I’ve reviewed most of Cardinal Dulles’ recent book on the Magisterium: Teacher & Guardian of the Faith (Sapientia 2007). Now I’ll circle back and review his case for the Magisterium in the NT.
The first thing I’d note is the he begins with the NT data in building an exegetical case for the Magisterium. Yet that’s an illogical starting point.
In stating the “rationale” for the Magisterium, he argued for the antecedent probability of the Magisterium (4-5).
Now, I myself don’t accept that methodology. I think we should operate with a revealed rule of faith. Not resort to mere conjecture.
If, however, we grant his methodology for the same of argument, then the rationale for the Magisterium would apply, not only to the new covenant community, to the old covenant community.
So is there an OT magisterium, or the functional equivalent? The closest thing we have to a teaching office in the OT is the judicatory. Here are some representative passages:
9"At that time I said to you, 'I am not able to bear you by myself. 10The LORD your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are today as numerous as the stars of heaven. 11 May the LORD, the God of your fathers, make you a thousand times as many as you are and bless you, as he has promised you! 12 How can I bear by myself the weight and burden of you and your strife? 13 Choose for your tribes wise, understanding, and experienced men, and I will appoint them as your heads.' 14And you answered me, 'The thing that you have spoken is good for us to do.' 15So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and experienced men, and set them as heads over you, commanders of thousands, commanders of hundreds, commanders of fifties, commanders of tens, and officers, throughout your tribes. 16And I charged your judges at that time, 'Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. 17 You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. And the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.' 18And I commanded you at that time all the things that you should do.
18"You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.
8"If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case within your towns that is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place that the LORD your God will choose. 9 And you shall come to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. 10Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place that the LORD will choose. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you. 11According to the instructions that they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do. You shall not turn aside from the verdict that they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left. 12The man who acts presumptuously by not obeying the priest who stands to minister there before the LORD your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. 13And all the people shall hear and fear and not act presumptuously again.
2 Chronicles 19:8-11
8Moreover, in Jerusalem Jehoshaphat appointed certain Levites and priests and heads of families of Israel, to give judgment for the LORD and to decide disputed cases. They had their seat at Jerusalem. 9And he charged them: "Thus you shall do in the fear of the LORD, in faithfulness, and with your whole heart: 10 whenever a case comes to you from your brothers who live in their cities, concerning bloodshed, law or commandment, statutes or rules, then you shall warn them, that they may not incur guilt before the LORD and wrath may not come upon you and your brothers. Thus you shall do, and you will not incur guilt. 11And behold, Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of the LORD; and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the governor of the house of Judah, in all the king’s matters, and the Levites will serve you as officers. Deal courageously, and may the LORD be with the upright!"
Now, this is somewhat analogous to a teaching office insofar as a judge must interpret the law in order to apply the law. Of course, judges qua judges weren’t teaching the people. But it’s somewhat analogous.
Having said that, is the OT judicatory analogous to the Catholic Magisterium? No.
i) The composition of the OT judicatory wasn’t limited to a clerical class. It included local chieftains and tribal elders—as well as priests.
ii) Judicial rulings were not infallible. If they were infallible, you wouldn’t have an appellate process. What is more, if they were infallible, you wouldn’t have warnings about corrupt judges.
So there is no OT precedent for the Catholic Magisterium. Yet the logic of the argument would require an OT equivalent.
Let’s now transition to Dulles’ arguments:
“Jesus designates him [Peter] as the rock on whom the Church is to be built, gives him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and empowers him to bind and loose—terms probably signifying the authority to make binding decisions for the whole community” (12).
I’m not going to go into all the problems with this appeal, which I done elsewhere. But I’ll say the following:
i) Dulles seems to treat the keys as a separate prerogative from the power to bind and loose. I think it more likely that the keys are a metaphor for the power to bind and loose. And as Dulles admits on the next page, this same prerogative is conferred on the Twelve (Mt 18:18).
ii) Although I don’t reject the possibility that Peter is the referent in this verse, Gundry has argued otherwise in his commentary on Matthew, and he presents a respectable argument for his interpretation.
iii) Mt 16:18-19 says absolutely nothing about apostolic succession, Roman primacy or the papacy.
iv) Even if you believe in Petrine primacy and apostolic succession, that doesn’t select for Roman primacy or the papacy since Rome was not the only place where Peter ministered.
I could say more, but that’s a start.
“In the early chapters of acts, we see Peter as the unquestioned leader and spokesman of the apostolic leadership (Acts 1:15; 2:25; 4:8; 5:29; 10:24)” (12).
Except that if we see that in the “early” chapters of Acts, then we also see a shift in the later chapters of Acts, as other leaders come to the fore (e.g. Paul, James). So this appeal cuts both ways.
“In the two letters ascribe to him we see Peter from ‘Babylon’ (a code name for Rome) directing his fellow presbyters of other communities” (12-13).
i) Roman residency is quite insufficient to establish Roman primacy or the papacy. Unless there is something unique about Peter’s Roman residency, every place where he ministered could claim the same distinction.
ii) Apropos (i), he’s probably writing to other communities here he ministered.
iii) Contemporary Catholic scholars reject the Petrine authorship of 2 Peter, and they also question the Petrine authorship of 1 Peter. Ray Brown, in his NT introduction, is a case in point.
Speaking of which, Dulles refers the reader to the following material;
“On the concept of authorship in the New Testament era, see Raymond E. Brown, ‘Canonicity,’ New Jerome Biblical Commentary §89 (Prentice Hall, 1990), 1051-52…Still valuable is the article of Kurt Aland, ‘The Problem of Anonymity and Pseudonymity in Christian Literature of the First Two Centuries’…” (15n5).
And what does Brown say? “In principle there can be no objection to designating as pseudonymous 2 Peter, Jas, Jude, and the Pastorals, Col, Eph, and 2 Thes” (1051).
And Dulles himself says, “Leaders of the next generation, it would seem, sometimes exploited the reputation of the founders by attributing to Peter, Paul, James, and John writings composed after their death, turning the founders into literary mouthpieces to give added authority to later works…” (15).
Keep Dulles’ disclaimer in mind as we proceed. Moving along:
“When a dispute broke out about the need for Christians to observe the Mosaic Law, a consultation was held with the Apostles and presbyters at Jerusalem, who handed down a judgment that they attributed to themselves and the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:1-29)” (14).
i) This tells us nothing about the status of a church council absent the participation of Apostles.
ii) Dulles is assuming that Acts is historically reliable. But contemporary Catholic scholars are less sanguine. Fitzmyer, in his commentary, says “the issue of the historical character of the Lucan account in Acts has been well studied, and it is clear today that a middle ground has to be sought between the skeptical approach and a conservative reaction to it. Once has to admit that at times Luke’s information is faulty and that he has confused some things in his narrative…” (124), while Brown, in his NT introduction, accuses Luke of “romanticizing” early church history.
Continuing with Dulles:
“Since his [Paul’s] oral preaching and his letters are of equal authority, the community of Thessalonica is to stand firm and hold to both (2 Thes 2:15)” (15).
Two more problems:
i) This is one of the letters which Brown classifies as pseudonymous (ditto: Aland). As we’ve seen, Dulles himself endorses the thesis of canonical pseudepigrapha. In that event, 2 Thes 2:15 is not a Pauline command to the church of Thessalonica. Rather, it’s the command of a Pauline imposter.
ii) Bracketing Catholic scholarship, the Thessalonians should hold to the oral preaching which they heard direct from the lips of Paul himself. It doesn’t extend to allegedly apostolic tradition from some thirdhand source (or worse). To the contrary, this very epistle warns the reader to be wary of spurious apostolic communications (2:2; 3:17). That’s the point of 2 Thes 2:15. It’s the polar opposite of a blanket endorsement of allegedly apostolic traditions.
“The Church experienced the need for continuing doctrinal authority to see to it that the biblical message was faithfully proclaimed and rightly interpreted” (15-16).
That conclusion doesn’t follow from his prooftexts. Rather, it’s tacked on.
“It is not surprising, therefore, that in certain passages from the Gospels the Apostles are addressed in a manner that would seem to include their successors. For example, Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus promises to remain present until the end of the age with those whom he sends to speak and act in his name” (16).
i) Dulles is equivocating. Most Protestants don’t deny apostolic succession in the generic sense that the Apostles made disciples and appointed men to carry on after they died. But “apostolic succession” is a term of art with a specialized meaning in Catholic theology. Indeed, Dulles defines his terms at a later point:
“Each bishop receives with ordination the three functions (munera) discussed above in chapter 1: those of sanctifying, teaching, and governing. The capacity to exercise the munus of sanctifying, as occurs in sacramental actions such as the consecration of the Eucharist, is inseparable from the order itself, and can never be lost. The munera of teaching and pastoral rule, however, cannot be exercised except by bishops in the hierarchical communities with the head and members of the episcopal college (LG 22). Hierarchical communion, a condition for the exercise of these latter functions, is ruptured by schism or heresy” (49).
So this is what Dulles actually means by apostolic succession. Needless to say, you can’t get any of that from the text of Mt 28:19-20, and it’s deceptive to cite Mt 28:19-20 as a prooftext for apostolic succession when there’s such a gap between the content of the text and your operative definition.
ii) The kind of apostolic succession Matthew is dealing with is one generation of disciples making another generation of disciples—for the duration of the church age. This has nothing to do with “apostolic succession” in the Catholic sense of the term.
“Again, in his high-priestly prayer, Jesus asks the Father to consecrate his disciples in the truth (Jn 17:17-19). In other passages of the Last Discourse the reliability of the Apostles’ future testimony is attributed to the Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth, whose assistance is needed for every generation (14:26, 15:26-27, 16:7-15).
i) While 16:8-10 might apply to every generation, the scope of that statement is hardly restricted to the episcopate.
ii) Conversely, you can’t channel the other promises through 16:8-10, as if 14:26 and 15:26-27 apply to every generation. In context, they apply to the Apostolate.
So his prooftexts either prove too much or too little. They either apply too widely or too narrowly to single out the episcopate.
“Insofar as the Holy Spirit continues to keep the Church in the truth through the testimony of duly commissioned witnesses, the Church perpetually remains apostolic” (16).
i) That conclusion doesn’t follow from his Johannine prooftexts. It’s yet another add on.
ii) Even if, ex hypothesi, the inference were valid, it doesn’t single out the Roman Catholic church as the recipient of this promise. As usual, Catholic apologists have Catholicism etched on their spectacles, so whenever they see a promise to the church, they assume, without further ado, that this promise much be referring to their own denomination. But that isn’t exegesis.
“The prophets and teachers of Antioch lay hands on Barnabas and Paul with prayer and fasting when sending them on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:3).
And what does Dulles think that’s supposed to prove? Ordination? Holy Orders? But Paul was already an apostle. Barnabas was already an evangelist.
“Barnabas and Paul take pains to install presbyters in each of the churches they establish in Asia Minor…Peter and the Twelve lay hands on representatives of the Greek-speaking Christians at Jerusalem (Acts 6:6). Paul exhorts the presbyter-bishops of Ephesus to carry on his ministry as guardians commissioned by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28). To meet a crisis of leadership at Corinth, Paul affirms the authority of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicaus (1 Cor 16:15-18)” (16-17).
This is all irrelevant to the issue at hand. Except for the Plymouth Brethren, the Primitive Baptists, and a few Pentecostal fringe-groups, most every Protestant denomination accepts the principle of church office. We agree that the Apostles set up a regular Christian ministry. The Apostles laid the foundation, while pastors are custodians of that foundation.
None of the material cited by Dulles begins to specify the Catholic Magisterium. Indeed, drawing our attention to the house-church of Stephanas only reminds us of the vast gap between NT polity and Catholic polity.
“The preservation of continuity through duly commissioned, Spirit-=guided leaders is further developed in the Pastoral Letters…Paul instructs Titus…He likewise admonishes Timothy” (17).
It’s deceptive for Dulles to attribute these statements to Paul when Dulles, in fact, regards the Pastorals as pseudepigraphal. And this goes to the heart of his argument. Traditionally, the Pastorals were cited as evidence of apostolic succession under the assumption that they were written by an Apostle to one or more of his successors. That, alone, won’t get you apostolic succession, but that’s a necessary condition for the argument to have any traction.
If, however, you deny the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals, then what we actually have is an imposter who is writing to a fictitious deputy of Paul. The whole exercise is a literary artifice. Paul is not the writer, while Timothy and Titus are not the recipients. So even if, for the sake of argument, the Pastorals taught apostolic succession, that would be an imaginary apostolic succession.
Mind you, I don’t share Dulles’ views on pseudonymity. I’m merely evaluating his appeal on his own grounds.
Dulles proceeds to cite 1 Tim 4:14 and 2 Tim 1:6 to show that “the idea of apostolic succession in the ordained ministry is beginning to emerge” (17).
i) His interpretation is dubious. As a leading commentator notes, “the increasingly popular understanding of the ‘gift’ as a commissioning to office (making Timothy the paradigm of later church officers to whom the gifts and authority for ministry were limited) is out of place in this text,” P. Towner, The Letters To Timothy and Titus, 322.
“The language here and in the parallel text in 2 Tim 1:6 will not bear the strain imposed by making charisma into ‘office.” As Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 772-73, points out, even if in 4:14 the idea of neglecting an office is reasonable enough (though can an office be ‘in you’?), the imagery of fanning into flame the ‘gift of God’ cannot be applied sensibly to an ‘office’ (773). See also Marshall, 564-65,” ibid. 322n40.
ii) To say that we see the idea of apostolic succession “beginning to emerge” is prejudicial. This assumes that the Pastorals only present a seminal version of church polity. A work in progress. An unfinished product which has to be completed by subsequent, postapostolic developments.
But why should we assume that NT polity is deficient? Why not assume that Paul and other NT writers who speak to the subject laid down the necessary ingredients of church polity?
To Dulles, the NT data is defective because he views it through the lens of Catholicism. But does his viewpoint reflect the viewpoint of the NT writers?
If you’re Catholic, then, by definition, NT polity is inadequate since it falls far short of Catholic polity. You look at the data and see all the missing pieces.
But that’s a consequence of Catholic theology. That begs the question in favor of Catholicism. And whatever else that may be, it’s not exegesis.
He then has a section on the “Responsibilities of Pastors,” in which we read things like “Paul in the Second Letter of Timothy…to Titus he writes…Paul warns…(Eph 4:14)” (17-18).
Once more, it’s duplicitous of Dulles to attribute these statements to Paul when he denies the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles and Prison Epistles.
And there’s a larger point which he overlooks: he quotes the Pastorals to establish the authority of church office, but he doesn’t hold the Magisterium to the qualifications laid down in his deutero-Pauline prooftexts. What does Paul say on the subject?
1 Timothy 3:1-7
1The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
But many popes, cardinals, and bishops don’t measure up to this standard. If you applied that yardstick to the papacy, then many popes would be antipopes. If you applied that yardstick to the episcopate, then that would invalidate the ordination of many cardinals and bishops. If these are qualifications for church office, then noncompliance disqualifies you for (or from) church office.
Why is it that Catholics like Dulles appeal to the Pastorals in making a case for apostolic succession when they fail to measure the Magisterium by the actual job description contained therein? Because apostolic succession would immediately unravel.
It’s quite unscrupulous of Dulles to cite this material in support of Catholic ecclesiology when he’s so selective about how he applies it. He only cites it to establish the rights of a bishop, without holding bishops to the commensurate responsibilities. But if apostolic succession would come apart at the seams as soon as you compare the Magisterium with the Pauline job description, then that falsifies the Magisterium.
“Peter in his Second Letter…” (18).
But Dulles doesn’t believe that Peter wrote 2 Peter. It’s unethical of Dulles to take the position of Ray Brown or Kurt Aland on authorship, then continue to attribute these documents to their putative authors for polemical purposes.
“If the ‘angels’ of the seven churches of Asia Minor in the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation are, as many believe, bishops, we have here a confirmation that by late New Testament times each local church in Asia Minor may have had a single bishop as its pastor” (19).
Several problems with this inference:
i) There are good arguments for both the late dating and the early dating of Revelation.
ii) The identity of the “angels” is disputed. Aune rings the changes on the interpretive options. Cf. Revelation 1-5, 108-12.
iii) Even if we identify the “angels” as church officers, that wouldn’t establish singular eldership. The “messengers” could just as well be delegates to Patmos from the seven churches of Asia Minor.
iv) Dulles is apparently unaware of the fact that, as Aune points out, “sometimes the address shifts to the second person plural” (109). So the singular number is not used throughout. Rather, it alternates with the plural number, depending on the context.
v) Dulles is tacitly assuming an evolutionary view of NT polity, where Revelation represents a development away from plural eldership to singular eldership. But why assume that everyplace had to use the same model? Why not assume a measure of flexibility? After all, the NT church had a limited talent pool. Would we really expect a standardized model throughout the far-flung Roman Empire? Certainly we see this on the mission field, where missionaries have to be adaptable—and the NT church was a missionary church. Why superimpose a diachronic grid on the data? Why assume there couldn’t be legitimate variation from one place to another?
“The New Testament exhibits Church order in its formative stages, but more time was needed for Church order to assume its definitive form” (20).
i) Once again, this assessment begs the question by assuming that the NT only gives us an embryonic version of church polity.
You would only make that assumption if you treat the Catholic Magisterium as your point of reference. Did the NT writers think they were giving us a merely “formative” version of Church order? Subdividing the material into stages on a trajectory to the Catholic Magisterium superimposes a Catholic framework onto the data. Dulles didn’t extrapolate that framework from his prooftexts.
ii) And who would supply the “definitive form”? The Magisterium. So the Magisterium is writing its own job description. The evolution of the Magisterium by and for the Magisterium. Like a military dictator who pins medals on his own uniform.
“Together with the promise of perpetuity, Christ has given to the Church the means whereby she can assuredly remain ‘the pillar and the bulwark of the truth’ (1 Tim 3:15; cf. 2 Tim 2:19)” (65).
i) Here we see traditional Catholic prooftexting. And because it’s traditional, it doesn’t bother to go back and reexamine the text in context. But, in context, this has reference to the local church. And, in context, the local church would be the church of Ephesus, not the church of Rome or the universal church.
ii) Moreover, it’s disingenuous to cite traditional prooftexts for your position after you deny the traditional authorship associated with the traditional prooftexts.
iii) The “promise of perpetuity” doesn’t single out the church of Rome.
Dulles’ case for the Magisterium in the NT is a tissue of fallacies. It has a cumulative effect if you ignore the fact that every link in the chain is broken. A string of fallacies only adds up to a fallacious sum-total.