Saturday, October 28, 2017

“To be Deep in History is to Affirm Protestant Distinctives”

For the naysayers: “The earlier one goes back the more Protestant they seem”.


Here is the entire quote from Dominic Foo:

The Protestant Consensus of the Fathers, Doctors and Saints

To be honest when I set out on my patristic quote spam, I was merely gathering material for my photo album in preparation for Reformation Day. My goal was a lot more modest: I merely wanted to show that Protestant claims were not unprecedented, that what we teach has always existed even if not enjoying a sort of overwhelming majority or broad consensus.

I have to say that now that I have properly dug into it I am surprised, really surprised. Protestant propositions and claims are not merely isolated one off remarks by the Fathers here and there but enjoys a sort of continuity and universality amongst the Fathers. Even when the essence of Protestant claims started to become obscured by later accretions, which reasoning, based on the immediate context, can be clearly understood and motivations, for contemporary concerns, clearly traced, the Protestant claims remains intact.

Whatever is distinctive about high church denominations, like the role of unwritten customs or adoration of images or even invocation of saints, can be clearly seen to be of later developments which came about as a result of much ecclesiastical struggle. The earlier one goes back the more Protestant they seem. I was honestly surprised to read long extensive iconoclastic arguments from Athanasius, the rejection of excessive veneration of saints from Basil and Chrysostom, and a "me and my Bible" approach from them which even I am uncomfortable with.

Officially my Protestant approach to Church History remains the same. If we believe that the Scriptures are perspicuous and clear, other people before us must have read the Scriptures in the same way as we have. While we cannot be the first to have read it that way, I don't however need to harmonise all that they have said. Now however, I am really a lot more confident of making the claims of a "Protestant Consensus" of the Fathers while being able to identify, explain, and argue against the faulty reasoning and premises invoked by the later Fathers and Doctors in aid of erroneous contemporary high church claims.

8 comments:

  1. If you think Dominic Foo finds Protestant principles in Patristic literature, you should go read Timothy Kaufmann's web page, it's awesome.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I’ve seen it. I’m uncomfortable with his efforts to squeeze early church history into some of the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation.

      Delete
  2. True, yet it's very interesting. He really is well read in that era, and puts out highly detailed theories of his thoughts. It is all tied up coherently, but since it is prophecy, it is very difficult to "guarantee" if it's true or not. I particularly like his work on the pre Nicene era and how Rome developed, especially in the 4th century. He does an excellent job debunking his commenters, who see Roman Catholicism in ALL things Patristic, with sound research, and copious amounts of documentation. Good stuff. His work on Daniel & Revelation should be taken with a grain of salt, just like everyone else I read on these particular subjects dealing with prophecy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I’ve liked some of his stuff a lot.

      Delete
  3. "If we believe that the Scriptures are perspicuous and clear, other people before us must have read the Scriptures in the same way as we have."

    Can you then show me consistent and continuous teaching of double imputation and OSAS among the Church Fathers and medieval theologians, and understanding of justification as a one-time event constituting a forensic declaration? Even Alistair McGrath in his book on the history of the doctrine of justification admits that the doctrine of imputation and one-time forensic justification was a break from hundreds of previous years when justifiction was unanimously understood as a process. Likewise, numerous Church Fathers, as early as St. Justin Martyn, and St. Irenaeus, affirmed possibility of losing salvation and free will of man. So, in case of imputation, OSAS and one-time forensic justification a Protestant must refer to development of doctrine too, and in many cases with much weaker historical case that Catholics.

    Also, there are some things that the Fathers were simply wrong about - for example, their view of sexual relations, even within marriage, was entirely negative, they saw it as a result of fall. This was overreaction to promiscuous ancient culture, the Fathers went too far the other way. I believe such is the case with veneration of images - some of the Fathers rejected it because images were used by pagans, not because they had basis in Scripture or Tradition to condemn this practice. A good example comes from Eusebius of Caesarea descriptions of statues of Jesus and Saints he saw, where he clearly criticizes the practice because it reminded him of pagan use of images, not because of some Scriptural prohibition of images in general (which is non-existent):

    "3. They say that this statue is an image of Jesus. It has remained to our day, so that we ourselves also saw it when we were staying in the city.

    4. Nor is it strange that those of the Gentiles who, of old, were benefited by our Saviour, should have done such things, since we have learned also that the likenesses of his apostles Paul and Peter, and of Christ himself, are preserved in paintings, the ancients being accustomed, as it is likely, according to a habit of the Gentiles, to pay this kind of honor indiscriminately to those regarded by them as deliverers."

    http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/250107.htm

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ///Can you then show me consistent and continuous teaching of double imputation and OSAS among the Church Fathers and medieval theologians, and understanding of justification as a one-time event constituting a forensic declaration?///

      First of all, you're mischaracterizing what the early fathers meant when they talked about things like predestination and assurance. If you're going to question the doctrines, you should be careful to get them right.


      ///Even Alistair McGrath in his book on the history of the doctrine of justification admits that the doctrine of imputation and one-time forensic justification was a break from hundreds of previous years when justifiction was unanimously understood as a process. ///

      1. It's "Alister", not "Alistair".

      2. Perhaps he didn't read them carefully enough. Nathan Buszenitz ("Long Before Luther: Tracing the Heart of the Gospel From Christ to the Reformation") challenges McGrath, takes Chemnitz a step further, and traces "justification by faith alone" (and it's counterparts in Protestant doctrine) through both the biblical and patristic foundations of those doctrines.

      ///Likewise, numerous Church Fathers, as early as St. Justin Martyn, and St. Irenaeus, affirmed possibility of losing salvation and free will of man. ///

      That's another discussion, but the biblical and the philosophical issues were the same then as now.


      ///So, in case of imputation, OSAS and one-time forensic justification a Protestant must refer to development of doctrine too, and in many cases with much weaker historical case that Catholics.///

      Not so. as Buszenitz notes, the proper characterizations of these doctrines are clearly found in Scripture and echoed through the writings of the early church. The "development" that occured is the "development" that placed "the Church" and "the sacraments" in between Christ and those he justifies.


      ///Also, there are some things that the Fathers were simply wrong about ///

      Of course. Which is why Sola Scriptura rightly claims that no other source of authority has the same authority as the Scriptures.


      ///I believe such is the case with veneration of images///

      There is of course the second commandment. Art is fine. But once you start talking "veneration" then you are on a path that will take you to where someone for whom Scripture is not a final authority will go (such as the 8th century participants in Nicaea II (787).

      Delete
    2. "First of all, you're mischaracterizing what the early fathers meant when they talked about things like predestination and assurance. If you're going to question the doctrines, you should be careful to get them right."

      I was simply pointing out that the Reformed doctrine of double imputation and OSAS is absent from the Church Fathers and was absent during medieval period as well, while there are many affirmations that justification can be lost (even in St. Augustine to whom Calvin appealed in his soteriology) and that man has free will (clearly taught as early as St. Justin the Martyr, who also taught in Frist Apology that people can be saved or damned on the basis of "value of their actions"). If Scripture is indeed perspicuous and Protestantism is true, then Protestants should be able to point towards Christians in every period of Church history who believed those things. Therefore, if double imputation and OSAS as understood by the Reformed theology are not found in the Fathers, Protestants only recourse is development of doctrine, the very thing which they criticize in Catholicism. Or, simple fideism that "there must have always been someone who believed this since this doctrine is true" - but a Catholic can say as much about dogmas which have limited Patristic support, such as Bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

      "1. It's "Alister", not "Alistair"."

      Indeed, I'm sorry.

      "2. Perhaps he didn't read them carefully enough. Nathan Buszenitz ("Long Before Luther: Tracing the Heart of the Gospel From Christ to the Reformation") challenges McGrath, takes Chemnitz a step further, and traces "justification by faith alone" (and it's counterparts in Protestant doctrine) through both the biblical and patristic foundations of those doctrines."

      There are serious problems with the way he interprets the Fathers. For example, when he quotes the Fathers who wrote about justification comparing it to court declaration, he jumps to conclusion that it supports Protestant doctrine of one-time forensic justification. But Catholic theology does not deny that justification indeed does include legal declaration - of course, one is either guilty or innocent. The difference is that in Catholic theology this legal declaration is based on actual state of a man who is made objectively righteous by God, while in Protestantism it is based on the righteousness of Christ imputed to the sinner. Therefore, merely saying that some Fathers spoke about justification as legal declaration is not enough to claim that they understood justification in the same sense as Reformed theology does. In fact, some of the quotes he brings up are distinctively supportive of Catholic position. For example, lets take Rufinus:

      "Would you have me refuse to believe that he who made a man of the dust of the earth can of a guilty person make me innocent?"

      Rufinus says that man is "made" innocent. In Reformed theology a sinner is not made innocent - he is only declared so on the basis of imputed righteousness of Christ (in Catholic theology he is both declared righteous and is actually righteous), but underneath it he is still sinful. Thus, Rufinus affirms that forgiveness of sins is based on actual state of a man who is made innocent by God, perfectly consistent with Catholic teaching. Moreover, in further part of the passage (which Buschenitz fails to quote) Rufinus says that forgiveness of sins is based on "conversion of the mind from bad to good", again showing his understanding of justification as internal transformation of a man and finding its basis in actual state of man, not imputation of alien righteousness of Christ.

      Delete
    3. (continued)

      Many other examples could be quoted, like his eisegesis of St. Athanasius regarding his teaching on the atonement, or his appeal to Ambrosiaster who clearly taught Purgatory and necessity of being actually righteous to enter Heaven in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:15. He also implicitly strawmans Catholic position by quoting Fathers who teach that we are saved by grace and not by human merit (as if the Catholic Church taught such a thing).

      "Of course. Which is why Sola Scriptura rightly claims that no other source of authority has the same authority as the Scriptures."

      You miss the point. If rejection of veneration of images by some of the early Fathers is an argument for rejecting the practice, to be consistent you'd have to treat sexual relations as result of the fall and made only for procreating children (such negative was the view of sex by the Fathers). But Protestants rightly don't, correctly recognizing that the Fathers were wrong about that and that sexual relations between husband and wife are a gift from God (historically speaking development of doctrine). Likewise, Catholic Church rightly rejects erroneous opinions of some Fathers who rejected veneration of images for reasons other than Scripture or Tradition.

      Delete