Friday, October 03, 2008

In the Cross-hairs

Bryan Cross has been responding to John Bugay over at Stellman’s blog. Let’s see how well he’s faring:

I beg to differ. An unbroken succession can exist even if those at the end of the chain cannot themselves verify that it is unbroken. We should be careful not to confuse ontology and epistemology.

i) Of course, Bugay didn’t say it couldn’t exist absent verification. Bugay’s point is that you have no right to assert its existence unless you can verify its existence.

ii) And notice that Bryan dodges that issue, even though it’s absolutely crucial to his case. How, if it all, does Bryan propose to verify apostolic succession? If he can’t, then he’s in no position to assert apostolic succession.

But He did promise that the gates of hell would not prevail over the Church. For us (Catholics) this promise includes the promise of preserving Apostolic succession.

How do you exegete apostolic succession from 16:18? You can’t. Notice that Bryan doesn’t even try to exegete apostolic succession from 16:18. He falls back on the statement that “for Catholics,’ this promise includes apostolic succession.”

All he’s doing here is to assert his belief in Catholicism. He doesn’t give anyone a reason to believe in Catholicism.

That Lampe and Johnson use words like "fictive construction" does not show that the unbroken succession is a "fictive construction". It just shows that that is what Lampe and Johnson think it is. On my blog, you referred to St. Ignatius's statements regarding bishops as "wishful thinking". So if it is permissible to dismiss the testimony of the second bishop of the Church of Antioch on his way to martyrdom by wildbeasts, then surely you will understand if we Catholics treat the opinions of Lampe and Johnson as what they are, their opinions.

i) Lampe and Johnson don’t merely opine. They argue for their position. Where is Bryan’s counterargument?

ii) Again, to say “we Catholics” fails to give anyone a reason to be Catholic in the first place. How is that any improvement over “we Mormons” or “we Scientologists”?

Treating us to an exposition of what Catholics believe is a sorry substitute for defending what Catholics believe.

Behind your accusation is an implicit philosophical assumption, called monocausalism. You assume that if Mary does something, then Christ can't also do it. The Church isn't limited by philosophical monocausalism, as I have pointed out on my blog a number of times.

i) The question at issue is not what is hypothetically possible, but what is actual. Even if it were hypothetically possible for Mary to be Mediatrix or Co-Redemptrix, that’s irrelevant to the factual question. It’s hypothetically possible that Jesus was born in Bombay. Would drawing attention to that hypothetical be an adequate response to the evidence that Jesus was born in Bethlehem?

John,__the church is the sum total of the "elect" individuals.__"On this rock I will build my [set of all the elect], and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. ... And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the [set of the elect]; and if he refuses to listen even to the [set of all the elect], let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer."

i) Of course, Mt 16:18 and 18:17 don’t give us a full-blown doctrine of the church, one way or the other They simply use the word ecclesia, and say a few things about the ecclesia.

When Bugay equates the church with the elect, that’s a theological construct based on a whole range of Scriptures.

ii) BTW, what’s wrong with saying the gates of hell will not prevail against the elect?

At what point does the Scripture itself testify against this docetic reduction of the Church? If your ecclesiology weren't docetic, how would it be any different?

Bryan is now resorting to demagoguery. “Docetism” is a formally defined Christological heresy. Bryan is taking it upon himself to redefine standard theological jargon, and then apply his redefinition to Protestant ecclesiology as if the term carries the same stigma in his idiosyncratic usage as it does in its traditional usage. This is pure sophistry.

And it’s quite high-handed of a Catholic layman like Bryan to presume that he has the right to unilaterally redefine a traditional classification of heresy.

If you pull your Berkhof off the shelf and open it up to page 565, you will read this regarding the distinction between the visible and an invisible Church: "It is said that Luther was the first to make this distinction, but the other Reformers recognized and also applied it to the Church."__The notion that the Church is merely the set of all the elect is a sixteenth century novelty that allows for visible divisions not to 'count' as schisms, since the set (or "sum total") of all the elect cannot itself be divided.

Several problems:

i) The claim that Protestant theology is false because it’s innovative represents a throwback to the polemical strategy of Bellarmine and Stapleton. But that’s a double-edged sword. If we apply Bryan’s criterion to theological novelties like the Assumption of Mary, then Bryan has falsified his own denomination.

In fact, in his autobiography, then-Cardinal Ratzinger mentions that at the time Pius XII was contemplating whether he should formalize the Assumption of Mary, “all the theological faculties of the world” were opposed because it lacked sufficient traditional pedigree. Cf. Milestones, 58.

ii) The visible/invisible distinction is equivalent to Paul’s distinction between the outward/inward Jew in Romans. Not all Jews who were members of the covenant community were elect.

iii) And there’s no reason to suppose that the elect always agree about everything. Divisions are possible between true believers.

Does Bryan deny that? What about the division between Rome and Constantinople? Does he regard the Orthodox church as a false church? Does he think the members of the Orthodox church are all reprobates?

But the fact that in the NT we are warned against schism shows that the NT conception of the Church was not the "set of all the elect", as I argued here, and here.

How would that follow? You have true believers and nominal believers—some of whom are schismatics.

John,__So now "docetic" is merely a label? Do you deny that docetism is heresy?__My question to you was this: if your conception of the Church as the [set of all the elect] were not docetic, how would it be any different?

Once again, Bryan falls back on his demagogic ploy. Note the equivocation: is Docetism heretical? Yes. Does this mean that Bryan’s made up category or “ecclesial docetism” is heretical? No. That is Bryan taking a heresy, then concocting a do-it-yourself category, then using the old label to designate his do-it-yourself category, than transferring the odium of the actual heresy to his ersatz heresy. This tactic is both fallacious and unscrupulous.

If you want to propose a position, then you should either defend it or admit that you can't defend it.

I agree. And if we measure Bryan by his own yardstick, he comes up short. When, if ever, is he going to start defending Catholicism rather than begging the question?

If you say, "Well, I can't defend the position I'm proposing, but I know there is someone who can", or "I can't defend my position but I know there is a knock-down defense out there somewhere", that's called the phantom argument fallacy.__You have put forward your ecclesiology, but then when you are asked to defend it, you say, don't "argue with little old me; take on the likes of someone like Turretin".

Bryan is the one who keeps attacking the Protestant Reformers and their successors. So why shouldn’t he directly engage the arguments of a theologian like Turretin?

But that's precisely the phantom argument fallacy, because I could just say the same sort of thing back to you: "Don't argue with me, take on the likes of Pope Benedict", etc.

Actually, there’s some truth to that. Bryan is not entitled to pose as a spokesmen for Roman Catholicism.


  1. And notice that Bryan dodges that issue, even though it’s absolutely crucial to his case. How, if it all, does Bryan propose to verify apostolic succession? If he can’t, then he’s in no position to assert apostolic succession.

    Precisely. And precisely fatal.

    FWIW, I once engaged an Eastern Catholic on the topic of apostolic succession who also happens to be a very good historian and he conceded that apostolic succession is a "True Myth" ala C.S. Lewis's construct of a "True Myth".

  2. Truth -- If you have more details about the "true myth" of apostolic succession, I'd be interested in hearing them.

  3. Steve -- thanks for your cogent and thorough review of this.

    When I first encountered Bryan Cross, I was a bit apprehensive to engage him. There are a lot of areas where my education is simply lacking.

    However, I spent some time on his blog going thru 1 Clement (on the topic of authority), and I could not believe the sloppiness with which he simply accepted certain Catholic assertions on Clement, such as, that he had real authority over Corinth, etc. It took getting in and challenging him on that to see this weakness.

  4. Nothing like really engaging a paper tiger to reveal the paper!

  5. John Bugay: "Truth -- If you have more details about the "true myth" of apostolic succession, I'd be interested in hearing them."

    From here:

    ">>>So then if we can say the Resurrection of Jesus is a True Myth, why can we not also say that "Apostolic Succession" is a True Myth too?<<<

    Works for me.


    On the Apostolic succession, let us be clear that it represents an historical reality in the Church, since it is attested to in Scripture and in the subapostolic writings; it has been an integral part of the life of the Church from its beginnings.

    At the same time, the Apostolic succession is shrouded in myth, since (a) the fates of most of the Apostles are quite legendary, and without firm historical foundation (many of them being essentially "foundational" since many Churches needed to find an Apostolic founder at some point). Peter, Paul, James, perhaps John--these we know for sure. Of Thomas we have a very early legend with some corroborative evidence. But not much else. The story of Andrew, for instance, founding the Church in Byzantium, is unknown until well into the 6th and 7th centuries, when it was needed as a counterweight to Rome's increasing reliance on Petrine and Pauline foundation as the rationale for its primacy.

    Elsewhere, the earliest histories of the various Churches is lost. We have lists of bishops, some of whom we know were historical, others of whom we have no trace. But none of this really matters, since it is clear that the Church's practice, its ideal, was to only ordain bishops at the hands of other bishops, who in turn had been ordained by other bishops, until finally, somewhere, there was a man who was ordained at the hands of an Apostle. This was the firm Tradition as early as Ignatios of Antioch before the end of the first century. It was repeated by Irenaeus in the middle of the second century, and was accepted without question by the entire Church until the 16th century. Everyone, everywhere, and at all times, recognized the necessity of the Apostolic Succession. Therefore, though we do not possess the historical "facts", the essential truth has been conveyed to us through the medium of myth. Apostolic Succession is an excellent example of a "true myth".

    Posted by: Stuart Koehl | May 29, 2007 6:37:55 PM"

    P.S. FYI, Merecomments operates on a truce between RCC, EO, and Prots. I did not know that at the time, and only recently became aware of it. It's helpful to be cultural co-belligerents alongside conservative Catholics and conservative Orthodox on the issues of life and family and social/cultural degradation.

  6. Truth: Thank you for the link and the comments, though I would deny that the Resurrection of Christ is in the same category as apostolic succession.

    The Resurrection of Christ has been described for us with excellent eyewitness detail; there is nothing of the fudging that can be found in the history of apostolic succession.

  7. though I would deny that the Resurrection of Christ is in the same category as apostolic succession.

    You and me both, John. I was trying to understand this construct of a "True Myth" in that thread. And since the resurrection of Jesus was being advanced as "true myth" on that thread, then why not Apostolic Succession too?

  8. Truth: What I was trying to say was, the Resurrection of Jesus is not a myth of any kind.

    Although, Apostolic Succession, as a principle, has a great deal of myth attached to it.

    So, I don't understand what you were saying when you accepted that the Resurrection was a "true myth."

    That's what I meant when I said these are not in the same category at all.

  9. the Resurrection of Jesus is not a myth of any kind.

    I totally agree with you.

    You have to read the referenced link I provided you to understand the nuance that C.S. Lewis's "True Myth" construct provides for the commenters in the Touchstone blog. It's a very, very long thread.