Thursday, July 02, 2009

Authority, infallibility, & inspiration

I’ve been commenting over at Green Baggins. Since my side of the debate seems to be dying down, I’ll reproduce my comments here:

steve hays said,
June 29, 2009 at 4:33 pm

Bryan Cross said,

“The Catholic Church does not believe or teach that tradition and the pope ‘have equal authority’ to Scripture.”

That’s ambiguous. An institution may deny the implications of what it teaches, but the implications remain.

“Don’t assume that for the Catholic Church, every ‘infallible’ thing has equal authority.”

On the face of it, that’s an arbitrary disjunction.

“Catholics also believe this. Mary’s intercession is not because we need her intercession (or that of anyone else besides Christ), but because Christ has graciously given departed saints the opportunity to participate through their intercession in the salvific work He is doing now in the world.”

This is doubletalk. On the one hand, we don’t need it. On the other hand, we have the cult of the saints. But if the cult of the saints is unnecessary, then why not dispense with it?

“Just because two statements are true, it does not mean that they are equally authoritative. Authority is not reducible to truth; that would be Kantian. Since infallibility means (at least in Catholic theology) “protected from error”, therefore it only means that the result is true. It does not, in itself, determine the degree of authority the statement has.”

If the pope claims to be speaking the truth, and his claim is true, then its incumbent on the listener to believe what he says, and act accordingly. That’s authority.

Is he alluding to 2 Macc. 12:43–45? Even if, for the sake of argument, we accept the canonicity of that document, it’s talking about prayers which the living make on behalf of the dead, not prayers which the dead make on behalf of the living.

“From a sola scriptura point of view I can see why you think it says that, but that’s not what it is saying. Catholic theology makes a distinction between the authority of the divine revelation, and interpretive authority. Lumen Gentium, like Tertullian, is saying that our interpretation of the Bible does not have equal or greater authority than the interpretation of the Magisterium when it speaks with its full authority. To pit interpretive authority against (or in competition with) the authority of revelation is to beg the question by assuming that there is no genuine distinction between the two types of authority.”

Of course, if the only access to the revelatory authority of the Bible is via the interpretive authority of the Magisterium, then the authority of the Magisterium is functionally equivalent to the authority of the Bible. You can never appeal directly to Scripture to keep the Magisterium in check since the Magisterium is, itself, the checkpoint. Scripture must pass through the Magisterium, not vice versa.

“Regarding purgatory, you think that the perfection of sanctification takes places instantly at death, whereas we think it usually takes time. In itself, that’s not a huge difference.”

There’s a huge difference. For one thing, purgatory is as much or more about justification than it is about sanctification. Temporal punishment for the temporal debt of venial sin. The treasury of merit.

“But you are assuming that this distinction is exhaustive, because you are assuming that that there is no such thing as interpretive authority. Give that there is such a thing as interpretive authority, then we come to the ‘word of God’ through the interpretive authority which Christ has established, which is itself neither mere opinion nor the divine Word.”

i) Of course, the Bible itself it the embodiment of interpretive authority. The NT interprets the OT. NT writers interpret the significance of Jesus’ mission.

ii) Beyond that, what we need is not so much an authoritative interpretation, but a true interpretation.

Finally, who appointed Bryan to be a spokesman for Catholic dogma? He’s not even a priest, much less a bishop. He has no license to teach Catholic theology?

Remember when Hans Kung lost his license to teach Catholic theology? Not everyone is authorized to speak for Catholicism. Did Bryan receive the imprimatur or nihil obstat?

Taylor Marshall said,

“Here Lane fuses the terms ‘infallible’ and ‘inspired’. The Catholic Church does not teach the Pope or Councils are ‘inspired’ but we do believe that the Popes and Councils are “infallible” when declaring matters touching faith and morals. If Lane is going to challenge the Church, he needs to present things a bit more clearly.”

While we’re on the subject of clarity, I think some logical clarity is also in order. As a simple point of logic, how does Taylor think popes and councils can sometimes be infallible unless they are inspired? Wouldn’t inspiration be a necessary precondition to secure infallibility?

“Mary in particular is the holiest of all the saints…”

That’s an intriguing claim. Even on Catholic grounds, what makes Mary the holiest of the saints? If you grant the Immaculate Conception, then she was holier than any other mortal. But in heaven, aren’t all the saints sinless and impeccable?

“The first is found in John 3:5 which connects regeneration to the waters of baptism. The other is Titus 3:5 where Saint Paul speaks of ‘the washing of regeneration’ – yet another baptismal passage. Thus, if we were to go by ‘Scripture alone’ the balance falls toward a baptismal interpretation of the term ‘regeneration’.”

That takes for granted that Jn 3:5 and Tit 3:5 denote baptism. He assumes what he needs to prove.

“If Christ says, ‘my body is true food and blood is true drink’ (Jn 6:55), then you better believe Him.”

You’d better believe what he meant. But what does it mean? He’s assuming it denotes the Eucharist–which begs the question.

“If on the night before He died for you, He institute a sacrament and said that it is His body and blood, then you better believe Him.”

But, of course, Catholics don’t regard it as a simple identity statement. If it were a simple identity statement, then the communion elements would transform into Jesus. Right before your eyes! A bearded man about 5-6 feet tall, with bones, guts, fingernails, &c. If the communion wine is the blood of Christ, then what is the blood type of the communion wine? Can a phlebotomist test it?

“If all of the Church Fathers devotedly beheld the mystery and took care not only of the Eucharist, but also the vessels that touched the Eucharist, then think again. We are walking on sacred ground.”

Why? Did Jesus appoint the church fathers?

steve hays said,
June 30, 2009 at 6:44 am

Jeremy said,

“I find the magisterium to be helpful – otherwise you are almost stuck interpreting the bible with the lens of our contemporary age.”

i) Uh, no, the point of grammatico-historical exegesis is to interpret the text with a view to original intent.

ii) Conversely, contemporary Catholic theology is heavily influenced by modernity.

“You do realize that the time the NT was first written down, there was no Bible?”

You do realize the Jews would be very surprised to hear that. So would Jesus and the Apostles, who frequently quoted the OT.

“People had to write it down and put it the Bible together.”

Orality and textuality coexisted. For example, Paul the preacher was also Paul the letter writer.

“They did that 2000 years ago – in a different age and time, in a culture with different customs and ways of looking at the world.”

Or course, you could say the same thing about the church fathers or medieval popes.

steve hays said,
June 30, 2009 at 9:40 am

Taylor Marshall said,

“Infallibility is not ‘on par’ with divinely inspired Scripture. From a Protestant point-of-view, I can see Lane’s point, but generally speaking infallibility does not entail inspiration. To use an example, God could have granted the gift of infallibility to the Apostle Paul as he preached one Sunday morning in the city of Corinth. This does not require that the words of Paul’s sermon that day were therefore the inspired Word of God.”

Three problems, of which I’ll mention two for now and return to the third:

i) To use a circumlocution like “the gift of infallibility” merely camouflages the issue. Infallibility is the effect of a cause. What causes that result (infallibility) if not inspiration?

ii) Why should we accept his claim that if Paul preached an infallible sermon, that doesn’t count as the inspired word of God? Marshall merely asserts that disjunction. But his disjunction is far from self-evident. Where’s the supporting argument?

“The gift of infallibility does not entail that the message spoken is divine revelation (the Word of God). God could technically give a mathematician the gift of infallibility with regard to his doctoral dissertation about a geometric proof. There would be no error in the dissertation, yet the dissertation would not be the ‘Word of God’ simply because the brilliant treatise was infallible and contained no error. According to Lane’s logic, the infallible geometric proof would be ‘on par’ with Scripture since it is infallible. This conclusion is incorrect. Hence, infallibility does not entail inspiration.”

i) This brings us to a third problem: an equivocation of terms. From what I can tell, Marshall is using “inspiration” as synonymous with “inscripturation.” Thus, a speech or writing is not inspired unless it’s Scripture. But if that’s what he means, why should we accept it?

It suffers from a level confusion. The fact that Scripture is inspired writing doesn’t mean that every inspired writing is ipso facto Scripture. Inspiration is a necessary rather than sufficient condition of inscripturation.

The fact that we have 13 inspired letters by St. Paul doesn’t mean St. Paul only wrote 13 inspired letters. Rather, these represent the subset of inspired letters which God chose to preserve for posterity. If more Pauline letters survived, they, too, would be Scripture. They, too, would be canonical. But God, in his providence, chose not to preserve them.

ii) If, on the other hand, Marshall doesn’t use “inspiration” as a synonym for “inscripturation,” then why drive a wedge between an infallible sermon and an inspired sermon?

steve hays said,
June 30, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Put another way, if Marshall Taylor limits inspiration to inscripturation, then the spoken word can never be inspired–only the written word. In that case, OT prophets never spoke the word of God. Apostles never spoke the word of God.

How does Marshall justify such an arbitrary disjunction? Certainly the Bible explicitly describes many OT prophets as speaking the word of the Lord. And surely Apostles don’t operate at a lesser level. That’s what makes both groups divine spokesmen.

steve hays said,
July 1, 2009 at 5:10 am

Here are two statements which I believe the church of Rome would classify as infallible, ex cathedra pronouncements. How does the functional authority of these papal pronouncements differ from the inspired claims of Scripture?

Ineffabilis Deus

Wherefore, in humility and fasting, we unceasingly offered our private prayers as well as the public prayers of the Church to God the Father through his Son, that he would deign to direct and strengthen our mind by the power of the Holy Spirit. In like manner did we implore the help of the entire heavenly host as we ardently invoked the Paraclete. Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”

Hence, if anyone shall dare — which God forbid! — to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should are to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart.

Munificentissimus Deus

For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.

In order that this, our definition of the bodily Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven may be brought to the attention of the universal Church, we desire that this, our Apostolic Letter, should stand for perpetual remembrance, commanding that written copies of it, or even printed copies, signed by the hand of any public notary and bearing the seal of a person constituted in ecclesiastical dignity, should be accorded by all men the same reception they would give to this present letter, were it tendered or shown.

It is forbidden to any man to change this, our declaration, pronouncement, and definition or, by rash attempt, to oppose and counter it. If any man should presume to make such an attempt, let him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.

steve hays said,
July 1, 2009 at 5:31 am

Taylor Marshall said,

“Let me remind you that I am a Catholic Christian submitted to the magisterium of the Holy Catholic Church. It is a matter of our divinely revealed faith that inspiration is limited to Scripture. We believe that Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are inspired. I point this out because you have made a straw-man argument based on my supposed ‘arbitrary disjunction’ (sic) whereby I supposedly ‘limit inspiration to inscripturation’. Fight that concept all you want, but you are not landing blows against the chest of the Holy Catholic Church.”

I said you created an arbitrary disjunction. You respond by stating that your Catholic faith requires you to affirm that disjunction. But even if this were an article of faith, that in no way refutes the charge. It would simply elevate the arbitrary disjunction to the level of dogma. You’ve given us a personal faith-statement. What’s the argumentative force of that autobiographical statement?

“The Calvinist rejection of papal infallibility rests on the logical error that infallibility requires inspiration.”

i) Although I’m a Calvinist, I didn’t critique your position on Calvinist grounds. Rather, I critiqued your position on internal grounds. I answered you on your own terms.

ii) Moreover, telling us that you affirm this disjunction because your church requires you to affirm it is not a logical argument, but an argument from authority.

“Clearly God can prevent a Pope from teaching error (i.e. grant the gift of infallibility) without also causing the Pope to speak the very Word of God as would the prophet Isaiah. To say otherwise is simply to limit God by what He can or cannot do.”

i) And why should we classify divine prevention of error as something other than inspiration? Perhaps you’re trying to distinguish negative inspiration (prevention from error) from positive inspiration (causing the speaker to utter the words of God), but it’s still divine inspiration.

ii) Moreover, you’re also concealing the authoritative force of infallible, ex cathedra statements.

steve hays said,
July 1, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Bryan Cross said,

“Catholics do not believe that authority is identical to truth. Authority is moral power to which submission and obedience is due from those entrusted to it.…An authoritative interpretation [of Scripture] is authoritative not because it is true (though it is true), but because of the authority given by Christ to the Magisterium to which is due submission of mind and will regarding what is the true and authentic interpretation of Scripture.”

Bryan apparently takes the position that truth creates no obligation to believe the truth. We have no duty to believe something is true because it is true.

Rather, any duty to believe the truth, and act accordingly, is extrinsic to the truth. Over and above the truth itself there must be some “authority” which creates the obligation.

Thus, believing the same truth could be obligatory or non-obligatory depending on the presence or absence an external authority which obliges me (or not) to believe the truth.

If, on Tuesday, an authority obliges me to believe Jn 3:16, then I’m duty-bound to believe Jn 3:16.

If, on Wednesday, no authority obliges me to believe Jn 3:16, then I’m at liberty to disbelieve Jn 3:16.

The mere veracity of Jn 3:16 creates no inherent obligation to believe it or act accordingly.

That’s a fascinating form of moral relativism.

steve hays said,
July 1, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Bryan Cross said,

“That’s not what I said, nor what my statements entailed. If you want to be taken seriously, try to avoid such obvious strawmen.”

Calling something a strawman is not the same thing as showing it's a strawman. If you want to be taken seriously, try to avoid resorting to empty accusations in lieu of arguments.

“Of course we have an obligation to believe the truth insofar as we are aware of its truth. This is why it is part of Catholic belief that we must always follow our conscience. But we also have a duty to inform our conscience, because our conscience can be wrong. Everything I said about authority is fully compatible with our natural obligation to affirm what we know to be true (and not to deny what we know to be true) and to do what we know to be right (and not to do what we know to be wrong).”

Given your concession regarding a natural obligation to believe the truth, go back and explain why a true interpretation is inadequate. Why the further need for an authoritative interpretation, over and above a true interpretation?

steve hays said,
July 1, 2009 at 6:45 pm

“[Taylor Marshall] For the Catholic Church ‘there is no court of appeal beyond the magisterium.’ That is 100% correct. I would also add that for magisterial Protestantism there simply is not a true ‘court of appeal’ at all, since everyone has their own interpretation of Scripture – even the pastors who take exceptions to their magisterial confessional documents.”

i) That’s a concession to Lane’s original argument.

ii) Since he can’t deny the force of Lane’s argument in reference to Catholicism, the only thing Marshall can do is try to turn tables on Lane.

iii) However, Marshall is blurring a fundamental distinction between standards and the application of standards. In Catholicism, the Magisterium sets the standard. While Scripture is technically the de jure standard, the Magisterium is the de facto standard.

As such, Scripture is in no position to correct the Magisterium. The result is ecclesiastical totalitarianism.

In classic Protestantism, by contrast, Scripture remains the standard. Even though individuals or entire denominations may misapply Scripture, Scripture remains the criterion–which is why it also remains possible to demonstrate their misapplication of Scripture.

Hence, Marshall’s argument from analogy is invalidated by a basic equivocation.

iv) Finally, it’s not as if errant individuals or errant denominations are getting away with anything in the long run. If they willfully misapply Scripture, they are ultimately answerable to God.

But, in Catholicism, where the Magisterium is the voice of God, that avenue is also cut off.


  1. ------
    “The Catholic Church does not believe or teach that tradition and the pope ‘have equal authority’ to Scripture.”

    That’s ambiguous. An institution may deny the implications of what it teaches, but the implications remain.

    If this is so, then the protestant implication is that individuals have equal authority to scripture, since protestants claim the right to judge what scripture is and what scripture means.

  2. Interpreting Scripture is not an issue of authority, but using the best hermeneutical methods. Therefore, your argument from analogy is invalidated by a false premise.

  3. -----
    Interpreting Scripture is not an issue of authority,

    It's not? So why aren't you withdrawing this bogus article about the implications of the Church and authority?

    but using the best hermeneutical methods. Therefore, your argument from analogy is invalidated by a false premise.

    So when Paul interprets the OT, is it a matter of authority, or of your best hermeneutical interpretation the book ignoring Paul?

    Somehow I'll bet you toss out hermeneutics and go with Paul.

  4. KIM SAID:

    “It's not? So why aren't you withdrawing this bogus article about the implications of the Church and authority?”

    You must be dense. The question in dispute is whether one needs to be a person in authority to interpret Scripture. Not whether there are logical implications for the church depending on how you answer that question.

    “So when Paul interprets the OT, is it a matter of authority, or of your best hermeneutical interpretation the book ignoring Paul? Somehow I'll bet you toss out hermeneutics and go with Paul.”

    You’re confusing several issues, which doesn’t surprise me:

    i) A Pauline interpretation is an inspired.

    However, the two Catholics epologists I’m responding to deny that the interpretive authority of the Magisterium involves inspiration. Therefore, your comparison is fallacious.

    ii) Moreover, I never denied that some interpretations are inspired. That wasn’t the point at issue. The issue, rather, is whether a true interpretation is sufficient. By definition, an inspired interpretation is true.

    But Bryan rejects the sufficiency of a true interpretation. Over and above its veracity, it must also be authoritative. That’s the point at issue. Try to pay attention.

    iii) Furthermore, you’re driving a wedge between a Pauline interpretation and a hermeneutical interpretation, as if those must be at variance–for which you offer no argument.

    iv) Finally, we must interpret Paul’s interpretive statement, so hermeneutics is still in play.

    So you lose on all counts.