Monday, May 28, 2012

Kruger vs Ratzinger

Setting the stage for the conflict
Before I move further with Michael Kruger’s work, Canon Revisited, I’d like to share the reason for the enthusiasm for this work. And it has to do with showing a contrast between the entire world and ethos of Protestantism, and the entire world and ethos of Roman Catholicism.

Regarding the latter, the following statement has been making its way around the Internet lately. It is more than a tacit admission that there are contradictions within the Roman Catholic system, and it discusses how Roman Catholics are required to deal with these contradictions. (Andy when I say “deal with”, I say it in the spirit with which Roman Catholics are literally commanded to accept these things fully and without question. They get to “receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms”. What follows is in the context of the teachings of the Vatican II council being “completely binding” on Roman Catholics, but the principle here applies much more broadly:

1. Whenever the Council teaches something about faith and morals, what it teaches is certainly true, either through the specific note of infallibility or from the religious submission of mind and will owed to the ordinary Magisterium.

2. If such a teaching on faith or morals appears to anyone to conflict with earlier teachings, the problem is not with the truth of the Council’s statement but with our understanding of the Church’s full teaching of which the Council’s statement is inescapably a part.

3. Proper method demands that an understanding of the matter in question be found that accepts the truth of all relevant statements. Later statements can be illuminated by earlier ones and earlier statements can be illuminated by later ones, until a more complete and precise understanding is formed.

4. Where the Council was not teaching on matters of faith and morals, such as where it was describing contemporary conditions or offering recommendations for renewal, its statements are to be received with respect and gratitude but are not necessarily flawless in either their factual accuracy or their prudential judgment.

5. It follows that any arguments which undermine this understanding, whether based upon the pastoral interests of the Council or any other factor, are specious.

(I am reminded of Loyola’s Thirteenth Rule: “To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it…” In other words, Rule #1 is: “Rome is right, and you are wrong”. And Rule #2 is, “when in doubt, see Rule #1”).

These directives, it is noted in the First Things article where they are (among other places) found, carefully follow “the principals [sic] laid out by Pope Benedict in his address to the Curia about ‘the hermeneutic of reform, of renewal within continuity.’” The foundation of these ideas come from Pope John XXIII’s opening speech of the council:
Here I shall cite only John XXIII's well-known words, which unequivocally express this hermeneutic when he says that the Council wishes "to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion". And he continues:  "Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us...". It is necessary that "adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness..." be presented in "faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another...", retaining the same meaning and message (The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J., p. 715).

“Faith Alone”, Roman Catholic Style
Thus, Roman Catholics are bound to “receive with docility” the notion that “If … a teaching on faith or morals appears to anyone to conflict with earlier teachings, the problem is not with the truth of the [Church’s] statement but with our understanding of the Church’s full teaching ….”

This is almost the very definition of fideism: an “exclusive or basic reliance upon faith alone, accompanied by a consequent disparagement of reason and utilized especially in the pursuit of philosophical or religious truth”. At best, it is an example of the statement, “I don’t know what the explanation is, but the truth is definitely “out there”, somewhere. Now, some Roman Catholics will take issue that this is an example of “faith alone”, as Plantinga defined it. It is “faith alone in the [‘Roman Catholic Church’s full teaching’] alone”.

Pope and Theologian-in-Chief Joseph Ratzinger
For 20-odd years, he was the #2 man in the Vatican. Every Roman Catholic’s favorite theologian these days (those few Roman Catholics who are interested in theology) has to be Joseph Ratzinger. The “brilliant” young theologian Ratzinger was a peritus, or chief theological advisor to [the Liberal] Cardinal Josef Frings of Cologne, Germany. Avery Dulles summarized Ratzinger’s theological achievements at Vatican II:

Benedict XVI was present at all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965. Whereas Karol Wojtyla took part as a bishop, the young Joseph Ratzinger did so as a theological expert. During and after the council he taught successively at the universities of Bonn (1959-1963), Münster (1963-1966), Tübingen (1966-1969), and Regensburg, until he was appointed Archbishop of Munich in 1977. In 1981 he became prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a post he held until the death of John Paul II in April 2005.

In the post Vatican II period, “John Paul the Great” may have been pope, but the pope was a philosopher, and Joseph Ratzinger was “the pope’s theologian”. When John Paul II died, in the conclave that followed, no other figure on the horizon had the kind of notability and stature that Ratzinger had.

So, for any given statement on “apostolic succession”, whatever Ratzinger, pope-and-theologian-in-chief, provides the clearest shape of the Roman Catholic argument for authority via apostolic succession.

Why this question is so important in our day
As I’ve noted in the past, Ratzinger points this out in the clearest terms in his 1962 essay “Primacy, Episcopacy, and Successio Apostolica” in the work “God’s Word: Scripture-Tradition-Office  (San Francisco: Ignatius Press ©2008; Libreria Editrice Vaticana edition ©2005). He says “The concept of [apostolic] succession was clearly formulated, as von Campenhausen has impressively demonstrated, in the anti-Gnostic polemics of the second century; [and not, as some Roman Catholic writers assert, in the first century] its purpose was to contrast the true apostolic tradition of the Church with the pseudo-apostolic tradition of Gnosis” (pgs 22-23).

In that thread, one commenter noted Ratzinger’s objection to what von Campenhausen was saying.

If, however, von Campenhausen meant to say here that a later and thus secondary theology of succesio/traditio was preceded by a biblical theology, then this would have to be called an error (Ratzinger, 25).

This is precisely what von Campenhausen was saying. Von Campenhausen suggests precisely that “biblical theology” certainly preceded the concept of “apostolic succession” held by the later (second century) church.

Roman claims to authority, therefore, are dependent upon the fact that the New Testament canon came some time after this formulation of “apostolic succession”.

This is clarified as Ratzinger continues:

For the understanding of the New Testament [writings] as “scripture”, and thus any possible formulation of a New Testament biblical principle, is no earlier than the determination of the principle of succession/tradito, and moreover, it is, to an even greater extent than this latter, determined by Gnosticism through Marcion (Ratzinger, 25).

Look at what Ratzinger is saying: The impetus for the canon of the New Testament is “determined by Gnosticism through Marcion”. But just to be sure everyone gets this idea, Ratzinger drives his point home:

We should not deceive ourselves: the existence of New Testament writings, recognized as being “apostolic”, does not yet imply the existence of a “New Testament” as “Scripture”—there is a long way from the writings to Scripture. It is well known, and should not be overlooked, that the New Testament does not anywhere understand itself as “Scripture”; “Scripture” is, for the New Testament, simply the Old Testament, while the message about Christ is precisely “spirit”, which teaches us how to understand Scripture.” The idea of a “New Testament” as “Scripture” is still quite inconceivable at this point—even when “office”, as the form of the paradosis, is already clearly taking shape” (Ratzinger ,25).

This is where the rubber meets the road. This is Rome’s strongest and most desperate argument for its own authority. Ratzinger dredges up the old “the Church precedes the Scripture” canard. The reason they hold so strongly to this point is because their entire claim to authority is based on this one falsehood. If the New Testament message has greater authority than “the Church”, then all of Rome’s claims to authority may rightly be flushed down the toilet.
[Given that the papacy was a development that began in the third century and saw its full flowering only in the fifth century, the Roman Catholic Church needs something upon which to hang a line between Peter, who, without question, was a great Apostle, and the fifth century. It needs the concept of “Apostolic Succession”, however nebulous that may be, to bridge that gap.]

Here is Ratzinger pressing home his case:

This open situation of the existence of recognized New Testament writings without the existence of any New Testament principle of Scripture or any clear notion of the canon lasted until well in the second century—right into the middle of the period of the conflict with Gnosticism. Before the idea of a “canon” of New Testament Scripture had been formulated, the Church had already developed a different concept of what was canonical; she had as her Scripture the Old Testament but this Scripture needed a canon of New Testament interpretation, which the Church saw as existing in the traditio guaranteed by the succession (Ratzinger, 25-26).

Rome thus hangs its hat upon the lateness of the canon of the New Testament. If the Roman Catholic version of the lateness of the New Testament can be shown to have some dependence on “tradition”, then somehow, Rome’s version of its own claim to authority might ring true. On the other hand, if the writings of the New Testament had authority to shape orthodox belief (as Kruger argues), then the Reformation is precisely correct in its “throwing off” of Roman authority in favor of a Scriptural-based rule of faith.

It’s not hard to see where this is going. Lord willing, I’ll pick up more of this next time. 


  1. Hi John,

    This is really great work. Thanks very much.


  2. It is well known, and should not be overlooked, that the New Testament does not anywhere understand itself as "Scripture"

    He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. - 2 Peter 3:16

  3. Hi Axis, it seems as if this verse is not the full measure of Ratzingner's worries, although, it is one of the things that creates the need for the principle of "If such a teaching on faith or morals appears to anyone to conflict with earlier teachings, the problem is not with the truth of the Council’s statement but with our understanding of the Church’s full teaching". The Roman Church, you understand, doesn't get that wrong. Something is wrong with your understanding. ;-)