Sunday, July 01, 2018

The counsel of Trent, part 2.

This is a sequel to my previous post:

I'm ambivalent about reviewing this book. That's because there's so much deja vu in reading a book like this. I've written so much over the years responding to Catholic apologetics. How much to I wish to repeat myself? 

So this review will be scattershot. I'll try to find some new things to say, or new ways to say them.

Because Catholicism is a package deal, it isn't necessary to refute Catholicism en bloc to refute Catholicism. In principle, if you debunk a single Catholic dogma, that sinks the whole ship. 

I. Relics

On p296, he appeals to the stock prooftexts (2 Kgs 13:21; Acts 5:15; 19:11-12).

Several issues:

i) Given the inroads that modernism has made in contemporary Catholicism, I wonder how many bishops and Catholic Bible scholars even believe these accounts.

ii) God can assign a supernatural effect to a natural object. If you tampered with sacred furniture in the tabernacle, there were catastrophic consequences.

That, however, creates no presumption that natural objects produce supernatural effects. To the contrary, that's very rare. 

iii) None of his prooftexts involve a divine command or apostolic command. In the passages in Acts, people take the initiative. They take it upon themselves to do this. 

iv) Their attitude reflects folk theology. Superstitious belief in sympathetic magic. That things that come in contact with a wonder-worker store magic energy.

v) But didn't it work in Acts 19:11-12? Yes. I'd say that's an example of God's gracious accommodation. 

vi) A Catholic might accuse me of special pleading. Problem is, these prooftexts are a double-edged sword. How often are ailing people healed when they make a pilgrimage to a Catholic reliquary? When was the last time a dead person was revived by contact with the relic of a Catholic saint? 

How often are people healed when the pope's shadow falls on their sickbed? Why doesn't the pope empty the Gemelli of patients by paying a visit every so often to cast his healing shadow on the patients? 

Acts 19:11-12 indicates that the apostolic sweatbands were generally or uniformly efficacious in healing the sick and exorcising demoniacs. Do Catholic relics have anything remotely approaching the same success rate? 

If ailing people were regularly healed at Catholic reliquaries, that would be very impressive. That would indicate something supernatural was afoot. 

But to my knowledge, verified healings at Catholic reliquaries are rare at best. So Horn's prooftexts either prove too little or too much. They raise an expectation that Catholic reliquaries routinely disappoint. Horn wants the prooftexts without the results. But you can't lay claim to the prooftexts unless you can produce the same results. 

II. Intercession of the saints

In chap. 14, he justifies the intercession of the saints by asserting the possibility that the saints are aware of what's happening to us. But there are basic problems with that appeal:

i) It's possible that an anonymous benefactor will bail me out if I go into debt. Indeed, anonymous benefactors actually exist. Would it therefore be prudent for me to go into debt, in the expectation that an anonymous benefactor will cover my expenses?

It's possible that if I forego cancer therapy, my cancer will undergo spontaneous remission. Indeed, that happens every so often. Would it therefore be prudent for me to forego cancer therapy in the expectation that my cancer will undergo spontaneous remission?

The fact that we can't eliminate a possibility isn't justification to count on that possibility being a reality or probability. That's dangerous make-believe and wishful thinking.

ii) While it's possible for God to reveal my situation to a "saint", there are built-in limitations to what a saint can know. To be a creature is to be finite. Even an omnipotent God is restricted by the medium if he works through a natural medium. That's a self-imposed limitation. God can often circumvent a natural medium. But if God is working through human beings, then there are things that an omnipotent being can't do via that medium. 

There's no reason to think the Virgin Mary can simultaneously process millions of prayers in hundreds of foreign languages. That's inhumane. Invoking divine omnipotence doesn't solve the problem, since there's an upper limit on what it means to be human. 

iii) Assuming the departed can intercede for us, the obvious candidate wouldn't be a Christian who lived and died long before we were born, but a dead relative who knows who we are. An example is crisis apparitions. These typically involve a dead relative like your late mother. Not the Virgin Mary, but a close relative. If the dead know what's happens to the living–and that's a big if–the obvious candidates for that distinction wouldn't be strangers but Christian friends and relatives who predeceased us. People who knows us well in this life. 

iv) In Catholic theology, the intercession of the saints isn't comparable to evangelical intercessory prayer. For instance: 

The Mother of God herself revealed to St. Bridget that through the merit of her obedience she had obtained so great power that no sinner, however great were his crimes, who had recourse to her with a purpose of amendment, failed to obtain pardon. Alphonsus Liguori, The Glories of Mary

By contrast, the efficacy of evangelical intercessory prayer isn't based on the merit of the prayer partners. The only merit is the merit of Christ. 

III. Sacrifice of the Mass

1. In chap. 8, Horn tries to prooftext the sacrificial nature of the eucharist by appealing to sacrificial language in Lk 22 and 1 Cor 10-11:

i) The NT sometimes uses sacrificial language for the eucharist because the eucharist is the new covenantal counterpart to the Passover. That doesn't imply that the eucharist is sacrificial. Rather, that draws attention to the fact that Passover prefigures the eucharist. The eucharist replaces the Passover.

ii) Moreover, Scripture makes metaphorical usage of sacrificial imagery. For instance, Paul uses sacrificial language in Rom 12:1, but that's figurative rather than literal. He's not advocating that Christians commit self-immolation.

2. Predictably, Horn tries to prooftext the real presence from Jn 6. 

i) He doesn't even consider the obvious explanation that Jn 6 foreshadows the crucifixion (Jn 19) rather than the eucharist. Jesus is forecasting his death on the cross. 

ii) Jn 6 can't refer to communion because Jesus says eating-drinking/believing-coming terminates hunger and thirst (v35). But communion doesn't put an end to physical appetite. So it must have reference to figurative consumption, which is permanently quenched and satiated. It other words: a metaphor for eternal life. 

For that matter, Catholics don't think one-time communion is spiritually sufficient. Rather, Catholics are supposed to attend Mass at least once a week. It doesn't put an end to spiritual hunger and thirst. 

IV. Baptism

In chap 9 he tries to make a case for baptismal justification/regeneration.

i) He selectively quotes from Everett Ferguson's Baptism in Early Church History. (BTW, Ferguson is consistently misspelled as Fergusson in Horn's book.) However, Ferguson is a double-edged sword. As a Church of Christ minister, he has a theological agenda. His denomination regards baptism as essential to salvation. But modern Catholicism doesn't regard baptism as essential to salvation. Indeed, in modern Catholicism, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists can be saved.

ii) Ferguson regards infant baptism as a theological innovation, viz.

There is general agreement that there is no firm evidence for infant baptism before the latter part of the second century.

This fact does not mean that it did not occur, but it does mean that supporters of the practice have a considerable chronological gap to account for. Many replace the historical silence by appeal to theological or sociological considerations.

The most plausible explanation for the origin of infant baptism is found in the emergency baptism of sick children expected to die soon so that they would be assured of entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

There was a slow extension of baptizing babies as a precautionary measure. It was generally accepted, but questions continued to be raised about its propriety into the fifth century. It became the usual practice in the fifth and sixth centuries (856-57).

iii) Horn quotes Doug Moo's claim that by the date of Romans "baptize" had become almost a technical term for the rite of Christian initiation by water. 

Perhaps, but I'm unconvinced. In the NT, baptisma is used for John's baptism as well as Christian baptism, while baptizo has a long pre-Christian history, and baptismos (Col 2:12) is a synonym for baptisma in Col 2:12. 

In the Gospels and Acts, the narrative context makes water baptism the unmistkable meaning, but the epistles lack that descriptive setting. Does the word denote the sacrament of baptism in those occurrences, or metaphorical cleansing by water? 

iv) An elementary oversight on Horn's part is failure to grasp the nature of symbolism. A sign is a substitute for what it signifies. In symbolic transference, you attribute to the sign what it stands for. For instance, if the pascal lamb is emblematic of Jesus, then writers ascribe to the pascal lamb what is literally true of Jesus. The pascal lamb doesn't actually have that effect. It's just a stand-in. Likewise, if baptism is a token of spiritual cleansing and the remission of sin, writers will attribute that significance to baptism, but that's a symbolic ascription. 

At best, Horn's prooftexts are equally consistent with Zwinglianism and sacramental realism. However, scripture often promises salvation apart from baptism and communion (not to mention the other Catholic "sacraments"). The condition is faith and repentance rather than the sacraments. 

So that tilts the scales in favor of a Zwinglian interpretation. Baptism is a picture of spiritual cleansing. The reality is the direct action of the Spirit. Communion is a picture of the atonement. The reality is Christ's redemptive crucifixion. 

V. The Priesthood

1. In chap. 7, he tries to prooftext auricular confession.

i) But he does a bait-n-switch by providing some exegetical evidence for public confession. Yet that's hardly equivalent to confessing your sins to a priest in private. 

ii) He quotes Jn 20:23 out of context to prooftext auricular confession. But that's not what it means. For instance:

The meaning and significance of forgiveness (or lack thereof) must be defined by the preceding context…The Gospel connects the mission of the church specifically to the forgiveness of sins…The message of the church is the forgiveness of sins through Christ, and the mission of the church is to liberate the world from the power of sin. And this commissioning cannot be narrowed to a single task but is prescriptive of the very life of the church, E. Klink, John (Zondervan 2016), 866.

Yet Matthew's context is very different from the present one…focussed not on a mission to the world but on relationships within the Christian community…What exactly, then, is Jesus promising his disciples? Is appears to be a corollary of 13:20, 'the person who receives whomever I sent receives me, and the person who receives me receives the One who sent me,' while taking into account as well the negative equivalent now preserved in Lk 10:16: 'The person who hears you hears me, and then person who reject you rejects me…' J. R. Michaels, The Gospel of John (Eerdmans 2010), 1014.

So Jn 20:23 has nothing to do with auricular confession. Rather, the context is about a missionary church, where evangelized listeners are forgiven by believing the apostolic kerygma, but remain unforgiven if they disregard the apostolic kerygma. 

2. Regarding Mt 18:17, Horn says:

Jesus did not say "tell it to your church." He spoke of the Church, which implies that the believers were to be united organizationally as well as doctrinally. Without this organizational union, an excommunicated sinner or heretic could simply walk down the street to the next church that welcomes him (150). 

i) By Horn's logic, all cases of church discipline must be brought before the universal church. Somehow, all congregations must be apprised of the situation, and render a collective verdict. But Horn doesn't believe that. Doesn't the Vatican make that determination? 

ii) He assumes that Jesus is using the church in contrast to your church. But why think the possessive pronoun carries that intended contrast? The context itself is dealing with conflicts that arise in a local church setting, viz.

The case Jesus presents involves an individual believer who has been wronged by another Christian ('brother'), presumably in the same community of believers…The illustration here is personal…Ideally, the two individuals should resolve the problem without involving anyone else…In this context [v16] these people will almost certainly be fellow believers, though no particular officers of the church are specified. C. Blomberg, Matthew (Broadman 1992), 278.

At the risk of becoming repetitious, it is appropriate to point out again that no specific officers or leaders in the church are mentioned in these verses, R. T. France, The Gospel of St. Matthew (Eerdmans 2007), 696.

iii) The 21C Catholic church has extremely lax standards of church discipline. You just pick a parish with a sympathetic priest or bishop. That's easy to find. Lots of liberal priests and bishops to choose from. 

3. He tries to prooftext holy orders from 1 Tim 4:14. But that inference is complicated by alternative explanations:

i) In 2 Tim 1:6, Paul says he conferred the gift onto Timothy. But the fact that an apostle has that prerogative doesn't imply that elders have the same prerogative. Apostles had abilities and prerogatives that elders lack.

ii) The symbolism represented by the imposition of hands varies according to context. Although it's natural for readers conditioned by Catholicism to assume it must mean the transfer of authority, it can just as well function as a public witness. A gesture in the presence of the congregation to signify an appointment or commission. That isn't just hypothetical. It seems to have that significance in Acts 6:6 and 13:2-3. 

Notice that the candidates in 3:3 were already full of the Spirit. That wasn't the result of their commission, but a precondition. Likewise, in Acts 13:2-3, Paul was already gifted for ministry. He was an apostle. But he and Barnabas were authorized to carry out a special mission. 

iii) The primary function of a priest is to perform sacramental actions. If the Pastorals support Catholicism, why do they say next to nothing about the sacramental duties of a priest? 

4. Predictably, Horn quotes 1 Tim 3:15. That's a classic Catholic prooftext, but what does it mean? 

i) What's the source of Paul's architectural imagery? Here's one explanation:

In 1 Tim 3:15 "the household of God" is further defined as "the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth." The phrase oiko theou can be rendered "household of God" or "house of God." The phrase is used often (about 75 times) in the LXX to refer to the temple, and it never refers to a "household." The phrase "the pillar and support of the truth" also reflects, at least in part, OT temple language. For example, 2 Chron 4:11-12 refers to Chiram making for Solomon "in the house of God two pillars [stulous]," referring to the pillars at the entrance of the Holy Place. (See also 1 Kgs 7:3: Chiram "cast the two pillars [stulous] for the porch of the house"; so also Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 8.77; Ezra 5:16, "the foundations of the house of God," though themelious is used and not stulous; Ezra 2:68 refers to people "establishing" the "house of God…on its prepared [etoimasian] place."). That "the house of God" is equated with "the church of the living God" in 1 Tim 3:15 points further to the notion of a temple, since God dwelt in Israel's temple. We have also seen earlier that about 19 of approximately 73 uses of ekklesia (rendering qahal) in the LXX are also directly linked to a temple context. Of particular interest is Neh 13:1-2, where ekklesia tou theou occurs in association with four repetitions of "house of God" (ho oikos tou theou) in the following context (Neh 13:4,7,9,11), and where the two expressions are closely related (see also, e.g., 2 Chron 23:3 and Ezra 10:1, where "the assembly" of Israel fathers before the "house of God"). Likewise, 1 Kgs 8 refers four times to the ekklesia of Israel, which are in close proximity to reference to the temple. G. K. Beale, "The New Testament Background of κκλησα Revisited Yet Again," J. Frame, W. Grudem, & J. Hughes, eds. Redeeming the Life of the Mind: Essays in Honor of Vern Poythress (Crossway 2017), 54. 

Assuming this identification is correct, Paul is describing the church as a temple. And that would be consistent with what he says about Christians as temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16-6:19).

If so, what does it mean to say the church is a temple of truth? A temple is set apart from profane space. In the historical context of the 1C Roman Empire, that stands in contrast to pagan error. But none of this implies the infallibility of the church, or the church as the source of truth. 

The truth is the apostolic kerygma. That's the criterion. 

iii) When Catholic apologists quote 1 Tim 3:15, they don't think the church in general is infallible. They don't think the laity in general is infallible, or the priesthood, or individual bishops. Rather, they redefine the church as the pope speaking ex cathedra or ecumenical councils. 

5. He quotes Jn 17:23, then says:

The way to ensure that this unity would remain in the Church requires authorities who could settle disputes among Christians (149). 

But the text doesn't say that. Moreover, outsiders don't think the Catholic church displays the requisite unity. They don't think the Catholic church is a witness to unity, but disunity and chicanery. 

6. Horn says:

[The NT] does not envision the congregation electing its leaders. Instead, the laity is instructed to "obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account" (Heb 13:17) [150].

i) Of course, at this nascent stage of church history, when apostles were still alive, we wouldn't expect congregations to choose their pastors. That's anachronistic.

ii) Horn's acontextual appeal to Heb 13:17 overlooks the link between ecclesiastical authority and a chain of testimony (Heb 2:3; 13:7). That was back when there were living witnesses to the life of Christ. But that generation died out by the end of the 1C or so. Nowadays, elders are in the same boat as laymen. Both elders and laymen have the same source of information. 

1 comment:

  1. Steve - don't give up! I know you're repeating yourself ad infinitum ad nauseum, but that's the name of the game. Say the same thing in a thousand different ways. I appreciate your tireless effort. I really do! :)