny, etc?

    and again you wrote:

    If we didn’t have an infallible scripture, could the doctrines about Christ still be true, and be believed? The answer is yes. {Emphasis mine]

    The doctrines could be true, but no one would have any way of knowing that they were true. Hence, any choice to believe some or other “doctrines about Christ” in that situation, would appear to be arbitrary, fideistic, based on mere take-it-or-leave-it opinion, etc. Would you be okay with that result? Or again, perhaps I am missing something in your argument?

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  57. Ray,

    David, does not the absence of a principled means precisely entail “that we could not find it out”?

    No, we could find it out. There are many truths that we can find out despite the absence of a principled means for doing so (e.g. historical truths).

    Maybe I am missing your point, but I really cannot see how the absence you postulate does not reduce all doctrinal claims to mere opinion claims; and in that case, I would ask why I should be especially interested in such doctrinal claims (Christian or otherwise) over against any number of other explanatory hypotheses concerning mankind, his origin, meaning, destiny, etc?

    Because there is better evidence (subjectively apprehended) for Christian claims. This starts with the evidence for the resurrection of Christ.

    To my comment about the possibility that God might not have given us Scripture, you said:

    The doctrines could be true, but no one would have any way of knowing that they were true.

    They could have been orally passed down. Yes, our knowledge would be much less certain than the knowledge we have due to having the gift of an inspired Scripture. But it is not correct to say that no one would have any way of knowing that they were true.

  58. David,

    History is a dialectical discipline whose subject matter is of particular things (texts, artifacts, ruins, etc), and it proceeds according to a methodology, whereby explanatory conclusions are arrived at by producing a coordinated, concurrent, explanation which most cohernetly accounts for the widest set of particular datums; which is just to say that the discipline of the historian admits of a principled means, or methodology, for arriving at conclusions which are often considered to achieve a high degree of probability (as distinct from the historical musings of the man-on-the-street); and, therefore, rightly commands our assent relative to the subject matter and method of historical inquiry. Truth claims within the ambit of historical studies require a principled means no less than any other discipline, if the conclusions reached are to be regarded as worthy of our assent to a degree greater than uncritical opinion or conjecture. Therefore, I continue to maintain that any truth claim in any discipline (including theology), requires the presence and use of some principled means by which its resepctive truth claims are established as “truth claim”, distinct from mere conjecture.

    Secondly, I think you are perhaps confusing the distinction between “motives of credibility”, such as the evidences for Christ’s resurrection, which, as part of the historical data set are open to evidential analysis leading to rational assent (I agree with you that these are knowable), as distinct from “articles of faith” per se; which are truth claims about realities for which there is no eveidential or sensate basis in human experience (barring direct special revelation as St. Paul may have experienced): articles such as the dual nature of Christ, or the Trinitarian nature of God, or the existence of heaven, or Sola Scriptura, or Sola Fide, or the authority of the Apostolic Magisterium, or Justification via Imputation, or Justification via Infusion, etc.

    The motives of credibility (such as the evidences for Christ’s resurrection) which are open to evidential and rational analysis lead us to the recognition of an authority source which we must then trust with regard to the later sort of doctrines I have just described (articles of faith proper): it is precisely articles of faith proper which are positively beyond the ambit of human reason to access, and which are at issue in all Catholic / Protestant discussions about heresy & orthodoxy. You would need to show that these sorts of doctrines (as distinct from motives of credibility) entail “better evidence”. But that cannot be done, because such articles, by definition, are simply not the sort of thing that involve evidence. So yes, we could argue that there is evidence that Christ rose from the dead (surely an eye opening and surprising conclusion for all men in itself). But from the evidences which lead to this conclusion, one would not be able argue that Christ has two natures, two wills, yet is one Person, is the second Person of the Trinity, consubstantial with the Father, etc. Those are articles of faith proper, whose truth value as known depends upon the acknowledgement of a known authority capable of promulgating those truths by a principled means which commands our assent to those propositions as something more than mere human opinion.

    Finally, in your last paragraph, saying that “they [doctrines] could have been passed down”, does indeed entail exactly what I say; namely, that they could not be known as the doctrines which God would have us know. To say this or that “could” be the case, is the language of conjuecture and opinion, and one has no good reason to assent to doctrinal propositions which “could” possibly (and, therefore, might possibly not) have been passed down. The hypothetical nature of the mode of transmission is exactly what translates the content of the doctrinal propositions themselves in such a scenario into the realm of mere opinion.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  59. Charles Long #47, That is articulated very well. That is exactly what I believe. It does open the door for Anders’ next question (#48) though:

    Anders wrote: “So, on your view, a Unitarian, Arian, or Momon polytheist could rationally grasp the doctrine of the Trinity, and the arguments and authorities in its favor, consciously reject the doctrine, and still experience justifying faith – in the sense in which Reformed Christians hold?”

    It is at this point that I really want to press the RC position! The men who trusted in Jesus, like the disciples; when did they come to a knowledge of Nicean theology, did their salvation come after the fullness of this understanding? What about Christ’s disciples, or the early Christian concerts? Could they have passed our catechetical exams? Those who heard the gospel in the book of Acts, when did they have a orthodox view of Trinity presented to them and articulated with the precision that we now hold?

    My question is “when did the essentials for salvation change?” Do I have to believe something different this year than someone had to last year in order to be saved? I believe that The essentials for salvation have remained the same and that they have not changed, regardless of how well they were articulated.

    So, yes, an Arian who recognizes the meaning of the gospel, but who doesn’t rightly parse the meaning of the word “begotten” can be saved. I think that many of the early Christians were prone to think of the Father as greater than Jesus (because he said He was); and that they misunderstood such language. Does this negate their salvation? I don’t think so. Does it make them unorthodox, and if they begin to teach such docrtines, it classified them as heretical.

    I would turn the question around and say that somehow the gospel, according to Rome, has become something very different than what it began as.

    The RC’s will Tu quoque me though. Then I will send them to Charles Long’s post #47, and say that the articulation of justification by faith was definitely more precise in the 16th century, but that the reality that faith in Christ , as he is presented in the gospel (which can be seen in its basics in 1 Cor. 15:1-6) saves people (and constitutes them as Christians), and it leads to a transformed life that is initially marked by baptism and is always followed by good works which are carried out in a community of faith that practices the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist.

    I am rushed so I may need to come back and clarify some of these things.

  60. David Anders,

    RE #48

    You wrote, [quote]So, on your view, a Unitarian, Arian, or Momon polytheist could rationally grasp the doctrine of the Trinity, and the arguments and authorities in its favor, consciously reject the doctrine, and still experience justifying faith – in the sense in which Reformed Christians hold?[/quote]

    But this is not a fair representation of what I said. I did say (in #47) that a man who came to Christ in theological ignorance or with a theological mess in his head would be a project for the Spirit and for the church. I also said that, if after time he was a stinker, he might require church discipline. (This is not the same thing as saying, as it appears you implied, that the reformed will let anybody believe anything.)

    Yet whether or not he is subject to discipline for being a stinker does not necessarily reflect upon his justification. Who get’s chastened by the father — is it the son, or is it the kid from 3 blocks over? If a man is chastened by the church for his sin (whether heresy or adultery), it is beyond the scope of a mortal man do declare anything about his salvific state. He may need to be removed from the communion of saints for the good of the communion, but this is not the same thing as declaring that he isn’t justified. His justification is either objectively accomplished or it is objectively not and never will be; but from our perspective the verdict isn’t in just because one day he thinks the Unitarians have a good case. Fact is, we can’t know another’s situation in the same way that we can be assured of our own. The church has a duty to declare the truth, but the church does NOT have the duty to declare the secret decrees of God as though she knows them.

    Are you suggesting that a RC advantage is that you can? By virtue of what — a baptism? And here’s where you seem to be in a tight spot — if you identify your source of assurance of the other guy’s justification as something that inheres in him or proceeds from him, then you’re about to fall through the thin ice of self-justification; but if you identify your source as something God does within a man, then the question you must (but cannot) answer is — how do you know He’s done it in *that guy’s* heart?

    Augustine may serve as a good example. He held to heretical doctrines for some time before he was a bishop. But does this mean we can say he wasn’t justified until he got the math right? Sure, he needed to get the math right, but I think we should see Him as God’s work in progress from the beginning, rather than some heretic who eventually got justified when he passed the catechism exam.

  61. David, Charles and Josh,

    I think two things are being confused. I don’t think any Catholic will reject the notion that one can be saved without explicit belief in all the doctrines of the Church. It is easy to imagine a poor farmer, who has little time but to come to the most basic understanding of the faith, but is still, nonetheless, justified before God through Christ our Lord.

    The question that David is after, and I would have thought would have been answered in the affirmative by all, is that one cannot knowingly and willfully reject the truth of other doctrines of the faith — knowing they are true — while still maintaining his or her salvation. That is David’s point regarding the Magisterial Reformers. It is not that the Magisterial Reformers believed that you had to first believe data set “x” in order to be saved, but they did believe that if you knowingly and willfully rejected data set “x” — which was the truth, you were rejecting the truth and therefore unregenerate.

    The “essentials for salvation” is a novelty. It is nowhere in Scripture, and certainly not a part of Magisterial Reformed theology. One cannot reject the teachings of Christ, and then claim, “but I believe the essentials!”. The only essential is Christ, who is Truth. If one is an Arian by accident, that is one thing. If he is an Arian by willful disobedience to the truth, that is another. That is why the Protestant has seemingly been forced to the “essentials” theory. Because if Scripture is only perspicuous regarding a “narrow” or “essential” Gospel — something much narrower than what Calvin would have proposed (as is David’s point), and one must only believe that, then there is only one heresy, and all the rest is but plausible, Christian opinion (which is more or less Stephen’s argument in another thread).

    Like you said Josh, on your theory, one might be saved if they believed “for God so loved the world…”, even if his or her concept of “God” was a little off. Which in reality, comes a lot closer to the Catholic view of invincible ignorance than the Protestant view of implicit faith. However, for the Catholic Christian, the concept of “God” is not a negotiable, whereas I’m assuming on your view the concept of “God” is (so long as the person believes he or she is righteous by faith alone in Jesus’s finished work on the cross).

    I highly recommend Bryan’s article: St. Thomas Aquinas on the Relation of Faith to the Church. In my opinion, it is the best summary of the Catholic position on this topic.

    Pax Christi,

    Brent

  62. Ray,

    Truth claims within the ambit of historical studies require a principled means no less than any other discipline, if the conclusions reached are to be regarded as worthy of our assent to a degree greater than uncritical opinion or conjecture.

    Of course, I agree. As a discipline history has a critical methodology, standards of evidence and argumentation, peer review, etc. However one becomes an epistemic authority in the field not by virtue of any inherent authority but by virtue of being able to convince many other scholars of your views. Ultimately, no matter how many checks and balances are put in place, historical knowledge amounts to the “human opinion” of the collective body of scholars. There is no Infallible Authoritative Historian. That does not mean we cannot be confident in historical knowledge. It just means that in analogy to this debate, historical knowledge (indeed, all academic knowledge in the humanities, social sciences, even natural sciences) is more like Protestant doctrinal certainty than Catholic.

    The motives of credibility (such as the evidences for Christ’s resurrection) which are open to evidential and rational analysis lead us to the recognition of an authority source which we must then trust with regard to the later sort of doctrines I have just described (articles of faith proper): it is precisely articles of faith proper which are positively beyond the ambit of human reason to access, and which are at issue in all Catholic / Protestant discussions about heresy & orthodoxy. You would need to show that these sorts of doctrines (as distinct from motives of credibility) entail “better evidence”. But that cannot be done, because such articles, by definition, are simply not the sort of thing that involve evidence. So yes, we could argue that there is evidence that Christ rose from the dead (surely an eye opening and surprising conclusion for all men in itself). But from the evidences which lead to this conclusion, one would not be able argue that Christ has two natures, two wills, yet is one Person, is the second Person of the Trinity, consubstantial with the Father, etc. Those are articles of faith proper, whose truth value as known depends upon the acknowledgement of a known authority capable of promulgating those truths by a principled means which commands our assent to those propositions as something more than mere human opinion.

    I agree with you that articles of faith proper are subsequent to Christ’s resurrection and can’t be verified in the same way. But I don’t think the Protestant is in so radically different a position than the Catholic apologist, and there are some advantages to the Protestant’s position. Basically, from Christ’s resurrection and his sending of his apostles and in particular his sending of the Spirit to guide the church into all truth, the Protestant can argue that Scripture is sure as the apostolic testimony and that the witness of the church can be trusted as guided by the Spirit. The Protestant, however, would not accept your claim that “such articles [of faith], by definition, are simply not the sort of thing that involve evidence.” For example you mention justification by imputation or by infusion: well, there is evidence, books (McGrath) have been written on how the concept changed over time. To be sure, some of these doctrines (Christ’s wills) will not seem to have much evidence but they can usually be understood as further explications of prior, more basic doctrines.

    Furthermore, the advantage to the Protestant’s approach is that he or she doesn’t have to claim that the Church has been right about everything, all the time. (The Catholic doesn’t have to claim this either but it then is much more difficult to place so much of the weight of your apologetic on the Authority of the church.) Presumably every pope has been a living Authoritive Interpreter of Christ, vicar of St. Peter, etc., yet they authorized crusades, etc.

    Of course, you will be dissatisfied and say the Protestant still doesn’t have a principled means of distinguishing truth from error. I agree, not a rock solid absolutely infallible one. Still, the Protestant apologist can make a strong case for, say, the doctrine of the Trinity, built on the foundation of Scripture, history, tradition, philosophy, etc.

  63. I needed to make a couple of corrections:

    I think that many of the early Christians were prone to think of the Father as greater than Jesus (because he said He was); and that they misunderstood such language. Does this negate their salvation? I don’t think so. Does it make them unorthodox *yes it does make them unorthodox*, and if they begin to teach such doctrines, it classifies them as heretical.

    My main problem with my own statement is with classifying which doctrines constitute a teachers as heretical and which ones merely constitute a man of a different persuasion on less essential doctrines. Millennial views, for example, do not make one heretical, even if their beliefs are wrong and they teach them. I would need to substantiate why some views constitute heresy and others do not when the beliefs that are espoused are not true.

    Nevertheless, the gospel, and what it demands for a person’s salvation has remained unchanged from the very beginning; in my own estimation. For the RC, this cannot be true.

  64. David Dejong (re:#52),

    In reply to my statement about Catholicism offering a more firm epistemological grounding than Protestantism (for certainty about right doctrine and practice), you wrote:

    But, as Josh has pointed out, appealing to the magisterium may be a double-edged sword. If contradiction can be proved, does all Christian truth go down with it?

    The question that you ask here is a salient one. In a way, it gets to one of *the* core issues which separates Catholics and Protestants.

    In that light, in order for us to have a helpful conversation, it’s important for you to acknowledge that the very idea that contradictions *might* be proven, in terms of finding contradictions within the official, binding teachings of the Magisterium, is, by definition, a *Protestant* idea. Do you see how that is so? (I just want to make sure that we are understanding each other.)

    For me, as a Catholic who believes the claims of the Church, if I were to seriously entertain the idea that the Magisterium had contradicted itself, in terms of official, binding teachings of the Catholic faith, I would be toying with heresy. For you, there is no problem with seriously entertaining such an idea, because, as a Protestant, you believe that you have the right, or even, the responsibility, to scrutinize all extra-Biblical documents to see if they align with your best understanding of Scripture– which, for you, has the final word.

    However, the evidence of history, the *actual historical documents* which can be easily found and studied, demonstrate that your way of approaching these matters is simply *not* the way of the early Church. When the Arian heresy reached a fever-pitch in the Church in the 4th century, Bibles were not distributed to all of the Catholic faithful throughout the world, so that they could study the Bible and determine whether or not Arianism is a heresy. In a similar vein, Church documents were not distributed to the Catholic faithful throughout the world *for the purpose* of Catholics studying them so as to determine whether or not they contradicted each other. This is simply not how the Catholic Church worked in the 4th century, and it is not how the Church works today.

    Of course, many more Catholics are literate in our time than in the 4th century. In that light, Catholics today are encouraged by the Church to read the Bible, *within* the context in which it was written– that context being, for the New Testament, Christ Himself *and* apostolic tradition (see 2 Thessalonians 2:15). Catholics are *still* not to read the Bible *outside* of the context of the teaching authority of the Church– any more than they were to try to discern the rightness or wrongness of the Arian heresy outside of the context of the teaching authority of the Church
    in the 4th century.

    In a similar vein, Church documents are distributed worldwide today, for Catholics and all other literate people to read– but those Christians who consider themselves to have ultimate interpretive authority *over* such documents, in terms of scrutinizing them so as to find possible contradictions in them, are, for the most part, by definition, *Protestants*– and, similarly to their forefathers in the 16th-century Reformation, modern Protestants’ approach to these matters goes sharply against that of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” spoken of in the 4th-century Nicene Creed.

    This is how one knows that one actually belongs to “the catholic faith”– does one approach, and think about, the faith as did the Church of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries, and as that Church still does so today, calling Councils in our time (the most recent being the Second Vatican Council), as it did to deal with the Arian heresy in the 4th century A.D.?

  65. David (#55):

    You wrote:

    I’m still not sure why it is more reasonable to claim that a principled means exists. We are inherently subjective beings, after all. Perhaps only a subjective means exists because only a subjective means can exist. (In this case, even the Catholic magisterium would be a subjective means.) Perhaps it can be philosophically reduced to no means at all. Still, even on these subjective means, one must wrestle with Scripture, tradition, history, the claims of Christ, etc. Perhaps this is enough; perhaps as finite creatures we cannot expect any more.

    In addition to what Ray said, I reiterate that, if there is such a thing as divine revelation, then it is an objective reality, and if we can recognize it for what it is, then we can apprehend objective truth as such. Of course nobody disputes that humans have a subjective dimension; the question you raise is whether that’s all we’ve got, so that we cannot apprehend objective truth as such at all. Well, if we cannot, then we cannot know or trust anything other than “the subjective,” i.e. what is internal to our experience. And if that were so, the ultimate logical consequence would be solipsism. I seriously doubt you want to go there, which I suspect is one reason why you don’t actually assert that we can know only subjective truth. But merely raising the possibility is a non-starter if you want to hold that there is such a thing divine revelation and that we can recognize it as such. Since you’re a theology student in a Christian institution, I presume you do want to hold that.

    That said, there’s more than one way to “wrestle with Scripture, tradition, history, the claims of Christ, etc.” One might approach such topics non-confessionally, as is done is “religious studies.” If one confines oneself to that. then one examines the data simply as a record of what some people have thought, said, and done about matters divine, and draws one’s own provisional conclusions about what such data point to. But that needn’t and typically doesn’t occasion an assent of faith that would form the premises and motivation for Christian theology proper. My argument is that no such assent is possible without recognizing some secondary authority, or ensemble thereof, as the bearer of divine authority, such that through it, we encounter Truth Himself presenting himself for our trusting assent. That is something which one is either objectively right about or objectively wrong about. But one can never tell which if one holds that all is “subjective.” That kind of epistemology precludes Christian faith as well as being philosophically untenable.

    Best,
    Mike

  66. Josh (#63),

    I think that many of the early Christians were prone to think of the Father as greater than Jesus (because he said He was); and that they misunderstood such language. Does this negate their salvation? I don’t think so. Does it make them unorthodox *yes it does make them unorthodox*, and if they begin to teach such doctrines, it classifies them as heretical.

    No, holding heretical notions makes one a heretic by definition and does affect one’s faith. It is true, though, that one who holds to heresy in ignorance may still be saved by God’s mercy. Should anyone hold to error after correction from the Church, that person is a heretic; for example, after the Councils of Nicaea I and Constantinople I, anyone who knowingly holds that the Father is greater than the Son *in essence* and that there was a time when the Son was not, cannot be called a Christian.

    My main problem with my own statement is with classifying which doctrines constitute a teachers as heretical and which ones merely constitute a man of a different persuasion on less essential doctrines. Millennial views, for example, do not make one heretical, even if their beliefs are wrong and they teach them. I would need to substantiate why some views constitute heresy and others do not when the beliefs that are espoused are not true.

    You have a problem with your own statement because of Protestant ecclesiology, i.e.: you can’t draw up a list of “essentials” that must be believed from the Bible to distinguish them from “non-essentials” because there is no such way. A view is true or false. This is the way the Church works and has worked from the beginning: the Church, guided by the Spirit (Acts 15:28), discerns and rules (“binding and loosing”, Matt. 16:18, 18:18) on what is and is not part of the Faith, and the faithful must assent on pain of schism. This is how we definitively determine what constitutes heresy and what is opinion.

    Nevertheless, the gospel, and what it demands for a person’s salvation has remained unchanged from the very beginning; in my own estimation. For the RC, this cannot be true.

    Indeed, it is your estimation. I can say the same thing about you, but that would be mere hand waving.

    IC XC NIKA

    Garrison

  67. Burton (#53):

    You wrote:

    …its seems to be a given for Reformed apologists that any definition of heresy and orthodoxy cannot be binding on all Christians, presumably since no visible ecclesial body has the authority (or jurisdiction) to define true doctrine for any other than those who have voluntarily submitted to that particular ecclesial body. This, of course, does not change the fact that objective orthodoxy and heresy exist, but that it can in no way be recognized such that it is generally applicable and binding – that is an eschatological and presently unrealizable hope. It also seems that inherent to the RCC definition is the idea that heresy and orthodoxy can and must be definable in such a way as to be generally applicable and binding.

    I think that’s right. But note the consequence for Protestants. If “orthodoxy and heresy exist,” but cannot be “recognized such that” orthodoxy “is generally applicable and binding,” then we have no principled means of distinguishing between the two; we are left with only optional and provisional human opinions, even when some such opinions happen to be true. But divine revelation as such is “generally applicable” and “binding” in the sense that it calls for the assent of faith, not of opinion, from each and every person who encounters it. So, where no view of the “sources” by which divine revelation is transmitted to us is accepted as generally applicable and binding, people cannot render the assent of faith to what God has revealed, but can have only opinions about the sources and their meaning.

    Best,
    Mike

  68. Chris,

    In that light, in order for us to have a helpful conversation, it’s important for you to acknowledge that the very idea that contradictions *might* be proven, in terms of finding contradictions within the official, binding teachings of the Magisterium, is, by definition, a *Protestant* idea. Do you see how that is so? (I just want to make sure that we are understanding each other.)

    Well, it’s not just a Protestant idea in the sense that it’s not a logical impossibility. You might think it to be impossible because of the divine promise to protect the Church from error. It’s also not just a “Protestant” idea in the sense that many many people of various persuasions are skeptical of the RC church’s claims.

    For me, as a Catholic who believes the claims of the Church, if I were to seriously entertain the idea that the Magisterium had contradicted itself, in terms of official, binding teachings of the Catholic faith, I would be toying with heresy. For you, there is no problem with seriously entertaining such an idea, because, as a Protestant, you believe that you have the right, or even, the responsibility, to scrutinize all extra-Biblical documents to see if they align with your best understanding of Scripture– which, for you, has the final word.

    Well, it is good that you admit this, and I agree, it will make it difficult for us to move further in this conversation. You initially began this discussion by talking about differences between RC and Protestant apologetics. I would have you observe, now, that as an RC apologist you are explicitly stating,

    1) that you believe the Church is infallible and the authority on which we accept divine truth
    2) that this belief is itself part of the infallible deposit and cannot be questioned

    Do you see, how, from an apologetic perspective, this involves you in circular reasoning? I wonder why you think the position of the Catholic apologist is really epistemically more secure than the Protestant.

    As far as the rest of your post goes, I agree with much of it, my position is not sola scriptura because I agree that Scripture has to be interpreted with the church, in the light of tradition and history. The fact is, however, times have changed, and my position is that the Catholic church was caught somewhat flat-footed by the invention of the printing press and the concomitant rise in “private interpretation.”

    One thing you say that needs correction:

    but those Christians who consider themselves to have ultimate interpretive authority *over* such documents, in terms of scrutinizing them so as to find possible contradictions in them, are, for the most part, by definition, *Protestants*

    Protestants do not consider themselves to have “interpretive authority.” That is a term used by RC apologists against Protestants. I consider “interpretive authority” to be impossible for humans–indeed, a contradiction in terms; only the Spirit has “interpretive authority.”

    Best,

    Dave

  69. Dave (#68),

    Protestants do not consider themselves to have “interpretive authority.” That is a term used by RC apologists against Protestants. I consider “interpretive authority” to be impossible for humans–indeed, a contradiction in terms; only the Spirit has “interpretive authority.”

    I really see no difference; the Protestant paradigm reduces to individual interpretive authority or Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, et al. would not have left the Church (and gone very separate ways, too). If humans do not have interpretive authority, there is no reason to be a Christian unless one receives personal divine revelation. The Reformers would certainly reject that understanding of interpretive authority as well (see Calvin and his actions in Geneva); each believed they had interpretive authority and could decide what was truth and what was not. Never mind the fact that the early Church believed it had the ability to authoritatively interpret revelation and to issue rulings on interpretations, all with the Spirit (see the ecumenical councils).

    IC XC NIKA

    Garrison

  70. Garrison,

    The problem with reducing the Protestant position to individual “interpretive authority” is that it fails to respect the fact that many Protestants seriously and genuinely believe they are submitting solely to the authority of Scripture. It is the case of Rom 14:23: they are bound to act according to their conscience, because whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Of course, I have read the arguments on this blog and understand that there is a strong argument to be made that “sola scriptura” can be reduced to “solo scriptura,” etc. I’m just saying that its dangerous to then take that reduction (in which submission to scripture becomes submission to oneself) and then write as though that’s what Protestants think they are doing–because of course, they don’t (even if they are).

    My comments on “interpretive authority” were too brief to be of any use. Basically, obviously there has been human “interpretive authority” with Jesus and he bequeathed that to the apostles. It should be noted that this was authority for interpreting the OT. The apostolic testimony is set down in the NT, so that the NT represents the “interpretive authority” for handling the OT scriptures. The post-apostolic church has “interpretive authority” in the sense one must always listen to the judgment and exegesis of tradition and the church, but I do believe that God can still raise up “prophets” with a fresh word from the Spirit that challenges and reforms the church and corrects errors in her interpretation that have arisen. This is the way of God working with his covenant people in both Old Covenant and New.

    Best,

    Dave

  71. Dave (#68):

    To add to Garrison’s remark, it seems to me that a formal definition of the term “interpretative authority,” even if that definition were only for the sake of continuing this particular discussion with clarity, would be helpful.

    I’m not sure what that definition would be. I can only think of examples:

    1. Interpreting a passage of Scripture (the meaning of which is disputed among well-meaning, prayerful, and educated Christians of different groups) in such a way as to conclude that one group of Christians’ interpretation is correct and another’s is incorrect; or,

    2. Using an argument from Scripture to opt for membership in one particular denomination as opposed to another; or,

    3. Using an argument from Scripture as a basis for declaring that someone’s views are incompatible with the official views of one’s church or denomination and that, consequently, that someone is forbidden to preach those views from the pulpit or in Sunday School classrooms in one’s church…

    …are all exercises of “interpretative authority,” or so it seems to me.

    So, one exercises “interpretative authority” when one goes church-shopping in hopes of finding “a church where the Word of God is faithfully taught,” for example. Members of a denomination exercise it when drawing up doctrinal statements which ministers must believe in order to remain ministers.

    In short, when you must make a decision, and the decision hinges upon whether Interpretation X or Interpretation Y of a given passage is correct, then the decision is an exercise of “interpretative authority.”

    I am not saying that this is the only possible definition of the phrase “interpretative authority.” There could be others.

    But I raise it because your objection to the term being used by “RC apologists against Protestants” suggests that you think Protestants don’t actually do what the RC apologists say they do. It seems clear to me that, whether they call it “exercising interpretative authority” or something else, they certainly do it.

  72. Dave (#70):

    You concluded:

    The post-apostolic church has “interpretive authority” in the sense one must always listen to the judgment and exegesis of tradition and the church, but I do believe that God can still raise up “prophets” with a fresh word from the Spirit that challenges and reforms the church and corrects errors in her interpretation that have arisen. This is the way of God working with his covenant people in both Old Covenant and New.

    There’s a sense in which the Catholic may, even should, share the view that “God can still raise up “prophets” with a fresh word from the Spirit that challenges and reforms the church and corrects errors in her interpretation.” Over time, for example, the Spirit has led the Church to reject Augustine’s idea that original sin is personal culpa. The Spirit has led the Church to reject the once-common idea that extra ecclesiam nulla salus means that most of those who don’t become formally Catholic before death are damned. Partly through heretics, the Spirit led the Church to understand that the sale of indulgences is wrong. Positively, the Church has come to understand that treating people as property–i.e., slavery–is immoral in itself, that not all taking of interest on loans constitutes usury, and that the death penalty is justified only when necessary to protect society from the lethal violence by the convict. In all the above developments, I’d say the Spirit has been at work.

    But if your view be understood to mean that the Spirit can cause the Church to reverse doctrines previously taught with her full authority, a Catholic may not share it. If such reversals were possible, then the Church would under no conditions be infallible, which conclusion is of course incompatible with the Church’s understanding of her own teaching authority. I suspect that’s the view you’re adumbrating, since you say only: “The post-apostolic church has “interpretive authority” in the sense [that] one must always listen to the judgment and exegesis of tradition and the church.” Being obligated to “listen,” if we elect to recognize such an obligation, is not of course being obligated to submit. So on your view, something called “the post-apostolic church” is an important resource for forming one’s own views, but only a resource. Even teachings propounded with such a church’s full authority are reversible in principle by “the Spirit” doing a “new thing.” But who gets to decide when it’s the Holy Spirit, rather than the Zeitgeist, at work? The individual; or perhaps a select group of “the great and good.”

    About that model of ecclesial authority, I can only agree with Garrison.

    Best,
    Mike

  73. Burton in #43 said:

    After several days of interacting with the folks at Green Baggins over the issue of how heresy and schism are defined using the Reformed paradigm, I have come to the conclusion that your opponents in this debate (at least in some quarters) do not share the presupposition that “distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy” in the way you mean it is necessary or even possible.

    If distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy in a principled way that applies to all Christians is not necessary or possible, and these Reformed apologists want to really spread that message as key, and if that is the battering ram with which they will shatter the doors of St. Peters, then have truly achieved a pyyrhic victory.

    As a theologically untrained layman, the entire reason I converted to Catholicism was the inability of the Reformed church to provide definitive answers to my doctrinal questions. Saying these definitions don’t matter or aren’t possible (which ironically is itself an extremely dogmatic definition!!!) is the sort of handwaving that scared the blood right out of my face as a husband and father in search of truth. If they had stuck with Calvin’s model at Geneva (which I loved at the time), I may never have seen the problem. But when the shoulders started shrugging and they started asking me what I thought about the issues (!!), that was frightening. If you claim to be the Church, don’t ask me what I think! Tell me what the Church commands.

    This realization led me to the next realization that only a Church that claimed to be able to definitively distinguish orthodoxy from heresy in a way that was binding on me could be the true Church, with all other claimants being false. This leaves a surprisingly short list of possibilities.

  74. David,

    You wrote:

    Ultimately, no matter how many checks and balances are put in place, historical knowledge amounts to the “human opinion” of the collective body of scholars. There is no Infallible Authoritative Historian.

    In comment #57, you seemed to have presented historical truths as the sort of truth claims that could be accessed without a principled means of distinguishing a historical truth from a mere opinion. What I pointed out (and which you apparently agree with) is that history as a discipline, does indeed operate according to a recognized methodology for achieving historical conclusions or explanations which have a greater claim on our rational assent than say some off-the-hip historical conjecture from a guy in a barber shop. The analogous point is that there is a difference between a credible historical explanation and an uniformed conjecture/opinion; and what makes the difference is that the former is arrived at by use of a principled means or methodology, whereas the later is not. Of course, I agree that historians are not infallible. I explicitly argued why it is that history, as a discipline, is limited to the achievement of conclusions which may be taken as highly probable at best. But to say that historical knowledge “amounts to human opinion” is to deploy the notion of “human opinion” in such a broad sense that it undermines the distinction between highly probable historical conclusions and “mere opinion” (barbershop opinion for instance). What makes that difference relative to the degree in which truth is possible in historical matters given its subject and methodology IS the methodology or principled means. The conclusions of the collective body of scholars are more worthy of our assent in historical matters than are the conclusions of the barber shop patron, precisely because of their “scholarly” discipline. I, therefore, maintain that in any discipline there must be a principled means for arriving at true conclusions, relative to that discipline’s subject matter. This is all the more crucial with respect to articles-of-faith-proper, where we need not only a methodology for reaching theological conclusions based on premises grounded in a known subject matter; but also and firstly a principled means for defining the subject matter itself (i.e. the orthodox content of divine revelation). In all natural disciplines, the subject matter is something open to common human experience, and therefore, open to the intellect. With respect to articles-of-faith, the subject matter must be revealed from God as such articles cannot be known from reason alone. Hence, the need to first find a principled means for determining what has, in fact, been revealed with respect to articles-of-faith.

    You wrote:

    It just means that in analogy to this debate, historical knowledge (indeed, all academic knowledge in the humanities, social sciences, even natural sciences) is more like Protestant doctrinal certainty than Catholic.

    I agree, but that makes the problem all the more troublesome for Protestantism because the truth of articles-of-faith-proper are not drawn from any evidence accessible to the unaided human intellect. There is simply no body of evidence, no natural subject matter, from which to draw even tentative conclusions about the truth value of proposed articles of faith. One can discuss ad nauseum the various doctrinal propositions which have been taught as if they were true. One can discuss the degree of consensus which this or that doctrine has enjoyed over time or geography, etc. But no such evaluations even begin to get at the question of how we know any such articles to be true (i.e. the doctrinal truths that God intended us to know). Articles-of-faith proper, entail truths that can come from God alone, since such propositions are not grounded in our natural experience of the world. If conclusions are only probable in the realm of history, then a fortiori, conclusions relating to the articles-of-faith are not even probable given Protestant principles. If we are to know that some article-of-faith is actually true, God must provide us with some principled means for knowing it as such; and if that means is to be something other than direct personal illumination (i.e if God’s revelation is to be public); then that means must (at least under certain conditions) be guided, directed, protected, or in someway superintended by God Himself so as to insure that truth, rather than error, is taught with respect to the articles-of-faith He would have men know. To paraphrase Newman’s concise point: “There is no revelation given unless there be also some authority to say what is given”.

    You wrote:

    The Protestant, however, would not accept your claim that “such articles [of faith], by definition, are simply not the sort of thing that involve evidence.” For example you mention justification by imputation or by infusion: well, there is evidence, books (McGrath) have been written on how the concept changed over time. To be sure, some of these doctrines (Christ’s wills) will not seem to have much evidence but they can usually be understood as further explications of prior, more basic doctrines.

    I am afraid this is something of an equivocation. The question is not whether or not certain doctrines such as various views of justification, or the Trinitarian nature of God, or the dual nature of Christ, have been taught – of course there is evidence for that. The question is whether these doctrines are true; namely, whether these are the doctrinal truths which God – in giving us a public revelation – intended men to know, as opposed to mere human conjecture. As I keep saying, by the very nature of the case, there is simply no role for anything like “evidence” within the ambit of the human intellect for the truth of these doctrines, as distinct from the mere fact that some persons or other have proposed them as true at various times. I do not see how anything you have said here obviates the need for some principled means by which such articles-of-faith-proper are to be distinguished as “orthodox” (representing what God intended us to know in giving us a revelation), over against “heretical” misrepresentations put forward by men as if they were true. Barring some such means, all we have is the uninteresting evidential fact that certain doctrinal propositions have been put forward through time as if they represent what God wants us to know, with no good reason for choosing or rejecting one person’s or group of person’s proposition(s) over some other – especially when different persons or groups present conflicting propositions with respect to one or more articles-of-faith.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  75. R.C. (#71),

    You are right that this issue of “interpretive authority” is a vexed one that requires some definition. Let me go back, explain my concern one more time, and then offer some thoughts on this concept of “interpretive authority.”

    Back in 64, Chris Lake said,

    but those Christians who consider themselves to have ultimate interpretive authority *over* such documents, in terms of scrutinizing them so as to find possible contradictions in them, are, for the most part, by definition, *Protestants*

    My point in 68 was: this statement is inaccurate. Protestants do not consider themselves to have “ultimate interpretive authority over such documents.” Even if you believe that this is what their position reduces to (according to Cross and Judisch’s argument), for the sake of accurate dialogue it is important not to use that reduction (submission to Scripture becomes submission to oneself) as an acceptably Protestant characterization of “interpretive authority.”

    What is “interpretive authority”? (The whole debate between Cross & Judisch and Mathison could use some clarification on this question; though, for obvious reasons, I haven’t read it all, and so it may have actually come up at some point.) There is one sense in which I believe the phrase can be taken as a straightforward oxymoron: accurate interpretation is always in itself an act of submission. This is the case no matter what text one is reading, whether it is the Bible or Moby Dick: to accurately interpret a text is to submit oneself to the text, to carefully attempt to discern and restate what that text is saying, to avoid at all costs the imposition of a foreign paradigm, in short, to let the author be a completely authoritative voice.

    But, if interpretation is submission, what can “interpretive authority” be? “Submissive authority”? The tension is clear. Indeed, “interpretive authority” as a coherent concept can only be held by one who claims to be the Author of the text in question: Herman Melville could have clarified aspects of the interpretation of Moby Dick in an authoritative way, a way that is inadmissible for later literary critics. Later critics only obtain “interpretive authority” to the degree that their interpretations are recognized and applauded as accurate distillations of Melville’s work. They can indeed become “epistemic authorities” in their field but this authority is always open to question; there will always be a new generation of critics to scrutinize and correct their work.

    Jesus discloses to the church the meaning of the Scriptures (OT) not only as reader and interpreter but also as Author. He therefore has an infallible interpretive authority, one which he bequeathed to his Apostles, on which basis the writings of the NT (the Apostolic deposit) are also considered authoritative and infallible. In particular, the writings of the NT are the infallibly authoritative interpretation of the OT; as Augustine recognized, there is a hermeneutical relationship between the testaments.

    Now, the key point of disagreement for us is this: has this infallible interpretive authority, which Jesus has, which he gave to the Apostles, which has been set forth in the NT, the apostolic testimony–has this been given to the Church as an ongoing, permanent, gift? Catholics say yes; Protestants say no. From a Protestant perspective, we are not authors of Scripture, as Christ and the apostles were, and it is simply impossible for the Church to exercise the “interpretive authority” that is the prerogative of the Author alone. We are all “critics,” critics in the best sense, critics who attempt to discern and restate and submit in their interpretations to the God who is at work in Scripture and in the Church.

    From this framework, what of your examples? All three examples you cite of “interpretive authority” could also, equally accurately, be labeled “interpretive submission.”

    That being said, I do believe there are many cases where hyper-Protestantism (what I like to call the Reformation on steroids) has advocated an individualistic type of “interpretive authority.” Against such Protestants, who are content on the smallest differences in the interpretation of Scripture to go off and be by themselves (I believe there is a Reformed denomination who applauds itself on the distinctive of *not using musical instruments in worship, and singing only Psalms* [!]), we need to endorse Cross and Judisch’s critique of sola scriptura, and point out that they are interpreting scripture outside the context of tradition, history, and the church.

    So, I am not denying that Protestantism can and has fallen into the error of following private interpretations of Scripture and using these idiosyncratic interpretations to justify schism. This is undeniably wrong and sinful. But I also don’t think the answer is to posit the existence of a living human Infallible Interpretive Authority, because I don’t think such a thing exists; indeed, given the way all interpretations of Scripture are culturally bounded (we would never interpret Prov 8 in the way Athanasius wielded it against Arius; so, though Athanasius’ interpretation of Scripture is not “authoritative,” nevertheless, the orthodox doctrine he was justifying is, just as one example that shows how complex this matter is) it is difficult to see how there can even possibly be a human infallible interpreter after Christ and the apostles. The answer is interpret Scripture humbly, in the light of what the church has always said. If you find you disagree with the church, check your interpretation, and check it again. If ultimately you cannot reconcile your interpretation of Scripture with that of the church, don’t leave the church, but be content to be unified with Christians who think differently from you, and so fulfill the apostolic injunction to unity. And, understand that we are all culturally bounded, none of us can claim to see authoritatively and infallibly, we all by our limited vision are attempting to grasp God Himself (!) and the wonder of how He has worked and revealed himself in Scripture and in history.

    Blessings,

    Dave

  76. Mike (65 and 72), Ray (74),

    You both have been saying some very interesting and illuminating things. Thanks. I have some thoughts in response but it might take a couple weeks before I can get back to it. I realize that this conversation may be hundreds of comments long by then (such is the nature of this blog) but I will endeavor to respond to the points you have raised.

    Blessings,

    Dave

  77. Dave (#70),

    I’m not reducing the Protestant paradigm to individual interpretive authority; it does it on its own. I’m also not speculating on what Protestants think they’re doing when they make use of this paradigm. I’m quite aware they think they’re submitting only to Scripture and I am thankful they submit to divine authority where they see it.

    The problem with appealing to conscience as having primacy in this matter, as Luther did (of course, none of the Reformers respected such appeals to conscience when they founded their own movements), is that it leaves little to no room for us to be conformed to the Church, the Body of Christ. If the Church is visible, and we believe she most certainly is, she must have the ability to define her boundaries and declare who is and is not within those boundaries.

    As for prophets being raised up to challenge the people of God to new growth, I agree with Mike: any Catholic can and should affirm this. I also agree with Mike that we can’t affirm that the Church (and her Tradition) is only a resource to understanding the Scriptures to be discarded when you don’t agree with what she’s saying. Let’s say for argument’s sake the Church is fallible: who gets to judge that the Church has erred? Luther? Calvin? How do we know they had the Spirit (especially since they disagreed quite strongly with each other)? How do we even know there is a Church?

    IC XC NIKA

    Garrison

  78. There is a common RC tendency in discussions like this: to identify the most basic epistemological necessity, call it Protestantism, and then pretend like RCs don’t do it.

    The RC charge is that Protestantism necessarily reduces to making the individual Prot the ultimate interpretive authority. But what about the RC’s decision to accept the interpretive paradigm of the RCC? How did the RC come to decide that the RCC interpretive paradigm was the one to accept? You must acknowledge that the RC cannot use the RCC’s interpretive paradigm in order to determine the legitimacy of the RCC’s interpretive paradigm; for such would be a logical impossibility — circular reasoning of the highest order. So what epistemological mechanism does the RC use to evaluate the RCC interpretive paradigm? Answer — the exact same mechanism that he then blasts the Prot for using. At the end of the day, if that interpretive paradigm necessarily reduces the individual Prot to the ultimate interpretive authority, then it does the same thing to the individual RC. Cut a RC, and he bleeds Prot epistemology, so to speak.

    I have heard this swept aside with many a dismissive hand-wave, but in my opinion it is worthy of better response than that.

  79. Charles (#78):

    The objection you raise has been heard and carefully responded to many times on this site. One recent reply is Ray Stamper’s article The Catholic and Protestant Authority Paradigms Compared; less recently, Bryan Cross’ post The Tu Quoque; then there are Sections IV and V of my article Mathison’s Reply to Cross and Judisch: A Largely Philosophical Critique; last but not least is the article Neal Judisch posted just today: The Audacity of Pope, which autobiographically illustrates the difference between Catholic and Protestant epistemology.

    Disagree with such writings as you may, they cannot be dismissed as “dismissive hand-waving.”

    Best,
    Mike

  80. Garrison #66,

    There are a couple of problems with your responses. First, you have issues like Athanasius being excommunicated from the church; in which case your Nicaean theology was deemed heretical for a period of time. This is not a slur on the RCC, but a simple fact that the church was governed by someone who excommunicated orthodoxy from the church.

    It is important to distinguish between what is essential to orthodoxy, and what the gospel is. The gospel is not all there is to orthodoxy, but it is what is essential for salvation. I am simply arguing that the gospel has never changed. If I am right, then the RCC is in a pickle.

    So far as I know, noone who is worth their salt is willing to say that Paul taught that one must believe in the assumption of Mary, her sinlessness, or her role as co-mediator, in order to be saved. 1 Cor. 15:1-6 is a look at what must be the object of our faith in order for us to be saved. Paul, in Galatians, said that the one who preached any other gospel was accursed; and I think most RCs would admit that the gospel that Paul preached did not include the Mariology of the present day RCC.

    I have to wonder if “heresy” should be thought of in such terms as you suggest. I think it is better to speak of the objective truth of the Scriptures as the standard of what is heresy.

    What if, Ultimately, it is God who determines what is consistent with the objective rule, and that Our only way to discern heresy is by interpreting the rule itself. The definitive interpreter is not absolutely necessary to ascertain orthodox beliefs.

    If a protestant can demonstrate that a teaching is contrary to scripture, then he can demonstrate a heretical belief. This does not mean that one will submit to this, or even that it will convince the person.

    This seems to be the same boat that the RCC and the Eastern Orthodox is in. If the RCC declares what it does about the Pope, and the EO rejects it, then the EO is heretical. However, both claim succession, and both claim to be the source of the divine ability to “recognize orthodoxy.” Who has the authority to judge between them?

    In the end, people who do not understand certain orthodox doctrines, can still be saved by trusting in the objective truth of the gospel. That objective reality has not, and will not change. That is my stance, and it is the point of my original post on the subject.

  81. Josh (#80)

    …the church was governed by someone who excommunicated orthodoxy from the church.

    Not quite. He executed someone who was orthodox from the Church. He did not excommunicate orthodoxy from the Church. Big difference. (Also not clear whether the excommunication was for doctrine or for disciplinary reasons, but that’s another matter).

    jj

  82. John,

    Just to clarify, wasn’t Athanasius excommunicated?

  83. I was under the impression that Pope Liberius signed an Arian confession condemning Athanasius. If this is true then Garrison’s point totally falls; and I do believe it is.

  84. Josh (#80)

    There are a couple of problems with your responses. First, you have issues like Athanasius being excommunicated from the church; in which case your Nicaean theology was deemed heretical for a period of time. This is not a slur on the RCC, but a simple fact that the church was governed by someone who excommunicated orthodoxy from the church.

    As JJ pointed out, it is unclear why St. Athanasius was excommunicated. Simply because he was excommunicated does not mean orthodoxy was excommunicated as he is not, personally, the embodiment of orthodoxy. If the Church excommunicated him specifically for holding an orthodox proposition, that would constitute what you seek.

    It is important to distinguish between what is essential to orthodoxy, and what the gospel is. The gospel is not all there is to orthodoxy, but it is what is essential for salvation. I am simply arguing that the gospel has never changed. If I am right, then the RCC is in a pickle.

    We don’t believe the Gospel has changed, either. We believe submission to the Church Christ founded to be part of that because she is the Body of Christ. If I am right, you are also in a pickle.

    So far as I know, noone who is worth their salt is willing to say that Paul taught that one must believe in the assumption of Mary, her sinlessness, or her role as co-mediator, in order to be saved. 1 Cor. 15:1-6 is a look at what must be the object of our faith in order for us to be saved. Paul, in Galatians, said that the one who preached any other gospel was accursed; and I think most RCs would admit that the gospel that Paul preached did not include the Mariology of the present day RCC.

    We don’t assert that and we don’t have to. We submit to the doctrines concerning Mary because they are archetypal and make statements about Christ and the Church and also because the Church has, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, bound us with it through the authority of the apostles which comes from Christ. To be honest, you can’t say Paul didn’t preach about Mary or would have condemned the RCC for her doctrines concerning Mary as that would be an argument from silence. Paul was perfectly fine with reading archetypes into Scripture.

    I have to wonder if “heresy” should be thought of in such terms as you suggest. I think it is better to speak of the objective truth of the Scriptures as the standard of what is heresy.

    I don’t disagree with that, which is why holding to heresy makes one a heretic even if it is non-culpable.

    What if, Ultimately, it is God who determines what is consistent with the objective rule, and that Our only way to discern heresy is by interpreting the rule itself. The definitive interpreter is not absolutely necessary to ascertain orthodox beliefs.

    I find the discussion on whether or not a definitive interpreter is necessary for us to be interesting and informative, but it is ultimately secondary for me. What clenches it for me is this: Christ clearly gave authority to the apostles to bind and loose doctrine, promised to prevent His Church from falling into heresy, gave the Church the Holy Spirit, promised to be with the Church to the end of time, the early Church believed those promises in defining what would be required of Gentiles, the Church continued to hold ecumenical councils and continued to believe she had the ability to bind and loose dogma.

    If a protestant can demonstrate that a teaching is contrary to scripture, then he can demonstrate a heretical belief. This does not mean that one will submit to this, or even that it will convince the person.

    That is the question, though. We obviously don’t believe Protestants have done such a thing but, in fact, have actually contradicted Scripture with their own beliefs.

    This seems to be the same boat that the RCC and the Eastern Orthodox is in. If the RCC declares what it does about the Pope, and the EO rejects it, then the EO is heretical. However, both claim succession, and both claim to be the source of the divine ability to “recognize orthodoxy.” Who has the authority to judge between them?

    The Church is visible and one in the theology of both of these Churches, so one is the Church and one is in schism, but a Church in schism can still maintain apostolic succession. For instance, the Quartodecimians did not lose their succession during their brief schism. In the case of judging between these two Churches, one would look at the Scriptures and the Tradition we both share. It should be noted that there is one Church in this decision regardless of the choice I make, which can be wrong.

    In the end, people who do not understand certain orthodox doctrines, can still be saved by trusting in the objective truth of the gospel. That objective reality has not, and will not change. That is my stance, and it is the point of my original post on the subject.

    I can agree with that as a Catholic.

    IC XC NIKA

    Garrison

  85. I was under the impression that Pope Liberius signed an Arian confession condemning Athanasius. If this is true then Garrison’s point totally falls; and I do believe it is.

    From what I gather, Liberius defended St. Athanasius against the Arians. What is your source for this Arian confession?

    Actually, I can’t find anything about an excommunication of St. Athanasius. He was exiled for decades, but I don’t see an excommunication.

  86. Josh (82 and 83)

    I once read the history and don’t know. He may well have been excommunicated – but if so, it wasn’t orthodoxy that was excommunicated, but an orthodox person.

    Regarding Liberius, I know there was something funny that happened. I haven’t had time to read most of the above and wasn’t reacting to it, only saying that excommunicating an orthodox person is not at all the same thing either as rejecting his orthodoxy, nor, even more, the same as some ‘excommunicating orthodoxy’ – whatever that might mean.

    jj

  87. John,
    Athanasius, an orthodox person, was excommunicated precisely because of his orthodox beliefs. That is a denial of orthodoxy, no matter how you spin it. Liberius excommunicated on the basis of his orthodox beliefs; I know you can’t see this as a threat to the infallibility of Rome, because you can’t.

    The church’s return to orthodoxy could be termed the Roman Catholic’s first reformation.

  88. Regarding liberius “In the midst of the Arian crisis Pope Liberius was banished by the Arian Emperor Constantius II in A.D. 355 for refusing to condemn St. Athanasius. Two years later he is alleged to have signed and Arian formula of faith to regain his freedom. Certain documents discrediting him are forgeries. In any event, it is certain that he signed no document freely, and so papal infallibility is not involved.” http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=34585

    Read here for more http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09217a.htm
    Madrid also did an mp3 on the case of liberius if my memory serves me correctly http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/seriessearchprog.asp?seriesID=6148

  89. Josh (#83):

    The evidence we have on the questions whether Liberius, under imperial pressure, either (a) excommunicated Athanasius or (b) subscribed to a semi-Arian creed is conflicting and inconclusive. It suggests, without firmly establishing, a positive answer to (a) but a negative answer to (b). The following video is the most accessible consideration of the available 4th-century evidence:

    The Catholic historian and founder of Christendom College, Warren Carroll, also gave a measured assessment of Liberius in his brief article Has Any Pope Been Guilty of Heresy?.

    Best,
    Mike

  90. Josh,

    You wrote to John “Athanasius, an orthodox person, was excommunicated precisely because of his orthodox beliefs. That is a denial of orthodoxy, no matter how you spin it. Liberius excommunicated on the basis of his orthodox beliefs; I know you can’t see this as a threat to the infallibility of Rome, because you can’t.”

    May I suggest that you study the Catholic response to such charges before making them. Over 700 learned Bishops were assembled at Vatican I, if I am not mistaken, when the doctrine of papal infallibility was defined. Is it possible they know something about the Liberius case that you do not, which would exonerate Liberius of such charges? Sure, it is possible from your perspective that they may have erred, but in order to charge so many learned Bishops of such an obvious error you ought to be ready to interact with their reasons for believing that the Liberius case did not conflict with papal infallibility. Just a suggestion.

  91. Michael Liccione (RE (#79),

    Fair enough. I will try to make time to go read those. But I have some questions on the front side, lest we assume too much. In sending me to those discussions, is there a real expectation that I (or, perhaps, that any given person) could potentially gain knowledge from them? Before I go and learn about RC epistemology, what is my epistemological starting point? In other words, what assumptions have you made about epistemology by sending me to those conversations about epistemology, and are those assumptions of yours consistent with the conclusions you’re referring me to within those conversations?

    I hope you see what I’m driving at, and I look forward to your answers.

  92. Josh,

    Athanasius, an orthodox person, was excommunicated precisely because of his orthodox beliefs. That is a denial of orthodoxy, no matter how you spin it. Liberius excommunicated on the basis of his orthodox beliefs; I know you can’t see this as a threat to the infallibility of Rome, because you can’t.

    The church’s return to orthodoxy could be termed the Roman Catholic’s first reformation.

    Your history’s bad. The excommunication had no force because it was coerced; no coerced action is legitimate. If I tied you up and took your hand and made you sign a profession of the Arian faith, you would not be guilty of heresy.

    IC XC NIKA

    Garrison

  93. David DeJong (re:#68),

    When I wrote that the proposition which you are suggesting as a possibility (that the Catholic Church might have have contradicted herself in her official teaching) is one that I could not seriously entertain, as a Catholic (in the sense that for me, seriously entertaining such a notion would constitute rebellion against the Church), I was *not* meaning to imply, at all, that in terms of *apologetics*, I would go around simply telling people that they should submit to the Church, *because she teaches* that she cannot contradict herself in her official teaching. To do such a thing, in terms of apologetics, would, indeed, involve circular reasoning on my part. However, that was not at all where my train of thought was going.

    By telling you that the proposition which you were/are suggesting is one that I cannot seriously entertain, I was both informing you of my position *and* trying to show you the ironic nature of your even *posing* of the question to me– when, for me, as a Catholic, the question only has one answer. For you though, by all means, I would exhort you to consider and study the evidence as objectively as you can– the evidence of Scripture, church history, and reason– what the Church calls the “motives of credibility.” As the Catechism states:

    156 What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe “because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived”.28 So “that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit.”29 Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church’s growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability “are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all”; they are “motives of credibility” (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is “by no means a blind impulse of the mind”.30

    (Source: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s1c3a1.htm)

    As a once-Protestant, I had to consider these motives of credibility myself– and trying to objectively consider them, (which was very, very difficult for me, especially while still being influenced, somewhat, by certain Protestant presuppositions, but I was trying to objective) led me to the shocking conclusion that my position of even *being* a Protestant was illegitimate. Scripture, church history, and reason all led me to this conclusion. I discovered something through these motives of credibility– something objectively historical, which was *not* merely my opinion, but rather, which was/is an *historical reality* (that I had, for years, thought was simply and only a laughable– and diabolical– Catholic claim)– the Catholic Church was/is the “original Christian church,” founded by Christ, with authority to teach *from Him*, and with *continuing apostolic succession* to this day.
    http://www.historyguy.com/list_of_popes.htm

    Where you and I seem to part ways, unfortunately, is not at the point of my supposedly engaging in circular reasoning. The parting of ways is in your presupposition that what can be counted as historical knowledge, itself, is basically the “collective scholarly opinion” which currently exists among historians. Opinion is not knowledge, and knowledge is not opinion, but you appear to hold the *opinion* that “collective scholarly opinion” is the best that we can get, when it comes to historical knowledge. Your seeming view is, unfortunately, in line with much thinking in postmodernist academia today, but it is inimical to the Christian faith, which is much more on the side of reason than is postmodernist academia.

  94. Charles (#91):

    You asked:

    …what assumptions have you made about epistemology by sending me to those conversations about epistemology, and are those assumptions of yours consistent with the conclusions you’re referring me to within those conversations?

    I make no “assumptions.” Rather, I interpret the following passage from you as an instance of the tu quoque objection so often heard and answered on this site:

    So what epistemological mechanism does the RC use to evaluate the RCC interpretive paradigm? Answer — the exact same mechanism that he then blasts the Prot for using. At the end of the day, if that interpretive paradigm necessarily reduces the individual Prot to the ultimate interpretive authority, then it does the same thing to the individual RC.

    If you read the writings I suggested–one of which is my own–I think you’ll see that they directly address that objection.

    Best,
    Mike

  95. Garrison writes in response to Dave DeJong:

    I’m not reducing the Protestant paradigm to individual interpretive authority; it does it on its own. I’m also not speculating on what Protestants think they’re doing when they make use of this paradigm. I’m quite aware they think they’re submitting only to Scripture …

    I quite agree. The Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura is not a doctrine that is essentially about the authority of the scriptures. Catholics and Protestants both agree that Holy Scripture is authoritative. The Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura is, rather, essentially a doctrine about primacy – it is a doctrine that asserts the primacy of the individual’s conscience as a “rule of faith”.

    The individual Protestant holds primacy when interpreting the scriptures. That is, if I, as a sola scriptura confessing Protestant, came to believe that the teachers of my Protestant sect are teaching what I personally consider to be heresy, then I would be conscience bound to oppose the teachers in my Protestant sect. That opposition can come in several ways; direct confrontation with the teachers; making a decision to church shop until I find another Protestant sect that agrees with my personal interpretations of the scriptures; or even going to the extreme of founding my own personal “bible church” that teaches, quite naturally, my own personal interpretations of the scriptures.

    Dave DeJong, you write:

    If you find you disagree with the church, check your interpretation, and check it again. If ultimately you cannot reconcile your interpretation of Scripture with that of the church, don’t leave the church, but be content to be unified with Christians who think differently from you, and so fulfill the apostolic injunction to unity.

    If Christians are not united in what they confess to be divinely revealed, then they lack unity in any meaningful sense. The “apostolic injunction to unity” can only be fulfilled by embracing orthodoxy and rejecting heresy.

    Dave DeJong writes:

    The problem with reducing the Protestant position to individual “interpretive authority” is that it fails to respect the fact that many Protestants seriously and genuinely believe they are submitting solely to the authority of Scripture.

    I, for one, do not doubt that “Protestants seriously and genuinely believe they are submitting solely to the authority of Scripture.” The sincerity with which individual Protestants hold to their private interpretations of the scriptures is not the issue at all. I concede that most practicing Protestants are sincere, and I believed that most Catholic would willingly make that concession with me. The issue is about where temporal primacy is to be found, and not with the sincerity, or lack of it, among millions of Protestants.

    Dave DeJong writes:

    Furthermore, the advantage to the Protestant’s approach is that he or she doesn’t have to claim that the Church has been right about everything, all the time.

    How is that an advantage? For the sola scriptura confessing Protestant to be orthodox, his private interpretations of the scriptures must be orthodox “all the time”, or he will surely be embracing some heresy or other. But what sola scriptura confessing Protestant is willing to say that his personal interpretations of scriptures are infallible? The sola scriptura confessing Protestant is at a distinct disadvantage in that he has no principled way of determining what is an orthodox interpretation of scriptures from what is a heterodox interpretation of scriptures. In the end, the sola scriptura confessing Protestant is forced to become the ultimate temporal arbiter of what constitutes orthodoxy, while at the same time, having to reconcile that unavoidable fact with his confession of faith – a confession of faith that is built upon Luther’s doctrine that teaches that no man in the post-apostolic age can ever infallibly interpret the scriptures!

    Dave DeJong writes:

    Protestants do not consider themselves to have “interpretive authority.” That is a term used by RC apologists against Protestants. I consider “interpretive authority” to be impossible for humans–indeed, a contradiction in terms; only the Spirit has “interpretive authority.”

    I can agree to some extent with this statement. The Catholic Church teaches that infallibility is a charismatic gift of the Holy Spirit that can be exercised by certain men under certain conditions. An infallible interpretation of the scriptures is an interpretation that has a guarantee by God of being inerrant. Luther’s novelty of sola scriptura is an explicit denial that this particular charismatic gift can be exercised by men in the post-apostolic age. Hence, Protestant interpretation of scripture is, at best, mere opinion that is sincerely held by an individual, or a group of like-minded individuals. These groups of like-minded individuals make up the sects of Protestantism, and Protestantism is composed of thousands upon thousands doctrinally divided sects that, no doubt, sincerely believe in their contradictory and irreconcilable opinions about what constitutes orthodox doctrine.

    The greatest argument I could possibly give against sola scriptura being true is the doctrinal chaos that reigns within Protestantism!

  96. Josh (#87)

    Athanasius, an orthodox person, was excommunicated precisely because of his orthodox beliefs. That is a denial of orthodoxy, no matter how you spin it. Liberius excommunicated on the basis of his orthodox beliefs; I know you can’t see this as a threat to the infallibility of Rome, because you can’t.

    Well, I don’t know, I suppose I could, if the Pope who excommunicated him, in doing so, also said that all Christians were required to believe that Arianism was true. But – even stipulating that your understanding of what happened is true – and as you see, those with far more history than I have say it is not – but even if it were true, it no more seems to me to be a threat to infallibility than St Peter’s refusing to eat with Gentiles was.

    It really is hardly worthwhile attacking a straw man. And claiming that, because this or that Pope screwed up – even believed some heterodox rubbish – that this means the infallibility of the Church – and of the Pope under certain known conditions – this is to attack a straw man.

    It really isn’t worthwhile, because both you and I know it’s a straw man. You aren’t dealing with the real question – which is whether, if I submit my faith to the judgement of the Church when that judgement is definitely that of the Church, including that of the Pope when He is clearly speaking for the whole Church, that in those circumstances I can know for certain I am believing what God wants me to believe – that is the question you are not dealing with.

    jj

  97. Michael Liccione (RE: #94)

    Not so fast. It is not possible for you to not be making epistemological assumptions. Epistemology is by nature a presuppositional thing — it does not admit of neutrals. There is no place outside of the field of play where you can stand, with no epistemological presuppositions, and examine the field; no, you are always on the field, examining the rest of the field through the lens of your presuppositions, and this is inescapable.

    I cheerfully admit that I am making a tu quoque argument of sorts, but the fact that you have named it does not solve your presuppositional problem (above), and the fact that you seem to think it does makes me think perhaps I did not clearly communicate my challenge. I will try again:

    When I go and read your links, particularly the article written by you, is it your intention that I learn something from it? Assuming yes, then by what epistemological method shall I do the learning? Shall I: A) presuppose on the front side that actual RC doctrine is being delivered and decide to accept it on that basis no matter what my rational mind tells me, or B) weigh the validity and truth claims of your arguments and use my rational mind to determine whether or not to accept what you’ve proposed? Which of these (or, perhaps, another) are you expecting me to do?

  98. Matteo,

    Just a quick reminder to address people directly, as in “David DeJong you wrote”, rather than “David DeJong writes”. It is a better way of addressing others, especially in a format that already is hampered by the limits of electronic communication.

    Thanks,
    Tom

  99. Charles (#97):

    You wrote:

    I cheerfully admit that I am making a tu quoque argument of sorts, but the fact that you have named it does not solve your presuppositional problem (above), and the fact that you seem to think it does makes me think perhaps I did not clearly communicate my challenge.

    I don’t have a “presuppositional problem.” When I said I made “no assumptions,” I was speaking about my understanding of what you had said. I thought I had communicated that clearly. But I now agree we have a problem communicating.

    By way of clarification, you ask:

    When I go and read your links, particularly the article written by you, is it your intention that I learn something from it?

    Of course.

    Assuming yes, then by what epistemological method shall I do the learning? Shall I: A) presuppose on the front side that actual RC doctrine is being delivered and decide to accept it on that basis no matter what my rational mind tells me, or B) weigh the validity and truth claims of your arguments and use my rational mind to determine whether or not to accept what you’ve proposed? Which of these (or, perhaps, another) are you expecting me to do?

    I would not presume to tell you the means by which you should learn anything. But the pair of alternatives you pose is artificial. The writings to which I referred you were offered primarily as rebuttals of the tu quoque argument. The quality of those rebuttals in no way depends on anybody’s assuming or accepting Catholic doctrine, whether on a rational basis or not; and I would certainly not ask anybody to believe anything contrary to reason. But assessing them does require some understanding of Catholic doctrine. Although I’ve been at this sort of thing too long to “expect” anything from anybody, I do hope that you pursue alternative B without further ado.

    Best,
    Mike

  100. “I can give no coherent description of what green “looks like,” nor can I know with certainty that my “green” is not your “orange.” This is what philosophers call the “inverted spectrum” problem.’

    Here’s an answer that: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9zEiu5ayH0

  101. Hi Donsands,

    Thanks for the note.

    I gave the video a cursory listen. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think it really offers a solution to the dilemma I proposed. The artist sings that his sensory faculties cant’ get him to touch or see God, nor does he have any immediate divine revelation. Trying to touch God is like “trying to smell the number 9.”
    But, he knows “he is doing fine” because his “heart of faith keeps beating.”

    This, to me, sounds an awful lot like fideism – a doctrine that traditional Protestants reject as much as Catholics. (see http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06068b.htm), and it certainly doesn’t solve the problem of understanding how purely subjective experience could give certain knowledge of divine realities.

    The Catholic view, by contrast, is that sensory experience CAN get us at least partially in touch with the divine. We sense the effect and reason to the cause. Then, divine revelation – guaranteed by divine authority – fulfills what is lacking in our merely rational knowledge of God.

    Thanks again,

    David

  102. Chris Lake,

    Back in 64 you said:

    However, the evidence of history, the *actual historical documents* which can be easily found and studied, demonstrate that your way of approaching these matters is simply *not* the way of the early Church. When the Arian heresy reached a fever-pitch in the Church in the 4th century, Bibles were not distributed to all of the Catholic faithful throughout the world, so that they could study the Bible and determine whether or not Arianism is a heresy. In a similar vein, Church documents were not distributed to the Catholic faithful throughout the world *for the purpose* of Catholics studying them so as to determine whether or not they contradicted each other. This is simply not how the Catholic Church worked in the 4th century, and it is not how the Church works today.

    This notion, that the Church has always responded to heresy in the same way, is flatly contradicted by the early evidence. Compare the ways the church dealt with Marcion, Origen, and Arius: only one was rejected by a council in his lifetime. The fact is that you can’t point to a council in the first three centuries of the church (the one at Jerusalem only being a question-begging example since none in this debate would dispute apostolic authority). Whether the church responds to heresy with a council or not is related to the church’s varied relationships with political power over the course of its history.

    Chris, you conclude:

    This is how one knows that one actually belongs to “the catholic faith”– does one approach, and think about, the faith as did the Church of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries, and as that Church still does so today, calling Councils in our time (the most recent being the Second Vatican Council), as it did to deal with the Arian heresy in the 4th century A.D.?

    The fact is the church is not nearly as constant in its approach to heresy as you are claiming. This is not a bad thing – the church necessarily changes and is always inescapably a part of its culture.

  103. Mike 65 and 72,

    I fully agree with everything you wrote in 65; in fact, I think all Protestants should agree with your formulation there, the difference being the nature of the “secondary authority” to which you refer and the degree of its authority (infallible or not).

    I do have a question about 72, where you say:

    Partly through heretics, the Spirit led the Church to understand that the sale of indulgences is wrong.

    I understand that it is often in response to heretics that the Church more precisely formulates what it already implicitly believed. So, it takes Arius’ denial of the divinity of Jesus for the Church to clearly and fully spell out its doctrine of the Trinity. This rule (if we can call it that) assumes that the church contradicts what the heretic teaches, and achieves greater insight into the truth it confesses via this dialectical process. But here you say that the church has in a much more straightforward manner adopted the very belief the “heretics” were promulgating, that is, the belief that the sale of indulgences is wrong. Is this the only historical instance of this kind, in your view?

  104. Ray 74,

    You concluded,

    Barring some such means [of determining what is revelation], all we have is the uninteresting evidential fact that certain doctrinal propositions have been put forward through time as if they represent what God wants us to know, with no good reason for choosing or rejecting one person’s or group of person’s proposition(s) over some other – especially when different persons or groups present conflicting propositions with respect to one or more articles-of-faith.

    There are hundreds, probably thousands of evangelical Protestant institutions in North America, of every variety (educational, missional, etc.). Many, perhaps most, of these institutions will have some sort of “statement of faith” on their website. I would be willing to bet that these statements are basically homogenous in their doctrine of God and of salvation. That is, they will be in conformity to the creeds of the early church in confessing the Trinity and in conformity with the Reformation in their doctrine of justification. Of course, there will be variance in these statements of faith, depending on how specific they are. Three topics that I would expect to some diversity in would be view of creation (depending on their interpretation of Gen 1), sacraments, and eschatology (pre-mill, post-mill, etc.). However I am sure that the overwhelming impression one would receive from reading hundreds of these statements (something I have not done) would be general unity of belief in evangelicalism.

    My question is, how does this unity of belief arise despite the lack of any principled means to determine orthodoxy from heresy? Why is it that Protestants are all orthodox (at least by the standards of the early creeds)?

  105. David,

    You wrote:

    I would be willing to bet that these statements are basically homogenous in their doctrine of God and of salvation.

    I was an evangelical Protestant for 30 years before embracing the Catholic faith. Having been raised in a non-denominational setting, as I grew older I increasingly moved within the orbit of Reformed theology. In all the various churches which I attended, they did indeed publish a “Statement Of Faith” (SOF). However, those statements of faith were almost always 5-10 line summary briefs of highly generalized theological tenets. The advantage to such broad SOFs is that they act as a cognitive shelter for all kinds of theological divergence, including contradictory positions on fundamental soteriological points. For example: “We believe that the salvation of every man is achieved only through the merits of Jesus Christ”. What’s not to like in such a “statement”, except that such a “statement” is so ambiguous as to be theologically uninformative (except perhaps as a means of broadly distinguishing a Christian from a Buddhist). But, exactly, how are those merits applied? That question plunges one into the very heart of the Catholic – Protestant disagreement over justification as imputed versus infused; a disagreement considered one of the two points upon which the Reformation was said to stand or fall according to the early magisterial Reformers. Another closely related issue: can such salvation be lost? The broad “statement” I offered doesn’t indicate one way or the other. In almost every church I attended, the SOF they published allowed for fellow Christians to disagree on this point (and many others). And one can appreciate the practical pastoral benefit to such broad SOF constructions. As long as no one pushes (or no forum is offered to question) the SOF for greater precision, all is well and apparent theological harmony reigns. But the moment one attempts to “drill-down” into an SOF such that this or that thorny theological detail be raised (such as “One Saved Always Saved” – OSAS), you could almost count on a tense (and sometimes hostile) dispute among some church members. And this problem was not limited to local congregations. I was attending Oral Roberts University, majoring in OT Theology, when the famous “Lordship Debate” arose within evangelical Protestantism. If you are unfamiliar with that debate, I encourage you to do a quick bit of web research. It was a wide scale debate within American evangelicalism, and between recognized theological leaders, which I think simply and straightforwardly undermines the landscape you paint.

    My point is this. The appearance of unity among evangelical Christians based on the typical SOF put forward in churches across the land is often (not always) superficial. And the reason it is superficial is because the “devil is in the details”. When you crack those SOF nuts, to drill down inside the generalizations, and ask: “yes, but what exactly does that mean, or how exactly does that work?”; the theological disunity and contradiction – even with respect to fundamental questions of soteriology – quickly emerges. The exception to this rule is the confessionally traditional Protestant denominations which, rather than merely publishing a 5 -10 line SOF; instead refer their congregations to formal – sometimes extensive and detailed – creedal symbols or constructions (such as the Westminster Confession of Faith – WCF). But notice that these denominations are denominations! That is, they have long since split from one another along confessional/theological lines, and those splits occurred precisely because of disagreements over the detailed substance of theological matters s articulated by their much longer, more precise, respective creeds/confessions/catechisms. So while such denominations have the virtue of taking theological matters seriously and refusing to purchase subjective religious experience at the price of doctrinal truth; the fact that such attempts at theological precision within Protestantism have led to formal denominational disunity simply reinforces what I am arguing here; namely, that the “devil is in the theological details”. Without a principled means for determining the standard or content of divine revelation, the only way to avoid theological divisions is to abandon serious theological dialogue (which is the approach that large sectors of evangelicalism are increasingly adopting).

    Keep SOFs general and broad, while avoiding preaching or discussion which cracks open those SOFs (and thereby exposes thorny theological problems), and everybody lives happily under the same roof; whether that roof be the physical roof of some evangelical congregation, or the broader metaphorical roof covering something called “evangelicalism” generally. But start asking pesky questions about the precise meaning or theological implications of those SOFs and things go awry quickly. That was my experience. This is one reason (I think the primary reason) why “evangelicalism”, broadly speaking, is rapidly becoming “non-denominational” (that’s where the real growth is anyway), where focus upon concrete theological truth or meaning is avoided in exchange for the embrace of broad, catch-all, “theo-unity” phrases like “Accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior”. Such theo-slogans allow for the existence of a superficial quasi-unity where the accent can be placed upon subjective religious experience or practical works of mercy (neither of which are bad in themselves, of course). So I simply disagree with your assessment of the Protestant theological landscape. The unity you think is there, just isn’t; and it is not simply a matter of disagreements over points of eschatology, or modes of worship, or the validity of charismatic manifestations, etc., etc. The divisions within evangelicalism run deep and go to the core of stereological matters. If wide sectors of evangelicalism seem no longer to be engaged in stereological quarrels, that is because large sectors of evangelicalism no longer care to ask the pertinent questions.

    You wrote:

    My question is, how does this unity of belief arise despite the lack of any principled means to determine orthodoxy from heresy? Why is it that Protestants are all orthodox (at least by the standards of the early creeds)?

    Because they are living off of Catholic inertia, which after 490+ years, is running out of steam. Are you aware of the growing and changing theological atmosphere of “non-denom” Protestantism, the Emergent-Church movement, etc? There is a developing trajectory towards doctrinal/theological diffidence; and in some quarters an explicit doctrinal animus in favor of a post-creedal, post-doctrinal form of Christianity, even with respect to traditional Christology. The ecclesial fragmentation is, and has, increased exponentially along sociological lines (worship styles, social community, outreach types, etc), while the concern for doctrinal truth has shrunk inversely with that fragmentation. You and I are apparently looking at the same 490+ year theological trajectory flowing from the Reformation, but seeing two very different pictures of the overall progression or end game. In the face of growing secularism, and lacking any principled means for determining the standard for, or content of, divine revelation, I see the current trajectory of Protestantism (taken in the broadest sense – pockets of confessionally aligned Protestants will be more resistant to erosion) as inevitably headed for doctrinal dissolution and a break toward religious subjectivity, if not ultimately agnosticism or atheism, as in Europe. Finally, when you say “Protestants are all orthodox (at least by the standards of the early creeds)?”; I must ask “which creeds”, the first three, the first five, the first seven? Where is the cut off and why? Until one answers that question, there is no meaning to the assertion that Protestants are “orthodox” by the standards of the “early” creeds. But Protestants do not agree as to which creeds are early enough to “count” and why. That fact should suggest how deeply the orthodox/heterodox problem runs within Protestantism, depriving it of any principled means to determine the very benchmarks of orthodoxy in the first place! What are the “early” creeds, and more importantly, why should a Protestant care? Many Protestants, faced with secularism and pluralism are asking that last question and are beginning to realize ever more clearly that there is no necessary reason why they should or must care. To the degree that modern Protestants still hold to the Trinitarian or Christological formulations of some of the early creeds, they do so out of respect for their spiritual heritage, and/or perhaps to avoid controversy with their more conservative counterparts. But where the commitment to a position is based on something other than principle, it is only a matter of time before that commitment fades. It is fading.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  106. Ray 105,

    I appreciate your comment. I have no doubt that Protestantism does contain the problems to which you are pointing. Of course the unity is often superficial and doctrinal disagreement is in the details. A lot of this depends on the perspective of the observer as well: an atheist outsider might well attempt to assess evangelicalism and come away amazed at the homogeneity of this cultural phenomenon; an insider, such as yourself, might be much more fully acquainted of the internal divisions and discord. (The same is true, I suspect, with the Catholic church.) In a sense this is how any “family” works.

    As a Protestant, your comment leaves me thinking: wouldn’t it be nice if there was one, visibly unified, catholic church, which was the objective authority to sort out all these dissenting claims to truth! :) It would be nice indeed. I guess the place I’m at is that I’m aware of the failures of Protestantism, but far from convinced by the claims of the Catholic church.

    Dave

  107. Ray 105,

    An addendum: I am aware of the growing non-denom/mega-church/emerging church movement. The fact is, confessional (denominational) Protestantism is being squeezed from both sides: there are mass exits both to large non-denomination megachurches on the one hand and to Catholicism and Orthodoxy on the other. Despite the radically different destinations, as a cultural phenomenon I think basically the same process is at work: people are sick of denominational disunity, they want to experience true Christian unity, and they find it either in the churches that have historic pedigree (Catholicism or Orthodoxy) or in those mega-churches in which one becomes a part of a community of thousands of other Christians without focusing on denominational distinctives.

    I should clarify that I’m not trying to offend any particular convert to Catholicism by making this cultural observation, or cast any doubt on the genuineness of their convictions or experience. The fact that one’s conversion was part of a particular Zeitgeist does not make it any less authentic (witness the thousands of Germans who swept to Luther’s side in the years following 1517).

    Dave

  108. The two instances of “Stereological” in my second to last paragraph should be soteriological! Who knew that stereological was even a word that could pass a spellcheck! :>)

  109. As a bit of a personal addendum to Ray’s #105, many of the Statements of Faith contain gestures to creedalism without resolving some of the important underlying issues. For example, back when I was a substitute teacher (at many private schools), they required their teachers to sign a statement saying, among other things, that one accepted the Apostle’s Creed. That’s fine so far as it goes, but of course it leaves unstated what is meant by a church’s being “one”, “holy”, “catholic”, and “apostolic”. Both Catholics and Protestants agree that those are the four marks of the church but they disagree about what those marks mean. Strictly speaking, this doesn’t touch on David’s point from #104 (since I’m talking about ecclesiology rather than “their doctrine of God and of salvation”). Nonetheless, it seems me that the set of things that “all Protestants agree on” seems…rather small and impoverished. Maybe it’s enough to cover *all* soteriological questions (given that the overwhelming majority of Protestants are trinitarian), but I’m kinda skeptical that, when one digs below the surface a bit, they all cohere together as well as one might like. Consider that my impression rather than an actual argument, however – I’m too tired to try and tighten things up any further. :-)

    Sincerely,
    Benjamin

  110. David,

    You wrote:

    I guess the place I’m at is that I’m aware of the failures of Protestantism, but far from convinced by the claims of the Catholic church.

    Hey, I hear you, and I am the last guy to paint a rose glass picture of the Catholic Church as she exists within the modern world. She is undeniably embattled, and suffers many wounds internal and external – a quick perusal of national news in America over the last 12 months (heck the last 10 years) will confirm that! All Christians must face the secular-naturalistic juggernaut. Anecdotally, I just think that below all the dirt and grime of cultural warfare and sociological change, the Catholic Church has the underlying hardware to pull through – She has done it before under terrible conditions. But I certainly appreciate your honest reservations about her claims. Thanks for the thoughtful discussion!

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  111. David DeJong (re:#102),

    It’s good to hear from you again, brother; thanks for continuing our conversation. Unfortunately, I’m sick at the moment and not in tip-top shape to engage here (so I may not reply too quickly after this one– I need to rest), but I do want to attempt to write a reply.

    I never meant to either assert or imply that the Catholic Church *always* deals (or has always dealt) with heresy in the exact same way. In my comment #64, I was referring to the reality of dogmatic, binding Councils in the Church (which can address *all* Catholics worldwide), in terms of addressing serious and widespread heresy (as contrasted with Protestantism’s lack of the same), rather than making a reference to how heresy is necessarily *always, specifically* addressed in the Church. This is a helpful CTC piece on the problem, and the addressing thereof, of heresy (or “liberalism”) in the Catholic Church: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2011/04/liberalism-in-the-catholic-church/

    The Catholic Church has a visible teaching authority which can and does make *binding statements* on what is heresy and what is orthodoxy– binding statements for *all* Catholics worldwide. How the Church discerns to best *express* that authority, at a given time, can differ and has obviously differed in particular situations. (This is also mentioned in the piece for which I provided the link.) Sometimes, the Church’s authority to deal with heresy is expressed through the calling of a Council. At other times, it is expressed through the Vatican’s official censure of a particular theological idea, or book, or theologian in particular (including, but not limited to, “Catholic” theologians, such as with Hans Kung, when he was stripped of his license to teach Catholic theology).

    There is no ecclesiastical authority within Protestantism which can bind *all* Protestants as to what they must rightly believe insofar as heresy and orthodoxy. For this same reason, there is also no binding authority for *all* Protestants, ultimately, which can make a definitive, binding statement as to a particular idea, book, or theologian being dangerous to their spiritual health.

    Of course, as a former Protestant myself, I know that serious, conscious, committed Protestants still claim their infallible, binding authority to be the Bible– but few of them would claim their *interpretations* of the Bible to be infallible. Often, the way of addressing this dilemma is to appeal to the Holy Spirit’s role in interpretation (the Spirit being God and, thus, infallible) and/or to the “perspecuity” of the Bible on “essential” matters.

    However, when one surveys the diversity of beliefs, even among “serious, historic” Protestants, on matters ranging from the truth or falsehood of “eternal security” to the meaning, mode, and efficacy (or lack thereof) of baptism, it becomes clear to see that even appeals to the Holy Spirit’s role in exegesis and to the perspicuity of the Bible cannot be exercised in binding ways for *all* Protestants, in terms of official belief and practice, as the Catholic Church’s teaching authority can be exercised to bind *all* Catholics.

    At this point, many serious Protestants would object and say, “But eternal security and baptism are secondary matters for Christians, on which we can agree to disagree, not first-order issues.” However, who really has the ultimate right to say that this is actually *the case* for Christians, within the framework of Protestantism? Who or what determined, for most of today’s Protestants, that eternal security and baptism are somehow not “essential, first-order issues,” and that it is okay to agree to disagree on them?

    Insofar as both baptism and the Eucharist, Luther and Calvin strongly disagreed with most of today’s Protestants– in that the two magisterial Reformers decidedly *did not* view one’s Biblical perspective on these matters as “non-essential, agree to disagree” ones for Christians. This is what I meant, in a much earlier comment, when I stated that Luther and Calvin would not even consider most contemporary Protestants to be Christians (even “serious, historic” Protestants)– the reason being that Luther and Calvin would be both disgusted and horrified to see the doctrinal reductionism even in the most serious, historic corners of Protestantism today.

    Here is an example. When I was a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, a well-respected “Reformed Baptist” church in D.C. , certain Presbyterian pastors (such as R.C. Sproul, Sr. and Ray Ortlund, Jr.) were invited, on occasional Sundays, to actually preach sermons at our church. As Reformed Baptists, we held to believers-only baptism, whereas Sproul and Ortlund hold to infant baptism.

    Now, Luther and Calvin firmly believed that for professing Christian parents to deliberately *not* have their infants baptized constitutes so serious a misunderstanding and dereliction of Christian duty that such parents are actually enemies of the faith– non-Christians. (If one doubts this claim, one needs only to read Luther and Calvin, from their own works on the issue of baptism.). Luther and Calvin both reached the above conclusion about the essential nature of baptism as adherents of “Sola Scriptura.”

    We at Capitol Hill Baptist, and the Presbyterian pastors who sometimes preached for us, disagreed with Luther and Calvin here. Most (maybe all) of today’s serious, committed, “Sola Scriptura” Protestants similarly disagree. To most (maybe all) of today’s *most serious* Protestants, infant vs. believer’s-only baptism is an “agree to disagree” matter *within Protestantism itself*. However, simply put, this is doctrinal reductionism of the sort that utterly horrified the early Reformers. That is what I meant by saying that the original Reformers would not consider most of today’s Protestants to be Christians– because most of them “agree to disagree” on issues which the Reformers actually believed to be *Christian essentials*. Where does this doctrinal reductionism end within Protestantism? Who or what *can* end it? (I don’t ask these simply as theoretical questions.)

  112. Chris 111,

    Now, Luther and Calvin firmly believed that for professing Christian parents to deliberately *not* have their infants baptized constitutes so serious a misunderstanding and dereliction of Christian duty that such parents are actually enemies of the faith– non-Christians. (If one doubts this claim, one needs only to read Luther and Calvin, from their own works on the issue of baptism.). Luther and Calvin both reached the above conclusion about the essential nature of baptism as adherents of “Sola Scriptura.”

    I’ve already responded to this, twice, in 18 and 52, where I said:

    I think your statement about Luther and Calvin not even considering most of today’s Reformed to be Christians is a massive exaggeration, contradicted by clear statements in Reformed confessions of the 16th century that stipulate that a Christian must believe the articles of the Creed. It is true that a stricter standard was applied to those who would teach. It is also true that their doctrine of “essentials” was complicated by church-state complicity in that time period (opposing infant baptism was at that time to be a rebel, opposing social order; not so, today).

    The point is: what it meant to be an anabaptist in the 16th century was basically to be a revolutionary, opposing social order. This is what Luther and Calvin so strongly opposed; they didn’t want the Reformation to undo the foundation of civil society. Infant baptism was so ardently defended precisely as a political doctrine, a way by which one became an acknowledged member of society. This is not the case today–in a real sense, we are all anabaptists now. This is reflected even in the history of Presbyterianism because the WCF was modified in America to rephrase the relationship of the church and the state. It is anachronistic for you to continually assert that Luther and Calvin wouldn’t have regarded most Protestants today as Christians, because you are not taking into account the context in which certain doctrines were felt to be essential. It was precisely not as adherents of “sola scriptura” that Luther and Calvin defended infant baptism, but as defenders of the social order. In fact, if “sola scriptura” were truly the criterion, wouldn’t we all (including Luther and Calvin) be believer baptist? (There is no doubt that in the NT baptism is represented as applied to believers, and any supposed evidence about “infant baptism” is read into the relevant texts as a later concern rather than arising naturally from them.)

    Your main concern seems to be that “doctrinal reductionism” is an ongoing process within Protestantism, one that cannot be ended. Perhaps not. But perhaps major changes in the Protestant world can be accounted for when factors such as the church-state relationship are taken into account, and perhaps there is a stable core that has been believed “always, everywhere, by all.” I believe there is, moreover, I believe it is empirically demonstrable that there is a core of Christian belief that has been confessed “always, everywhere, by all” and that the creeds of the Reformation acknowledge this (so, the Heidelberg Catechism says that a Christian “must” believe the articles of the Apostle’s Creed). Yes, you can point to disagreement on periphery issues such as sacraments and predestination. But (even while the rhetoric about sacraments was quite heated) no Reformation creeds, to my knowledge, claim that a certain view of baptism is necessary for salvation. Perhaps I’m wrong, I await correction. So while individual theologians such as Luther and Calvin may have been excessively critical of what they regarded as revolutionary and dangerous behaviour which would undermine civil society (remember, being anabaptist went with opting out of the state), such views were not permanently enshrined in Reformed confessions (to my knowledge).

  113. Chris 111,

    A couple more thoughts:

    You said,

    I never meant to either assert or imply that the Catholic Church *always* deals (or has always dealt) with heresy in the exact same way.

    Do you see how the quotations I supplied from your writing in 102 do imply this?

    It is not only that the church has not always dealt with heresy in the same way. My point is more specific: the church has not always dealt with heresy by recourse to an authoritative infallible teaching office. The apostle Paul did not defer to Peter or wait for his pronouncements, he argued (as Protestants later would), from Scripture. This is incontrovertible. The fact that Paul opens himself up to the Catholic criticism of relying on private interpretation is also undeniable, and I’m sure not all his readers were convinced of his exegesis (the allegory in Gal 4, for example, is somewhat strained). This is not only true in the biblical period but much later, with, e.g. Marcion.

    So the claim that the church somehow needs an ongoing authoritative (and infallible) teaching office to determine the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy is itself a proposition that has not always been believed or utilized. So why should Protestants accept the Catholic claim that this is necessary?

    Dave

  114. David,

    A friend on FB just reminded me of this excellent article by Mark Shea which gives an excellent Catholic-convert take on the very issues we have been discussing.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  115. David,

    You wrote:

    The apostle Paul did not defer to Peter or wait for his pronouncements, he argued (as Protestants later would), from Scripture. This is incontrovertible.

    Actually, Paul explicitly states that near the beginning of his public ministry he went to meet Cephas (Peter) to receive the hand of fellowship and insure that his message was not in vain or at variance with the twelve. Further, I think you would have a hard time showing that all of Paul’s authoritative positions reduce to, or are simply founded upon, OT exegesis. In fact, the very first significant doctrinal controversy was resolved by means of a council gathered at Jerusalem over which Peter presided and concluded by speaking definitively to the issue of circumcision and its necessity. Yes, James offered some pastoral suggestions to soften the blow of this binding doctrinal decision for Jewish Christian converts, but those suggestions were a matter of discipline not doctrine; whereas Peter’s decision was doctrinal and irreformable (Christians no longer abide by the pastoral injunctions offered by James).

    The point is that Paul, Peter, and the apostles simply are the original Magisterium of the Catholic Church, directly established, installed, and authorized by Jesus (I will not go through all the “authority” passages in the gospels and NT as that has been done repeatedly on this site). Later in the NT we see these men passing positions of office on to others. Jesus writes nothing, does not commission His disciples to write anything. Only 5 (or 7 depending on scholarly debates) of the twelve actually did end up writing anything. The pages of the NT do not show Jesus establishing a religion of the book; rather, they show Him constituting a new and universalized Israel – a new supernatural society capable of growing and adapting within human society, across cultural and linguistic boundaries. He is the Son of David. He chooses and installs 12 disciples as Solomon had installed 12 cabinet members. Like the Davidic kings of old, He chooses one of these and makes him His Chamberlin or Prime Minister and endows him with the keys to the newly re-constituted Davidic kingdom (Isaiah 22) – dynastic keys of succession (“You are Peter and upon this rock . . . I will give you the keys of the kingdom . . ). Like the key-bearer within the Davidic kingships of old, Peter has the authority to bind and loose during the King’s absence, with full assurance that his actions are recognized and ratified by the Monarch (“whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven”). Mary too rejoices at the Annunciation because she has just been informed that her son will inherit David’s throne. Hence, she will be the mother of the true and long awaited heir to the kingdom of David – she has just been elevated to the position of Queen Mother, as occupied by the Queen Mothers in the ancient Davidic kingships – only on an infinitely greater scale. As a result, her Magnificat is no act of arrogance, but rather a matter of fact: her name shall indeed “be forever exalted”. Elizabeth does obeisance before Mary upon her arrival and asks how it is that she (Elizabeth) deserves that the “mother of my Lord” should visit her home: the traditional greeting of homage paid to the Mother of the Davidic king.

    The only formal “this-worldly” project which Jesus tells us He is engaged in, is the building of His Church, or Great Assembly (“I will build My Church”). A necessarily identifiable reality if it is to serve as the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (notice it is the Church, not a book, that is the pillar): a tangible social reality which will remain in the world and prevail over the gates of Hell. He is establishing new Israel, His body, the Church; and giving it formal structure and authority in view of launching it upon the waters of history. He instructs His new heads of government to assemble in Jerusalem and await the condescension of the Holy Spirit which will radically transform this underlying human (and otherwise frail) infrastructure into a mystical and supernaturally animated, organic, society which will spread across the globe and across the centuries like a small stone cut without human hands which destroys the last of the world empires and grows into a great mountain and fills all the earth despite immense internal and external trials along the way. Over 20 centuries men of every nation, tribe, and tongue have flocked to that mountain to learn and receive the things of God. Rome has fallen, but 2000 years later, the Roman Catholic Church remains and has mapped its diocesan territories across every country and continent. Every day a perfect sacrifice is offered from East to West.

    I could go on with this line of thought. My point in all the above is obviously not to forge a watertight exegetical argument for the Catholic vision of the nature of Christianity; but merely to suggest that there is another way to look at the ebb and flow of the OT and NT data which suggests a very Catholic vision of Christianity and the intentions of its Founder. A reading which most Protestants have difficulty seeing because of the ecclesial and doctrinal lenses they initially bring to the text. I, for one, can say that as a Protestant, when I first made the attempt to step into the shoes of a Catholic theologian and try and understand how he could possibly read the same OT and NT as myself and honestly reach Catholic conclusions about the very nature of the Christian religion; I was taken by surprise by the macro-coherence of the Catholic exegetical paradigm. My non-Catholic theological assumptions had prevented me from seeing certain facts and making certain connections. Once I saw it, however, and then saw how well that exegetical vision squared with the history and trajectory of the Christian religion immediately following the close of the apostolic age, I began to get suspicious that the Catholics might have the better end of the exegetical argument. Two more years of reading the Church Fathers only solidified that suspicion and forced my hand with respect to conversion. Maybe none of what I have just written will click for you, but very broadly speaking, those are some of the liniments of thought which have served to begin muddying the exegetical waters for many sincere Protestants over the years.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  116. David Dejong (re:#112 and #113),

    Thank you for your questions, brother. I can’t write as thorough a reply as I would like (my aforementioned illness continues), but I will, again, attempt a reply. This time though, I seriously should not write again for at least a day or two– so I will resist the desire to respond quickly, though it may not be easy, hehe!

    In #112, you write:

    It was precisely not as adherents of “sola scriptura” that Luther and Calvin defended infant baptism, but as defenders of the social order. In fact, if “sola scriptura” were truly the criterion, wouldn’t we all (including Luther and Calvin) be believer baptist? (There is no doubt that in the NT baptism is represented as applied to believers, and any supposed evidence about “infant baptism” is read into the relevant texts as a later concern rather than arising naturally from them.)

    David, please know that I ask all of the following questions in this comment with the utmost respect and love for you as a brother in Christ. When you read your above words, do you see the extent to which you are simply asserting that a particular interpretation of Scripture is obviously clear– to the extent that “Sola Scriptura” couldn’t *possibly* be the basis for any competing interpretations?

    When you ask that if “Sola Scriptura” truly were the criterion, wouldn’t all Christian hold to believers-only baptism, do you realize how presumptuous that very question is– presumptuous that the Biblical arguments for believers-only baptism are, in fact, the best ones? You claim that any supposed evidence from the New Testament for infant baptism is “read into” the texts, but that is, quite simply, nothing more than an *assertion* on your part that the other side is more soundly exegetically based.

    The fact is, many (perhaps most) conscious, serious, Biblically careful Protestants who hold to infant baptism do so *precisely as* Sola Scriptura adherents. As far as I can tell from my time here, most of the former Calvinist, and now Catholic, contributors on this site held to infant baptism, as Calvinists, not as a “political remnant” from another era, wherein to oppose infant baptism was to oppose the social/political order, but on the basis of what they actually believed, as Calvinists, *Scripture itself* to *say* about baptism.

    None– not one– of the official contributors to this site was a “Reformed Baptist” in his Calvinist days. I was a Reformed Baptist, to be sure, but I was knowingly in a *minority* among the Reformed there– to the extent that a good many Reformed Christians would deny that I could even accurately be *considered* “Reformed.” Do you truly believe that all Reformed, paedobaptist Christians hold to that position *in spite of* their belief in Sola Scriptura?

    Have you read any serious, exegetically-based Lutheran or Presbyterian defenses of infant baptism? All of the ones which I’ve read argue on the basis of Scripture, and Sola Scriptura, at that, not from any other motives which you appear to believe were/are the paramount ones for infant baptism adherents. I think that a good many Lutheran and Reformed (the two being different) pastors would be very surprised to hear that they do not hold to infant baptism on the basis on “Sola Scriptura,” when they are certainly *convinced* that they *do* hold to it precisely on that basis!

    Also in #112, you write:

    I believe there is, moreover, I believe it is empirically demonstrable that there is a core of Christian belief that has been confessed “always, everywhere, by all” and that the creeds of the Reformation acknowledge this (so, the Heidelberg Catechism says that a Christian “must” believe the articles of the Apostle’s Creed). Yes, you can point to disagreement on periphery issues such as sacraments and predestination. But (even while the rhetoric about sacraments was quite heated) no Reformation creeds, to my knowledge, claim that a certain view of baptism is necessary for salvation.

    Your above words presume that the nature of the sacraments and predestination are, as you express, “periphery issues.” However, as I argued above, Luther and Calvin did not see them at all as such. Why is the modern view of these issues as “periphery” ones somehow the default mode for Protestants, when it was emphatically *not* the view of the original Reformers? You may respond, again, that the Reformers were arguing, not on a Biblical basis, but on a “preservation of the social order” basis. However, again, that possible response would simply be an assertion.

    If one reads the “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” by John Calvin, one finds both Biblical, exegetical defenses of infant baptism, and the decided conviction that this issue is *not* a “periphery issue” for the Christian faith. To the extent that modern Reformed Christians hold baptism to be a periphery issue, they do so as *against* the historic Reformation, not in accordance with it. If one reads the Canons of Dordt and comes away with the conviction that predestination is a side issue for Christians, one does so against the Canons, not in agreement with them.

    When one seriously reads the Reformers, to see what they truly believed, it becomes quite striking to what degree the contemporary conviction (which would be likely seen as by the Reformers as expressing a *lack* of doctrinal conviction) that the sacraments and predestination are “non-essentials” is actually the Biblical and historical *anomaly*, rather than the “historic Lutheran or Reformed view.”

    In response to your #113: I can see how, possibly, from *within* a framework of Protestant presuppositions about ecclesiology, I could have been understood, earlier, to be saying that the Church has always dealt with heresy in the exact same way. I apologize for any lack of clarity on my part. I was meaning to argue against the Protestant notion that heresy should be dealt with via the practicing (even the careful, collective, organized practicing) of the concept of “Sola Scriptura,” as both ordained ministers and laypeople go to their Bibles, and to historic Protestant confessions, as “authoritative,” but non-infallible, secondary references, to see what Scripture teaches on (insert issue here).

    Of course, St. Paul argues from Scripture, many times, in his epistles. Pope Benedict XVI argues from Scripture, many times, in his encyclicals, and in his many other writings and speeches (not to imply that those are comparable to inspired Scripture itself!). However, if you believe that St. Paul argues from a Protestant, “Sola Scriptura” mindset, then I respectfully ask you, as my brother in Christ, to listen to some of the podcasts on this page (found at the bottom of the page): http://pauliscatholic.com

    Ok, no more replies from me until I’m better. :-) As deeply as you and I both care about these conversations, I know that, physically speaking, I have to take a break for at least a day or two. The peace of Christ to you, my brother.

  117. Ray, 115:

    Thanks for the comment, as well as for the interesting link. I read the article on “private judgment” with interest.

    We are now onto some tangential issues and I’m afraid I won’t be able to have an extended conversation about them.

    I agree with you that Paul, Peter, and James were in accord at the council of Jerusalem and that Peter approved a mission to the Gentiles (as recounted in Acts 15 and Gal 2:1-10) but what happened after that? “When Cephas came to Antioch, I [Paul] opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned.” Paul’s “falling out” with Peter after the agreement of Jerusalem shows conclusively that Paul was not simply going to acknowledge Petrine primacy and do as he was told.

    Best,

    Dave

  118. Chris 116,

    I hope you get well soon.

    We are now on some tangential issues so perhaps it’s time to draw this conversation to a close anyway.

    Some clarifications:

    1) My comment about sola scriptura and infant baptism was too short to be of any use. I’ll retract it. By the way I am a member of a Reformed denomination and have never been Baptist. I know the scriptural arguments for infant baptism very well; I just don’t find them terribly compelling. (For example, it is often said that baptism replaced circumcision, which, if it was true in NT times, would have allowed Paul to write a much shorter letter to the Galatians: “you guys don’t need to be circumcised, because you’re baptized, and baptism has replaced circumcision.” Also, people bring in the “household baptisms” of Acts and all sorts of texts that are quite obviously not talking about infants at all; it is only because we are desperate to find answers to our theological questions that we mine the Scriptures for matters they don’t address.)

    I personally do and always have affirmed infant baptism but I gave up trying to make the case exegetically some time ago. Indeed, I gave up the “primitivism” that always tries to go back to the “early church” and imitate them – another unfortunate side effect of the Reformation. Just because infant baptism developed in Tradition does not necessarily mean it is not true and theologically sound – as with all matters in tradition, we need to critically assess it and attempt to determine whether in this instance the Spirit was further guiding the church into truth or the church “deformed.” Baptists obviously say the latter, I think this does make them the “ecclesial deists” Cross talks about. I’m not an ecclesial deist and I believe the development of infant baptism was a sound and appropriate development.

    You are right, however, that many well-meaning Reformed and Lutheran individuals do hold to both infant baptism and sola scriptura. I am sure they genuinely do believe both, though I believe this causes some tension.

    2) It’s not simply an “assertion” to say that the differing church-state paradigm of the medieval and Reformation period would have affected theology of baptism. Read the early history of any Anabaptist movement – yes, they genuinely believed in re-baptism, but this was part of a broader political theology. This is demonstrable historical fact. If you ignore the completely different context for debates about baptism, you are going to wonder why Luther and Calvin got so inflamed about it – which is precisely what you do wonder. It is true that Luther and Calvin thought they could deal with the issue by appeals to scripture – obviously, that didn’t work.

    3) Again, rather than individual theologians, I would like you to point out to me what Protestant confessions claim are the essentials necessary for salvation. Once you see what confessions in the 1500s and 1600s say, and compare it to what Protestants today believe, I doubt you’ll find that the “doctrinal reductionism” to which you refer has been nearly so drastic as you claim.

    Thanks, all the best,

    Dave

  119. Question:

    To what degree, and in what ways, is it correct to say that the relationship between the Holy Spirit giving the “certainty of faith” and the natural intellect being able to apprehend the Motives of Credibility is an instance of “grace perfecting nature?”

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