Some comments I left over at Turretin Fan's blog on the perspicuity thread:
Mark P. Shea said...
"I love it when Calvinists get going on the incredibly elaborate explanations of 'perspicuity'."
Explain how Whitaker's definition was "incredibly elaborate"? Seemed like a pretty lean definition to me. Do you think a definition of "perspicuity" should have absolutely no qualifications?
Do you think the Catechism of the Catholic Church is unqualifiedly perspicuous?
I agree that the follow is perspicuous from scripture:
1) Justification not by faith alone
2) Baptismal regeneration
3) The Eucharist
4) Apostolic succession
5) Mary as the Mother of God
6) Petrine primacy
Since the vast majority of Christians who have ever lived profess those doctrines you must either say that those doctrines A) Are not essential or B) Scripture is not perspicuous after all.
I look forward to the polling data to substantiate your claim. For example, can you point me to the polling data from, say, 13C Lombardy? Is that in the Vatican Secret Archives?
"Yeah Steve. Because, you know, if the world of never ending sophistry its reasonable to ask this of me."
You ticked off a hand-dozen doctrines (and insinuated that you could cite other examples) which, according to you, "the vast majority of Christians who have ever lived profess."
That's a very sweeping, very specific claim. So I'd like to see your documentation. I'm sure you wouldn't presume to make a claim like that unless you could back it up with commensurate evidence.
So why not begin with 13C Lombardy. Or perhaps you'd prefer 9C Umbria. Take your pick.
What did the questionnaire look like that papal pollsters used when they went door-to-door to interview 13C Italians in Lombardy? What questions were on the survey? How did the respondents answer? What were the percentiles? What about the internals of the poll?
“You know as well as I do that there were many theological novums that were introduced during the Reformation that were breaks from orthodoxy.”
i) There was a break with the status quo–which is hardly synonymous with “orthodoxy”–unless you wish to beg the question.
ii) Objecting to Protestant theology because it’s allegedly innovative is obsolete. That’s a throwback to the type of argument we find in Bellarmine and Stapleton. The pretension that you can trace all Catholic dogmas directly back to primitive tradition.
That went out the window with Newman. Roman Catholicism also has its share of theological innovations. Are you Rip Van Winckle?
“There is a reason that Lutheran justification was such a paradigm shift. There is a reason that Henry 8th breaking from papal communion was a big deal. There is a reason.”
Well, that nicely undercuts your claim. For centuries, ever since Augustine of Canterbury, England had been Roman Catholic. But overnight, Henry VIII broke with Rome. And notice that the vast number of his loyal royal subjects made the transition without a peep. The week before they were Roman Catholic. A week later they were Anglican. And the “vast majority” of them continued to go about their business as usual as though nothing momentous ever happened. So their beliefs were pretty flexible, when it comes right down to it. They could switch from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism without missing a beat.
“That is all I am saying.”
No, that’s not all you were saying. Indeed, that’s very different from your original claim. If you think that’s all you were saying, then you lack the intellectual aptitude to follow your own argument. You are now substituting a very different claim from your original claim.
Your original claim was, “Since the vast majority of Christians who have ever lived profess those doctrines…”
You’re now substituting a claim based on the alleged existence of Protestant innovations. But that’s not the same claim. If you can’t tell the difference, I guess I’ll have to explain your own argument to you. Here are two different propositions:
i) Protestants don’t believe some things that the vast majority of Christians have always believed.
ii) Protestants believe some things which the vast majority of Christians have not believed.
These are two very different claims. For example, a theological innovation wouldn’t have to contradict any prior belief. It could simply add to a prior body of beliefs.
“Rather than focus on the meat of my argument, that scripture is not perspicuous based on the simple fact so many people read scripture and come to such different conclusions, you act is if my point cannot be granted unless there were some polls taken throughout every age.”
The vast majority of Christians until the modern era weren’t reading the Bible. Most of them were illiterate. Most of them didn’t know Latin. Most of them didn’t own private copies of the Bible, whether the Vulgate or LXX or vernacular translations. So your claim is absurdly anachronistic.
“Well Steve, I guess you win because there aren't any 'polls' that I can cite.”
Yes, I win. And I win even though I’m playing by your rules. You’re the one who made sweeping historical claim. Historical claims require historical evidence–evidence commensurate with the scope of the claim.
“Incidentally, I recently read the quite a volume of 12th century Cistercian writing from St. Bernard of Clairvaux but I guess I cannot make any determination about his theology or that of his contemporaries because there is no polling data.”
Well that’s just pitiful. Once again you’re unable to follow your own argument. You’ve gone from what “the vast majority of Christians believe” to some Medieval monk or Scholastic theologian.
What in the world makes you think that’s a representative sample group? Just the ability to read and write put Bernard in a tiny tiny cultural elite.
Or take Aquinas. He was an Italian nobleman. He grew up in a monastery. He was literate and highly educated (by the standards of the day). How is that comparable to the situation of an ignorant peasant with his folk superstitions?
Or let’s take a different example. Consider the state of Polish Catholicism after the collapse of Communism. Turns out that a lot of outwardly devout Polish Catholics weren’t all that devout once their common enemy was gone.
I'd add, at the risk of stating the obvious, that the perspicuity of Scripture doesn't mean that you can accurately interpret Scripture regardless of how inaccurate the translation you're using may be. Before the modern era, most literate Western Christians read the Vulgate. But that's hardly a test-case for the perspicuity of Scripture.
Read what current pope, in his autobiography, has to say about the state of the debate leading up to formal definition of Mary's Assumption (Milestones, 58-59).
"Debate in the Church before a dogma is solemnly defined does not prove that the dogma was an innovation."
That's exactly what the debate was over, which is why I referred you to Ratzinger's first-hand account.
"There was certainly a lot of debate about predestination during the Reformation and among the Reformers. Do you thus concede that Calvinism is an innovation?"
Well, there's a first time for anything, so if you wish to classify predestinarians like Isaiah, Solomon, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John, &c., as theological innovators, then I guess I'll have to suffer the stigma of being too innovative in my theology.
Not to mention a little thing called the "New Covenant," which, by definition, is innovative in contrast to the "Old Covenant."
Come to think of it, the Abrahamic covenant was innovative for its time. So that makes Abraham a proto-Protestant schismatic–by breaking ranks with the Mother Church of Ur.
As I recall, the Sanhedrin seemed to think the Christian movement was a theological novum. Indeed, I have it on good authority that the first church was a splinter-group from Judaism, comprising 120 members in all.
“Your modus operandi of trying to get little 'gotchas' and diverting the issue might earn you chest bumps from your buddies but others can see right through it.”
i) My modus operandi consists of responding to you on your own terms.
ii) ”Little gotchas”–as in you bandy factual assertions which evaporate on contact the moment they’re challenged.
iv) Far from diverting the issue, I held you to your own words. You chose to frame the issue the way you did, so I responded in kind. Your inability to present a counterargument is a backdoor admission that you lost the argument. And it was your very own argument!
v) If others can see right through it, then present your evidence.
“The sand you stand on is constantly shifting.”
To the contrary, you’re the one who tries to change the subject when your original argument goes south.
“First you say, ‘Gee, Rome has a lot of innovations and this is evidenced by the fact that doctrines were debated.’”
Are you consciously dishonest, or is dishonesty an involuntary reflex on your part?
I cited an example from the current pope, according to which what was at issue was precisely the lack of primitive traditional attestation for the Assumption of Mary. And that was an intramural debate within Catholicism. That wasn’t a Protestant allegation.
“And then you switch to, ‘Well our innovations, although also debated, are biblical and there is a first time for everything."”
I haven’t said if Protestant theology is innovative in any particular respect. I simply performed a reductio ad absurdum on your criterion.