Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Early Absence Of A Papacy

Saint and Sinner wrote:

"Dulles is giving us only the evidence that supports his side. He never mentions Cyprian's two confrontations with Rome's authority or the fact that a later Council of Carthage under Augustine stated that Rome would have no authority to restore a defrocked presbyter to his former position."

It's also worth noting that, in one of his disputes with Rome, Cyprian was joined by dozens of other bishops, including the Eastern bishop (not just North African bishops) Firmilian, who referred to the bishop of Rome as an antichrist and worse than all heretics. That Roman bishop, Stephen, seems to be the first extant advocate of something close to the doctrine of the papacy, but earlier disputes involving the Roman church suggest that previous Roman bishops didn't view themselves as Popes. First Clement is written in the name of the church of Rome, not the bishop of Rome, and the letter makes many appeals to various authorities (scripture, Jesus, the apostles, the Holy Spirit, etc.), but never to any papal authority. Early references to the apostolic nature of the Roman church associate that church with Paul and Peter, without distinguishing between the two by placing Peter over Paul. When Polycrates, the bishop of Ephesus, wrote against the Roman bishop Victor during the Quartodeciman controversy in the second century, he cited two apostles who traveled in the East in support of his position. He may have been citing those two Eastern apostles to counter a Roman appeal to Peter and Paul. It seems that the singling out of Peter was a later development, even in Rome. In the earliest disputes involving the Roman church, there are no traces of a discussion of papal authority on either side.

For those interested in reading more about whether there was a papacy in the earliest generations of Christianity, see here and here.

"they who are at Rome do not observe those things in all cases which are handed down from the beginning, and vainly pretend the authority of the apostles...But with respect to the refutation of custom which they [the Roman church] seem to oppose to the truth, who is so foolish as to prefer custom to truth, or when he sees the light, not to forsake the darkness?...And this indeed you Africans are able to say against Stephen [bishop of Rome], that when you knew the truth you forsook the error of custom. But we join custom to truth, and to the Romans' custom we oppose custom, but the custom of truth; holding from the beginning that which was delivered by Christ and the apostles....But indeed you [Stephen] are worse than all heretics....Moreover, how great sin have you heaped up for yourself, when you cut yourself off from so many flocks! For it is yourself that you have cut off. Do not deceive yourself, since he is really the schismatic who has made himself an apostate from the communion of ecclesiastical unity. For while you think that all may be excommunicated by you, you have excommunicated yourself alone from all...But as far as he [Stephen] is concerned, let us leave him...And yet Stephen is not ashamed to afford patronage to such in opposition to the Church, and for the sake of maintaining heretics to divide the brotherhood and in addition, to call Cyprian 'a false Christ and a false apostle, and a deceitful worker.' And he, conscious that all these characters are in himself, has been in advance of you, by falsely objecting to another those things which he himself ought deservedly to hear." (Firmilian, Cyprian's Letter 74:6, 74:19, 74:23-24, 74:26)

"Errand of Mercy"

Captain, we've reached the designated position for scanning the coded directive.
We've both guessed right. Negotiations with the Vandal Empire are on the verge of breaking down. Starfleet Command anticipates a surprise attack. We are to proceed to Orthogania and take whatever steps are necessary to prevent the Vandals from using it as a base.
Strategically sound. Orthogania is the only Class-M planet in the disputed area, ideally located for use by either side.
Orthogania's description, Mr. Photios.
Inhabited by humanoids, a very quaint, superstitious people living on a primitive Byzantine level. Little of intrinsic value. Approximately Class, D-minus on Richter's scale of cultures.
The automatic deflector screen just popped on. Body approaching.
Configurations. Phaser banks. Lock on. Return fire. Maintain firing range. 100% dispersal pattern.
We've hit him, Captain. He's hurt.
Damage control, report to the first officer.
Captain, the other ship doesn't register. Only drifting debris.
We got him.
All hands, maintain general alert. Hold battle stations. Damage report, Mr. Photios.
Minor, Captain. We were most fortunate. Blast damage in decks 10 and 11. Minor buckling in the antimatter pods. Casualties light.
Maintain surveillance, Mr. Monkpatrick.
No contact. He blew up.
We've been anticipating an attack. What we've just experienced very nearly qualifies.
Yes. It would seem to be an unfriendly act.
Automatic all-points relay from Palamite Command, Captain. Code 1.
Well, there it is--war. We didn't want it, but we've got it.
Curious how often you manage to obtain that which you do not want.
We've still got a job to do--denying Orthogania to the Vandals.
With the outbreak of hostilities, that might not be easy.
Lay in a course for Orthogania, Mr. Monkpatrick.
Aye, aye, sir.
Negotiating with the Orthoganians will be time-consuming, Captain.
Time's one thing we'll have the least of. We won't get it by talking about it. The trigger's been pulled. We have to get there before the hammer falls. Ahead warp factor 7.

Space-- the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Palamas.
Its five-year mission --to explore strange old worlds...
to seek out quaint life forms and backward civilizations...
to boldly go back to where men have gone before.

Captain 's Log. : stardate 3198.4.
We have reached Orthogania and established standard orbit. No signs of hostile activities in this area.
Unit X-Y 75847 report a fleet of Vandal ships in their sector, sir.
What bearing?
Unable to ascertain, sir.
Mr. Monkpatrick, have the phaser crews stand by their positions.
Full power deflector screens.
Yes, sir.
Mr. Photios and I are going to the planet's surface. You will be in command. Your responsibility is to the Palamas, not to us. The Vandal fleet's in this quadrant. We know that Orthogania will be a target. If they should emerge --
We'll handle them, sir.
You will evaluate the situation. If there's a fleet of them, you'll get out of here.
But, Captain --
No buts. You'll get to safety and alert the fleet. You will not attack alone. Mr. Photios and I will be all right. Mr. Photios, let's you and I pay the Orthoganians a visit.

You'd think they had people beaming down every day.
Yes. Curious lack of interest.
Notice the ruins in the distance, Captain.
Quite large.
Yes. A Baptistry, perhaps.
Whatever it is, it would seem to be inconsistent with the reports we've been given on this culture.
Reception committee?
Seems so.
You are our visitors. Welcome. Welcome.
I am Ayelborne.
I am Capt. Acolyte of the starship Palamas, representing the United Federation of Palamites. This is my first officer Mr. Photios.
You're most welcome, my friend.
I would like to speak to someone in authority.
We...we don't have anybody one individual in authority, but I am the Chairman of the local church board. Perhaps I would do.
You people are in danger.
Is there someplace we can talk?
Oh, yes. My office nearby. Please.
Captain, if you don't mind, I should like to wander about the village and make some studies.
Of course, my friend. Our village is yours.

Gentlemen, my government has informed me that the Vandals are expected to move against your planet with the objective of making it a base of operation against the Federation. My mission, frankly, is...
is to be a propagandist for the Palamites.
What you're saying is that we seem to have a choice between dealing with you or your enemies.
No, sir. With the Federation, you have a choice. You have none with the Vandals. The Vandals are a military dictatorship. War is their way of life. Life under the Vandal rule would be very unpleasant. We offer you protection.
We thank you for your altruistic offer, Captain, but we really do not need your protection. We are a simple people. We have nothing that anybody could want. Candles and incense.
You have this planet and its strategic location. I assure you that if you don't take action to prevent it, the Vandals will move against you as surely as your sun rises. We will help you build defenses, build facilities.
We have no defenses, Captain, nor are any needed.
I have seen what the Vandals do to planets like yours. Your vestments and icons will be confiscated. Baptismal fonts, toppled, smashed. Be far better off on a Protestant planet. Infinitely better off.
Captain, we see that your concern is genuine. We are moved. But again we assure you we are in absolutely no danger.
If anybody's in danger, you are. That concerns us greatly. It would be better if you returned to your ship right away.
You keep insisting there's no danger.
I keep assuring you there is.
It is our way of life, Captain.
That's the first thing that would be lost!
Excuse me, gentlemen. I'm a propagandist, not a diplomat. I can only tell you the truth.
If you'll excuse us, we will discuss your kind offer.
Yes, certainly.

Captain, our information on these people and their culture is not correct. This is not a primitive society making progress toward mechanization. They are totally stagnant, stuck in the mud. There is no evidence of any progress as far back as my tricorder can register.
That doesn't seem likely.
Nevertheless, it is true.
For many centuries, there has been absolutely no advancement, no significant change in their Byzantine environment.
This is a laboratory specimen of an arrested culture.
Thank you, Mr. Photios. That might be useful.

We have discussed your offer, Captain. Our opinion is unchanged. We are in no danger. Thank you for your kind offer of assistance, although we must decline it, and we strongly recommend that you leave Orthogania before you yourselves are endangered.
Gentlemen, I must get you to reconsider. We can be of immense help to you. In addition to polemical aid, we can send you prayerbooks and liturgies. Your public facilities are almost nonexistent. We can help you preserve your retrograde world, and all we ask in return is that you let us help you. Now.
Captain, I can see that you do not understand us.
[Communicator Beeps]
Excuse me, sir. Acolyte here.
A large number of Vandal vessels have just arrived.
Nobody fire.
[Acolyte] Positive identification.
My screens are up.
I can't drop them to beam you aboard.
Mr. Monkpatrick, follow your orders. Get out of here. Contact the fleet. Return if the odds are more equal. Acolyte out.
You insisted there was no danger--
That is correct, Captain. There is no danger.
Eight space vehicles have assumed orbit around our planet. They are activating their material transmission units.
Thank you, Trefayne.
Can you verify that?
Negative, Captain, but it seems a logical development.
Since it is too late for you to escape, perhaps we should be protecting you.
If you had listened to me --
We must be sure you are not harmed.
Ayelborne, several hundred men have appeared near the Baptistry. They bring many weapons.
How does he know that?
Oh, our friend Trefayne is really quite intuitive. Rest assured that what he says is absolutely correct.
So, we're stranded here in the middle of a Vandal occupation army.
So it would seem.
Not a very pleasant prospect.
You have a gift for understatement, Mr. Photios. It's not a very pleasant prospect at all.

Captain 's Log. : stardate 3201.7.
Mr. Photios and I are trapped on the planet Orthogania, which is in the process of being occupied by the forces of the Vandal Empire. The Orthoganians have provided us with native clothing in the hopes we may be taken for Orthoganians.
Captain, our phasers are gone.
Did you take them?
Yes, Captain. I took them.
I must ask you to return them.
I cannot do that. You might be tempted to use violence, and that we cannot permit.
You, Captain, will pass as an Orthoganian, and Mr. Photios...
Mr. Photios presents a problem. He doesn't look like an Orthoganian. A Texan trader perhaps. A dealer in cock and bull. Harmless to the Vandals.
They know that Euless is a Federation member.
Texan epologists are not uncommon, Captain.
It is a practical approach.
What about the rest of you?
We shall continue as before. We have nothing to fear.
You have a lot to learn, sir. And if I know the Vandals, you'll be learning it the hard way.

This is the ruling council?
I am Ayelborne, temporary head of the church board.
I bid you welcome.
No doubt you do. I am Kor, military governor of Orthogania.
Who are you?
He is Barona, one of our leading citizens.
And he has no tongue?
I have a tongue.
You will be taught how to use it. Where is your smile?
My what?
The stupid, idiotic smile everyone else seems to be wearing.
A Texan.
Do you also have a tongue?
I am Photios, a dealer in cock and bull.
Take this man. Eulessians are members of the Federation. He may be a spy.
He's no spy.
Well...have we a ram among the sheep? You object to us taking him?
He's done nothing. Nothing at all.
Coming from an Orthoganian, yours is practically an act of rebellion. Very good.
So you welcome me. Do you also welcome me?
You're here. There's nothing I can do about it.
Good honest hatred. Very refreshing. However, it makes no difference whether you welcome me or not. I am here and will stay. You are now subjects of the Vandal Empire. You'll find there are many rules and regulations. They will be posted. Violation of the smallest of them will be punished by death.
We shall obey your regulations, Commander.
You disapprove, Barona.
You need my approval?
I need your obedience.
Nothing more.
Will I have it?
You seem to be in command.
Yes. I am. I shall need a representative from among you. Liaison between the forces of the occupation and the civil population. Smile and smile. I don't trust men who smile too much.
You, Barona, you're the man.
Me? I don't want the job.
Have I asked whether or not you want it? We Vandals have a reputation for ruthlessness. You will find that it is deserved. Should one Vandal soldier be harmed, a thousand icons will be burned. I will have order. Is that clear?
Commander, I assure you, our people want nothing but peace. We shall cause you no trouble.
I'm sure you will not. Take the Texan to the interrogation room. You, come with me. I will familiarize you with your new duties.
What about Mr. Photios?
You are concerned.
He is my friend.
You have a poor choice of friends. He will be examined. If he is lying, he will die.
If he is telling the truth...he will find that business has taken a turn for the worse. Take him. You do not like to be pushed. Very good. You may be a man I can deal with, Barona. Come with me.

"From this day on, no public assemblages of more than three people. All publications to be cleared through this office.” Neighborhood controls will be established, relicts selected...a somewhat lengthy list of crimes against the state.
You do not like them?
He is what he claims to be, commander--a Texan merchant named Photios. His main concern seems to be how he would carry out his business under our occupation.
Nothing else?
The usual --a certain amount of apprehension regarding us.
All right, Texan, you may go. But you are an enemy alien.
You will be under our scrutiny at all times. If I have to warn you...
Not necessary, Commander. I understand you...
Very well.
Return to your council, Barona. You will receive our official notifications as soon as they are published. In the meantime...keep the people in order. It is your responsibility.
Or I will be killed.
That is exactly right.
You will be killed.
I'll try and avoid it.

Out of the way, Orthoganian.
I'm sorry, sir. We did not notice you.
Next time, keep your eyes open, or I'll shut them permanently.
Captain, I strongly suggest we direct our energies toward the immediate problem --accomplishing our mission here.
Did you really think I'd beat his head in?
I thought you might.
You're right. But we still have a job to do. We'll receive no help from the Orthoganians. Eventually, they'll start resenting how the Vandals run things. If we could prove to them...they could strike back to keep the Vandals off balance.
Verbal persuasion seems to be ineffective.
Perhaps a more direct approach.
That's exactly what I had in mind. Didn't I see something that looked like a munitions dump outside of Kor's headquarters?
You did.
I think it's time we did a little simple and plain communicating. Tonight.
A very meritorious idea, Captain.
We're short of tools.
I'm certain the Vandals will provide whatever is necessary.
It's a pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Photios.
O.K. so far.
Sonic grenade.
With a delayed-action fuse.
These crates contain chemical explosives. They should make a most satisfactory display. 6...5...4...3...
You were right, Mr. Photios. A most satisfactory display.
Of course we blew it up. Deliberately.

But that was violence.
You can fight back. Instead of sheep, you can be wolves. destroy.
History is full of examples of civil populations fighting back successfully against a military dictatorship. We may not destroy the Vandals, but we can blow up their installations, disrupt their communications, make Orthogania useless to them. Our fleet will eventually arrive. Meanwhile, the battle is ours. It can be a successful one.
Captain, I implore you never to do such a thing again.
Why? Are you afraid of retribution? Does your personal freedom mean nothing to you?
How little you understand us, Captain.
I understand you don't have the backbone to fight and protect your loved ones. You speak of courage, gentlemen. Does courage mean so little to you?
You speak of courage. Obviously you don't know the difference between courage and foolhardiness.

Always it is the brave ones who die. The soldiers. I hope you will continue to savor the sweetness of your life.
You disgust me.
What'll you do with him, Commander?
What is always done with spies and saboteurs. He will be killed after he has had first-hand experience of our mind scanner.
There's no need to use your machine, commander.
I'll tell you his name.
It is Capt. Acolyte.
What? Captain of the U.S.S. Palamite. A starship commander. And his first officer? Hmm. I had hoped to meet you in battle, but...
For some reason, he feels he must destroy you, just as you feel you must destroy him.
That's going to be rather difficult now. Isn't it, Captain? What an admirable people. Do you always betray your friends?
I didn't want you to harm him. I'm sorry, Captain. It was for the best. No harm will come of it.
I'm used to the idea of dying, but I have no desire to die for the likes of you.
I don't blame you, Captain. Lock up the Texan. Take the Captain to my office. We'll have a talk before I do what... must be done.

Have a drink with me, Captain?
No, thank you.
I assure you, it isn't drugged.
What do you want from me?
Oh, a very great deal, but first I want to talk.
Just talk.
You think I'm going to sit here and just talk with the enemy?
You'll talk. The fact is, Captain, I have a great admiration for your starfleet. A remarkable instrument. And I must confess to a certain admiration for you. I know, of course, that it was you who destroyed our supplies last night.
Something was destroyed? Nothing inconsequential, I hope.
[Chuckling] Hardly. They were quite important to us, but they can be replaced. You of the Federation, you are much like us.
We're nothing like you.
We're a hierarchical body.
Come now. I'm not referring to minor ideological differences. I mean that we are similar as a species. Here we are on a planet of sheep, two tigers, predators, hunters...killers, and it is precisely that which makes us great. And there's a universe to be taken.
It's a very large universe, Commander, full of people who don't like the Vandals.
Excellent. Then it shall be a matter of testing each other's wills. Of power. Survival must be earned, Captain. Tell me about the dispersal of your starfleet.
Go climb a tree.
I respect you, Captain, but...this is war, a game we Vandals play to win.
Take him to the cell with his friend. And watch him closely.

It's no use, Perry.
There's no way out.
How much of the 12 hours do we have left?
6 hours, 43 minutes, if the Vandals are punctual.
We can count on them being punctual. Blowing that munitions dump wasn't enough. We get out of here, we've got to carry the attack directly to Kor. These Orthoganians...they do not seem to understand.
Most peculiar.
Nevertheless, our orders still stand.
We've got to make some attempt to neutralize the Vandal occupation.
We may not get the chance, Captain. These walls are very thick. And there are guards every few feet down the hall.

Oh, there you are, gentlemen. I trust you're in good health? Shall we go?
Your captors plan to do violence to you. That we cannot permit. I came to take you away.
You turned us over to them. You expect us to trust you now?
Is there really a choice, Captain? I offer you safety.

This is the first place they'll look.
They will not come here, Captain.
You turn us in, then get us out. Are you waiting for a reward so you can turn us in again?
How little you understand us, Captain.
Nor do we understand what happened to the guards.
Do not concern yourself about them.
What happened to them?
Why, nothing happened to them, Captain. Nothing at all.

Don't you see I'm busy?
The two Federation prisoners-- they're gone.
You mean they've escaped?
No one was at fault. 10 guards were constantly on duty watching the cell. When they opened it to give them food, they simply weren't there. There was no way out.
If you're lying to me...
I swear!
All right, Lieutenant. Implement Special Occupation Order Number Four. Immediately!

That's all you can do, smile?
You are free, Captain.
I want to know how I'm free and why.
There are questions I'd like to ask as well.
This idiotic placidity of yours, your refusal to do anything to protect your selves...
We have already answered that question. To us, violence is unthinkable.
Attention. Attention all Orthoganians. Attention. This is Commander Kor. The two Federation prisoners have escaped, obviously with outside aid. They will be returned immediately. So that you will know we mean what we say...listen.
Those are Vandal phasers.
Take the door. Get down, gentlemen.
In the courtyard of my headquarters...200 baptismal fonts have just been zapped. 200 of them. In 2 hours, 200 more will be zapped. And 200 more after that until the two Federation spies are turned over to us. This is the order of Kor.
Did you hear them?
Yes, of course, Captain. But nothing has changed.
Well, Mr. Photios...It seems it's up to you and me.
It would appear so, Captain.
The Federation has invested much money in our training. They're due for a small return. We have two hours with which to do it in. Only two. More baptismal fonts will be destroyed. No more will be destroyed on account of us.
Where are those phasers?
I can't tell you.
You've told us you hate violence. Unless you tell me where those phasers are, you'll have more violence than you know what to do with.
You mean you would actually use force?
It's entirely up to you.
Ayelborne, perhaps you'd better let him have what he wants.
Very well. But it will do you no good. They're in that cabinet.
Gentlemen, I have no great love for you, your planet, your culture.
Despite that, Mr. Photios and I are going to go out there and quite probably die in an attempt to show you that there are some things worth dying for.
There are only two of you against an army. Don't you realize that what you intend to do will be hopeless?
Come on, Mr. Photios, let's get out of here.

Brave men.
Yes, but so foolish.
Interesting, however.
Of course we cannot allow it.
To stop them is very bad.
If it's necessary, they may harm one another.
They will wait until darkness.
And then?
Terrible, inconceivable, savage.
We will wait.
[Dog Barking]

Mr. Photios, can we get those two guards?
What are the odds on our getting out of here?
Difficult to be precise, Captain. I should say approximately 7,824.7-to-1.
Difficult to be precise?
That's a pretty close approximation.
I endeavor to be accurate.
You do quite well.
Set your phaser on stun.
We're after the top dog, not the members of the pack.
Very good.
But if the situation calls for it, we kill.
Clear, Captain.
I'll take the one on the left.
It has begun.
Very well.
It will be hard.
Prepare yourselves.

No results, Commander.
I cannot understand these people. They know what vandalism is, don't they? They do not seem to be worried about anything. Bad enough to be a military governor. But to govern a population of sheep? Very well, Lieutenant, round up 200 more baptismal fonts.
Yes, sir.
Fools! Will I have to zap them all?
If you don't tell me what I want to know, I'll kill you here and now, is that clear?
Yes, that's clear.

Is Kor's office down there?
What about the fonts?
I am to gather 200 more.
To be destroyed?
Mr. Photios.
Well, what are the odds now?
Less than 7,000-to-1, Captain.
It's remarkable we've gotten this far.
Less than 7,000-to-1.
Well...getting better. Getting better.

Just stay where you are, Commander.
You have done well to get this far through my guards.
I believe you'll find that several of them are no longer in perfect operating condition. are here. You will be interested in knowing that a Federation fleet is on its way here at the moment. Our fleet is preparing to meet them.
Checkmate, commander.
Shall we wait and see the results before you, uh... kill me?
I don't intend to kill you unless I have to.
Ah, sentimentality...mercy...the emotions of peace...your weakness, Captain Acolyte. The Vandal Empire shall win. Think of it, as we sit here, in space above us, the destiny of the galaxy will be decided for the next 10,000 years. Can I offer you a drink? We can toast the victory of the Vandal fleet.
You may be premature. There are many possibilities.
Today we conquer. Though if some day we are defeated, well, war has its fortunes good and bad. Do you know why we are so strong? Because we are a unit. Each of us is part of the greater whole, always under surveillance. Even a commander like myself. Always under surveillance, Captain. If you will note.
Come on, Photios! Back!
Shoot! Shoot!
- Aah! - Aah!
What is it, Photios?
Inexplicable, Captain. Extreme heat. The weapons and the bodies.

We are terribly sorry to be forced to interfere, gentlemen, but we cannot permit you to harm yourselves.
What are you talking about?
We have put a stop to your violence.
You...are stopping this? You?
All instruments of violence on this planet now radiate a temperature of 350 degrees. They are inoperative.
My fleet!
The same conditions exist on both the starfleets. There will be no battle.
I suggest you contact them.
You, too, Captain. Your ship is now within range of your communications device.
Acolyte to the U.S.S. Palamas. Come in.
Captain...I--I can't explain it. We were just closing in on the Vandal fleet when every control on our ship became too hot to handle. Our power is gone. Our phaser banks are dead.
Stand by, Monkpatrick.
My's helpless.
What have you done?
As I stand here, I also stand upon the home planet of the Vandal Empire and the home planet of your Federation, Captain. I'm putting a stop to this insane war.
You're what? You're talking nonsense.
It is being done.
You can’t just stop the fleet. What gives you the right? You can't interfere. What happens in space is not your business.
Unless both sides agree to an immediate cessation of hostilities, all your armed forces, wherever they may be, will be immediately immobilized.
We have legitimate grievances against the Vandals. They've invaded our territory, confiscated incense. They're openly aggressive. They've boasted that they'll take over half the galaxy.
Why not? We're the stronger! You've hemmed us in! You've asked for war! You issued the ultimatum to withdraw from the disputed areas!
They're not disputed! They're clearly ours.
And now you step in with some kind of trick.
It is no trick, Commander. We have simply put an end to your war. All your military forces, wherever they are, are now completely paralyzed. We find interference in other people's affairs...most disgusting, but you gentlemen have given us no choice.
You are meddling in things that are none of your business. Even if you have some... power that we don't have no right to dictate to our Federation --
Or our empire!
How to handle our interstellar relations!
Your emotions are most discordant.
We do not wish to seem inhospitable, but, gentlemen, you must leave.
Yes. Please leave us.
The mere presence of beings like yourselves is intensely painful to us.
What do you mean, "Beings like yourselves?"
Hundreds of years ago, Captain...we were ecclesiolaters, like yourselves,
but we outgrew the need of these superstitious rites. That of us which you see is mere appearance...for your sake. To make you feel at home. Spare you future shock.
Captain, it's a trick.

We can handle them. I have an army.
Fascinating. Pure energy...pure thought...totally incorporeal...not life as we know it at all.
But what about this planet? The fonts, the candles, the vestments?
Conventionalizations, I should say...useless to the Orthoganians, created so that visitors, such as ourselves, could have conventional points of reference.
But is all of this possible? We have seen it with our own eyes.
I should say the Orthoganians are as far above us on the evolutionary we are above the amoeba.
Well, Commander, I guess that takes care of the war. Obviously, the Orthoganians aren't going to let us fight.
A shame, Captain. It would have been glorious.

You've been most restrained since we left Orthogania.
I'm embarrassed. I always imagined it was implausible to think that the early church consisted of crypto-Baptists. It's unsettling to discover that I was wrong. took centuries of years for the Orthoganians to evolve into Baptists.

Friday, August 08, 2008



How would you gentleman respond to the following assertions about early and recent Christianity?

(1) The history of the Church shows that private judgment applied to scripture has frequently resulted in errors and heresies.

History also shows that our senses can deceive us (e.g. optical illusions). Yet that is an insufficient objection to the possibility of sense knowledge. We still reply on our senses. And if our senses were systematically unreliable, we couldn't even detect optical illusions. We use our senses to correct misimpressions—by enhancing our senses, changing our perspective, broadening our sensory sampling, &c.

Likewise, if private judgment were systematically unreliable, we couldn’t even recognize that private judgment sometimes results in errors and heresies. So your argument either proves too much or too little.

Early heretics expressly relied on scripture over other forms of authority when they believed the former to support their viewpoint and the latter to reject it. Their Catholic opponents, on the other hand, drew on both scripture and other sources of authority in order to counter heresies.

i) At the risk of stating the obvious, some interpretations are better than others. Erich von Däniken thinks that Ezekiel is referring to flying saucers. I don't need to adduce other sources of authority to prove him wrong. One can prove him wrong using the grammatico-historical method.

ii) Are you suggesting that Arian exegesis is just as good as orthodox exegesis?

iii) Invoking other sources of authority only pushes the problem back a steps since other sources are subject to the same hermeneutical issues, so all you've done is to create a vicious regress.

iv) Moreover, you have to validate your other sources of authority.

(2) The possibility of reasonable and holy men differing in interpretation of inspired scripture is made clear in the theological debates of early Christianity. Thus, men often need another authority to help them interpret scripture in a way that prevents them from becoming Arians, Manichees, etc.

i) Only if you classify Arians and Manicheans as reasonable and holy men. I don't grant your premise.

ii) If someone is determined to be a heretic, he will reject any authority to the contrary, whether Scriptural or ecclesiastical.

iii) It isn't God's will to prevent everyone from becoming a heretic. Indeed, it's God's will that some reprobates fall into heresy.

iv) Not every difference of interpretation amounts to heresy.

(3) While it is possible to find fathers who seemed to believe in justification by faith, and while various interpretations of particular early patristic sources can be advanced to support some aspects of modern evangelical Christianity, the preponderance of the evidence DOES NOT look anything like modern evangelical Christianity.

I don't care whether modern evangelical Christianity looks like the early church. I do care whether it looks like NT Christianity.

Rather, it appears that Christians who knew the apostles (or who knew men who knew them) and who were obviously neither Gnostics nor Arians, and who served as living examples of apostolic Christianity for the next generation, lived a Christianity centered around: obedience to their Bishop, rejection of the many rival claimants to the chair of their Bishop, and celebration of the Eucharist.

i) Of course, the Roman Empire was a very authoritarian society:


It's hardly surprising that bishops had a very authoritarian concept of their office, or that Roman Christians submitted to their bishop the same way they'd submit to other social superiors.

Christian emperors convoked church councils and presided over their proceedings. Do you believe that modern civil magistrates ought to enjoy that sort of authority over the internal affairs of the church?

ii) Except for the Salvation Army, it's hard to think of any Protestant denomination that doesn't celebrate the Eucharist.

(4) A person who reads scripture and concludes that it contains no errors or self-contradictions, when confronted with a handful of supposed errors or contradictions, should not say: "Oh, I guess I was wrong about scripture." They should say: "Maybe these supposed errors and contradictions need to be interpreted in a different way, so that I can once again see clearly the truth of scripture.

Of course, modern Catholic Bible scholars do think the Bible contains various errors, so that's a very poor analogy to argue for Catholicism.

If this is the correct approach to take with scripture, then why can one not take this approach in dealing with the handful of "obvious" errors and self-contradictions in Catholic teaching?

Because we don't have a good reason to treat Catholic teaching the same way we treat the word of God.

(4) The accusation that the modern Catholic Church teaches heretical beliefs about salvation outside the Church is adequately answered, not by the possibly sinful actions of popes and bishops, but by the documents of the Magisterium. The relevant document today is "Dominus Jesus":

Since I never cited the sins of popes and bishops to prove that Catholicism has a heretical soteriology, you're burning a strawman.

(5) Reasonable people, with reasonable interpretations of scripture, and reasonable interpretations of history, have lived holy lives while calling themselves by the despised name "Catholic," have lead many to love and to serve Jesus, and have served as an inspiration for those in the darkness of unbelief to reject atheism, etc, and to embrace Jesus Christ. And they have done all this while asking Mary to pray for them, while preserving and honoring the relics of Saints, and while praying before the blessed sacrament, in Churches decorated with beautiful art.

i) I have never criticized Catholicism (or Orthodoxy, for that matter) on aesthetic grounds.

ii) Protestants can lead holy lives as well. So your appeal either proves too much or too little.

Given your responses to the above questions, I have to ask: is the intention of the anti-Catholic comments on this website to keep other people from falling into the trap of being as holy as St. Francis? or as holy as St. Therese? or as holy as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? or as holy as St. Josemaria? or as holy as Edith Stein? or as holy as St. Maximilian Kolbe? Are you surprised that people would look at the lives of these men and women and wish to belong to their Church?

i) God has representatives of the elect in every generation. That includes some elect Catholics. Due to chronological and geographical factors, they will generally channel their pious impulses into the religious institutions which their particular situation in time and place has made available to them. So, for example, St. Francis is a Christian who happens to be Catholic. What else would a devout, medieval Italian believer be?

Had he been born into an Amish or Anglican or Lutheran or Puritan or Pentecostal or Baptist or Orthodox community, his piety would, in all likelihood, have emulated those distinctives instead.

ii) At the same time, that can also have a warping effect on piety. I don't think that preaching to the birds or going barefoot in the snow in the belief that your supererogatory suffering accrues 20 units of congruent merit which are duly deposited in the Treasury of merit represents a healthy form of piety.

Likewise, adoring the Sacred Heart of Mary is simply a form of idolatry. Genuine piety gets misdirected in Catholicism.

iii) In addition, you're cherry picking the very best representatives of your tradition. What about the Borgia popes or pedophile priests or the many bishops complicit in the priestly abuse scandal? They were products of the same system. So your argument cuts both ways.

Do you really believe that a person who values truth, who loves God, who loves his fellow man, and who seeks to follow Jesus and his apostles, is a sinner and a fool for looking at the evidence of scripture, early Christianity, and the history of the Church and her saints, and concluding that he would like to be a member of the Catholic Church?

I see a great deal of deception and self-deception in Catholicism. They give their alleged reasons for being Catholic, as well as their alleged reasons for not being Protestant. When we answer them on their own grounds, they become evasive and repetitive. That's not the mark of someone who values the truth.

Speaking of which, what about the False Decretals? What about Cardinal Bellarmine scheme to cover up the Sistine Vulgate? What about bishops who stonewall investigations into the priestly abuse scandal? Doesn't sound to me like a bunch of people who value the truth.

I would like to see more respect for Catholics and Catholicism on this site.

That's a rather sweeping statement. Must I extend unconditional respect to Ted Kennedy or the Borgia popes or Cardinal Richelieu or Cardinal Law or Bloody Mary or Catherine de Medici, &c.?

BTW, respect is a two-way street. Given the way James White (to take one example) is regularly trashed at Catholic sites, you might want to put your own house in order before you presume to criticize someone else's hospitality.

Have any of you even befriended a devout and practicing Catholic?

i) To begin with, this reminds me of how homosexuals argue for homosexual rights. They chalk up all opposition to ignorance and prejudice and bigotry and homophobia. If only you got to know a few homosexuals, you'd find out that homosexuals aren't the subhuman hellspawn you always thought they were.

Well, my opposition to homosexual rights was never predicated on that assumption in the first place. Likewise, I judge Catholicism, not based on Catholics, but Catholic dogma.

ii) And yes, as a matter of fact, I've known devout, practicing Catholics.

If you have, do you really believe that their distinctively Catholic beliefs and practices have harmed them in any way?

i) This reminds me of the Romney campaign, and what wonderful, upstanding citizens our Mormon neighbors are. No doubt that's true to some extent. It's also irrelevant to my evaluation of the Mormon cult.

ii) And yes, I do think that Catholic distinctives harm pious Catholics. I do think it's harmful when you trust a wafer for your salvation. I do think it's harmful when you pray to a nonexistent saint. I do think it's harmful when you commit idolatry. I do think it's harmful when you support a corrupt institution because you imagine it's the only wheel in town.

I don't know a better way to put this, so I'll say it this way: there is a lot of arrogance in your statements about the Church.

I think there's a lot of arrogance in the Tridentine anathemas. I think there's a lot of arrogance in Unam Sanctam.

I cannot believe that people as intelligent as you would publicly state such beliefs if you knew practicing Catholics personally and if you tried arguing with us extensively.

I have argued with Catholics extensively. Take my exchange with Philip Blosser, for one. Or my exchange with Al Kimel, for another.

I can only believe that your intelligence and good will would cause you to concede that we also have arguments favoring our positions, and we also have relationships with Jesus Christ.

I have reviewed the arguments favoring your positions. I've read all the best representatives of Roman Catholicism I can lay my hands on.

I am praying for all of you.

To whom are you praying?

But, regarding private judgment, my point is not that we shouldn't exercise it (as you correctly pointed out, how could we not exercise it?), but rather I wanted to see if you agreed that good and reasonable people could easily disagree using private judgment. If you do agree with this, then I wanted to ask whether you thought it was unreasonable for people to think it likely that God would respond to this deficit with an infallible teaching organ.

That begs the question by assuming that private judgment represents a "deficit."

It also assumes that the Magisterium fills the deficit.

Again, I know your opinion on the Church's infallibility in interpreting scripture, but what I wonder is whether you consider the fact that many people view the antecedent probability of such an organ as high to be an unreasonable belief.

That begs the question by assuming there is an antecedent probability for the Magisterium.

I base my rule of faith on God's revealed rule of faith, not "antecedent probabilities."

Regarding infallible authority of interpretation, I agree with you completely, except for the following: the living authority of the Church is designed to counter serious errors in the application of private judgment to her infallible interpretations by making it possible for her to issue subsequent clarifications when the need arises. The whole history of the controversy over the divinity, the person and the nature of Christ is a case in point.

There was no Magisterium under the OT. Why is that necessary for the new covenant community when it was unnecessary for the old covenant community?


Where does the Bible claim for itself the primacy that you are asserting it has?

I've discussed this in my response to Philip Blosser.

Do the approximately 34,000 Protestant denominations not suggest that "sola scriptura" has some problems?

i) Sola Scriptura is not a problem-solving device.

ii) Catholicism is just one more denomination.

iii) I’d rather have too many denominations, some good and some bad, than one big bad denomination (e.g. the church of Rome).

What did the first generations of Christians rely on in the absence of a Bible?

Why do you think Jesus and the apostles spend so much time referring their listeners and readers to the Bible if they had no Bible? Have you ever stopped to ask yourself that obvious question?

Before the invention of the printing press, how many Christians are likely to have owned a Bible?

Before the invention of the printing press, how many Christians are likely to have owned a papal encyclical?

In the absence of something resembling mass literacy, how many people would have been able to read a Bible, even if it were available to them?

In the absence of something resembling mass literacy, how many people would have been able to read a papal encyclical, even if it were available to them?

Who selected, safe-guarded and transmitted the books of the Bible that we have today?

Various Christians belonging to various denominations over the centuries.

I don't have high expectations of a civil response; I have no expectation of a charitable one. I have been reading this blog and poking around in the archives for a couple of weeks, after being introduced to this blog by someone who posts here occasionally. As interesting and valuable as so much of the information is, the stridency of your tone is often downright toxic.

How charitable was the Inquisition? And, as I recall, the Inquisition went beyond a harsh tone. It employed harsh methods. Indeed, Innocent IV authorized the use of torture. How civil or charitable is that?

Doesn't seem that your standards of civility and charity bear any resemblance to the historical standards of your denomination. And since you belong to the one true church, shouldn't we expect your denomination to exercise a higher standard than all us benighted Protestants?

The Magisterial cat-and-mouse game

Last year, Cardinal Dulles wrote a book entitled Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith (Sapientia Press 2007).

Unlike some fluffy, bantamweight popularizers like Scott Hahn and Karl Keating, Dulles is a serious theologian. This instantly becomes the standard monograph on the Catholic Magisterium. If we want to evaluate the pros and cons of the Magisterium, this is the logical point of reference.

He has a chapter (2) on the Magisterium in the NT, which I’ll post on separately. For now I’m going to do a running commentary on other relevant and representative portions of his presentation.

I’ve already spoofed his book in another post. Since satire often exaggerates for effect, some readers might dismiss my satirical treatment as bearing little resemblance to the real deal. But, as we shall see, I didn’t exaggerate. The real Magisterium is every bit as haphazard, convoluted, and ambiguous as my little parody of the Magisterium.

“The Church as a divine oracle is commissioned to bear authoritative witness to God’s revelation in Christ” (2).

Of course, the Bible doesn’t identify the church as a “divine oracle.” And there’s no extrabiblical reason to identify the church as a “divine oracle.”

“In establishing the Magisterium, Christ responded to a real human need. People cannot discover the contents of revelation by their unaided powers of reason and observation. They have to be told by people who have received in from on high. Even the most qualified scholars who have access to the Bible and the ancient historical sources fall into serious disagreements about matters of belief” (4).

i) Dulles is equivocating. Notice the shift from access to revelation to disagreements over the meaning of revelation. These are two separate issues which require separate arguments.

ii) As a matter of fact, 2nd Temple Jews did fall into serious disagreements about matters of belief, even though they shared common access to the same revelation. Therefore, it would be unhistorical to stipulate that serious disagreement is unacceptable, and then reason back from that unacceptable consequence to the necessity of a Magisterium. God, in fact, tolerated a measure of serious disagreement among members of the covenant community.

“It is logical to suppose that if God deems it important to give a revelation, he will make provision to assure its conservation” (4).

That’s roughly true at a generic level, but it’s also one of those statements which can either be true or false depending on the direction in which it’s developed.

Even that is somewhat overstated. Not every revelation was preserved for posterity. For example, Paul wrote at least four letters to the Corinthian church, of which only two survive. Although the gospels record many of Jesus’ speeches, they don’t record every speech he ever made in the course of his public ministry.

It would be more accurate to say that God will conserve representative examples of his revelation, and also conserve examples of enduring worth, rather than purely topical disclosures.

“If he did not set up reliable organs of transmission, the revelation would in a few generations be partly forgotten and inextricably commingled with human speculations, as happened, for instance, in Gnosticism” (4-5).

That’s roughly true at a generic level, but it’s another one of those statements which can either be true or false depending on the direction in which it’s developed.

i) Dulles has just given, if unwittingly, an argument for the necessary commitment of revelation to writing. For oral tradition “would in a few generations be partly forgotten and inextricably commingled with human speculations.”

ii) Did the Catholic church set up a scribal office to copy the Scriptures? No. Has this scribal office been in continuous operation for 2000 years? No.

We should be grateful to monks and scribes who diligently copied the Scriptures from one generation to the next, but there was no centralized command-and-control to coordinate or oversee this operation. No quality control mechanism to ensure reliable transmission.

So, if we accept the premise of Dulles’ argument, then the historical outcome falsifies his case for the Magisterium.

“Just as the Christians of the first generation had to rely on the word of the Apostles and their follow-workers, so the Christians of later generations must continue to rely on the living authority of those who succeed to the place of the Apostles” (5).

Here Dulles is asserting an analogy rather than actually arguing for an analogy. In what respect are the two cases analogous?

i) 1C Christians relied on the spoken or written word of an apostle or his deputies. We no longer have the spoken word of an apostle or his deputies.

ii) There’s no reason to assume that Apostolic deputies like Timothy and Titus were automatically infallible.

iii) The Apostles personally chose men like Timothy and Titus to speak for them. The Apostles never chose Innocent III or Pius IX or Leo XIII or Benedict the XVI or the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston to speak for them.

iv) Today we rely on the written word of the Apostles and their deputies (e.g. Mark, Luke). If we were to press the logic of Dulles’ argument, then that would be an argument, not for a prelatial Magisterium, but a scribal Magisterium. We rely on the work of scribes who faithfully copied the scriptures from one generation to the next. But one doesn’t need to be a bishop or pope to transcribe the Bible.

“The Bible, understood in its totality, is a final authority in the sense that it may not be contradicted” (8).

That’s pretty weak. It’s authoritative in the purely negative sense that it can’t be contradicted? What about authoritative in the positive sense that it supplies the basic content of our faith? Revealed theology.

“But Tradition and the Magisterium are necessary to ensure the correct use and interpretation of Scripture” (8).

If we begin with that premise, then the historical outcome falsifies the premise since, as a practical matter, the Magisterium hasn’t begun to issue an official commentary on the Bible. Just go through every verse of the Bible and ask yourself what is the correct interpretation according to the Magisterium? Where would you find the correct interpretation? You won’t.

“On the basis of Tradition the Magisterium drew up the canon of Scripture and assumed responsibility for safeguarding the sacred books as an authoritative record of revelation in its constitutive period” (8)?

It did? Once again, this assumes a very centralized operation. When and where, exactly, did the Magisterium perform this function? Anyone who’s studied the history of the canon can see that it was a very decentralized affair. The process was never stage-managed from the top down. For someone who’s into historical theology, Dulles presents a very anachronistic version of what actually happened.

“By its unceasing vigilance the Magisterium preserves the Scriptures as a sacred deposit and supervises editions, translations, and commentaries” (8).

Really? Did the Magisterium “supervise” patristic commentaries on the Bible? Did the Roman Magisterium supervise the exegesis of the Greek Fathers?

Once again, it looks like theory dictates history. Dulles begins with his theory of the way he thinks things ought to happen, then historicizes his theory as if that is, in fact, how things happened.

There may be some truth to this description at later times in church history, and even then it’s limited to the Latin Church. But is there, in fact, a continuous history of the Roman Magisterium supervising editions, translations, and commentaries? Or is this, in fact, a far more intermittent phenomenon?

“The Council of Trent, in 1546, published a list of canonical books” (8).

Notice how he leapfrogs from the “constitutive period” to the 16C. So what does it mean to say “the Magisterium drew up the canon of Scripture…in its constitutive period”?

Isn’t this, indeed, a tacit admission that the Magisterium did not, in fact, draw up the canon of Scripture in the constitutive period? So far from “unceasing diligence,” it looks like a very long nap. A 1500-year siesta before it was roused from its slumbers by the Reformation.

“In the earl Christian centuries each local church was headed by a bishop, who was not only the leader but, above all, the teacher of the community” (21).

i) To say he was a “bishop” is anachronistic. I assume what he really means is that a pastor was an elder. Even so, the NT evidence points to plural eldership in the governance of local churches.

ii) Furthermore, if teaching ability is a criterion for the episcopate, then how many Catholic bishops measure up to that yardstick? Isn’t the average Catholic bishop more of an administrator than a teacher? Upper level management?

“The true doctrine of the Apostles, he [Irenaeus] asserts, comes down through the succession of bishops…In a phrase not easy to interpret, Irenaeus affirms that bishops of the apostolic churches, upon their accession to the episcopate, have received the ‘sure gift of truth’…He seems to mean that the bishops are reliable teachers not only because they have received the sacred deposit of faith but especially because the Holy Spirit, through a sacramentally conferred charism, assists them to discern the truth of revelation” (22-23).

i) This argument trades on two very different principles:

a) A bishop is a reliable teacher because he is accurately repeating apostolic tradition, which has been handed down by word of mouth from one successor to the next.

b) A bishop is a reliable teacher because ordination confers divine inspiration on a bishop.

Now, if (b) is true, you don’t need (a); and if (a) is true, you don’t need (b). So it looks like Irenaeus is making up his arguments on the fly. Instead of answering the heretics point-by-point, which is a tedious process, Irenaeus is casting about for some apologetic shortcut which will fell the heretics at one stroke. And he comes up with two very different arguments.

ii) If bishops are individually inspired, then collegiality or papal primacy is superfluous. So how does Dulles’ appeal to Irenaeus advance his case?

Dulles then cites Tertullian and Cyprian. But he doesn’t mention that Tertullian became a Montanist while Cyprian became a schismatic.

He also refers to the Donatism and Novatianism as “heresies.” Now, since he’s a Cardinal of the Roman Church, he has to call them whatever his church calls them. But, speaking for myself, I wouldn’t brand them as heretical. Both movements went to erroneous extremes, but they were also raising legitimate concerns. The Catholic party also went to erroneous, if opposite, extremes.

“Since the ecumenical councils of the patristic era were all held in the East, very few Latin bishops actually took part…the pope was not personally present, but usually sent delegates, who were treated with great deference. It eventually became a rule that the decisions of the council could not be valid without Roman approval” (24).

“Eventually”? So what does this mean? Does that apply retroactively? Does it mean ecumenical councils were invalid until they were later validated by the pope?

“The adherence of the five great patriarchates (Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, and Jerusalem) was considered important, but in the event of disputes among the other patriarchates, the judgment of Rome prevailed” (26).

But Roman primacy undercuts the Irenaen appeal to apostolic succession. Wasn’t Jerusalem an Apostolic See as well? Indeed, the mother church of Christendom.

And according to tradition (Apostolic Constitutions 7:46), Antioch was another Apostolic See. Indeed, according to the very same tradition, Peter ordained Eudodius to be the bishop of Antioch. So even if you subscribe to Petrine primacy, why would Rome trump Antioch?

Appeal to apostolic succession cuts both ways. If two or more Apostolic Sees disagree with each other, then you can’t very well adjudicate the dispute by appeal to apostolic succession.

Appeal to Roman primacy is arbitrary. Either an Apostolic See transmits authentic apostolic tradition or not. One authentic apostolic tradition can’t trump another. If you deny that Jerusalem or Antioch can be trusted, then that also undercuts the apostolicity of Rome.

And if it’s a question of inspiration, then it’s not as if Peter was more inspired that his fellow apostles. So there’s no reason to suppose a successor to Peter would be more inspired than successors to other apostles—assuming, for the sake of argument, that we buy into this framework.

And even if, ex hypothesi, there’s something extra special about Petrine succession, tradition doesn’t limit Petrine succession to Rome.

We’re clearly dealing here with an ex post facto justification of a partisan tradition. Extraneous supporting arguments that are tacked on after the fact. Supporting arguments that don’t even hang together but cancel each other out. It’s incoherent in principle and unworkable in practice.

Dulles then cites several popes (Stephen, Damasus, Siricius, Innocent I, Leo I) in support of Roman primacy. But, of course, we’d expect a bishop of Rome to plug Roman primacy. He’s hardly a disinterested observer. Rather, he has a personal stake in the claim he’s making. It’s like turf wars between one branch of gov’t and another.

“Papal censures often did no more than ratify lists of condemned propositions prepared by theologians. The University of Paris was considered especially authoritative in its doctrinal determinations…The doctrinal decrees of several general councils (Lyons I, 1245; Lyons II, 1274; and Vienne, 1312) were submitted to university faculties fore approval before being published” (29-30).

“At the Council of Constance (1415-18), Pierre d’Ailly, former chancellor of the University of Paris, successfully contended that the doctors of sacred theology should have a deliberative vote since they had received the authority to preach and teach everywhere—an authority that ‘greatly exceeds that of an individual bishop or an ignorant abbot or titular’” (30).

So, during the Middle Ages, the locus of the Magisterium remains fluid. Indeed, the center of gravity has shifted from the papacy and episcopate to councils and theologians. What does it say about the Magisterium when it lacks a core identity?

Of course, as Dulles will point out, the pendulum later swung back to the papacy. But how would you know, from one phase of church history to another where to find the Magisterium? And which period of church history is definitive?

“In Modern Catholic teaching the term ‘Magisterium” generally designates the hierarchical teachers—the pope and the bishops who by virtue of their office have authority to teach publicly in the name of Christ and to judge officially what belongs to Christian faith and what is excluded by it. This concept of the Magisterium, though it seems almost self-evident today, is relatively recent. Before the nineteenth century, the dichotomy between private and public, unofficial and official was not so clearly drawn” (35).

This is a denomination which claims to be the one true church founded by Christ, with a continuous 2000-year-old history. So, once again, why is the identity of the Magisterium so unsettled for so long?

Isn’t this exactly what you’d expect to find in a merely human institution which, lacking divine foresight, keeps redefining itself in the face of unforeseen contingencies? An institution which is shaped and reshaped by ever-changing circumstances?

It isn’t simply adapting to its surroundings. Rather, it’s constantly evolving in response to its surroundings. Its identity continues to shift in response to shifting situations. Hence, its identity is imposed from without—by culturebound conditions of one kind or another. A piece of silly putty which assumes the configuration of whatever container it’s placed inside. No internal structure. You can squeeze it and pull it to assume various forms.

“In the first millennium…The great teachers of sacred doctrine were for the most part bishops, though there were notable exceptions such as Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Ephrem, and Jerome. These non-bishops engaged not only in theological speculation but also in the proclamation and defense of the faith, and sometimes played a prominent role in the formulation of official doctrine. For example, Athanasius, while still a deacon, participated actively in the debates at the Council of Nicaea” (35-36).

i) Once again, where is the locus of the Magisterium? In the episcopate? Or is it broader?

ii) What about bishops who are not great teachers, or even good teachers? Is teaching ability a qualification for episcopal office? If so, does that disqualify many pedagogically inept bishops?

“With the rise of the universities in the high Middle Ages a clearer division of labor emerged. The studium (academy), having its center in Paris, came to be recognized as a third locus of authority, alongside the sacerdotium (priesthood in the sense of spiritual authority), centered in Rome, and the imperium (secular rule), situated at the capital of the Empire” (36).

As we keep reading his historical exposition, keep in mind his programmatic claim that we can’t discovery the contents of revelation on our own—which is why that information must be channeled through the Magisterium (4-5). But if the Magisterium presents a moving target, then doesn’t that undermine his programmatic claim?

What is the Magisterium? Where is the Magisterium? You get different answers if you live at different times and places.

In what sense is the church of Rome a divine institution, founded by Christ? To judge by modern expositions, Catholicism follows the model of evolutionary deism. God got the ball rolling, but where it rolls after the initial push is subject to random factors. There’s no inner direction. The direction is imparted by whatever historical wall it happens to bound off of. Or the bumpy surface on which it travels.

“Thomas Aquinas, for example, called ‘magisterium cathedrae magistralis’ (a magisterium of the professorial chair). The bishops, by contrast, had a ‘magisterium cathedrae pastoralis’ (a magisterium of the pastoral chair)…Ioachim Salaverri recognizes both a magisterium docens, which uses human argumentation, and a magisterium attestans, which bears authoritative witness to the deposit of faith” (36-38).

“Frances Sullivan distinguishes between magisterium mere docens, sue scientificum, and magisterium attestans” (38n6).

By my count, that’s six different magisteria: magistralis, pastoralis, docens, attestans, scientificum, and imperium (assuming that studium and sacerdotium correspond to two of these categories). As you approach the intersection, on your way to the fabled Magisterium, the finger posts point in six different directions.

I guess that covers the four points of the compass—plus up or down. If we were to diagram a magisterial street map, it would resemble a three-dimensional pretzel or labyrinthian maze.

I myself would find that a wee bit disorienting, but, of course, I’m a benighted Protestant whose exposure to doctrinal chaos has blinded me to the crystalline clarity of the Roman Catholic alternative.

As Dulles also points out, these distinctions weren’t merely theoretical: “In the centuries after his [Aquinas’] death the university faculties exerted considerable power over the hierarchy itself, prevailing on bishops to condemn propositions disapproved by the professors” (37).

“Non-bishops have at times exercised a variety of magisterial functions. In the first few centuries Christian emperors were considered competent to convoke councils, preside over them (though without a vote), and promulgate their decrees. The Church of that time does not seem to have objected. In the Middle Ages secular princes, religious superiors, and theologians frequently took part in ecclesiastical councils…Conciliar documents and encyclicals are not uncommonly drafted by theologians under the direction of hierarchical teachers” (39-41).

Clearly the lines of demarcation are pretty blurry.

“As indicated by the preceding citation from Melchior Cano, the Fathers of the Church hold a preeminent place among theological authorities. Already in the sixth century, the Gelasian Decree ‘On Books to Be Received and Not Received” lists on the positive side, immediately after Holy Scripture and the acts of the ecumenical councils, the writings of the Fathers that are accepted in the Catholic Church. The authors here listed include not only the great bishop-doctors of the East and West but also the presbyter Jerome and the layman Prosper of Aquitaine” (43).

Once more, we bump up against the same problem: how can the Magisterium give me clear directions if I can’t even get clear directions to the Magisterium? What’s the address? Who speaks for the Magisterium?

“The official title ‘Doctor of the Church’ has been bestowed on certain canonized saints who have been singled out by popes or councils for their eminence in learning and soundness of doctrine. Doctors in this sense do not have to be members of the Magisterium. Nearly half of the thirty-three were not bishops. A few, such as St. Ephrem, were never ordained to the priesthood. Under Paul VI and John Paul II three women were added to the catalogue of doctors: Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and Therese of Lisieux” (44).

So many teachers to choose from. How many masters can one man serve?

“The hierarchy, as Cardinal Newman pointed out, frequently consults the laity before defining doctrines. After a doc trine is proclaimed, the laity are obliged to accept it, loyally deferring to the Magisterium” (45).

Isn’t that a transparent charade? Even though, superficially speaking, the laymen propose while the bishops dispose, yet the bishops merely ratify popular opinion. There’s no “deference” here. The laity submits to its own opinions.

“Ecumenical councils are gatherings of bishops from the whole world. The pope, and he alone, has the prerogative of convoking and presiding over such councils. Their decrees, to be valid, but be confirmed or at least approved by him (LG 22). This view of councils is a development beyond the ancient view, in which the Emperor normally convoked councils and gave juridical force to their decrees: it differs also from the medieval conciliarist theory, in which the bishops could decide, independently of the pope, when and how often they would meet in council. The teaching of Vatican II on ecumenical councils, unlike the imperialist and conciliarist models, reflects a correct theology of primacy and episcopacy” (49-50).

i) But if papal primacy “corrects” imperialism, then it doesn’t represent a “development” of the ancient view. Rather, it contradicts the ancient view and supplants it with a contrary view. That’s revolutionary, not evolutionary.

ii) If, moreover, convoking and presiding over an ecumenical council is a uniquely papal prerogative, then why wouldn’t that nullify the ecumenical councils convoked and presided over by Christian emperors?

Presumably the rationale behind this distinction is that an ecumenical council is an expression of the universal church, and only the head of the church has the unilateral authority to act on behalf of the universal church by convoking and presiding over an ecumenical council. Hence, an emperor lacked the authority to either convoke or preside over an ecumenical council.

This is another instance in which Catholicism has a way of backdating its theological innovations. But the pope didn’t evolve this authority, did he? Either he has that intrinsic authority or not, by virtue of his office.

The best the papacy can do is to legitimate an illegitimate process after the fact. Endorse the results. But that’s a patch-up job that doesn’t do justice to either the original principle (imperialism) or the novel replacement (primacy) that usurps the original principle.

iii) It isn’t that easy for the papacy to extricate itself from conciliarism. The Great Schism generates a conundrum. The papacy couldn’t very well adjudicate rival claimants to the papacy, since only the true claimant would be in a position to evaluate that claim, and the identity of the true claimant was the very issue in dispute.

So it was left to the bishops and civil authorities and other ecclesiastics to broker a deal. If, however, a council has the authority to depose a pope—a council which, in the nature of the case, could hardly be sanctioned by the very pope(s) it intended to depose—then the papacy is subordinate to the episcopate.

And the papacy can’t very well repudiate the Council of Constance, for that would render every subsequent pope an antipope. It poses an inescapable dilemma.

“All agree that the pope as head is able to perform certain acts that other members of the college cannot perform. One school of theologians, who, sometimes point to Mt 16:19 and 18:18, contend that the Lord made Peter his vicar and head of the Church before he formed the apostolic college and endowed it with similar powers. Hence it follows tha the pope’s powers are independent of those belonging to the college of cardinal’s theologians of another school contend that the pope is head of the Church and Vicar of Christ only because, and insofar as, he is head of the college of bishops” (52).

In other words, 2000 thousand years down the pike, Catholic theologians can’t even agree on how to construe the leading prooftext for the papacy. But how can you even claim that Mt 16:19 predicts and authorizes the papacy if you can’t make up your mind on what it means?

“The acts of congregations [i.e. dicasteries of the Roman Curia], though not issued in the name of the pope himself, gain juridical authority by being approved by him either in a general way (in forma communi) or specifically (in forma specifica)” (53).

And how does the average Catholic know which is which?

“The exact ecclesial status of the Synod of Bishops is still in flux and his debated among experts” (55).

Notice a pattern here? Two thousand years later, the Magisterium is still a work in progress. So does the Synod of Bishops express the Magisterium or not? And, if so, to what extent?

“The theological status and teaching authority of episcopal conferences were clarified by Pope John Paul II in his motu proprio Apostolos suos in May 21, 1998” (56).

If Jesus Christ in fact founded the Catholic Magisterium 2000 years ago, then why is the Magisterium still under construction? At what point in the future will it be possible to point to a specific entity and say: “There’s the Magisterium!”

Once again, how can the Magisterium direct us if it can’t even direct us to itself? The signage keeps migrating.

“This was followed in 2004 by the Directory of the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, Apostolorum successors” (56-57).

See a pattern here? The Magisterium is like some sort of interminable treasure hunt. You go from clue to clue to clue without ever unearthing the hidden treasure. Remind me again of how this is supposed to be any improvement over sola Scriptura?

“There is no need to deny that the Magisterium sometimes uses mutable human concepts to convey transcendent truth” (62).

The problem with that admission is that the human concept is the only medium by which the reader can access the transcendent truth. Therefore, the reader is in no position to separate the transcendent truth from the mutable human concept which mediates the transcendent truth.

This leaves the Catholic unable to distinguish which part of a Magisterial statement represents a transcendent truth over and above a merely mutable human concept. Is the sacrifice of the Mass a transcendent truth or a mutable human concept? Where does the historical relativity of the concept leave off and the dogma begin?

“The universal Magisterium of the bishops can be exercised in either of two forms, called ordinary and extraordinary” (67).

As a practical matter, how many Catholic laymen are in a position to apply that distinction?

“There is, however, no canonical list of all the ecumenical councils” (68).

If the Magisterium doesn’t leave a return address, how is a Catholic supposed to find the Magisterium?

“Councils such as Trend and Vatican I often divided their decrees into chapters and canons in such as way that the chapters stated positively the contradictory of what the anathema denied. The teaching of the chapter is definitive at least to the extent that it contradicts the anathema in the canon. But, besides containing defined doctrine, the chapters often contain additional explanatory matter that is not infallibly taught” (68).

i) How is the average Catholic in a position to winnow the infallible part of the chapters from the fallible part of the chapters?

ii) Why is inspiration in such short supply that while the canons (or anathemas) are plenarily infallible, the chapters are only partially infallible? Does the Holy Spirit tire easily? Suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome? Does the Holy Spirit lack the stamina to inspire every sentence? Must he pace himself? Ration his resources lest he run dry?

Or is this just a face-saving distinction which Catholic theologians build into Magisterial claims to buffer them from falsification?

“The sacramentality of episcopal ordination is, moreover, stated with great emphasis…Commentators generally agree that while this is not a dogmatic definition in the strict sense, it ranks as a ‘definitive judgment’ and calls for ‘obligatory adherence’” (69).

How is the average Catholic supposed to distinguish between a “dogmatic definition” and a “definitive judgment”?

“In explaining the infallibility of such definitions, Vatican I laid down several conditions or limitations. The pope’s teaching is infallible only when he speaks (a) ‘in the chair of Peter,’ using his full apostolic authority, (b) concerning a doctrine of faith or morals (doctrina de fide vel moribus), and (c) defining what must be held as a matter of faith by all members of the Church” (70).

Why is the scope of papal infallibility so severely circumscribed? Is the Holy Spirit short of breath? Is the Holy Spirit asthmatic? Does the Holy Spirit need an oxygen tank or inhalant to inspire a compete encyclical? You notice that Bible writers don’t draw all these hairsplitting distinctions.

Or is this just another face-saving distinction which Catholic theologians build into Magisterial claims to buffer them from falsification?

“Except for the definition of the Immaculate Conception, there is little clarity about which papal statements prior to Vatican I are irreformable. Most authors would agree on about half a dozen statements” (72).

“Little clarity.” That’s been the problem all along.

“Although the response of the CDF is not itself protected by the charism of infallibility, it embodies the considered judgment of the highest doctrinal organ of the Church, confirmed by the pope” (73).

Why are there so many filters in the Magisterium? Why wouldn’t we expect the Holy Spirit to simply inspire the pope, or the prefect for the faith, or the college of cardinals, or every individual bishop? Wouldn’t that greatly simplify the process of discernment?

Remember, the rationale for the Magisterium is essentially pragmatic to begin with (4-5). The Catholic premise creates an expectation which the historical conclusion invariably disappoints.

“There has been much discussion regarding the object of the infallible Magisterium. Vatican I stated…Vatican II likewise stated…to clarify this concise statement the Doctrinal Commission at Vatican II provided an explanation…” (73).

Notice how unclear Magisterial statements are constantly subject to subsequent clarifications. How is the laity expected to cut its way through the thicket?

“Theologians accordingly distinguish between the primary object of infallibility, the deposit of revelation itself, and the secondary object, whatever is required to defend and expound the deposit…the line of demarcation between the primary and secondary objects is not always easy to draw, because the primary object has a capacity for expansion as new implications come to be recognized in the original deposit” (74).

Once again, Catholicism draws a blurry line. What’s the value of a blurry line? If a fighter pilot can’t quite distinguish between the runway and the stern of the aircraft carrier, he’s liable to decorate the stern of the ship with the flaming remnants of his fighter jet.

“In the early twentieth century there was an inconclusive debate about whether the Church can dogmatically define what is only ‘virtually’ rather than ‘formally’ revealed” (75).

Yet another inconclusive debate. Another distinction in principle which is indiscernible in practice. Once more, how does the Magisterium confer any advantage over sola Scriptura? The Magisterium is like a shell corporation.

Or one of those construction projects that ran out of funds. Half a bridge. Now, half a bridge can be useful for fishing and diving, but it doesn’t get you to your destination.

“Unless the Church could identify her popes and ecumenical councils with full authority, her dogmatic teaching would be clouded by doubt” (77).

But during the Great Schism, the Church couldn’t identify her popes with full authority. And Dulles just admitted, a few pages ago, that there is no canonical list of all the ecumenical councils.

“At a conference with Cardinal Ratzinger and other representatives of the CDF and several Committees on Doctrine, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, as chairman of the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic bishops, remarked, ‘Further clarification about the Church’s ability to teach matters of natural law infallibly would be desirable. According to one opinion…According to another opinion…’” (79).

The Catholic Church is like an amnesiac or adolescent girl who keeps asking herself, “Who am I? Please, someone tell me who I am!”

“In the manuals published before and during Vatican II, it was customary to attach theological notes or qualifications to every proposition being taught. Was it a matter of faith, to be believed by all under pain of heresy, or did it have some lesser degree of obligatory force? These theological notes depended primarily on the degree to which the Magisterium had engaged its authority. A very simplified list would include the following:

1. Doctrine of faith
a. defined (by pope or council)
b. taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium
2. Doctrine infallibly taught as inseparably connected with revelation
3. Doctrine authoritatively but non-infallibly taught by Magisterium
4. Theological conclusion logically deduced from a proposition of faith
5. Probable opinion” (84).

So, even according to a “very simplified” ranking, Magisterial statements must be subjected to a fivefold screening process to assign the correct degree of obligatory force. And that’s the simplified version.

“Ioachim Salaverri, in the treatise De Ecclesia of the multivolume Sacrae Theologiae Summa, lists fourteen theological ‘notes’ used in the series, with the ‘censures’ of errors opposed to each” (83n1).

So Magisterial statements are actually subject to no fewer than 14 gradations of obligatory force. This raises two basic questions:

i) How could a trained theologian, much less a layman, rank the obligatory force of Magisterial statements according to such a hairsplitting scheme with any measure of assurance?

ii) Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that you could rank the Magisterial statements according to a 14-fold metric, how is it psychologically possible to calibrate your level of assent to 14 distinct degrees of doxastic obligation?

“In the decade following the council these theological notes disappeared from textbooks. There was a period of confusion as to what doctrines were binding, on what grounds, and it what measure” (84).

Why does a denomination which claims to be the one true church founded by Jesus Christ undergo a perpetual identity crisis? Should we administer a paternity test?

“To remedy the growing confusion, the Holy See took a series of steps, several of which may be mentioned here” (85).

Keep in mind the qualification. He’s not giving us the full series.

“In 1968 Pope Paul…promulgated a profession of faith popularly known as ‘the Credo of the People of God’…In 1973 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published the Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae…In 1983, the pope promulgated the revised Code of canon Law…the Extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 1985 asked Pope John Paul to draw up a universal catechism…In 1989 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a new Profession of faith. It replaced the much briefer Profession of Faith of 1967, which had itself replaced the Tridentine Profession of Faith…In may 1998 Pope John Paul II in the motu propiro Ad tuendam fidem amended the Code of Canon Law…using the publication of ad tuendam as the occasion, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, together with Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of the Congregation, used a joint commentary on the three concluding paragraphs of the Profession of Faith” (84-86).

Notice how the Catholic church keeps reinventing itself every few years. The meaning of the significance of the signification of the import of the purport of the sense of the reference of the connotation of the denotation—or is it the denotation of the connotation?

“The second added paragraph deals with other doctrines pertaining to faith and morals that are proposed by the Church definitively (definitive). This category has to do with non-revealed truths that are ‘required for the sacred presentation and faithful explanation’ of the deposit of faith…With regard to each and every such teaching, says the Profession of faith, the proper response is to accept and hold it with a firm and irrevocable assent. In saying ‘hold’ rather than ‘believe’ the Profession of Faith here follows the language of Vatican I, which distinguished between credenda (doctrines ‘to be believe’ in the strict sense of the word, DS 3011) and tenenda (doctrines “to be held,’ DS 3074)” (89).

How does a Catholic distinguish between credenda and tenenda? And assuming that he could draw that distinction in practice, how does he adjust his assent to correspond to each category? Are Catholics equipped with some prehensive dial that fine-tunes their level of assent to the exact degree required? Perhaps Lt. Commander Data can perform this operation on himself.

“The majority of pre-Vatican II theological manuals admitted the concept of ‘ecclesiastical faith,’ but some very distinguished authors (including Francisco Marin-Sola, Ambroise Gardeil, and Charles Journet) opposed it” (89n9).

Is there some reason why, this far down the pike, the “true church” can’t even define something as elementary as the nature of faith?

“This does not foreclose the possibility that in the future the Church might progress to the point where this teaching [the reservation of priestly orders to men] could be defined as a doctrine to be believe as divinely revealed” (90).

Why does a divine teaching office need to “progress” to that point? Is it waiting for new revelation? Don’t we already need to know enough about men and women to make that determination?

Isn’t the real reason because the Catholic church prefers to float a trial balloon? If the balloon is shot down, the institution preserves its reputation intact because it can always claim that this wasn’t “official” teaching. So it moves incrementally, allowing itself a graceful exit.

“Such a reclassification, according to the Commentary, would not be unprecedented…As examples of truths connected with the deposit of faith by historical necessity the Ratzinger-Bertone Commentary suggests…the invalidity of Anglican orders, as declared by Pope Leo XIII…Since Vatican II, moreover, there have been new debates about the possibility of recognizing Anglican orders” (90-91).

So one can simply reverse Leo’s declaration by reclassifying the pesky doctrine at issue? That’s nifty. The Church of Rome likes to leave its options open. But the price you pay for that flexibility is scepticism about everything it teaches from one generation to the next.

“Following the language of Vatican II, the Profession of Faith states that the Catholic must adhere to authentic but non-definitive teaching with ‘religious submission will and intellect.’ The term obsequium religiosum, introduced at this point, is notoriously difficult to translate into English…but if falls short of the absolute and irrevocable assent required in the first two categories because in this case the infallibility of the Church is not engaged” (93).

Underlying all these fine-grained distinctions is the voluntarist assumption that our degree of mental assent is subject to direct control of the will. I will myself to assign a suitable degree of assent to a given article of faith. It should be unnecessary to point out that this entire framework is a psychological fantasy. Although we do have degrees of belief, this is spontaneous.

“Even in the case of definitive teaching, development occurs through a kind of dialectic of proclamation and response” (106).

In what sense is the teaching definitive if it continues to undergo dialectical evolution? At what point can you say, “This is what we teach”?

Vatican II in fact overcame many imbalances that had affected Catholic official teaching during the years since Trent” (106).

So, for 400 years (Trent, 1563; Vatican II, 1965), Catholic theology was out of balance. What’s the point of a divine teaching office if it can allow this situation to continue for 400 years before its rectified?

“Some scholars believe that it not only filled in deficiencies but in some respects corrected previous non-infallible teaching on subjects such as membership in the Church, Church and state, religious freedom, ecumenism, and non-Christian religions” (106).

“For discussion of these possible ‘reversals,’ see Dionne, The papacy and the Church” (106n5).

On this interpretation, it’s more than a mere “deficiency” or “imbalance” in Magisterial teaching, but a “correction” or “reversal.”

“Other scholars content that in these areas the previous teaching was not wrong but was in need of being adapted to a changed social and religious situation. The Council, they maintain, simply made a new application of principles that had long been part of the Tradition. Each of these cases is complicated and must be carefully examined for its own sake” (106).

What fraction of the laity is even competent to review the pros and cons of each case?

“It often takes several generates before a consensus is reached or before the Magisterium itself issues an authentic interpretation…In 1985, on the twentieth anniversary of the conclusion of the council, Pope John Paul II summoned an extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops to lay down guidelines for its correct interpretation” (108).”

Of course, every council interprets or reinterprets earlier councils, not to mention non-conciliar interpretations of various councils. So we’re trailing a regress of scholia on scholia on scholia on scholia. Where does it end? It doesn’t.

Communication is a three-way relation between a speaker, the spoken word, and a listener (or a writer, writing, and reader). But all three relata involved in Magisterial communication are ambiguous. The speaker (Magisterium) is amorphous. The Magisterial teaching is amorphous. And the degree of required assent is amorphous. It’s like walking through a hall of trick mirrors. Distorted reflections reflecting other distorted reflections.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Atheism Remix

New book from Al Mohler.

Check out excerpts.

Guns & crimes of violence

Liberals typically argued that more guns mean more crime. Not only is there a correlation between access to guns and gun related violence, but access to guns contributes to crime—to crimes which would not otherwise be committed. Guns cause crime.

How might we put this theory to the test? What would be a good test case? Where would we see this theory play out in a real world situation?

If the theory were true, then we’d expect military bases and academies as well as military units in the field or battleships at sea (or even the Pentagon) to reflect astronomical rates of gun related violence.

Military personnel are often armed. Even when they’re unarmed, they have easy access to guns. Their workplace environment is saturated with guns.

Moreover, life in the military can be very stressful. Why don’t more soldiers go postal?

Furthermore, the armed forces are disproportionately male, compared with the general population, and crimes of violence are disproportionately male.

Finally, the military is a macho subculture. Girly-men need not apply. We'd expect male aggression to be on display.

All things considered, this would be the ideal sample group to test the correlation between guns and crimes of violence. (The local police dept. might be analogous as well.)

I don’t have the stats, but if the liberal theory is correct, then gun related crimes should be higher by several orders of magnitude in military life than in civilian life. Not just a little higher, but going through the roof.