Friday, March 30, 2007

Other Beliefs About Mary

Earlier this week, I posted an article on the perpetual virginity of Mary in response to the claims made by Philip Blosser in his reply to Steve Hays. In addition to his claims about the perpetual virginity of Mary, Blosser refers to other Marian doctrines in the church fathers. For example, he claims that Augustine "clearly argues for the sinlessness of Mary" (as quoted on p. 126 in Steve's reply to Blosser). Readers may be interested in articles I've written on the sinlessness of Mary here and here. Augustine is among the sources I address. Regarding the Assumption of Mary, see here and here. On the subject of the woman of Revelation 12, see here. Regarding prayers to Mary and Mary's status in Heaven, see here. On venerating images of Mary, see here.

Also worth noting is that many of the individual themes and Biblical passages that Roman Catholics apply to Mary aren't applied in that manner by the earliest patristic sources. For example, while Roman Catholics often see the queen of Psalm 45 as Mary, Justin Martyr refers to the queen as the church (Dialogue With Trypho, 63). Roman Catholics often parallel Mary to the ark of the covenant, but the earliest ark parallels among the church fathers identify Jesus or something else, not Mary, as the parallel to the ark (Irenaeus, Fragments From The Lost Writings Of Irenaeus, 48; Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, 5:6; Tertullian, The Chaplet, 9; Hippolytus, On Daniel, 2:6; etc.). Catholics often cite Revelation 11:19 as a reference to Mary's bodily assumption, whereas the earliest patristic interpreter of the passage doesn't even see Mary as the ark (Victorinus, Commentary On The Apocalypse Of The Blessed John, 11:19).

Catholics often respond by arguing that the fathers might have believed that these passages refer to Mary, even though they don't say so in their writings. That's possible, but how likely is it? For example, if so many ante-Nicene fathers comment on the ark of the covenant, and none of them draw the parallels that modern Catholics are drawing, how likely is it that they held the modern Catholic view, but just happened to repeatedly mention some other interpretation instead? As these fathers show us, we can make sense of these passages of scripture without appealing to a Marian interpretation. Why, then, should we think that some additional Marian interpretation is appropriate?

12 comments:

  1. Jason wrote: "As these fathers show us, we can make sense of these passages of scripture without appealing to a Marian interpretation. Why, then, should we think that some additional Marian interpretation is appropriate?"

    Because, over the centuries, theological reflection by the best minds in church history have enabled The Church to better understand the fullness of the plan of God.

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  2. John said:
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    Because, over the centuries, theological reflection by the best minds in church history have enabled The Church to better understand the fullness of the plan of God.
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    What's the difference between saying that and agreeing that the early church did NOT believe these things?

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  3. The "seeds" for these things existed. As Newman has said, "no doctrine is defined until it is volated." These things were held and understood by some, but not all, it is true. But that is because the magisterium had not had a chance to reflect and judge on these things. Continuing Newman's argument, "St. Peter's prerogative would remanin a mere letter, till the complications of ecclesiastical matters became the cause of ascertaining it. While Christians were "of one heart and one soul," it would be suspended; love dispenses with laws....The regalia petri might sleep, as the power of a Chancellor had slept; not as an obolete, for they never had ben carried into effect, but as a mysterious privilege, which was not understood; as an unfulfilled prophecy. For St. Ignatius to speak of Popes, when it was a matter of Bishops, would have been like sending an army to arrest a housebreaker. The Bishop's power indeed was from God, and the Popes could be no more; he, as well as the Pope, was our Lord's representative, and had a sacramental office: But I am speaking, not of the intrinsic sanctity or divinity of such office, but of its duties...

    "When the Church, then was thrown upon her own resources, first local disturbances gave exercise to Bishops, next ecumenical disturbances gave exercise to Popes; and whether communion wit the Pope was necessry for Catholicity would not and could not be debated till a suspension of that communion had actually occurred."

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  4. John said:
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    The "seeds" for these things existed.
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    So you're surely able to show us these "seeds", right? If they were actually there in history, you ought to be able to demonstrate it...otherwise, your above statement is mere assertion.

    John said:
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    These things were held and understood by some, but not all, it is true.
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    Okay, so show us who did "understand" these Marian doctrines. Also, given the fact that not only were these doctrines not held by all, but many early fathers held the exact opposite view as espoused by modern Catholicism, could I not also honestly use history to show that your view was not held by the early Church?

    You said:
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    But that is because the magisterium had not had a chance to reflect and judge on these things.
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    This demonstrates two things for us: 1) the necessity of the Catholic to hold to sola Ecclesia to establish the extent of truth; and 2) the need for the magisterium to get involved in the first place proves the "seeds" that supposedly existed weren't clear in the first place, casting doubt upon a) the applicability of these "seeds" and b) their very existence.

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  5. Peter -- I confess. I am a bitter antiCatholic, though I am feeling a bit mischievous today. But I have never seen a genuine scholarly response to Newman's Doctrine of Development. If you are aware of such a work, I'll certainly try to read it. But I have never seen a Protestant response to it, except in bits and pieces, and yet, that is the thing upon which modern Catholicism rests. Jason has addressed many of the doctrines, at a specific level, and you have as well, addressed specific developments. I laughed out loud when I read your first response, it seemed so clear and straightforward. Thank you.

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  6. John, I know that you've identified yourself now, but it’s probably not a good idea for you to take this sort of approach in a forum in which some people don’t know who you are. And it’s difficult for those who do know who you are to judge how much needs to be said and how much doesn’t. Are you wanting people to comment on the arguments you’re putting forward? Or are you just posting the arguments to illustrate how unreasonable those arguments are? How convincing do you think the arguments are? If you don't consider them particularly good arguments, then other people may not want to take the time to explain the problems with those arguments for your benefit. If they do take the time to do it, then find out that you were never particularly concerned about the arguments, they might be disappointed that their time was wasted. There’s no way for us to know just what your intention is if you don’t explain it. Subtlety can have some advantages, but I think you were being overly subtle.

    Peter has made some relevant points in response to what you’ve cited, and I would add the following. The doctrines in question were “violated”, as Newman put it, explicitly, repeatedly, and widely. The material I’ve written and have linked to in these posts documents that fact. When sources like the apocryphal literature on Mary’s assumption and Pelagius advocated something like the modern Roman Catholic beliefs about Mary, for example, the church fathers repeatedly responded by rejecting those concepts. As far as the papacy is concerned, every allegedly schismatic or heretical group that existed was in some manner violating the concept of the papacy, and many such groups existed from the first century onward. If such violations would bring about highly visible advocacy of the concept of a papacy, then why didn’t such violations bring about such advocacy?

    Remember, these posts are responses to the interaction between Philip Blosser and Steve Hays. Steve responds to Newman, and quotes critics of Newman at length, in his reply to Blosser. What you've quoted from Newman doesn't require any highly specified response such as the ones Steve cites, since the general principles Newman is discussing are repeatedly contradicted in the material I've cited in these posts. But if you want something more specifically aimed at Newman's arguments, then you could consult something like the works Steve mentions in his reply to Blosser.

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  7. Jason, I made the first comment as a joke, in response to a post that you had made, knowing fully well that you would take it as a joke. I didn't even think that anyone else would respond to it, and as I am not totally unknown in these circles, I just simply thought it would be viewed as a joke. Peter's first response genuinely took my breath away, by the power and simplicity of it. Knowing that he responded to what he thought was a serious objection, I thought that I would take an opportunity to press the question just a bit further, reasoning that Peter had genuinely thought about the issue and would have a very good anser. I was correct in that, at least. I realize now that I should have "come clean" after the first instance and simply asked my question directly.

    But I have been genuinely mulling over the "Doctrine of Development" and yes, while Steve addresses some components of it, as I mentioned, I have not seen just a simple and complete treatment of the doctrine of development from a thoughtful protestant. I wanted to see how a thoughtful protestant would respond to what I thought was the "high level thinking" behind Newman's doctrine.

    As I said, I was feeling just a bit of mischief, and I made an attempt at what I thought was going to be light-hearted humor. There was no intent to deceive, and I'm sorry if it caused any distress to anyone.

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  8. John,

    I didn’t think you were trying to be deceptive.

    Concerning development of doctrine, I imagine that many people don’t interact with the concept at length because the most significant issues related to it are already addressed in the disputes that occur frequently between Roman Catholics and Protestants and between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. In other words, few people needed somebody like Newman to explain these things to them. Catholic appeals to development don’t receive so little attention because they’re so good, but because they’re so bad.

    Much of what Catholics say about doctrinal development was already known to the people Catholics think they’re educating. Perhaps some of the relevant issues aren’t often expressed explicitly, and some people might not have given the issues much or any thought, but a lot of the better informed Protestants and Eastern Orthodox are already aware of factors like the ones Catholics mention so often when appealing to development. I doubt that many Protestants are unaware of the fact that it would be possible for a widespread belief to go unmentioned for a period of time or in some contexts, for example. When Protestants mention that a belief is absent from the historical record for a period of time, I doubt that many of those Protestants, if any, are unaware of the fact that they would need a reason to expect the doctrine in question to be mentioned. They may not often explicitly describe the reasons they have for expecting the doctrine to be mentioned, if it was a doctrine held by people at the time, but they do have such reasons in mind. I think that the Catholic appeal to development is largely an appeal to factors people already knew about and were already taking into account, but which aren’t often explicitly discussed.

    But there are other elements of the Catholic appeal to development that aren’t commonly accepted, but instead are commonly rejected. The idea of accepting a development like a monarchical form of church government (the papacy) on the basis that it seems fitting or produces more unity, for example, is just an appeal to speculative preferences. The fact that we find a form of church government fitting in some way or more likely to produce some form of unity, for example, isn’t sufficient grounds for accepting that form of church government as a Divinely approved development.

    From what I’ve seen, it seems to me that Catholic appeals to development combine the obvious with the speculative. But neither is what’s needed to settle these disputes. We don’t need somebody to tell us that doctrines not mentioned in the historical record might have been held by people anyway, despite their absence in the historical record. And we don’t need somebody to tell us that a papacy would have some practical benefits in some contexts. What we need is evidence that the papacy or some other disputed doctrine was intended by an agent of Divine revelation. After years of discussing these issues with Roman Catholics, I have yet to see any of them produce such evidence.

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  9. Jason, however bad the argument is for development of doctrine, it is now foundational to the current Catholic doctrine of the papacy:

    "In his Message to those attending the symposium, the Holy Father wrote: 'The Catholic Church is conscious of having preserved, in fidelity to the Apostolic Tradition and the faith of the Fathers, the ministry of the Successor of Peter'. In the history of the Church, there is a continuity of doctrinal development on the primacy...."

    http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/CDFPRIMA.HTM

    What a far cry this from what they used to say about the papacy. And yet they know they must use this defense of the papacy, because it is the best that they have.

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  10. I agree, John. It’s all they have, and it isn’t enough.

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  11. Oh man! See what happens? I go to a hockey game and when I get back the Catholic responder has become an antiCatholic.

    I should watch hockey more often :-)

    Thanks for clarifying who you were, John, as I did not know. Like Jason said, I don't think you were being intentionally deceptive since you assumed people knew you...so joke's on me and all :-P

    For what it's worth, you got the Catholic position perfectly--I can't number the time's I've heard that response to the question!

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  12. Peter, thanks for understanding, and thanks for taking on my questions. You have helped me a great deal.

    How about those Penguins? I was a big fan in 1991 and 1992 when they were winning it all, but I have since lost touch. They seemed so hopeless. It's amazing how one year (and one player!) can turn things around so mightily.

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