Thursday, August 18, 2011

Does sola Scriptura mean sole authority?

I’m reposting some comments I left at Justin Taylor’s blog:

steve hays August 14, 2011 at 7:55 am
Brandon Vogt

“In the first four centuries of Christianity, how could Scripture be, in the words of Leithart, the “final authority” since there was no formal cannon and therefore no official agreement on what Scripture even was?”

Suppose (arguendo) we say the ancient church didn’t have the Bible. Would that invalidate sola Scriptura? Suppose (arguendo) we say the ancient church had to rely entirely on oral tradition. Would that invalidate sola Scriptura?

In both cases, the answer is no. For in that (hypothetical) event, the church would still need a trustworthy standard of comparison to measure the accuracy of oral tradition.

If (arguendo) the teaching of Jesus, or John, or Paul was handed down by word-of-mouth, you’d still need an accurate record of the original words to see if oral tradition corresponded to what Jesus, John, or Paul actually said. Oral tradition would only be true to the extent that it was true to the original source.

So even if (arguendo) you didn’t have that standard of comparison in your possession, that would still be the ultimate and indispensable standard.

For instance, our modern global civilization requires synchronized clocks. What’s called Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). That, in turn, depends on International Atomic Time (TAI). And that, in turn, depends on 200+ atomic clocks.

I don’t have access to the atomic clocks. I don’t have the atomic clocks in my possession. Yet atomic clocks still set the standard for my cesium clocks and watches.

Even if I never laid eyes on one of those atomic clocks, even if I didn’t know how to tell time using atomic clocks, it is still necessary that my own clocks and watches match or at least approximate the atomic clocks.

If I set my wristwatch by my computer clock, and I set my computer clock by the time readout from a TV news station, and the news station set its clock by some other source, it doesn’t matter how many steps removed my wristwatch is from the atomic clocks. What matters is that, at the end of that transmission process you a benchmark to measure that transmission process.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, the NT wasn’t written until the 5C AD. Suppose, until the 5C, the early church had to rely entirely on oral tradition. Then, in the 5C, God inspired 10 men to write the NT.

In other words, suppose the process was completely backwards. You only had the church for the first four centuries, then the NT came later.

Even if that were the case, once the NT was written, that would set the standard for the church. The church would have to calibrate or recalibrate tradition to agree with the NT.

steve hays August 14, 2011 at 8:12 am
Brandon Vogt

“How could Scripture be the ‘final authority’ when some greater authority was needed to affirm which books Scripture consisted of?”

That begs the question. Why do we need some authority to affirm the canon for us? Why is it not sufficient to simply be right?

A general has more authority than a colonel. A general outranks the colonel. Yet that’s irrelevant to who’s right and who’s wrong. Sometimes the colonel is right when the general is wrong.

You don’t need authority to get things right. Indeed, men in authority often get things wrong. Truth and authority are hardly equivalent. Indeed, they are often at odds.

Scripture is authoritative because Scripture is true. That’s the bottom line.

“Finally, Leithart rightfully acknowledges the need for extra-Biblical authority, but he doesn’t define the criteria for that authority. Catholics make it easy–the pope and his fellow bishops have the authority that Christ passed down through the apostles. But what do Protestants claim? Why should I listen to Leithart and not Smith?”

Why should you listen to a pope rather than Smith? You had to exercise your personal judgment. You decided for yourself that apostolic succession is valid. You didn’t begin with the pope. Rather, you had to be satisfied in your own mind that the claims of the papacy were correct.

What was your criterion? Your criterion for the papacy can’t be the papacy itself. For the papacy is only a criterion if papal claims are true. So if criteria are necessary, then you need a criterion prior to the papacy to evaluate the papacy itself.

steve hays August 14, 2011 at 8:27 am
Bryan likes to constantly reduce and recast the issue in terms of “interpretive authority.” That’s his shtick.

Let’s apply that to a real-world scenario. Take Jn 9.

In that exchange, who has the authority–the blind man or the Pharisees? The Pharisees obviously have more “authority” than the blind man. He has no authority at all. He’s a nobody. He has no institutional position. No formal theological education.

The blind man and the Pharisees have two opposing interpretations of Jesus. The blind man thinks Jesus is a prophet of God. The Pharisees think Jesus is a godless Sabbath-breaker.

To use Bryan’s tendentious rubric, both of them exercise their “interpretive authority.” The blind man makes himself the “final authority” when he interprets Jesus to be a prophet of God.

Well, here’s a case where the religious authorities were dead wrong while the unlettered layman was absolutely right.

steve hays August 14, 2011 at 1:54 pm
Devin Rose

“Steve and Justin, Let’s say I don’t find the Called to Communion article or Brandon Vogt’s arguments compelling. I am ready to follow some (Protestant) human authorities, go to their church, read their commentaries, etc. Who are those authorities I should follow and how do I identify them?”

i) I wouldn’t cast the issue in terms of following authority figures. I don’t view Protestant theologians are commentators as authority figures.

You simply go with whoever has the best argument.

For instance, one reason Aquinas has such influence in Catholic theology is that he’s so good at arguing for his position. He may be a Catholic “authority” now, but that’s not how he started out. He only became a Catholic authority due to the intellectual quality of his material.

ii) I also wouldn’t suggest that you only read the commentators of one theological tradition.

iii) And since you bring it up, there’s no fundamental difference between commentaries by evangelical scholars and commentaries by modern Catholic scholars like Fitzmyer, John Meier, and Luke Timothy Johnson. Modern Catholic commentators often arrive at the same exegetical conclusions as their evangelical counterparts. The main difference is that modern Catholic commentators tend to be more liberal.

steve hays August 14, 2011 at 6:54 pm
Devin Rose

“Steve, N.T. Wright seems to have really strong arguments regarding justification. Other Protestants who have tried to challenge him (e.g. Piper) don’t seem to make near as good a case. If I choose N.T. Wright’s theological ideas, do you think I would be going astray? If so, how can I avoid it since 1) he is more learned than I by several orders of magnitude and 2) I am supposed to use what intellectual resources God has given me to choose who I think makes the best argument?”

Several issues:

i) You seem to be arguing for the proposition that arguments are inadequate. But if that’s the case, then your argument that arguments are in adequate is, itself, in adequate.

ii) Likewise, if you think arguments are inadequate, then the arguments of Catholic apologists like Newman, Chesterton, Scott Hahn, Bryan Cross, Karl Keating et al. are also inadequate.

By the same token, that would also discount the arguments you deploy in your own book (If Protestantism is True).

Seems like a self-defeating strategy on both counts.

iii) It’s not just Protestants who’ve challenged Wright. You also have Jews (Neusner) and even Catholics (Fitzmyer).

iv) On the one hand, Piper wrote a 225pp. monograph. On the other hand, you’ve written a one-sentence opinion. Clearly the onus lies on you, not Piper.

v) Appealing to Wright’s superior erudition hardly tips the balance in his favor, for his critics are also more learned than you by several orders of magnitude.

vi) Clearly different people have different perceptions about who won this or that argument. Jesus argued with his fellow Jews. So did Paul. Some Jews disagreed with Jesus and Paul.

However, I assume you don’t think mere disagreement means neither side had the better of the argument. I presume you think Jesus came out on top. Same with Paul.

vii) Our responsibilities vary with our opportunities and aptitude.

viii) I don’t know what intellectual resources you used, or how you used them.

steve hays August 14, 2011 at 7:15 pm

“How can anyone possibly accept that the Bible is the sole or final authority without committing the logical fallacy of circular reasoning?”

i) You fail to distinguish between logical circularity and epistemic circularity. Logical circularity is fallacious, but epistemic circularity is inevitable. If you don’t know the difference, I’d suggest you read Alston on the subject.

ii) Suppose we substitute “God” for the “Bible” in the sentence: “How can anyone possibly accept that God is final authority without committing the logical fallacy of circular reasoning?”

Do you think it’s fallacious for God to be the final authority?

If not, what’s the essential difference between “God is the final authority” and “the Word of God is the final authority”?

“Even if the Bible teaches (self-referentially) that it is the sole or final authority (I don’t think it does), we would be begging the question: the Bible is the sole or final authority because it says it is, and we know that what it says is true because it is the sole or final authority.”

That’s a simplistic formulation. It’s actually a two-step argument:

i) The self-referential claim

ii) Evidence for the self-referential claim

In addition, evidence for the self-referential claim can be internal as well as external.

Suppose Scripture promises Christians a distinctive religious experience. Suppose Christians experience that distinctive.

That’s linear, not circular.

steve hays August 14, 2011 at 7:18 pm
Brandon Vogt

“And if from the Bible, where does the Bible get its authority?”

From God.

steve hays August 14, 2011 at 8:10 pm
Devin Rose

“Steve, I love arguments. But arguments are most productive for getting to the truth when focused on the most important issues. I think Piper and Wright need to elevate their discussion to more important issues.”

I don’t think the Apostle Paul viewed the nature of justification as a second-tier issue.

“Similarly, the Called to Communion guys, in the article they linked to, make arguments–I don’t recall you ever responding in that long thread?–and those arguments demonstrate that sola reduces to solo with respect to ultimate interpretive authority. It’s not a ‘schtick’ or a smokescreen; rather, they are arguments that have not been rebutted and thus their conclusion stands. That article is directly relevant to Justin Taylor’s criticism of Christian Smith.”

In this very thread I highlighted a basic flaw in the CTC article. You offer no counterargument. So your statement is evasive. Why do you raise objections, only to dodge the replies?.

I’ve been critiquing the CTC gang for a long time now. The ball is in your court, not mine.

“I’ve used my intellectual resources to discover the Catholic Church. This discovery was led to, in part, by the proper use of my God-given reason. The truth in its fullness can be found.”

To say you made the proper use of your God-given reason begs the question. You can’t parachute into an Evangelical blog and simply stipulate that to be the case, as if that’s a given. That’s something you need to argue for.

“I was hoping you would tell me your opinion about what Protestants to look to so that I could know Jesus in truth.”

I already told you.

“Or what church to go to.”

You’re smuggling your Catholic ecclesiology into the question. But that’s one of the issues in dispute.

From a Protestant standpoint, there’s no one church we must go to, any more than there was one synagogue to go to in 1C Palestine. God’s truth is more broadly distributed.

“So that I could understand how you resolve the dilemma of rightful authority within Protestantism.”

To posit a dilemma of rightful authority in Protestantism assumes what you need to prove. You keep taking for granted the very things you need to establish at the outset.

You don’t get a head start here. You have to earn every inch.

Start by restating what you think the dilemma is.

“But so far, it seems like you have just given me the run-around.”

To the contrary, I’ve been responding to you point-by-point. My replies are pegged to your objections.

Apparently you’re frustrated because this hasn’t gone the way you expected. Your first line of defense was one-man deep. Is that the problem?

steve hays August 14, 2011 at 8:26 pm
Brandon Vogt

“But where did God tell us that?”

Well, Brandon, you’re changing the question. Your original question was: “where does the Bible get its authority?”

If Scripture is the Word of God, then the answer to your question is that Scripture gets its authority from the God who inspired it.

Are you asking where in Scripture God tell us that Scripture gets its authority from God?

“Where–or through whom–did he say that the Bible has ultimate authority?”

If the Bible is the Word of God, what would be more authoritative than the Word of God? Do you believe the deity who inspired the Bible is not the ultimate deity? Do you think there’s another, superior deity to the deity of Scripture? What do you mean, exactly?

“And where or from whom can I find out exactly what the Bible consists of? Even today there are numerous canons, so how can we know which is the right one?”

Well, I’ve written a book in which I canvass that issue:

“I don’t want an incomplete set of Scriptures nor one with inerrant books.”

Well, if you don’t want a canon with inerrant books, then the Tridentine canon is certainly preferable to the Protestant canon–for the Protestant canon only contains inerrant books, whereas the Tridentine canon contains errant apocryphal additions.

In that respect you’ve come to the right place (i.e. the church of Rome) if you were looking for errant books.

steve hays August 14, 2011 at 8:45 pm
Brandon Vogt

“So it doesn’t matter whether I go to a Presbyterian church, a Methodist church, a Mennonite church, a Unitarian church, or a Mormon church?”

I assume you’re aware of the fact that that’s a false dichotomy. To say there’s no one place you can go to hear the truth doesn’t imply there’s no place you can go to hear the truth. That’s not the logical alternative.

So why do you resort to false dichotomies? Is that arguing in good faith–or bad faith?

Was there one place in 1C Palestine where Jews could go to hear the truth and nothing but the truth? Not that I’m aware of.

But that doesn’t mean 1C Jews couldn’t find the truth.

Why do you cast the issue in all-or-nothing terms? Do you think that unless the Mennonite church is wholly true, it must be wholly false?

“And if it does, then why? By what criteria are some churches acceptable and others not? Who made that criteria and where specifically is it found?”

i) To begin with, you have unfinished business to attend to. You raised the issue of criteria once before in this thread. I pointed out that your appeal to criteria is regressive. It backfires on your own position.

Instead of addressing that issue, you’re skipping ahead. Why is that? If your initial objection was sincere, then you need to go back and finish what you began–assuming you can. If not, then you need to withdraw your objection.

ii) Revealed truth is the criterion. And there are degrees of truth, inasmuch as some denominations or theological traditions are truer than others, just as some 1C Jewish sects were truer than others.

steve hays August 14, 2011 at 8:55 pm
Devin Rose

“Earn every inch? I wrote a book explaining why I became Catholic. If you like, I’ll even lend you my Kindle copy and you can read it on your computer–but can I trust you to give it back? :) (See, a joke!) Otherwise, it’s only $2.99 on Kindle/Nook/Apple/whatever.”

With all due respect, I’ve been debating high-profile Catholics for years now. Do you really think you have something revolutionary to add to the standard repertoire of arguments?

“What was your counter-argument? Did you intend your interpretation of the blind man/Pharisees story to be the counter-argument?”

That’s a start.

steve hays August 14, 2011 at 9:21 pm
Brandon Vogt

“And we both agree that the Bible gets its authority from God, so that’s not in question either.”

If that’s not the question, then why did you phrase the question in precisely those terms?

“My point is that nowhere in the Bible does it say that the Bible is the *final* authority nor the exclusive authority. If it does, please show me where.”

i) It’s a transitive principle. If God is the final authority, and the Bible is the word of God, then the Bible is the final authority.

ii) But you’re also burning a straw man. As was stated at the outset, we’re not claiming that the Bible is the “exclusive” authority.

“Where in the Bible does it say that Scripture is the pillar and ground of truth?”

i) I notice that you try to directly prooftext your position rather than quoting a magisterial interpretation of your prooftext. So you subscribe to both the perspicuity of Scripture as well as the right of private judgment. Seems like a counterproductive way to argue against Protestant hermeneutics, if you ask me.

ii) Your allusion to 1 Tim 3:15 is deeply problematic:

a) In context, that has reference to the church of Ephesus, not the church of Rome.

That’s the problem with rote prooftexting. You don’t stop and ask the preliminary questions, like to whom or what church was that letter addressed?

b) You also haven’t bothered to exegete your prooftext. I’d suggest you read the commentary by Catholic NT scholar Luke Timothy Johnson.

“And, just as importantly, how can I determine from the Bible exactly what the Bible even is? Where does it tell me which books make up the Scriptures?”

I address that in my ebook.

“Also, your last point only attempted to address half of my desire. I said I didn’t want a cannon with errant books…”

No, you said you didn’t want a canon with inerrant books.

“For your proposal assumes the doctrines taught in those other seven books are inconsequential.”

Not necessary inconsequential. Error can be quite consequential.

“Dismissing seven OT books from the canon has huge implications. For example, the doctrine of purgatory is hinted at implicitly and praying for the dead is revealed explicitly.”

According to the Maccabean text, the dead for whom prayers were offered were guilty of idolatry. If we translate that into Catholic theology, they died in a state of mortal sin. In that case, they are lost.

So your “explicit” prooftext for Purgatory disproves Catholic Purgatory.

Once again, that illustrates the peril of rote prooftexting.

“And that’s all besides the fact that removing the books means that we’re redesigning the canon God passed down to his Church.”

You’re commenting on a evangelical blog. Hence, that’s not something you can posit as a given.

steve hays August 14, 2011 at 9:32 pm
Brandon Vogt

“The problem is that they are also mixed with many errors. (And of course Protestants have the added problem of not being able to objectively determine which is which.)”

The parenthetical begs the question. You don’t seem to grasp the elementary fact that when you post comments on an evangelical blog, you assume a burden of proof.

“I am convinced, however, that the Catholic Church, through her Scriptures, her tradition, and her teaching Magisterium is wholly true.”

Yes, that’s your testimony. That doesn’t give us any reason to agree with you. It’s just an autobiographical anecdote, like your favorite flavor of ice cream.

“It baffles me that you seem to be OK being part of a church that you affirm teaches some falsities (tell me if I misunderstood you.)”

If I were a 1C Jew, I’d be okay with the fact that various Jewish sects taught a mixture of truths and falsehoods.

That’s how God has chosen to arrange things. In the meantime, Scripture remains the yardstick for measuring conformity to the truth.

“That seems to contradict Jesus’ confirmation that he would lead the Church into all truth.”

That’s yet another example of where your rote prooftexting goes awry. You’re not even aware of the fact that you’ve doctored your prooftext. Where does the Johannine text your alluding to say God would lead “the Church” into all truth? That’s not in the text. That’s your interpolation.

steve hays August 14, 2011 at 9:47 pm
Brandon Vogt

“It baffles me that you seem to be OK being part of a church that you affirm teaches some falsities (tell me if I misunderstood you.)”

Even if (arguendo) we assume the Roman church is the one true church, it’s not as if, whenever or wherever you go to Mass, and listen to the homily, you will hear the unadulterated truth.

Your priest is fallible. (Your bishop is fallible.) He may misinterpret Scripture. And he may be heterodox, even by Catholic lights.

Remember that Hans Küng is still a priest. He can still celebrate Mass.

Indeed, there are traditionalistic Catholic who despair of finding theologically orthodox priests or bishops.

Even if (arguendo) we accept the claims of Rome, the Roman church teaches some falsities. The ordinary magisterium is the normal organ of teaching in the Roman church. The ordinary magisterium is generally fallible. Catholicism offers no infallible list of infallible papal statements. Theologians have to sift through ecumenical councils to determine which statements are fallible and which statements are infallible.

So even if we accept the claims of Rome for the sake of argument, that doesn’t solve the problem you proposed.

steve hays August 15, 2011 at 7:48 am
Brandon Vogt

“But who makes that call? Where are the boundaries of assent and who decides?”

Brandon is tacitly superimposing his Catholic paradigm on Protestantism, as if one man has to make the call for everybody else. As if everybody else is under one man.

However, you didn’t have that in 1C Judaism or the NT church.

What matters is not who decides, but who is right.

In addition, you and I are individually responsible to God for what we think and do. That’s not something we’re entitled to contract out to a third-party.

steve hays August 15, 2011 at 12:57 pm
Devin Rose

“Keith Mathison’s point is that the individual should not be the ultimate interpretive authority of the Bible, but that ‘the Church’ should be. This is why I was asking you what Protestant church or churches I should look to as that ‘Church’ that I can submit my own interpretation to. But you demurred.”

I’m not operating within Mathison’s framework. Indeed, I’ve been critical of that in the past. So the CTC post you reference is irrelevant to my argument.

“Then you have presented (as an ostensible rebuttal) the story of the blind man, showing how he is the final interpretive authority. That seems to be what Mathison is arguing against–that solo Scriptura position where the individual is the final interpretive authority. So I don’t understand how you mean that story to be the start of a rebuttal to the article.”

I don’t have to agree with Mathison to disagree with Cross. That’s a false dichotomy.

“Also, you make an analogy between the blind man and Pharisees ‘interpreting’ Jesus and the idea of someone interpreting the Scriptures. This stretches those words and their meanings too far.”

To the contrary, the blind man must interpret Jesus’ words as well as his deeds. And his miraculous deeds are emblematic deeds. Signs. Word-media and event-media both require interpretation. You must be able to interpret the significance of the deed as well as the word.

“Again, read the Tu Quoque article.”

Which assumes I haven’t.

“The blind man was right to use his senses and intellect and heart to see the truth of who Jesus is. He used them rightly and discovered Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Pharisees failed to do so.”

The blind man acted as the “final authority” in that situation. And he did so in defiance of the religious authorities.

“Similarly, a person uses his senses and intellect, discovering the Catholic Church, the Church Christ established and which He has protected from error, the Church which he assents to and submits his own interpretation of the Scriptures to.”

i) A convert to Rome exercises private judgment in evaluating the putative evidence for Roman Catholicism. He treats the Bible and the church fathers as perspicuous.

ii) How can he submit his own interpretation to the church after the fact? How does he know the “church” in the NT is the same institution as the church of Rome? He’d only be in a position to submit his interpretation to the Roman church if he already knew the Roman church was the one true church. If he can’t know that from Scripture before he converts, then he can’t trust the interpretations of Rome.

steve hays August 15, 2011 at 2:12 pm
Devin Rose

“A Christian studies history and theology to discover the Catholic Church. He traces the Church of the first century forward through time, seeing the Church and also what the Church determined were schisms from her. So I don’t understand what you mean by your comment, or, the conclusion you are trying to make doesn’t seem to follow.”

At that stage of the process the prospective convert to Rome does not cannot rely on the magisterium to interpret church history, or the church fathers, or the Bible. For at that stage of the process is he not yet a Catholic. Rather, he’s examining the Bible, the church fathers, and church history to see if they verify the claims of Rome.

But in that event, magisterial interpretation is superfluous, since he must independently interpret the sources to verify or falsify the magisterium. If he doesn’t need it to get in, he doesn’t need it.

steve hays August 15, 2011 at 2:29 pm
Devin Rose

“Finally, on the blind man thing, I think I see what you are trying to get at. The individual used his intellect to discover Jesus. I have no problem with that. But fast forward to later on in the first century. Diotrephes of 3 John fame: He was using his intellect and rejected the authority of the Apostle. And he was not praised for that. Rather, the Apostle was going to go put him in his place. We see that the individual using his intellect is not the differentating factor in these two cases; rather, what they discovered is. Diotrephes should have used his intellect and submitted to the rightful authority of Christ’s Church (in his local church, that was the Apostle John), believing that the promises Christ made to the Church through the Apostles were true (that He would lead them into all truth, that the Church was the pillar and bulwark of the truth, built on the foundation of the Apostles, etc.). But Diotrephes didn’t do that. Instead, he challenged the authority of the rightful leaders of Christ’s Church, and the Bible records that he was wrong to do so.”

Which misses the point. Given rightful authority, an individual should submit to rightful authority. (Even then, submission to merely human authority is not unconditional.)

But how do you establish who or what is the rightful authority? You can’t simply appeal to an authoritative claimant, for that would be viciously circular. He’s only a rightful authority if he’s a rightful claimant. So you can’t invoke rightful authority to justify submission to rightful authority before you establish that the rightfulness of the authoritative claimant.

steve hays August 15, 2011 at 2:37 pm
Devin Rose

“The CtC Tu Quoque article (and my response to you) explain why your attempt at a rebuttal fails. So it is relevant, even if your particular “framework” is not the same as Mathison’s. The rest of your most recent comment is directly rebutted by the Tu Quoque article.”

Unfortunately for you, that’s not the case. Bryan spends time distinguishing between submission to Protestant creeds and submission to Catholic creeds. He argues that this comparison is equivocal since Protestant creeds lack the authority of Catholic creeds.

That distinction is wholly irrelevant to the arguments I’ve used here. Try again.

steve hays August 16, 2011 at 3:02 pm
Devin Rose

“Regarding the list of infallible teachings, this is a common cry uttered by (certain) Protestant apologists. In practice this issue is a non-issue. It’s easy to know what the Church teaches. You may not like it: masturbation is sinful, contraception is wrong, women cannot be ordained, homosexual acts are wrong, etc. etc., but the teachings themselves are clear.”

Notice the bait-n-switch. The question at issue is not whether you can know what the Roman church teaches, but whether you can sift the fallible from the infallible teachings.

steve hays August 16, 2011 at 6:52 pm
Devin Rose

“By all means, direct people to your blog so they can read your posts. But be aware that your polemical tone and the offensive content of many of your posts have driven away more than one of my Protestant friends, including a pastor. People are repulsed by the vitriol.“

That’s a lovely exercise in well-poisoning on your part. BTW, do you apply the same reasoning to the text of Exsurge Domine?

“Does it take discernment to know which teachings are infallible? Sometimes. Usually it’s clear.”

Notice that Devin makes the Catholic layman the “final interpretive authority” regarding what is and isn’t the infallible teaching of the Roman church. For the Roman church hasn’t issued an infallible list of infallible teachings. It’s up to individual laymen to sort that out on their own.

Why don’t we take a concrete example. Take the Fourth Lateran Council, for instance. Devin, tell us which conciliar statements are fallible and which are infallible. Perhaps you could do a post on your own blog, where you place them in two columns (under “Fallible” and “Infallible” respectively), then link to it here.

Likewise, why don’t you run through the some papal encyclicals–say, Leo XIII through Benedict XVI–highlighting which statements in which encyclicals by which popes are infallible and which are fallible. Perhaps you could produce a color-coded edition. Red lettering for the infallible statements, and black lettering for the fallible statements.

“But sometimes with the ordinary and universal Magisterium, it takes some exploration, for the simple fact that the infallibility of the ordinary and universal Magisterium requires the following…”

By the criteria set forth in Lumen Gentium, we’d expect the traditional teaching on capital punishment to be infallible, yet the magisterium has done a 180 on that issue late in the 20C:

“Had Steve asked his question to Irenaeus, no doubt that great saint would have informed him to look to the teachings of the successors of the Apostles, the preservers of the Apostolic Tradition, in agreement with the church of Rome, founded by Peter and Paul.”

That begs the question of whether apostolic tradition is, in fact, preserved over the course of the centuries.

“As I said before, this is a non-issue, trumped up by those who despise the Catholic Church to try to insinuate fear, uncertainty, and doubt into the minds of those Christians exploring Catholicism’s claims.”

It’s funny that Devin deplores a “polemical tone,” then resorts to a polemical tone in his parting shot.

steve hays August 16, 2011 at 6:56 pm
Devin Rose

“God protects the Church from error on faith and morals.”

Sure about that? Your own pope doesn’t seem to share your confidence in that regard:

“The treatment of free will in article 17 is in his judgment ‘downright Pelagian.’”

steve hays August 17, 2011 at 6:46 pm
Devin Rose

“Perhaps Arius would have made the same argument that you do and claimed, prior to 325 AD, that the ordinary Magisterium is fallible and thus can be ignored or be contradicted. Indeed that is basically what he did, causing the Arian crisis that led to the first council of Nicaea.”

For a counterbalance to Devin’s crude, fideistic understanding of magisterial teaching, see my review of Dulles:

And, no, the magisterium is not sufficient to disprove Arius. That can only be determined by sound exegesis, not a deus ex machina.

Since I’m the one, not you, who’s been defending the deity of Christ against Dale Tuggy, it would behoove you to avoid the chicken-hawk bravado.


  1. Wow, Steve, you have been keeping busy. This is a great interaction.

  2. I am reading through Adversus Haereses right now. I have made it through most of Book 2 and I have found Irenaeus's style instructive.

    He does use logic and reasoning to demolish the Gnostic nonsense and it is fun to read, but he always comes back to what he calls the "Scriptures" for his final refutations and counter-statements.

    For example, in Book 2, Ch 27 Irenaeus is talking about the proper way of interpreting the parables of Jesus. Here he says (my emphasis):

    "A sound mind, and one which does not expose its possessor to danger, and is devoted to piety and the love of truth, will eagerly meditate upon those things which God has placed within the power of mankind, and has subjected to our knowledge, and will make advancement in [acquaintance with] them, rendering the knowledge of them easy to him by means of daily study. These things are such as fall [plainly] under our observation, and are clearly and unambiguously in express terms set forth in the Sacred Scriptures. "

    A reading of the entire context will also show that he talks about the proper use of reasoning and goes on to lay out a hermeneutic very much like the one currently taught in trustworthy congregations. That is: clear passages are used to interpret ambiguous ones. So what is the authority here? The Magistarium or the Pope, obviously.

    Also, regarding the Catholic appeal to Irenaeus as a promoter of "Apostolic Tradition", I think it is wise to let the man tell us what he means when he refers to "tradition" so we avoid anachronistic readings. A good place to find this is in Book 1, Ch 10 where Irenaeus is speaking about the unity of Christian faith over the entire world:

    "The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father "to gather all things in one," and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, "every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess" to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send "spiritual wickednesses," and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory."


  3. So you see that Irenaeus wisely defines the tradition he is talking about, making it impossible for those who come after to pour in their own definition. I find it interesting that he does this in what might be called a creedal format.

    He goes on to talk more about this tradition and how the Christian church everywhere teaches these things and he shows how it comports with what he has in the preceeding 9 chapters referred to as "the Scriptures". Clearly, Irenaeus knew of some of what we call the NT (the gospels and many of Paul's epistles), viewed these texts as authoritative and believed that his readers would as well.

    Irenaeus does not generally rely on naked logic or logic + spoof-texts to tell the reader what the true Christian position is. In fact, you can see that his logic gets him in trouble when he tries to argue on the basis of some Gospel passages that Jesus was actually more like 50 years old when he was crucified.

    All this in just two of 5 books. I can't wait to see what else awaits me. :^D

  4. Steve - this is truly one of your best ever..... Incredibly helpful. Thank you!