Saturday, May 07, 2005

Cheshire Catholicism

In responding to my charge that the extraordinary magisterium has contradicted itself over time, one of the commentators to my blog said that I should consult the writings of Shawn McElhinney.

It is striking that when challenges to the magisterium come up, we are once again referred to a defense of the magisterium by someone below the magisterium.

But just to make sure that I’ve left no stone unturned, let’s see what McElhinney has to say on the subject.

The most relevant and representative writing of his on the subject at hand appears to be something he wrote in reply to James White on the possibility of salvation outside the church.

If this still leaves something important out of consideration, loyal Catholics are more than welcome to draw my attention to whatever I overlooked.

<< While infallibility is involved in the universal resolutions of a lawfully ratified Ecumenical Council, this does not mean that the texts of the Council are either verbally inspired or that they necessarily state a teaching in the best possible way. >>

1.Notice that McElhinney has already tipped his hand. He is going to defend the consistency of magisterial teaching by driving a wedge between the infallible resolutions of an ecumenical council, and the text of the council, which is not necessarily (?) verbally inspired or phrased in the best possible way.

2.One wonders how he is able to extract the infallible resolutions from the fallible text of the resolutions. What is our source of information regarding the resolutions if not the text of the resolutions? Note, he applies this to the autographa, not the copies.

3.Likewise, how do we separate the infallible resolutions from the actual wording of the resolutions?

4. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that his disjunction is valid, it preserves the authority of the magisterium in the abstract by sacrificing the authority of the magisterium in the concrete. For even when an ecumenical council has spoken, there remains an indefinable area of uncertainty.

So we’re left with the question, where do you find the mind of the true church?

<< There is also the element to interpretation known as the sitz im leben. >>

This is a valid principle. So why does he not apply it to the above disclaimer? Does Florence itself include a disclaimer to that effect? Is there any evidence from this general period or before that when an ecumenical council has spoken, this left room for a disjunction between its universal resolutions and the text or wording of is resolutions? Does such a disjunction comport with original intent?

McElhinney then quotes from the council, beginning “It firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life.”

This is followed by his own gloss:

<< [T]he statement above was specifically directed towards the Apostolic churches which were re-aligning themselves with Rome in the fifteenth century. Those Apostolic churches who (seeking reunification with Rome) knew of the necessity of union with Rome for salvation. In this context, the decree from the Council of Florence must be assessed because otherwise it is not being properly understood. >>

How does this have the least bearing on the conciliar statement? Although that statement was addressed to those who supposedly “knew of the necessity of union with Rome for salvation,” it is a statement about many of those who did not know or acknowledge any such necessity, viz., pagans, Jews, heretics, schismatics. And it specifically says that they are damned “unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock.” So even though the scope of the audience is quite narrow, the scope of the referent—of those outside the pale of salvation—is extremely broad.

<< There is also the fact that the statement itself, while definitive, is not formally so. (Instead it is definitive statement because it was reiterating the dogma extra ecclesia nulla salus as previously defined by Lateran IV and particularly by Pope Boniface VIII in the Apostolic Letter Unam Sanctum.) In that sense the exposition element of the teaching would not necessarily fall under the mantle of infallible teaching - particularly since this Decree was to a particular church and not one promulgated to the universal church either expressely or tacitly. >>

1.What does it mean to say that such an exposition “would not necessarily fall under the mantle of infallibility?” What are the criteria for arriving at this determination? Do these criteria date from the time of the council itself (the sitz-im-leben)? Are they magisterial criteria? Has the magisterium ever applied these criteria to the document in question? Or are these riders and waivers being raised after-the-fact, as a face-saving device?

2. Here we have a declaration by one ecumenical council, which reaffirms a declaration by another ecumenical council, which reaffirms an “Apostolic letter” by a medieval pope. Yet McElhinney says that there is still this cloud of uncertainty surrounding the precise force of the conciliar statement.

Isn’t this a losing proposition either way you take it? If, on the one hand, the statement is authoritative, then you have a contradiction between Florence and Vatican II.

But if, on the other hand, the statement is not authoritative, then you can never know when the RCC speaks authoritatively—for even when the pope has spoken, and his statement is reaffirmed by two ecumenical councils, that doesn’t settle the issue once and for all.

A Catholic apologist can only save the reputation of his church by turning his church into a moving target. But, in that event, universal skepticism reigns supreme.

3. What is the value of a General or Ecumenical council which has no more force than a local or particular council?

4. Why is infallibility such an elusive property, anyway? Is it a rare and nonrenewable resource which must be meted out with an eyedropper lest the church use up her limited stock of infallibility in the first few centuries, and have none left for the remainder of the church age? Was Florence running low on infallibility? Was it in danger of running out before the session ended?

This is not a principled distinction, but a polemical distinction—a makeshift distinction concocted by an institution or apologist to save appearances.

<< Those who are not culpably aware of their obligations within this realm were not the intended target of this decree. >>

Which target? The target audience? No, they are not the target audience.

But they are the referent. Although the decree was written to a particular audience, it is not written about a particular audience. After all, if it was only concerned with the target audience, it did not need to talk about pagans and Jews, did it? For it was not pagans and Jews who were seeking reunion with Rome. So the decree goes out of its way to target a much larger swath of humanity. That’s the context.

<< Removing one small sentence from a Bull several pages in length and divorced from the time period and target audience guarantees an error in proper interpretation because the sitz im leben would be undermined. >>

This is a misrepresentation of the charge. You have the papal statement followed by the conciliar statement followed by another conciliar statement. So this is not an isolated sentiment. There is a pattern here.

<< To fortify the earlier contextual placing of the Decrees of Florence, some work from the late great catechist Fr. John Hardon will be referenced:
Alongside this strong insistence on the need for belonging to the Church was another Tradition from the earliest times that is less well known… they also had the biblical narrative of the "pagan" Cornelius who, the Acts tell us, was "an upright and God-fearing man" even before baptism. Gradually, therefore, as it became clear that there were "God-fearing" people outside the Christian fold, and that some were deprived of their Catholic heritage without fault on their part, the parallel Tradition arose of considering such people open to salvation, although they were not professed Catholics or even necessarily baptized. Ambrose and Augustine paved the way for making these distinctions. By the twelfth century, it was widely assumed that a person can be saved if some "invincible obstacle stands in the way" of his baptism and entrance into the Church. [3] In other words, this was the operating assumption of the Council of Florence when restating the dogma of faith on the necessity of the Church for salvation at Florence… Thomas Aquinas restated the constant teaching about the general necessity of the Church. But he also conceded that a person may be saved extra sacramentally by a baptism of desire and therefore without actual membership by reason of his at least implicit desire to belong to the Church. >>

1.After having drawn all those hair-splitting distinctions about the target-audience and a decree which is definitive, “but not formally so,” suddenly all that is cast to the winds and we are treated to the private opinions of miscellaneous theologians, as though an ecumenical council does not speak formally and universally, but an individual theologian does. The instant descent into special-pleading could not be more conspicuous.

For example, Aquinas also believed that there were circumstances under which a priest could break the seal of the confessional. But that did not become Catholic dogma.

It is an easy matter to quote the church fathers on both sides of the issue. For example, one can just as well cite St. Augustine against the baptism of desire: “And how many sincere catechumens die unbaptized and are lost forever!" (Augustine the Bishop, Van Der Meer, p.150),”

I’d add that, to my knowledge, the baptism of desire was never “formally” defined by the church. And even if you treat it as solemn dogma, that does not justify its extension to those outside the Catholic faith:


In its proper meaning, this consists of an act of perfect contrition or perfect love [that is Charity, which necessarily implies that one has the True Faith], and the simultaneous desire for baptism. It does not imprint an indelible character on the soul and the obligation to receive Baptism by water remains.

R. Broderick, The Catholic Concise Encyclopedia (1957), 126. Imprimatur by Francis Cardinal Spellman.


2. And notice, to, the huge leaps in logic. Was Cornelius saved because he didn’t know any better? No. He was saved by believing the Gospel. He was not saved as a pagan qua pagan, but, at most, as a pagan qua convert.

Indeed, Cornelius was not a pagan. He was a God-fearer in the technical sense of Gentile worshipper of the God of Israel.

3. “Widely assumed.” “The operating assumption” of Florence. All Harden and McElhinney are doing here is to assume that it was assumed at Florence. They are not going by what Florence actually says, but by something that Florence never says. Indeed, what Florence actually says runs counter to what they assume it was assuming all along.

4. But let us play along with the logic of their claim. About 99% of the pagan world was in no position to know about the claims of Rome. By that rough estimate, about 99% of pagans were invincibly ignorant. So 99% of pagans are actually exempt from the exclusionary formula.

So when Florence tells us “it firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life,” we have to read between the lines.

To paraphrase it according to Harden and McElhinney, what Florence really meant to say was: “it firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life—excepting, of course, for the 99% of the heathen who can become participants in eternal life.”

We can quibble over the exact percentiles if you like. I’ll cede you 2% or 5% or 10%. Makes no difference. To suppose that Florence is actually making allowance for the vast majority of pagans who ever lived and died doesn’t strike me as a plausible assumption. But I’ll leave the reader to draw his own conclusions.

5. And there are two additional difficulties: first of all, note the adversative construction: “not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics.”

It goes from those who know the least to those who know the most—from those with the least contact to those with the most.

Now, is this adversative construction saying that ignorance is an attenuating or exculpable circumstance? Quite the contrary! It is saying that even if you’re in a position to know much more—even if you’re a mere schismatic, which is the least culpable category, you are still damned. So the actually wording of the statement treats ascending degrees of ignorance as an aggravating rather than a mitigating circumstance, much less exculpatory.

6.Finally, what Harden and McElhinney are doing here is to harmonize one magisterial contradiction by invoking yet another magisterial contradiction. What about the parallel tradition of the invincibly ignorant?

The presupposition of the exclusionary formula is that saving grace is sacramental grace. God has channeled his saving grace through the means of grace. And only the true church, by virtue of apostolic succession, has access to valid sacraments.

Beyond the distinction between valid and invalid sacraments, a further distinction was drawn between valid and irregular sacraments in the case of those who retain a sufficient affiliation with true church that, although alienated from her communion, still had valid sacraments. As McElhinney himself puts it:

<< We know with certainty where the Church is; we are without certainty as to where the Church is not. When churches and ecclesial communities broke away from the one, true church, they cannot help but take doctrines and certain rites with them, and many, to this day, still retain their efficacy. Obviously the degree of grace in each situation differs somewhat. For example, where there is still a valid priesthood all the Fountains of Grace (Sacraments) are available. If Apostolic Succession is lacking, there is still the valid Rite of Baptism. And even where the Rite of Baptism is denied, there is still the Holy Scriptures, which can excite in the believer a love for Our Lord and a longing to be a member of His Body the Church. All of these gifts, as the Second Vatican Council taught, come from the one Church of Christ and receive their efficacy from her. >>

There is, indeed, a certain logic to this exception—if you grant the premise. But that very logic cuts against extending the grace of God to those with absolutely no such corporate connection to the visible church. For a Catholic to say that Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists can be saved is to decouple saving grace from the means of grace—in which case the priesthood is superfluous.

Because Catholic tradition is so very diverse, you can always quote from something in early Catholic tradition to support later Catholic tradition, but that does nothing to harmonize the diversity itself. Rather, it gives you parallel traditions with linear consistency and horizontal inconsistency. Each individual tradition may have a certain inner consistency, but be inconsistent with a parallel tradition.

McElhinney later quotes from Pius IX and Pius X. But while these may reflect a tradition feeding into Vatican II, they do not supply the Sitz-im-Leben for Florence or Lateran IV.

<< And as far as "clarity" it seems to this author that the Church has clarified herself continually when certain tenants of the faith are misrepresented. This has been accompanied by a development in doctrine and understanding. >>

<< Perhaps Dr. Art Sippo put it best… There was a clear development in doctrine from Bl. Pope Pius IX and his successors up to and including Vatican II, which crystallized the developments in a Dogmatic Constitution of no small degree of magisterial weight. The authentic understanding of this teaching has further been expounded upon in the magisteriums of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II. >>

Note the bait-and-switch scam. McElhinney began by invoking the Sitz-im-Leben of Florence, but ends by invoking the development of doctrine. Yet these are contradictory criteria. The Sitz-im-Leben is tied to original intent, based on the life-situation of the original speakers. The development of doctrine is not tied to original intent. Rather, its frame of reference is the chronological position and historical viewpoint of those who are living centuries after the sociological setting of the original document. And it indulges in a frankly anachronistic reading of the original by having it shoehorn into a retrospective trajectory of which the original framers had no cognizance or precognition.

Like the Cheshire cat, the Catholic Church seems quite tangible and substantial at first sight, but when you try to pin down its claims, it does a slow-mo vanishing act.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Of anathemas: Tridentine & Pauline

In a recent article, Paul Owen has contended that the Pauline anathemas are inapplicable to Roman Catholicism.

This calls for a number of comments. As a general matter, Owen’s contention amounts to a straw man argument. When the Protestant Reformers compared Catholic theology to the Judaizers, this was an argument from analogy, not identity. No one was supposing that the “salvation history” of Roman Catholics was identical at every point with the “salvation history” of the Judaizers.

Every argument from analogy is, at the same time, an argument from disanalogy. Naturally, then, there will be discontinuities as well as continuities between the two groups. The question is whether the parallel holds up at the relevant point of comparison.

And let us cast the issue within an even larger framework. The “salvation history” of 21C Christians, living in different parts of the globe, is quite different from the “salvation history” of 1C Christians. Yet it is our Christian duty to apply the Bible to our own circumstances. So any appropriation of Scripture to our own time and place will be an argument from analogy. Any valid application will make some allowance for the historical distance between the past and the present. And yet we are obligated by God to apply to our own situation a revelation given by him some 2000-3500 years ago. It is our duty to perceive parallels between what was then and what is now.

So the mere fact that there are disanalogies and discontinuities between Rome and Jerusalem does not, of itself, invalidate the analysis of Luther and Calvin.

<< 1. The Judaizers taught that we are justified by the works of the Law, not by faith in Christ (Galatians 2:16). Roman Catholics teach that we are justified by faith in Christ (CCC 1991, 1993), and not by the works of the Law (Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, Chapter I, and Canon I). >>

This summary is deceptive:

1. According to Trent, faith is necessary condition of our justification, but not a sufficient condition. We are not justified by faith alone. Is that Paul’s position?

2. Trent subdivides justification. Does Paul subdivide justification? Does he distinguish between condign and congruent merit? Does he say or imply or allow for the possibility that, in the initial stage of justification we merit justification by congruent merit, while in the final phase we merit justification by condign merit?

3. Why does Owen cite the Catechism to prove one proposition, but cite the Council of Trent to prove a different proposition? Is it because the Tridentine doctrine, taken as a whole, does not support Owen’s reinterpretation, so he must play this off against an expression of post-Vatican II theology?

4. It is extremely unlikely that the Judaizers believed in salvation by works apart from faith in Christ. These aren't Jews, in contrast to Christians, but Messianic Jews--probably attached to the Church of Jerusalem (Gal 2:12). Their point, rather, is that a Messianic Jew, as well as a Gentile convert to the Christian faith, is still bound to keep the Mosaic Covenant in toto. They are reopening the "circumcision question" (Acts 15).

<< 2. The Judaizers taught that righteousness comes through the Law, and not through the death of Christ (Gal. 2:21). Roman Catholics teach that we are justified through the death of Christ (CCC 1992), and not through the Law. >>

This is a simplistic and equivocal statement of the Catholic position. In Catholic theology, the merit of Christ is a necessary, but insufficient ground in our justification. Is that Paul’s position as well?

<< 3. The Judaizers taught that the Law of Moses was always able to impart life (Gal. 3:21). Roman Catholics deny that the Law of Moses could ever impart life (Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, Chapter I). >>

This is a red-herring. The issue at hand is not how the RCC believes that Jews were justified under the Old Covenant, but how Christians are justified under the New Covenant.

<< 4. The Judaizers taught the necessity of circumcision (Gal. 5:2) for justification. Roman Catholics deny that circumcision is necessary for justification. >>

This is simple-minded. The Protestant indictment is an argument from analogy. The proper analogy would be: Judaizers are to justification by circumcision as Catholics are to justification by baptism.

And, as a matter of fact, Trent makes baptismal regeneration a precondition of our justification (Session 4, chaps. 3-4; canon 5).

Since Owen has read up on Trent, why does he misrepresent the traditional and official Catholic position? Is he going out of his way to mislead the reader?

<< 5. The Judaizers denied that justification was effected by the Spirit of God, through faith (Gal. 5:5). Roman Catholics affirm that justification is effected by the Spirit of God (CCC 1994), through faith (Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, Chapter VIII). >>

1. The appeal to Gal 5:5 is an argument from silence. It doesn’t say that the Judaizers denied the relation between faith and the Spirit of God, but between faith and justification. So do we have here a clear disjunction between the Catholics and the Judaizers?

2. Even more to the point, Trent channels the action of the Spirit through the outward rite of baptism.

<< The whole point of Galatians 3:10-29 is to argue against the idea that God’s people were ever justified by the Law, because if this were the case, then that would necessarily imply that Christ’s death was not necessary for justification: “For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on the law” (3:21). >>

<< Paul’s position is diametrically the opposite. God’s people were never justified by the Law; rather by the Law they were placed under a curse, from which Christ’s death was necessary to deliver them (Gal. 3:10-14). The Judaizers simply did not believe that the Law had placed Israel under a curse; rather they believed that the Law provided the means of justification. >>

1. The mere giving of the law did not, of itself, place Israel under a curse. Rather, her law-breaking brought her under a curse.
2. More to the point, Owen’s whole argument is trading on a fatal equivocation, for the “Law” can either be used as a:
i) synonym for the Mosaic Law=Mosaic Covenant, or even the Pentateuch (e.g. Gal 4:21); or as an
ii) antonym for grace

When Paul and Protestant theologians deny that anyone can be justified by the law, they are using the word in the sense of (ii), not of (i).

The Mosaic Law was more than a covenant of works. It was also an exemplum of the covenant of grace. Covenant-keeping Jews could be justified under the Mosaic Law, while covenant-breakers were damned. Likewise, faithful Christians are justified under the New Covenant, while antinomians are damned.

Were OT saints, living under the Old Covenant, justified by law-keeping, in the sense of keeping God’s commands? No. They were justified by faith. Faith in what?

The Mosaic Law, in the lower-level typology of the sacrificial system, as well as the higher-level typology of redemptive events (e.g. the Exodus, the promised land), supplied them with the Messianic object of justifying faith.

This dimension also figures in Paul’s theology of the law. And it effects a dispensational transition when the age of promise reaches the age of fulfillment (Gal 3:24-25; 4:1-17).

<< They [Roman Catholics] teach that justification has always been by God’s grace, in view of the merits of Christ’s atonement. >>

This is duplicitous on a couple of grounds:
1. Catholic theology denies that salvation is by grace alone.
2. Catholic theology denies that our justification is by the sole and sufficient merit of Christ.

<< The “works” of Roman Catholics on the other hand, although they do contribute to the increase of justification within their theological scheme (since they view justification as a transforming process), are based upon Christ’s justifying death, and in fact derive their merit from that atoning death. >>

And does Dr. Owen, as a NT scholar, regard this dynamic view of justification as an exegetically accurate transcript of Paul’s own position?

Finally, it is quite striking that Owen is so concerned to show that the Pauline anathemas have no bearing on Catholic theology, and so unconcerned to show that the Tridentine anathemas have no bearing on Evangelical theology.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

"Reformed" Catholics?

In answer to your two questions, I don't know the specifics. I assume he doesn't like Warfield because Warfield was a fan of Westcott and Hort.

Textual criticism is a specialized field. This is my take, for what it's worth:

1. Since most conservatives (as well as moderates and liberals) support the principle of an eclectic text, that gives me prima facie reason for believing that it's not a liberal Trojan horse.

2. It seems reasonable to me that you need to evaluate MSS, not merely by numbers, but by antiquity, evident care or carelessness, and the textual tradition to which they belong. If many MSS belong to the same tradition, do we count them as many or one?

3. The issue is, in any case, overblown. Due to the amount of redundant teaching that God has built into the Bible, I don't see that any article of faith is threatened regardless of whether we go TR or eclectic.

<< Have you been following the so called "Reformed Catholics" at all? They have a new website and I was curious of your take. >>

I've not examined this movement in any systematic fashion, although isolated issues have come up. In an effort to answer your question, I gave the website a whirlwind tour. This is my rough first impression.

1. Link to Doug Wilson.

He's a high priest of Auburnism. I think that develops some weak points in Presbyterian theology in a worse direction--hypercovenantal, hypersacramental.

I regard the sacraments as signs of grace, not means of grace.

I don't think their administration either presumes some preexisting spiritual status about the recipient, or effects a change in his spiritual status.

If you want to know my reasoning, read the following essays on my blog:

* Sign or sacrament?

* One faith, one Lord, one baptism

I don't have much use for the category of "covenant children." Although God is more likely to place the elect in a Christian home, election cuts across family lines, with elect children of reprobate parents and reprobate children of elect parents.

There is, unfortunately, in just about every denomination, some quick-deed insurance policy to get your kids into heaven. I regard this as false assurance, which pushes the source of true assurance out of the way.

Auburnism is a recipe for dead formalism. They're going down the same road as stiff-necked Israel.

2. Link to First Things.

Has some useful material, but a commercial for Catholicism. Conservative Catholics can be allies in the culture wars. Doesn't assume that we're brothers in Christ. Some are, some aren't. Trent is still Trent, and Vatican II is a trojan horse for modernism.

3. Link to Touchstone.

Less useful that First Things. Heavy on Catholic piety and ecumenism.

4. Link to Bahnsen's outfit.

A pity if that's being taken over by Auburnites.

4. Sola fide as union with Christ?

No way, Jose! At a practical level, we are justified by faith, not by union with Christ.

There is a sense, in eternity, that we are justified by union with Christ a la election. But that is "activated" by faith.

There is also a sense in which all our salvific blessings can be related to union with Christ, but that doesn't mean that one blessing is contingent upon another, or interchangeable with anotehr, as though justification were contingent on sanctification, or two sides of the same coin. A son and a daughter are related to each other because they're related to a common parent, but that doesn't mean that because their dependent on a common parent, they are dependent on each other, or interchangeable with each other.

Sola fide is clear in Scripture. It is illicit to define justification by a high-level theological construct like union with Christ. You don't define it from the topdown, in terms of theological synthesis, but from the bottom-up, in terms of direct exegesis.

5. The eucharist.

Should our worship be centered on the eucharist? No. This is a word/sign relation. The sacraments are object lessons to illustrate the Word, like an enacted parable.

6. Conciliar?

It's fine to speak and act in concert when we can, but our duty is to follow God's word regardless of whether we have any company.

7. Episcopal?

In my opinion, there is no normative form of church gov't in Scripture. So it's a point of liberty.

So I think it's a pragmatic question. Do what gets the job done--the work of the Lord. I place function over form.

No one thing works all the time. In a sense, every polity is a failure.

i) Episcopacy concentrates power. This gives it the greatest potential for good or for ill. It all depends on who's on top. It is very efficient for good or evil. Once it's taken over by the liberals, it's a lost cause since there is no higher court of appeal.

ii) Congregational. The flip side of episcopacy. Same tradeoffs, but in reverse. Least efficient for good or evil. Often criticized for lack of discipline, but once a topdown polity is corrupted, you have no discipline either--except to persecute the faithful remnant.

Although it's inefficient, it promotes individual initiative and freedom of action. So a lot of work can still get done. You don't need the approval of upper management to get on with the job, and there is no upper management to close you down.

Congregational-type churches go liberal over time as well, but it's much easier to exit the burning building than in prelatial churches.

iii) Presbyterial. This is a randomizing device that averages out the pluses and minuses of topdown and bottom-up polities. Not as good as the best at its best or the worst at its worst.

Has an excellent track-record of building Christian institutions. Downside: remarkably litigious.

8. Ecumenism?

What is there to say? If it could work, it would work.

Bible-believing Christians are already one in the Lord, which is why we get along with each other just fine at an informal level and do a lot of networking.

It is good to debate our differences, but ecumenism puts unity first, answering the question before the question has been asked, and avoids debate since that would be offensive and devisive. Ecumenism is like a gerbil on a wheel--going round and round at a furious pace without going anywhere at all.

Basically, ecumenism is a feel-good club--a group-hug for those whose low-carb creed leaves them shivering for a warm body to snuggle up against.

9. Liturgy?

This is a matter of taste. It often signals a shift away from a word-centered faith.

One problem is that Christians need to be clear on what level of spiritual experience we can expect in this life. We're pilgrims. Heaven lies ahead, not here-and-now. A certain yearning and longing and hunger and thirst is a natural and normal and inevitable part of the walk of faith. For we haven't arrived at our destination. God is not quite absent, but God is not quite present.

Liturgy tends of foster a fake communion with God, a man-made sense of intimacy, confusing smoke-and-mirrors with the Shekinah.

10. Revival?

John Stott once drew a useful distinction between evangelism and revival. Evangelism is something we do. The Church has standing orders to preach the word and reach the lost. Revival is something God does. Revival is heaven-sent. Revival is unpredictable.

Evangelism does not depend on revival. Revival is a bonus. And we should be thankful whenever God sends a revival.

11. The Orthodox way?

If Evangelicals wish to experiment with a particular style of worship, with the aesthetics of EO (e.g., music, visuals), that's fine with me--up to a point. But when they cross over into the theology, that's a grave mistake. Orthodox soteriology is unscriptural--based on an automated sacramental piety. God in a vending machine. And it pads out the diet with ersatz mysticism.

12. Eclecticism?

Theological traditions come in bulky packages. Some of the elements may be directly Scriptural. Other elements are logically interrelated. Still other elements may be unscriptural. Yet other elements are merely conventional. It's a historical accident that they were stuck together in the first place.

For example, there's no logical reason to be a congregationalist and a credobaptist, or a Presbyterian and a paedobaptism--although there may be a Scriptural reason.

So there's nothing necessarily wrong with breaking down these packages and doing a mix-and-match routine. But it has to be Scriptural. And a logical set of beliefs is a take-it-or-leave-it affair.

13. Catholic baptism?

This is a presuppositional issue. It assumes a distinction between valid and invalid or irregular baptism, which, in turn assumes that a sacrament is a means of grace, and that a necessary condition for the valid administration of baptism or communion is a validly ordained minister.

I regard that whole framework as pretty dubious. There is no formal ordination ceremony in Scripture.

There is also a kind of gentleman's agreement in Christendom where almost every church honors every other church's baptism, although they don't honor anything else. I can't see that this is a principled position to take.

A traditional reason for opposing rebaptism is that baptism conferred an indelible mark upon the soul. This, of course, assumes a particular theory of sacramental grace. If you reject it, then there's no a priori impediment to rebaptism.

Do the ancient creeds amount to a credible profession of faith? Not taken by themselves, for they are more interested in the person of Christ than the work of Christ.

In addition, RC theology has a way of negating some of what is true in the ancient creeds.

So I don't think a Catholic can make a credible profession of faith. If he converts to the Evangelical faith, he should be rebaptized.

That, in a nutshell, is my take on "Reformed Catholics."

Hail Mary

<< And again, it doesn't matter whether either Thomism or Molinism is true in the present context. << Just to clarify a point: Steve, you suggest that I have misunderstood your "satire," and made the error of taking it literally. Well, yes, I did take it basically literally (with the exception of the literary device of having "God" do the talking) because it is expressing the very same point you made throughout the post. To wit: "Yet there is no place for predestination when the creature can negate the plan of God. Indeed, there is no room for foreknowledge when the creature can either say 'yes' or 'no' to God."

Is _that_ passage meant satirically? >>

No, that passage is non-satirical. There I’m speaking seriously.

Of course, satire is a humorous way of making a serious point through hyperbole. But what you quote is non-satirical. No exaggeration intended.

<< I'd invite your readers to revisit the original post if they have any doubts. But here you claim. without ambiguity, and quite literally, that Chaput's claim about Mary's possible "no" forces him to reject both foreknowledge and predestination. It does neither, since either a Thomist or a Molinist acceots both, and still endorses the claim that Mary could have said no. Steve, you are simply not being honest. >>

Well, you and I evidently have a different definition of honesty. I regard it as dishonest to constantly say someone is dishonest, but never show that they are dishonest. You repeatedly level this charge, but never do the intellectual spadework to prove your point. In my book, that’s dishonest.

It is perfectly honest for me, from my philosophical standpoint, which does take into consideration the opposing views, and finds them wanting, to say that Chaput’s statement implies a denial of foreknowledge and foreordination alike.

You seem to be confusing intent and implication. I don’t know what he intended. I do know what his statement entails.

BTW, there is nothing especially unusual about people saying things which carry unintended consequences--precisely because they didn’t think through all the ramifications of what they said before they said it.

And there is nothing improper about drawing forth the logical implications of a statement, whether the speaker meant it or not. Indeed, one way to make someone change his mind is to point out that a position he has chosen to take logically commits him to a conclusion that he did not intend, and which he would find unacceptable, once you point it out to him. I’d have no right to carry on this way if someone drew my attention to something I said, which went beyond what I wanted to claim. Rather, I’d have reason to thank him.

Again, it is quite possible for a man to have an inconsistent belief-system, to sincerely hold conflicting beliefs, knowingly or unknowingly. It may be unconscious, or it may be conscious—but he excuses it on the grounds that it’s all a big warm-and fuzzy mystery.

<< And again, it doesn't matter whether either Thomism or Molinism is true in the present context. You've asserted that Chaput's claim about Mary entails some further claims (i.e., no foreknowledge, no predestination). That's a purely logical matter. The question just is, _assuming_ for the sake of argument that Mary could have said no, does that commit one to openism? The answer is no. Whether one actually ought to believe what one has granted ad arguendum is an entirely different question. >>

It may not matter to you, but it matters to me. The fact that you would prefer to cast this in ad arguendum terms doesn’t mean that your concern should substitute for my concern.

There is a broader context here, which I noted in my essay. Mary is the exemplar of synergism in Catholic dogma. It is not, therefore, illogical for Chaput to state that Mary was in a position to say “no” to God.

And that makes this a test-case or paradigm-case for synergism generally. For the free choices of some individuals would be more consequential than the free choices of others.

Frankly, it looks to me like you’re trying to play both sides of the fence:

<< But here you claim. without ambiguity, and quite literally, that Chaput's claim about Mary's possible "no" forces him to reject both foreknowledge and predestination. It does neither, since either a Thomist or a Molinist acceots both, and still endorses the claim that Mary could have said no. >>

<< << And again, it doesn't matter whether either Thomism or Molinism is true in the present context. >>

To say that, due to two available theories of providence, his claim does not force him to reject both foreknowledge and predestination, would most certainly depend on whether one of those theories is true. The truth of the conclusion is predicated on the truth (or falsity) of the premised theory of providence. Inference and content cannot be kept apart in this context.

And as a defense, not only of the generic claim, but of his claiming it, he would need to hold the true theory.

In addition, even if either Thomism or Molinism were true, it doesn’t follow that one or the other will validate this particular claim. You would have to demonstrate that this case is a special case covered by the general principle. That’s a separate step in need of a separate argument.

<< Your readers think you're a pretty philosophical guy, but this is really very basic stuff you're failing to grasp. >>

It’s always possible that I have a blind-spot, yet if I did, I’d be blind to it. But I can only call ‘em as I see ‘em.

Your charge is like the charge that all white men are racist. When we deny the charge, we’re told that this just proves the charge because we’re so racist that we’re not even conscious of our deep-seated racism. It’s a subliminal thing, you know, so the absence of evidence is the most damning evidence of all.

Ostrich Catholicism

Randy Gritter said:
<< You are young and you are still sure you are right about everything. >>

1. Not that it’s the least bit relevant to anything, but since he brought it up, I happen to be 45, going on 46. So I do have a fair amount of life-experience under my belt. Certainly the days ahead are fewer than the days behind. Perhaps he was misled by that photo taken twenty years ago.

2. Again, to say that I think I’m right about everything is duplicitous. Randy believes that he is right about the RCC. So why is thinking you’re right a virtue in a Catholic, but a vice in a Protestant?

3. The true definition of intellectual arrogance is someone who doesn’t hold himself intellectually answerable for what he believes. He believes willfully, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary—even from his own putative authority-source (e.g., the magisterium and its deputies).

<< That is why I prefer to use saints as my models. >>

1. There are saintly Christians in Evangelical church history as well.

2. Men and women of equal piety can disagree over various points of doctrine. So sanctity is no criterion of orthodoxy.

<< Still there is no error in what God promised to preserve from error. That is the point. >>

So true! Now we need to fill in the blank. What is repository for God’s promises?

<< Once you throw out a God-give authority you essentially leave biblical interpretation to the individual. >>

1. This assumes that the church is a God-given authority, but the Bible is not.

2. Remember that this is the divine arrangement which existed for the covenant community in OT times. And, yes, it did give rise to different schools of thought, viz. Pharisees, Sadducees, Hillelites, Shammaites, Essenes, Jewish Platonists, &c. But if all that diversity was good enough for God way back when, then why is it not good enough for God today?

3. As far as a Calvinist is concerned, sola Scriptura does not operate in a Deistic vacuum. It is regulated by the providence of God—just like OT times.

4. Actually, the RCC does leave Biblical interpretation to individuals. It’s just that, in RCC theology, some individuals are more equal than others. The Pope is an individual. The Prefect is an individual. The local bishop is an individual. So the question is whether the interpretation of one individual should trump the interpretation of another individual simply because the first individual enjoys a certain institutional standing, regardless of the actual quality of his reasoning.

<< You start by saying Christians of the first 1500 years were seriously wrong about a large number of major doctrines and you are smarter than them all. >>

1. And Randy starts by saying that many Christians in the last 500 years were seriously wrong about a large number of major doctrines, and he is smarter than all of them.

2. What is more, this is a very disingenuous comparison. For when Randy tabulates the votes for the first 1500 years of church history, he is only counting Catholic votes. He is not counting Donatists or Novatianists or Waldenses, &c. And he has disenfranchised the entire Eastern wing of the church, which has never acceded to the primacy of Rome. So what we end up with is an extremely selective, self-serving, and one-sided survey of Christian opinion. Randy is packing the ballot box. With Randy, there is always a suppressed synecdoche--the part for the whole—where Roman Catholicism conveniently stands for all of Christendom before the Reformation.

3. In addition, Randy doesn’t care what most Christians believed in the past. That is not the criterion in RCC theology. Nothing could be more phony than to lodge this democratic appeal when, in the preceding sentence, he had just derided the right of private interpretation. In RCC theology, the magisterium, and not the vox populi, is the vox Dei.

4. Even if you grossly oversimplify church history and say that Christians believed alike in the first 1500 hundred years, that’s only because they couldn’t read the Bible for themselves, due to widespread illiteracy and the absence of a printing press. So they were only given one interpretation to believe.

“It's really a logical impossibility. If Catholicism is wrong then Christianity is wrong.”

1. Wouldn’t you just love to be a fly on the wall if Randy every tried out that line on a bishop of the Greek Orthodox church?

2. Randy operates with a perfectionist view of church history. You begin with the preconception of the way things ought to be, and then frame your polity in accordance with your rosy preconception.

And the quandary for the perfectionist is then to square his rosy preconception with the thorny reality. Why does God allow evil? But he does. Why does God allow evil in the church? But he does. If Randy were God, none of this would happen, but since it does happen, there is something amiss with his theology.

<< Protestantism is just half-baked catholicism. >>

And Vatican II is just half-baked modernism.

<< Accepting scripture defined by a church council yet rejecting the concept of councils. >>

Is this an allusion to the canon of Scripture?

1. I’ve already gone over that ground in my essay on the canon of Scripture (under that very title). Been there, done that. Nice try. What’s your plan B?

2. Notice, once again, how Randy’s appeal assumes an ersatz concept of the
church. As far as the historical case for the canon is concerned, this was by no means limited to the testimony of the Roman Church. Its historical witnesses include the churches of Alexandria, Asia Minor, Syria, Jerusalem, and Constantinople--as well “schismatics” such as Donatus, Cyprian, Tertullian, and Novatian.

You see, Randy’s definition of the church isn’t based on the actual fact of the church, but upon his idea of the church—and especially his ideal of the church. It’s an abstract universal, not a concrete particular. He dehistoricizes church history whenever it suits him.

3. To suggests that the Protestant Reformers merely rubber-stamped the Catholic canon while rejecting the Catholic church itself is blatant falsehood. For, had that been the case, they would have rubber-stamped the Catholic canon of the OT as well, instead of going back to the Jewish canon.

BTW, this might be a good place to correct Patrick’s claim that the LXX was benchmark for the Catholic canon of the OT. The problem with this claim is that the our uncial codices for the LXX—Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and Alexandrinus—vary in what books they include.

<< Accepting Sola Scriptora in spite of the fact that it isn't in scripture. >>

Again, I’ve already addressed that red-herring and several others in my essay on “Ten objections to sola Scriptura.” I’ve covered all my bases. What about you, Randy? Here’s a little challenge for you. Either address the answers I’ve already given, or raise an objection I’ve not already addressed.

<< Ignoring centuries of church history. >>

Actually, we’re very attentive to church history—to a history of corruption and fraud. You, on the other hand, cherry-pick what parts of church history affirm your church and ignore all the other parts of church history that disaffirm it.

<< Embracing a model of church that gives contradictory answers to every possible question. None of this is plausable. It's just a mass of contradictions. >>

1. If you’re oh-so concerned about contradictory answers, a good place to start would be your own church, with the contradictory answers given by the magisterium to such elemental questions as who is saved? What is tradition? Is Scripture inerrant? Your church adds to the sum-total of contradictions, not subtracts from it.

2. As to whether the Evangelical church is all that contradictory, I have an essay on that as well: “The 4-Door Labyrinth.”

BTW, the following blogger scores some good points against the RCC (as well double-standards in academia). Check it out:

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

O sancta simplicitas!

<< We don't need an education on what ADS consists of by Scholastic Theologians or by Reformed Confessions, as we are both quite familiar with the contemporary and medieval literature on the topic. Perry's a doctoral student in medieval metaphysics at SLU and I'm a graduate in theology at UD. >>

Perhaps we need to lay down a few ground-rules for discussion. What you know you know is beside the point. What is necessary, in such a discussion, is for you to know what I know, and for me to know what you know. And that is also for the benefit of whoever is reading Triablogue.

It is perfectly appropriate for me to spell out my own understanding of DDS, and how I relate that to Reformed theology, as well as for you to spell out your own understanding of DDS, and how you relate that to DDS. For you to take offense does nothing to advance mutual understanding. What exactly would you like to accomplish?

<< Why else would Calvin concede that God having a permissive will was an "evasion" and "frivolous," if he didn't have a commitment to ADS? >>

Perhaps because he already told us why, and his stated reason had nothing to do with DDS? Could that be it?


But why shall we say “permission” unless it is because God so wills? Still, it is not in itself likely that man brought destruction upon himself through himself, by God’s mere permission and without any ordaining. As if God did not establish the condition in which he wills the chief of his creatures to be!

Institutes 3.23.8


Here I take Calvin to give two reasons, one embedded in the other. First, whatever God permits, he does so willingly. Hence, his permission is a willing permission.

And, secondly, this is due to the fact that God was in a position to prevent what he permitted to happen. So if it happened, it happened because he willed it to happen—seeing as he was able to keep it from happening had he willed otherwise.

Now, there is no reference here to DDS. It is, of course, possible, that there is a deeper reason connected with DDS. But, if so, you need to mount an argument, on some textual basis in Calvin, to show that his distaste for permissive language is logically contingent on his commitment to DDS. Just to throw out a question begs the question entirely.

At a minimum, when Calvin gives you his reason for why he believes something, that is the reasonable point of departure for further investigation, is it not?

<< The reason why the West is predestinarian and the East is not predestinarian is because they have different conceptions about God. >>

Isn’t this an overstatement? It is not merely their theology (proper), but their anthropology and hamartiology.

<< Those committments are built off of the philosophical theology despite claims to the contrary. >>

This is an assertion, not an argument. And even if it were true, it commits the genetic fallacy.

Suppose I believe in naturalistic evolution. Then I convert to the faith. I become a Bible-believing Christian. I then reject evolution on exegetical and theological grounds.

I now have an incentive, such as I didn’t have before, to reexamine the scientific evidence for evolution, so I bone up on the ID literature. As a consequence, I pick up a number of scientific objections to evolution as well.

Now those scientific arguments have an intellectual merit independent of the exegetical argument. Even if I were to change my mind about the exegesis, that would not affect the scientific arguments.

<< So how about an engagement of the argument? >>

First you accuse me of lecturing you on the definition of DDS and its relation to Calvinism, then you insinuate that I’ve failed to engage the argument. Isn’t that what the argument is about?

BTW, when were you planning to engage my counterarguments?

<< And no, from what I have read of your elaborations of libertarian freedom, you do have a committment to ADS or hold to common presuppositions of it because you gloss it principally between objects of differing moral worth. >>

Since you’re trying to paraphrase what I said in your own categories, it’s hard for me to recognize my position in this terse restatement.

I reject LFW. I do not define freedom as the freedom of contrary choice. I distinguish between first and second-order goods as a necessary condition of a Christian theodicy, but not as a necessary condition of freedom, per se. I have also distinguished between at least two different versions of DDS.

Moving on to Perry’s arguments:

<< Hypothetical Syllogism (HS)

If A, then B
If B, then C
If A, then C

This is a valid inference rule. If the premises are true, it will always lead you to the truth. The same can be said for Modus Ponens. >>

This is valid, but valid only because it operates at the level of an abstract schema. Once you plug in concrete content, the relations may not be that neat and tidy.

There are different ways of modeling identity. A set is identical with its members. But its members are not identical with each other. So you have a set/subset relation. And this is for an abstract object, which is indivisible in time and space.

Again, to say that A and B are identical with respect to C is not to say that A and B are identical with each other, but only that they share a point of commonality with C. This is a case of polygamous predication

In geometry and crystallography, we also have enantiomorphic symmetries--where you can pair off two objects in one-to-one correspondence.

So I’m afraid that Perry’s opening move is a false move. It oversimplifies the options.

<< 1. If God is absolutely simple (P), then his act of will to create is identical with his essence (R).
2. If God’s act of will to create is identical with his essence (R), then his act of will to create is necessary. (Q)
3. If God is absolutely simple (P), then his act of will to create is necessary. (Q) (From 1,2 by Hypothetical Syllogism)
4. God is absolutely simple. (Premise S)
5. Therefore, God’s act of will to create is necessary (R). (From 3,4 by Modus Ponens) >>

#2 is fatally equivocal. It could either mean:
i) God’s will to create necessitates creation, or
ii) God necessarily wills to create.

According to (i), necessity applies to the object of his will—the effect. Given God’s will to create, his conative act is necessary. But the given is not a necessity.

According to (ii), it applies to the subject of his will—God himself. It is necessary that he will to create.

It is going to take more than syllogistic logic to sort this out. The logic must derive from the content, not the content from the logic. Are you assuming ADS, or proving ADS? Are you trying to prove ADS by means of this syllogism, by plugging ADS into the syllogism?

Logical and ontological relations are not the same thing. Which is generating which?

<< Support for (2) is given by the following argument.

(2)If God’s act of will to create is identical with his essence (R), then his act of will to create is necessary. (Q)

6. If God’s essence is had by him necessarily, then if anything is identical with his essence it is necessary.

7. God’s essence is had by him necessarily. (Premise)

8. Therefore, anything identical with his essence is necessary. (From 6, 7 MP) >>

#6 is ambiguous as well. One problem is that you’re confounding logical and ontological necessity. To say that x follows from y by logical necessity is not to say that x is ontologically necessary because y is ontologically necessary. This is a category confusion. Does the if-then construction apply to ontology or logicality?

<< Now, by my reading, Protestants hold to the same basic doctrine of absolute simplicity as Rome does. It is mentioned to various degrees by most if not all of the Reformed Confessions and expounded in all the major systematic theologians from the period of Reformed Scholasticism forward. >>

I would like to see the textual basis for this claim. For example, Turretin says “the orthodox teach that they [the divine attributes] are really the same with his essence, but are to be distinguished from it virtually and eminently,” Institutes 1:188.

Bavinck says “the fact, however, that we cannot distinguish between God’s being or essence and his attributes, inasmuch as every attribute is identical with the essence, does not imply that there is only a nominal and subjective distinction between the attributes, a distinction which has no real basis,” The Doctrine of God, 127.

Berkhof, after affirming and defining DDS in terms of God’s incomposite, indivisible nature, according to which his “essence and perfections are not distinct, and his attributes are not superadded to his essence,” goes on to say: “Dabney believed that there is no composition in the substance of God, but denies that in him substance and attributes are one and the same. He claims that God is no more simple in that respect than finite spirits,” Systematic Theology, 62.

Frame, in his recent monograph, rejects the Thomistic version of DDS. Cf. The Doctrine of God, 225-30.

Charles Hodge says:


In attempting to explain the relation in which the attributes of god stand to his essence and to each other, there are two extremes to be avoided. First, we must not represent God as a composite being, composed of different elements; and, secondly, we must not confound these attributes, making them all mean the same thing, which is equivalent to denying them altogether.

To say, as the schoolmen, and so many even of Protestant theologians, ancient and modern, were accustomed to say, that the divine attributes differ only n name, or in our conceptions, or in their effects, is to destroy all true knowledge of God.

But we are not to give up the conviction that God is really in himself what he reveals himself to be, to satisfy any metaphysical speculations as to the difference between essence and attribute in an infinite Being.

Systematic Theology 1:396,71,74.


The comments of Bavinck and Turretin are not, to be sure, self-explanatory. In the case of Bavinck, we must make some allowance for the influence of Kant and German idealism. That would be more epistemic than ontological

In the case of Turretin, allowance must be made for the influence of Aristotle, as well as his opposition to Socinianism.

However, Calvinism has never canonized a particular school of philosophy. A Calvinist can adapt various philosophical systems, in varying degrees, in the articulation and defense of Calvinism, viz., Augustinian (Gordon Clark, William Young), Aristotelian (Turretin), Cartesian (Geulincx), Scottish realism (Old Princeton theology, S. Presbyterian theology), idealism (Edwards), &c.

<< And since we take freedom to be of the essence of a person, a diminishing of their freedom threatens the status of the glorified as persons. >>

i) Of course, a Calvinist would define freedom along compatibilist lines. Even so, to make this the “essence” of a person is an overstatement. Does a newborn baby have freewill? Is it a person?

ii) In Scripture, the imago dei is not defined in terms of freedom, much less libertarian freedom. For that matter, the imago dei is not defined in terms of personhood—whatever that means. Consciousness?

<< For Augustine, even though he is a synergist of sorts, he still has to understand freedom in a soft deterministic way such that an agent is free even if they lack alternative possibilities. >>

How does this relate to DDS? Is it possible, then, for Augustine to be both a soft determinist and adherent of DDS?

<< For the compatibilist it is hard to see why God didn’t just create everyone good such that they would never sin. >>

I have already given my own answer.

<<“Frankfurt” like case. Imagine unbeknownst to me some malign agent seeks to control my actions by means of some scientific widget or some supernatural power. This widget or power permits the covert agent to monitor my mental states and acts and to manipulate them by means of manipulating my brain states. If the malign agent sees that I am going to choose X, he does nothing since that is the choice he wants me to make. If he sees that I am going to do Y then he intervenes in some way to neutralize that neurological state in my brain. And he sees this by virtue of viewing the decisions I have made. Prior to making a decision though all he sees is my deliberating between two options. >>

This does not comport my own understanding of Frankfurt-type cases. The whole point of such hypotheticals is that the malign agent never has to intervene. He never needs to active the fail-safe device, because, in the end, I don’t choose contrary to his wishes. Even though, unbeknownst to me, I can’t choose to the contrary, it makes no difference to the outcome since, as it just so happens, I do what I was going to do all along even if the fail-safe device had never been implanted.

<< But notice that when I am deliberating I am deciding between two options, specifically to continue to deliberate or to make a decision. My power to deliberate between options is itself an instance of having alternative possibilities. >>

This is a valid distinction. However,

i) The same thought-experiment could be easily adapted to take that into account. The fail-safe would potentially preempt certain untoward thoughts, but I was never going to have those thoughts anyway.

ii) In addition, there is quite a difference between making freedom of opportunity a condition of freedom, and making mere deliberation a condition of freedom. How would you relate these two models to Calvinism and DDS?

<< Through continued obedience they would have reached a state of moral impeccability and hence been “as gods.” >>

i) Are angels virtuous?
ii) Does your theory call for Purgatory to complete the journey?
iii) From a Reformed perspective, yours is a very androcentric theodicy.

Our traveling correspondant...

This from our long lost blogging partner Bledsoe:

China was a bit stressful. We were watched the whole time we were there. Our e-mails and probably phone calls were monitored in the hotels. I had several of them kicked back, and they would not go out. I assume that they monitor for certain words (one person said that in one of his kicked back ones, when he removed the word, "China," it went out). We canceled using a conference room at the Shanghai, and Xian hotels because of observation. Ray who is, I suppose the most traveled man I know, said several times with laughter, "paranoia is unbecoming to a great nation." But this is very old. This is exactly why 700 years ago, they put up the Great Wall. It will take time. They are caught between now needing more openness, which indeed the World Trade Organization is demanding, and a very long, long tradition of distrusting all foreigners, and of patriarchal control of the local population.
There is not "one China." There is one uniform law that comes out of Beijing, but the interpretation and application of the law are amazingly various. This is still much more of an aristocratic nation than a democratic one in many ways. The officials really are the law, so no matter how contorted a reading or application may be, that is the law. China has unquestionably moved from being a totalitarian government to an authoritarian one, with considerable freedom laced with paranoia and observation when deemed necessary. As long as the "underground church" remains in fairly small groups (less than 30), the police tend to leave them alone and are more often than not, even friendly. We heard of one case where the police very much wanted a particular church to register. They knew they were doing a good work, because "the crime rate had dropped," and they would very much like to not have any official duty of observe if they were registered! I.e., they wanted to leave them alone.
Shanghai felt like Manhattan downtown, except much brighter than Times Square. It was like a Christmas tree, a phantasmagoria of lights and color. The entire city of skyscrapers on one side of the river has gone up in about 10 years. Ray said at one point, there were 21,000 building projects all at once in the city. The sense that one has of China everywhere is one of optimism and power. This is a people clearly on their way to becoming the world's greatest nation in this century.
We were in the nation during the contention with Japan over changing the textbooks. We heard from several Chinese during that time, and the national memory of rape and pillage is very deep.
Hong Kong was not amongst the three cities we visited. We visited Beijing (the political capital, and it felt like being in Dallas or Houston), Xian ( a virtual museum, the end of the Silk Road, and still has the city wall in tact), and Shanghai (the great commercial center). Hong Kong is still the commercial center, and we heard a lot about it while here. It is a fascinating study. When it was returned to China by the British in 1997, there was great fear of what would happen. A lot of people migrated elsewhere to observe. Really, almost nothing happened. The commercial empire of the city was built and disciplined by the British, and is something of a fine clock or sensitive bird for delicacy. Beijing immediately tried tinkering, and almost instantly, billions of pounds, dollars, and yen fled to other markets around the world. China learned very fast that She must keep hands off. It was a great and almost instant lesson the limits of control.
This is the lesson China will have a long time learning. Last year, Peter Drucker wrote a series of bomb shell articles saying that he thinks in the end, India will best China as the world's greatest economic power. This is because there is more liberty in India, and education is valued more highly, and they have a far better educational system. Indeed, at this point, India's greatest import to the US are PhDs. The still considerable control hampers Shanghai in its competition with Hong Kong.

Cat-and-mouse Catholicism

<< I would, however, insist that your easy acceptance that the prima facie conflict just equals ultima facie conflict violates the principle of charity that should guide any honest exegetical effort. You must realize that the Fathers who wrote the documents of Vatican II were far more familiar with the teaching of the Church than you are. You must also realize, then, that they would recognize that in some cases there is a prima facie conflict between what they've written, and what was written before. So it is a mere matter of accepting their basic honesty to grant that they would have an answer--perhaps even a compelling answer--to your claim that there really is a contradiction between the two documents. >>

<< I think your approach to Church documents--in what I've seen--always works this way. You're so eager to find error or contradiction in Church documents that when you see something that *can* be interpreted that way, you *do* interpret it that way, without ever pausing to wonder if there is a different plausible reading. This is the point I was making when I talked about the fact that the Council Fathers who wrote the documents of Vatican II know the teaching of the Church better than you do, and presumably considered their documents compatible with that tradition. You ought to try to understand the document as they intended it to be understood. That's just what exegesis is about, after all. >>

i) I’ve not only cited the documents. I’ve cited the testimony of two periti to Vatican II (Rahner, Ratzinger) as that bears witness to a fundamental change in the traditional definition of tradition.

ii) I’ve also cited Vorgrimler’s 47 page account, in volume three of his five-volume commentary on Vatican II, in which he records the way in which the Council was prepared to reaffirm the RCC’s traditional stance on the plenary inspiration of Scripture until Cardinal Koenig turned the tide by citing higher criticism to prove that Scripture was not inerrant after all. Cf. Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, H. Vorgrimler, ed. (Herder & Herder, 1969), 3:199-246.

So I’ve gone behind the text to the context, and the context confirms my prima facie impression of the text.

iii) I’d also reiterate that this is not simply my outsider’s take on the RCC. The Lefebvre-wing of the church, which certainly knows its way around the primary sources and the history of debate, is saying the same thing from inside the fold.

iv) As to honesty and charity, I’d say three additional things. Liberalism is a universal phenomenon in contemporary Christendom. Every denomination is confronted with this phenomenon. Some fight it off, others succumb.

This is generic theological liberalism. It uses the same arguments, tactics, strategies, and stratagems. The same semantic games. The same incrementalist agenda. You find it in every theological tradition. The methods and arguments are interchangeable. Half the time, if you didn’t already know what theological tradition was in view, you couldn’t tell from the liberal argumentation itself, for it’s the same bag of tricks regardless of the tradition in view.

The RCC is simply adopting and adapting the critical view of Scripture which originated within the 19C liberal Lutheran circles in Germany.

At first, the RCC, under Pius IX and Leo XIII, suppressed modernism. The effect was to drive modernism underground. It floated a trial balloon with Pius XII, and then rallied to victory at Vatican II.

v) It is possible for a theological liberal to be quite idealistic. He honestly believes that he’s doing the church a big favor.

Liberals like Bultmann and Rahner are not out to destroy the faith, but to save it. They were trying to update the faith in order to keep it credible to modern man. No intelligent man living in the proud age of the electric toothbrush can continue to believe in that old saltbox model of supernatural beings “outside” the box—God and angels—coming “down” to us, speaking to us, doing miraculous deeds, and going back “up.”

Modern man can’t believe in that old saltbox model of the “ghost within the machine,” which “goes” to heaven or hell when the body dies. No, we live on the other side of Copernicus, Hume, Kant, Darwin, Freud, Edison, and the flush toilet. So we must modernize the faith for modern man. So goes the argument.

This can all be cast in very hortatory, high-minded terms. But under the guise of filling new wineskins with old wine, they are really draining the old wineskins of the old wine and filling them with new wine.

vi) And beyond generic liberalism is the particular bind for those who believe in apostolic succession and identify the true church with one institutional expression. Come what may, they are committed to the system. This is the only wheel in town. You can only reform the system from within the system. You can never buck the system itself.

Now, for an evangelical, when liberals infiltrate a denomination to the point where they outvote the faithful, the faithful simply leave and either join another evangelical denomination or form a new one.

But you can’t do that in Catholicism, for that would be schismatic. You can’t challenge the system itself. You must go through proper channels.

And so, in order to keep as many people on board as possible, there is a certain amount of fudging and retrofitting and corner-cutting. A sincere commitment to a flawed system will commit a man to a certain amount of special-pleading to keep it afloat.

vii) Apropos (vi), company men have a vested interest in rendering their tenure unfalsifiable. The “Pedantic Protestant” gave us some textbook examples, viz., Marxism, Darwinism, Freudian psychology.

There is a place for principled distinctions, but some distinctions only exist to leave an escape route. And this is what is on public display with Catholicism. No matter who it is I quote, I’m greeted with the same game of hide-and-seek, cat-and-mouse. “Can’t catch me!” “Can’t catch me!”

At a certain level, this will work. But it comes at a cost to itself. If everyone is passing the buck and making excuses--“Not my dept. Go down the hall, then make a right turn, and a left turn, and a right, turn, and a left turn, and two right turns followed by two left turns, then take the elevator to the fifth floor, then walk across the sky-bridge, then take the elevator to the lower basement, then go through the underground tunnel, then…”—well then your church stands for nothing.

<< Fourth, your questions about the authorship of the Biblical text presuppose that ancient standards for authorship claims are the same as present standards--a dubious presupposition.>>

No, there has been quite a lot written on pseudonymity in the ancient world by Donald Guthrie and others. I’m applying ancient standards to ancient literature, not modern standards.

<< Fifth, I'm afraid I don't see why I need to make any "arguments" about what Archbishop Chaput meant. It's part and parcel of both Molinism and Thomism that people who actually do X (where X is a free act) could have done differently. So when Chaput says "Mary (who actually said "yes") could have said 'no,'" there's really no mystery about what he meant. The notion you seem to have that he was endorsing openism is just absurd. >>

<< Actually, I should add what I consider an important point. Your interpretation of Chaput's comment is a wonderful illustration of your overall approach to Church documents. You take the worst possible reading, and assume it is the only sensible one. That is, that one sentence of Chaput's is indeed compatible with Openism. So you read it that way, and attack Catholic teaching for being openist. But in so doing, you completely fail to recognize that that one sentence is also compatible with either Thomism or Molinism, and, furthermore, that basic considerations of exegetical method would make it imperative to interpret Chaput in the latter sense. >>

i) I never classified Chaput as an open theist. You have imputed that to me. I don’t need to classify Chaput to comment on what he said.

ii) You are defending Chaput by invoking two mutually exclusive theories of providence. What is this—an epistemic lottery? If Chaput is a Molinist and Molinism is right, he wins, but if Chaput is a Molinist, and Molinism is wrong, he loses. If Chaput is a Thomist, and Thomism is right, he wins, but if Chaput is a Thomist, and Thomism is wrong, he loses.

So by your own odds, he only has a 50/50 chance of getting it right. By my own odds he has zero chance of getting it right because Molinism is a flawed theory while Thomism is a good deal better, but incompatible with the open-ended scenario proposed by Chaput.

Okay, just to show how charitable I can be, suppose we split the difference and say that Chaput has only a 1-in-4 chance of being right. I can live with those odds. What about you?

<< The idea that everyone ought to follow Jesus in precisely the same way is simply an uncatholic idea. There are various vocations. Some people are called to the priesthood, some to religious life, some to life in (but not of)the world. I'm a father and husband. I have a profession. My obligations are different from Francis's. My calling is different from Francis's. If I tried to live as St. Francis did, I'd be failing to follow Jesus as I've been called to. >>

You’re right. It’s a very uncatholic idea. Catholicism has this two-tiered piety, with the laity on the lower tier and a spiritual elite of monks and nuns on the upper tier.

Is that how you interpret the Sermon on the Mount? Is the Sermon on the Mount only for some Christians, and not for all Christians?

You then have a lengthy postscript on the relation between inspiration, apostolicity, and canonicity. This amounts to a long-winded straw man argument.

What I originally said was self-explanatory: "Why do we believe that such a letter is inspired at all? Although you don’t have to be an Apostle to be inspired, you have to be inspired to be an Apostle. Their apostolicity is the traditional reason that Petrine and Pauline letters are believed to be inspired in the first place."

Turning this into a syllogism:
i) All apostolic authors are inspired
ii) Not all inspired authors are apostolic
iii) Peter is an apostolic author
iv) Ergo: 1-2 Peter are inspired writings

You then upturn this proposition into the following, and impute that to me:
i) All inspired authors are apostolic
ii) Not all NT authors are apostolic
iii) Ergo, not all NT writings are inspired

i) Apostolicity is the only criterion of canonicity
ii) Not all NT writings are apostolic
iii) Ergo, not all NT writings are canonical

There is really nothing here for me to respond to. One has only to compare what I said with what you made of it to see the patent misrepresentation, whether intentional or not.

I never brought up the subject of canonicity. FYI, I’ve already posted an essay on “The canon of Scripture.”

<< So Apostolicity, in my view, is not at all threatened by a late dating of certain epistles, nor are claims of authorship called into question, provided what was meant by an attribution of authorship to an deceased apostle was simply the assertion of the apostolicity (in the sense discussed above) of the teaching therein. >>

Apostolicity is not threatened by the fact that a letter said to be by Peter was written long after he died. It is this sort of parsing, special-pleading, and double-talk that makes it possible for Catholics like you to accommodate any contradiction, however blatant, in any Catholic source, however authoritative.

<< The reason we believe they are inspired is that the Church tells us they are, and the Church knows that because she has always treated them as inspired by reading them to the faithful during the liturgy. >>

i) Up until Vatican II, the Church always told you that books of the Bible were written by the men they were said to be written by.

ii) I always find it striking that otherwise intelligent and reasonable Roman Catholics fail to see the regressive fallacy lurking in this appeal. “We know the Bible is inspired because our church tell us so.” And how do you know that your church is inspired in telling you so?

Teflon Catholicism

Patrick said:
<< Roman Catholics are supposed to defer to the PBC in the same way any reasonable person should defer to any body of experts. >>

i) Is it really as simple as that? Doesn’t every Catholic seminary or Catholic college with a school of theology have its own body of experts? Are they all on a par with the PBC? Or is the function of the PBC to set the guidelines for other experts in this field?

ii) Every Evangelical denomination has its own body of experts. And we are a liberty to quote from each other’s body of experts as well.

But one of the main things which is supposed to set Catholicism off from all the other denominations is not expertise, but authority. Due to a divine teaching office, you have a review process and accountability system which is supposed to confer on your church an epistemic advantage over us benighted Evangelicals who have no magisterium.

iii) I’d also reiterate that this is not just about the PBC. For when I and others pull rank and quote the Pope or the Prefect, we get exactly the same line. So it matters not how high up the chain-of-command we go. We are treated to the very same disclaimer. Whether I cite magisterial or non-magisterial statements, whether I cite ordinary or extraordinary magisterial statements, the response is always the same—the same wiggle room, the same “that was then, this is now,” even now, it’s not for us to say. So the bottom-line is that there is no bottom-line. I keep digging, I keep peeling away layers of the onion, but no example I ever cite from your own official sources ever sticks. This is Teflon Catholicism.

<< IOW the kinds of things that are important to scripture scholars qua scripture scholars simply are not important for lay Catholics, or Protestants, qua believers seeking to know and love their God. >>

<< As long as they believe that (and all that it entails), abstruse worries like what human being penned the Petrine epistles are hardly of interest. (Always provided, of course, that the primary authorship of the Holy Spirit is affirmed.) >>

i) Well, you’re free to speak as a Catholic layman, but speaking for myself, this is not an abstruse issue. If a NT letter is said, in the letter itself, to be written by Peter or Paul, then is this statement true or false?

Does the Holy Spirit inspire falsehoods? Does the Holy Spirit inspire forgeries?

And if this statement is false, what other falsehoods are made in the course of the letter?

ii) Why do we believe that such a letter is inspired at all? Although you don’t have to be an Apostle to be inspired, you have to be inspired to be an Apostle. Their apostolicity is the traditional reason that Petrine and Pauline letters are believed to be inspired in the first place.

<< It's quite acceptable for the apologist to say, of a non-magisterial documents, that there's a mistake. >>

Maybe so, but in that event, what is his frame of reference? Since it was the magisterium which put the PBC in place, and is responsible for appointing its members, he is not judging the PBC by a higher standard. Since the magisterium set the review process in place (nihil obstat, imprimatur, imprimi potest), he is not judging these publications by a higher standard. So, as a practical matter, the divine teaching office is moot. This is not where he is looking for his source of guidance.

<< Steve, you simply drain all nuance from the things you talk about. There is room for a great deal of freedom within the Church. >>

Yes, there’s a lot of freedom in the RCC. A lot of nuance. But that is not what is supposed to set you apart from us anathematical schismatics. You are supposed to have something extra, something better. What sets you apart is not liberty, but authority—not nuance, but certainly.

<< I do wonder if you're prepared to concede the other points I made about your grasp of Catholicism--specifically, your failure to understand Molinism and your utter failure to understand St. Francis. >>

i) I’m happy to concede a good argument. If and when you are prepared to make an argument for Molinism, and apply it to Chaput’s hypothetical, I’ll give it a fair hearing. But all you did, the last time I checked, was to make assertions, not arguments. If you don’t give reasons, there is nothing for me to concede.

ii) As to St. Francis, this is something Randy Gritter brought up. He thinks it’s relevant, I don’t. I only responded because he brought it up.

Randy acts as though the RCC has a monopoly on holiness. He also acts as though the post-Tridentine, post-modernist Church of Rome has an exclusive contract with any Latin Christian who lived before the Reformation. Now, this may make perfect sense for a Roman Catholic with a Catholic view of church history, but to urge it on a Calvinist (or any other Evangelical) as a disproof of Calvinism in particular or Evangelicalism in general simply begs the question.

I would also note that although my take on St. Francis has come under fire, no one has taken issue with my factual characterization.

And, frankly, there’s something not a little hypocritical about having Catholics who wallow in a modern-American standard of living urging the example of St. Francis on me or any other Protestant. Do you personally emulate the lifestyle of St. Francis? For you and Randy and others to keep harping on this issue is self-incriminating.

St. Francis was a godly man. But he had a simplistic grasp of the Sermon on the Mount.

Now, either your agree with his interpretation or you don’t. If you think he was right, then why aren’t you doing the same thing? And if you think he was wrong, what’s your beef with me? Why should he be an example to me when he is no example to you?

I’d add that if every Catholic were to follow in his footsteps, the Vatican would be broke and childless. Poverty and chastity do not fill churches or pay the light bills.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Divine simplicity

<< Our arguments against Calvin are the same that we would make against Thomas. That is absolute divine simplicity. That is why I think your view is semi-Origenistic. I see that you are not familiar with the Origenist dialectic.

I have written a paper on the issue of Monenergism and showed how the Origenist dialectic and it's presupposition of the Good as absolutely simple was the motivating factor to root the will in hypostasis or that the divine will had to determine the human will for Christ to go to the Cross, not to mention the type of movement that the Saints enjoy in the Eschaton.

I take libertarian free-will to be a necessary condition to hold to a correct view of God. Why? Because God can create or not create, both of those two options are not the same, and God did not have to create anything at all. That is alternate possibilities. The type of necessity that we are talking about with regards to ADS (absolute divine simplicity) is the same kind that is had by God's existence. Is that existence contingent? No, it is not. So if the act of will to create is identical to God's existence, and God's existence is not contingent, then neither is creation (goodbye creation ex nihilo). Thus, you cannot have a distinction between the acts of generation and acts of creation on a logical level. >>

By way of reply:

1. I didn’t say I was unfamiliar with the Origenist dialectic. It is just not my job to argue both sides of the case. But you and Perry may well have a more specialized knowledge of Byzantine theology than I. And, in any event, it is your own interpretation which figures in your argument,, such as it is. So I don’t mind reading your paper.

2. Appeal to the doctrine of divine simplicity (hereafter DDS) is a very different argument from Perry’s. You are, of course, entitled to make your own case your own way. But it leaves most of my replies to Perry untouched.

3. There is also the recurring problem of theological method. You are reiterating the same mistake as Perry, which is to suppose that you can dispatch Calvinism through a philosophical short-cut.

I remind you again that Calvinism does not posit philosophical reasoning as its truth-condition. Many tenets of Calvinism, such as unconditional election, reprobation, absolute providence, irresistible grace, perseverance, penal substitution, special redemption, sola fide, covenant theology, and the like, claim their basis in exegetical theology and the logical interrelation of doctrines thus derived.

Whether or not we adopt DDS, and, if so, which version we adopt, this is not a silver bullet against doctrines derived from divine revelation. Urging DDS upon Calvinism is not an adequate disproof of a belief-system grounded in lines of evidence independent of DDS.

If you wish to rebut Calvinism on its own grounds, you must either
i) rebut our exegesis, or
ii) rebut our rule of faith (sola Scriptura)

Otherwise, your efforts are just a straw man argument.

4. You also need to differentiate between Reformed distinctives and Reformed incidentals. DDS is not distinctive to Calvinism. It doesn’t issue from the inner logic of Calvinism, per se. It is, at most, a traditional carryover from Scholasticism.

5. In addition, Calvinism has, at most, a minimal commitment to DDS. For example, the Westminster Confession says that God is without “body, parts, or passions” (WCF 2:1), but that doesn’t offer any detailed model of DDS.

In Calvin, too, there is trace-evidence of the Scholastic doctrine, but again, without the minute elaboration.

6. DDS takes its inspiration from two different sources.

i) There is the Neoplatonic primacy of the one over the many. I don’t see that Calvinism has any logical or historical commitment to this presupposition. Given, indeed, the doctrine of the Trinity, it is incumbent upon us to affirm the equal ultimacy of the one and the many.

There is also a sense in which this version of DDS is actually at odds with the deeper meaning of simplicity, which is not to factor everything down to a lowest common denominator, but rather, to deny that any one thing about God is less fundamental than something else. So DDS can be understood as an anti-reductive program rather than a reductive program.

By contrast, this Neoplatonic priority is far more axial to your own theological center of gravity—a la Byzantine theology.

ii) There is also the attempt to arrive at a negative definition of God as a being who subsists outside the space-time continuum--once we strip away the attributes proper to a concrete object.

On this view, DDS is not so much an attempt to arrive at a positive definition of God, but to say what he is not. It is more of a method than a definition.

And this doesn’t mean that God has no positive properties. The method is abstractive or negative, but not the object.

This is also, as well you know, a feature of Byzantine theological method, on loan from Neoplatonism. But as a merely methodological device, it doesn’t posit any properties, such as the priority of the one.

A Scholastic like Aquinas will express DDS in Aristotelian categories (e.g. form/matter, substance/accident; potentiality/actuality; genus/differentia). A Calvinist is not bound that these categories, except as different ways of expressing a mode of subsistence outside of time and space.

And the residual can be fleshed out by the ascriptions of the Bible. Indeed, it is due to God’s self-revelation of what he is that we can say what he is not. Having wiped the slate clean, it can be filled in by Scripture.

Two steps are required to complete this process:
a) An adequate theory of analogical predication and
b) A harmonistic principle to distinguish anthropomorphic ascriptions from literal ascriptions. But this can be done, and has been done.

To turn DDS into an objection to Calvinism, you would have to demonstrate that Calvinism has a logical commitment to version (a) of DDS. That is a very tall order.

St. Janus

<< Patrick:

I think Steve Hays pretty obviously believes that the placing of people like Fr. Brown on the PBC proves that the Catholic Chuch has liberalized itself, even if you yourself would avoid making such an error. Hays has repeatedly pointed to these appointments to "prove" that Dave and others are not really in line with the Church as a whole: he seems to have no grasp of the distinction between the sinfulness of members of the Church (including her highest officials) on one hand, and the teaching and life of the Church on the other. >>

No, actually the beauty of my argument is that it works either way. If you have Evangelicals who converted to Rome for conservative reasons, for a foundation of religious certainty, and if Roman Catholics are supposed to defer to the PBC, then if Evangelical converts do not defer to the PBC, their conversion is insincere.

But my argument doesn’t depend on that particular prong of the dilemma. Suppose a convert to the faith says, as a matter of principle, that he is not bound by the PBC?

Suppose he says, To hell with the PBC? I can believe whatever I want about the Bible. I can be to the right of the PBC or the left of the PBC?

Now, if he wants to take this position, then that plays into my argument just as well. For it makes a mockery of having a PBC in the first place. And it makes a mockery of the magisterium which put it in place.

What’s the point of the PBC if not to set the parameters for what is out of bounds? If you choose, let us say, to take a more traditional view of Scripture, then you are not looking to the modern magisterium for guidance. You are forming your own views independent of the magisterium. And if you, as a Catholic, don’t take the institutions of the RCC seriously, why should anyone else?

BTW, let us keep in mind that the PBC is not merely some adjunct body under the magisterium. Its membership is not limited to lowly members of the priesthood. Its membership includes some bishops and cardinals who are members of the magisterium in their own right.

But, yes, I happen to think that the choice of a subordinate says something about the superior who chose him. A superior chooses a subordinate who is simpatico with his own views. He doesn’t choose a subordinate who subverts his own views—not knowingly, at least. And if he does mistakenly make such a choice, he can unmake it as well. It is striking to see the number of Catholics who play dumb about something so very obvious as this.

Yet it isn’t merely a matter of inference. For even when we go further up the food chain, we find that the very same folks who thumb their nose at the PBC feel just as free to flip off the Prefect or the Pope when you cite their liberal views of Scripture, or salvation—or whatever else.

In the end, what’s the difference between a liberal and a conservative Catholic? Liberal Catholics dismiss conservative expressions of the magisterium, while conservative Catholics dismiss liberal expressions of the magisterium.

And that’s fine with me. They’re just doing my job for me. With enemies like that, who needs friends?

Of course the RCC has liberalized. You can see this in many respects and at many levels. Just compare Vatican II to ecumenical councils before it (e.g., Vatican I, Florence, Lateran IV), and you can see for yourself that the RCC has liberalized in its doctrine of Scripture, tradition, and salvation.

You have to wonder what would ever count as evidence against the RCC from the way that some of the converts talk. No matter how high-placed the source, they excuse it. If you want to see where the extremes of blind faith, skepticism, and libertinism meet, just tune into an “Evangelical Catholic" defending his new-found faith.

Taking Mother Church at her word

Frogg said:

<< Q:In what sense is Vatican II different from Vatican I on this point?

A:Simple, you have a point blank contradiction. Just compare the two statements.

Really? Let's see. But first, it seems a little shallow to believe that the Church would contradict itself, as you say, so blatantly. >>

i) This is not a question of what we’re prepared to believe. This is a question of documenting what was actually said.

ii) Actually, Vatican II tries to smooth over the transition by what it says in the paragraph just before, which sounds more like Vatican I.

But that softening up exercise doesn’t change the fact that when you get to the paragraph I reproduced, you are confronted with a totally different definition of tradition.

<< VI:
[quote]“If anyone says that it is possible that at some time, given the advancement of knowledge, a sense may be assigned to the dogmas propounded by the Church which is different from that which the Church has understood and understands: let him be anathema.”[/quote]

[quote]“This tradition which comes from the Apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit.[5] For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down…For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.”[/quote]

This tradition. What tradition? Are dogmatic constitutions considered tradition, or are they based on an understanding of tradition? I would say the latter. >>

i) Now you’re equivocating. You know as well as I that in Catholicism, not everything in ecclesiastical tradition rises to the level of Sacred Tradition, in the dogmatic sense. But, yes, Conciliar pronouncements certainly count as Sacred Tradition. Do you really deny that?

ii) And, with all due respect, I think you’re missing the point. Your disjunction would make sense on the old Tridentine view of tradition, but on the view of Vatican II, there is no bright line between tradition and the church’s understanding thereof. Tradition is an incremental, evolutionary thing.

<< The teaching of VII can be found in the writings of Augustine, so that not only does VII not deny VI, but can be shown to be ancient. >>

To invoke Augustine does nothing at all to harmonize the wording of Vatican I with the wording of Vatican II. The bishops of Vatican I were free to go down that road if they wanted to, but they didn’t.

As to the relevant background information, there are different ways of approaching that question. I quoted from more of Vatican I than you are quoting from me. Vatican I also reaffirms the two-source model of tradition, in a carryover from Trent.

By contrast, Vatican II says that sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition make up a single deposit of faith (Dei Verbum 2:10).

There is also the equivalent of legislative intent. For example, how do the periti to Vatican II understand the nature of tradition? They were, after all, official consultants to the bishops, and therefore highly qualified commentators on what Vatican II was up to. And two of the leading periti were Rahner and Ratzinger.

Just consider what I cited from Ratzinger in my recent essay on “Who speaks for Rome?”

According to him, the unanimous view of tradition prior to Vatican II, as attested by “all theological faculties in the world,” is that tradition was equatable with the faithful transmission of “fixed formulas and texts” from the past.

Ratzinger then opposes to this his own position, in a dramatic break with the past. For him, tradition is a “living process.” Note, he doesn’t say that the “interpretation” of tradition is a living process. No, tradition itself is a living process. This is a sea-change in the traditional view of tradition. Get it?

You get the same thing in Rahner, whom I quoted the second installment of my “Back to Babylon” series:

“These structures can be understood this way even if they cannot be traced back to a specific, unambiguous and historically identifiable saying of Jesus which founds them," Foundations of the Christian Faith, 331.

" is not basically and absolutely necessary that we would have to trace back to an explicit saying of Jesus the more concrete structures of the constitution of the (Catholic) church which the church now declares are always obligatory," ibid., 332.

"...It is ultimately unimportant whether this or that element of the church as it is being formed in apostolic times can be traced more or less directly back to the historical Jesus, or whether it is to be understood as a historical but still irreversible decision of the church which lies within the genuine possibilities of the original church," ibid., 332

Contrary to Trent, you no longer need dominical tradition—or even apostolic tradition. You no longer need to say that things like the priesthood were instituted by Christ himself—or even by the Apostles. No more one-time deposit of faith.

<< You are of course correct. There is nothing wrong with posting what is said. Yet it is not without opinion. The context in which you posted was opinionated, maybe not a full explanation, but you set the stage. Just read the title to this blog entry, are you not trying to sway ones opinion? >>

Sure, I have an agenda. It’s not a hidden agenda. It’s right out there in the open. I also quote from online documents and give the links so that every reader can check my quotes and study excerpts in the original context.

<< Does Florence really teach this? Short answer: No.

Sure, it uses some of the same words you use, yet with, for example, circumcision, the Church was not saying that all those who are circumcised are damned, but all those who are religiously circumcised, for salvations sake>>

Short answer: Yes.

Go back and read it again. “Therefore it strictly orders all who glory in the name of Christian, not to practise circumcision either before or after baptism, since whether or not they place their hope in it, it cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation.”

It doesn’t matter what your motive is: “whether or not they place their hope in it…”

Catholics need to acquire the habit of reading the fine print. The irony is that I, as a Protestant, take Rome at her word, whereas you and Armstrong and Gritter do not.

I’d add that you’re nibbling around the edges here. It isn’t just the circumcised that are said to be excluded.

<< Your reasoning seems to me to be no different then those who charge the bible with contradictions. Put two verses side by side and let the chips fall where they may. >>

Nice try, but I already addressed that comparison in my exchange with Randy Gritter.