Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The locus of authority

Over at Beggars All, a Lutheran commenter has been debating some Catholic/Orthodox disputants. I’ll reproduce his comments–since they bear repeating:


Edward Reiss said...
"'The Protestant Church' does not exist."

This is an excellent point. I also find it interesting that, when convenient, there is such a confessional thing as "protestantism" which can be rejected, yet there is at the same time no unity within "Protestantism". In other words, depending on the rhetorical needs of the moment, "Protestantism" can be used to express a confession or can refer to a hopeless gaggle of confessions.

I also agree that merely stating "we follow Apostolic Succession" is not enough, and is more often used to wave away history of the Scriptures. E.g. "Why should I take YOUR interpretation seriously? We follow teachers in Apostolic Succession (TM), so what you say is of no import at all."

My experience, though, is that if you don't allow this claim to be simply assumed--i.e. point out that there are several Apostolic Trains from which one could choose--that the RC/EO or who ever has a hard time slogging through an discussion when he or she is unable to just shout "Apostolic Succession". For instance, which is official Apostolic Doctrine (TM)?

Grace is a crested accident infused into our nature, or grace is an uncreated energy of God with which we may cooperate toward theosis?

Both have Apostolic Pedigree (TM). And as you pointed out, if doctrinal divisions among prots are proof that Sola Scriptura is insufficient for doctrinal unity, doctrinal differences among those who claim Apostolic Succession is proof AS is insufficient for unity. They don't get a free pass "just because".

9:25 AM, DECEMBER 15, 2009
Edward Reiss said...

Interesting story, but it posits doctrinal disunity with a more political unity in its place.

Is that really better?

9:27 AM, DECEMBER 15, 2009

Edward Reiss said...

But which "majesterium"; yours? The Copts', the EO's, the Armenians', the Sedevacantists'?

As I stated before, you don't get a pass "just because". If different interpretations show a source of authority is insufficient, then it applies to you, too, because there are different trains of Apostolic Succession all claiming to be *the* Apostolic Succession.

To paraphrase what you wrote:

"[AS Churchs'] fallible confessions, doctrines, and creeds in themselves are opposed to one another"

So, you are in the same boat as the supposedly inferior prots. I suppose one will have to (GASP!) use "private interpretation" to choose between the competing and (EEEK!) contradictory claims of Apostolic Succession!

Also, your claim that the RCC doesn't have a confession is simply wrong--the CCC, the infallible pronouncements of the pope etc.

There are quite a few teachings one must adhere to to be Catholic.

You are attempting to use the "there are a lot of interpretations of Scripture so Scripture is not a sufficient authority..." argument when your own system, an infallible teacher, has different interpretations of what is supposed to be the one tradition handed down by the Apostles. Put another way, if e.g. Lutheranism is wrong because other groups interpret Scripture differently, the RCC is wrong because others interpret the Apostolic deposit of faith differently while all are claiming true AS.

4:25 PM, DECEMBER 15, 2009
Edward Reiss said...

ISTM he is just trying to re-assert the typical argument from authority, but does not realize that the way he uses it actually undermines his position. So, in my opinion he made a relevant but self-refuting argument.

4:27 PM, DECEMBER 15, 2009

ard Reiss said...

"I disagree with most of what you had to say."



"As for the Copts, recent dialog between EO and them has basically concluded that we have no genuine differences, doctrinally speaking. So since this article is willing to assume there is an apostolic tradition, you haven't really proved this as a source of disunity."

First, the EOC has not been in communion with the Copts for over 1000 years, and you are not in communion today. That is 1000+ years of objective "disunity" among churches which claim Apostolic Succession which cannot just be waved away by "pie in the sky" claims of reunion. In other words, in objective terms you are not united, so the point made stands.

Second, your infallible authority (or the Copts') made a mistake lasting 1000+ years. How can an infallible authority do that? And if as you say there are no doctrinal differences, why the wait? (It is because there still are some--depending on the EO one asks...)

"Yes, the most glaring silliness here is that Goarch, OCA and ROCOR are all the Eastern Orthodox Church, and so are not divided. It speaks volumes that you had to split these off to try and make an equivalent argument."

Yes, that is a mistake. But it does not really affect the point. Shall we enumerate the non-canonical Orthodox churches claiming AS to up the number?

Facts are facts: there is *objective disunity* among churches which claim "true" Apostolic Succession. So, if objective disunity disproves the truth of a system of authority, EOs and RCs, Copts and Armenians are all in the same boat as prots. I note your critique, such as it is, only attempts to lessen the divisions, not to deny them. You have not offered a reason why an exception should be granted for the divisions among the AS churches as well as within them should count for less than divisions among prots.

I don't know if you in particular have relied on the argument from authority, but if e-apologists from the AS churches didn't depend so much on an argument from authority, this would not be such a big deal. The fact it is used in just about every controversy and that it is completely reversible shows how hollow it is.

So, for all those who say we should not depend on our own standing:

Why is your AS better than anyone else's AS?

And I would like to see the argument advanced without protestant style appeals to Scripture and the Fathers. After all, we should not rely on our private interpretation, right?

6:26 PM, DECEMBER 15, 2009

Edward Reiss said...

I am not making silly mistakes--I don't think the OO are in full communion with the EOC, though I am willing to be corrected. And if it is true that the Armenians are in fellowship with the EOs while the Copts are not, then you guys have some serious issues with fellowship.

Perhaps you don't understand the point under discussion:

Claims are often made that protestants are divided because their authority--Scripture--does not engender unity in doctrine.

The brute fact is that the same is true of the churches who claim apostolic succession.

Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Thus, as long as there are significant divisions between churches which claim apostolic succession the point stands. Quibbling about this church being in fellowship with that church, while not being in fellowship with a third church, only prove the point:

Apostolic succession does not engender unity even among those who claim to be in fellowship.

"But what you said is still not the same, for what's going on within EO as well as with EO and OO is still not the same as what we see among """all""" of protestantism.....including the groups you call the sda's, JW's, Worldwide Church of God(Armstrong), Oneness Pentecostals, Word of Faith, Christadelphians, Uniterians, Uniterian Universalists, Quakers, Shakers,.......etc. And I still dissagree with most of what you had to say."

First, you are neglecting the RCC. This is not only about EOdoxy. To wit, why is EOdox succession true and not the RC succession?

Regarding your laundry list, I can also site the various EO splinter groups which claim AS but ordain women, or do other things which the canonical EOs don't.

Here is a link:

If you want to lump the Unitarians and the JWs with us, I will lump you with the "Pride Church International" which is "Creedally Orthodox" and is for GLBT.

How about the Chaos in the Ukrainian Church?

As I said in a different context, two can play the game of name-dropping and spurious connection, as well as listing schisms to "prove" an authority structure is not effective in promoting unity.

Finally, you have still not advanced a reason for your succession as opposed to the RC succession to be true. You are also trying to change the subject with the typical bogus association of any splinter group with "protestantism". Of course, I have no doubt you want an exception for the "Orthodox" splinter groups, and I am confident you have reasons for rejecting them. But I can do that, too. The problem is that you just assume your succession is true, just like a Lutheran assumes his confessions are true. If you advance reasons these Churches are not Orthodox and your communion is right, I will advance arguments as to why e.g. JWs are not Christians and why my communion is right.

In other words, we will use the same tools.

Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

You are in the same boat. This trope which is pulled out is as applicable to you as it is to e.g. Lutherans. Pretending otherwise does not change the reality that you don't get a pass "just because".

8:41 PM, DECEMBER 15, 2009
Edward Reiss said...
"And so the situation is not the same as what you see among "all" of protestantism."

From your previous post, your definition of "protestantism" is so broad that it is pretty useless. Thus your point loses its force.

8:44 PM, DECEMBER 15, 2009

Edward Reiss said...

"The claim was that sola scriptura is the source of doctrinal disunity. Having failed to show doctrinal disunity, this rebuttal fails."

The AS churches are in doctrinal disunity. I don't now how you can say the AS churches are in doctrinal unity. It is simply not true.

Is the RCC in communion with the Antiochene Church?

(BTW, there is no "official" unity between the OO and the EOs).

There are schisms aplenty, doctrinal ones too.

Perhaps you are arbitrarily limiting the churches who are in AS? Well, that won't fly, because I can limit churches who follow SS the same way.

Now to the point. The AS churches claim that doctrinal disunity among prot churches proves that the Scriptures are insufficient for teaching, unclear etc.

The claims advanced by the AS churches are that AS churches, as opposed to prot churches, are unified. This breaks down because *the AS churches are no more unified than the prot churches*. It is a simple, brute fact.

"Since the topic is doctrinal authority, then the disunity of interest is that caused by doctrine, isn't it?"

As I said, the AS churches are doctrinally divided too. Thus, the "doctrinal authority" of AS does not guarantee doctrinal unity, period. This means that critiques based on the doctrinal disunity of prots applies to AS churches, too. Or, you are hoist on your own petard.

I don't think the topic is doctrinal authority so much as the bogus argument employed by the AS churches that Sola Scriptura leads to doctrinal division and for that reason it is wrong. Well, for all appearances so does AS causes doctrinal disunity, so it must be wrong, too.

And you have not explained why your particular AS is better than anyone else's. A mere assertion yours is correct is--insufficient--to take it at face value.

Now a side note:

ER "Shall we enumerate the non-canonical Orthodox churches claiming AS to up the number?"

John "What for? All that would do is prove what we already know - that there are other sources of disunity besides sola scriptura."

First, he was quibbling about a couple of minor errors which do not impact the point.

Second, as is the habit of RCs and EOs, a simply laundry list is sufficient to "prove" the inadequacy of SS. Well, I can make a laundry list, too, full of AS churches.

Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. You do not get an exception "just because".

Hey, pretty soon you will have to discuss issues and not pretend As solves doctrinal issues...

10:20 PM, DECEMBER 15, 2009

Edward Reiss said...
David B,

"However, it seems to me that on issues of things like "penance from dead works, and of faith towards God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and imposition of hands, and of the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment" (Heb 6.1-2) -- things which seem basic to the faith, according to the pauline writer -- the catholic confession are much more united than the various protestant confessions. If given the choice of being divided either over the nature of communion and/or baptism or being divided over something as minor as a calendar, I'll take the calendar in a heartbeat, if I have to."

The RCC teaches grace is a *created* accident infused into our nature. The EOC teaches grace is the *uncreated energy* of God with which we participate.

The RCC teaches Divine Simplicity, the EOC teaches the Essence/Energies distinction.

There are real, substantive differences between the EOC and RCC. That is not surprising because you two are *not in communion*. I will just mention in passing the filioque, various authority issues tied up in Roman dogma, the Immaculate Conception (something unnecessary given EO theology), the original righteousness of Adam. I could mention more--these are very serious issues.

I am aware that RCs like to say there is a lot of unity between the East and West, unfortunately, the EOC does not return the favor, which is just another example of the disunity between the two. And since you both claim to be "the" Church, it makes simple appeals to AS totally inadequate for establishing your authority to those outside your respective communions.

I would also like an answer to my question:

Is nominal unity with different theologies really better?

10:35 PM, DECEMBER 15, 2009

Edward Reiss said...

"Note that I didn't say that there was total doctrinal unity between churches that hold to apostolic tradition."

But depending on the doctrines enumerated, the "unity" could be greater or lesser.

"I do not use AS as a "silver bullet" to "prove" some sort of fictional, night-and-day contrast between the two groups in the original post, but rather to point out the benefit of said tradition. Some problems we just shouldn't still be dealing with."

OK. I don't have a problem with EOs or RCs using AS, it is just the "silver bullet" assumption, which is more often than not just a way to avoid any discussion. I also think differences among prots are exaggerated while differences within and among the AS churches are minimized in an arbitrary way. For example, isn't there very, very broad agreement between e.g. Baptists and EV Free churches? ISTM one could pass from one to another and make little or no change in one's beliefs. The same with Dutch Reformed and some Presbyterian churches. (Liberal churches will fellowship with anyone, so I consider them a different group all together.) Lutherans are divided, but the only meaningful division is between trads and libs. For example, the LCMS is a member in a worldwide association of churches with which it is in altar and pulpit fellowship---which means agreement in doctrine. For what ever reason though, in polemical discussions *any* division in a prot church is dispositive proof of fatal flaws, while the serious divisions within and among AS churches are waved away. I can see why one would want to do that for rhetorical reasons, but it is not strictly speaking an honest way to proceed. When we couple that with the constant appeals to authority I think you can see why divisions within AS churches become an issue.

Regarding "unity is unity". Well, if e.g. the RCC is said to be more unified because RCs are in fellowship with the pope, but RCs are not doctrinally unified, I am not sure such a unity is useful.

11:30 PM, DECEMBER 15, 2009

Edward Reiss said...

"Only if you want to argue that universal jurisdiction of the papacy is part of the tradition of the church in the first millennium. But do you *really* want to go down that path? Didn't think so. So the issue comes down to AS churches that actually follow the tradition of the early church."

According the RC Tradition, the papacy *does* have universal authority. And if their AS is correct, you are simply wrong. Actually, this is the point. You arbitrarily say *your* tradition is *the* tradition. Perhaps you could argue from history, Scripture etc. But that is what prots are accused of doing. And so, your appeal to *your* tradition is no different in kind from a prot appealing to *his* tradition.

Matthew actually makes my point: as he claims his church is in AS, while your church claims it is not. So, how is this different in kind from a Lutheran pointing to the Book of Concord as a correct distillation of *the* Tradition?

"Nobody every claimed that AS guarantees doctrinal unity. That's a straw man."

I didn't say everyone does, but the claim is advanced in most conversations either explicitly or implicitly. The argument you call a straw man is in fact used, and is the topic of the post and this thread. And I think we have done a good job of showing that as an argument it is useless, and that if you say SS causes disunity we can make the case AS does, too using the same "logic".

"Sounds like a cause and effect fallacy here."

Good job!

Now, the argument that SS is the cause of disunity is also a cause-and-effect-fallacy. Why? Because the claims advanced that AS brings unity and SS brings division are false on their face. We can see this by the divisions within and among those who claim AS.

8:11 AM, DECEMBER 16, 2009

Edward Reiss said...

"And my tradition is fundamentally different to prot tradition, because prot tradition is less than 500 years old."

And it is also fundamentally different from RC tradition. So why should we entertain your claims about your tradition against anyone else's? See?

Also, so you want to use a straw man that my tradition is 500 years old. Well, that is just another claim based on authority, which I don't accept, which makes the claim spurious.

"Because the Book of Concord contradicts the previous thousand years of Christianity. That's not something you can dismiss as being the same in kind. You know, to have a succession, you've got have... like a succession. Get it?"

No John, the neo-platonic system called "Orthodoxy" contradicts the deposit of faith, which is distilled in the Book of Concord, which is infused with the patristic doctrine of Christ and the Sacraments.

Ready to concede?

I don't care how many times you just try and claim you have the "real" succession and so you are the "real" church, because I don't believe it. You are also just arguing from vigorous assertion with spurious claims to authority thrown in. So here is a news flash for you: I think your authority claims are bogus and I don't care how many times you make claims to be "the" church because there are other claimants and you just arbitrarily exclude them.

Then there is the fallacy of "It is old and popular, therefore it is true..."

So much for your attempt at an argument from authority.

"AS is a prerequisite to having the true church, but is not in itself the criterion for the true church. If anyone argues differently, they are just ignorant."

Are you a Donatist now? If a heretic is duly ordained into your church by a bishop in AS, he is a priest, period. AS is the whole enchilada--though heretics can be removed if they are discovered. So it matters quite a bit whether or not one is in true AS (which the OO don't have according to official Orthodoxy...) And the RCC says it has the true succession, while yours is tainted by a lack of sufficient fellowship with the pope. Why should anyone accept your claims over and against the RC claims?

Just look at all the unity claims of AS bring about!

I also think your posts here are a good example of how apologists from the AS churches argue: it is all really an argument from authority. Unfortunately for you, there is no compelling reason to accept *your* authority over and against someone else's authority. Just look at how you keep trying to reassert your POV based on spurious claims of authority.

9:32 AM, DECEMBER 16, 2009

Edward Reiss said...

"Edward, you are not even engaging the actual argument. The question is how is an infallible Magisterium any better than a fallible council of elders when everything is up to the individual who ultimately decides what he will adhere to?"

That is not the question, because we do not accept you have an infallible majesterium.

The question is, as has been repeated over and over several times, whether or not the critique offered by RCs and EOs--that the divisions among prots show that SS is not a good source of authority--applies to the AS churches. This is rather plainly seen in the post.

"How is the Catholic Church more unified than all the Protestant pseudo-church cults? How does the Catholic Church understand unity?"

Once again you misunderstand. I suggest you look at the diagrams supplied by Rhology--they include more than RCs. This means the question is not the unity of the RCC vs. the disunity of the prots, but the disunity of all the several churches which assert AS as an authority vs. the disunity of the prots. So it doesn't matter if the RCC is united, that is not the question. The question is whether your authority structure--AS--engenders unity. So far no one has said it does, but that the disunity is not as bad as prot disunity, which is very debatable.

This basic misunderstanding by you of the issue means the rest of your post, which is proof-by-authority boilerplate which we have all heard before, beside the point.

"So what, Edward? How about you argue against the notion of unity as defined by the Church instead of veering off into a tangent over which Church who claims infallibility actually has apostolic succession?"

Because it is an open question who "the" church is, as the EO claim they are the real church and you are not, as we saw in our other discussion; they don't believe you have AS. So, when you just blithely just assume your church is *the* church and argue based on that, you are just arguing from an authority which I, and EOs, and Baptists etc. don't accept. Which makes the argument kind of meaningless. Also, you do so by nothing more than vigorous assertion. Again, we know you believe you are in the "real" church. So what? We don’t believe it. And the lack of any evidence given by your side does not make your position look stronger, but rather that all you *have* is an argument from authority.

Now, I am willing to discuss the issue of this blog post with you.

7:27 PM, DECEMBER 16, 2009
Edward Reiss said...

"That's not an authority claim, it's a simple statement of fact, that no scholar ought dispute."

It is in dispute, and it depends on which scholars one speaks with. I suggest that if you want to argue with someone, you learn something about what they believe instead of counting on trite arguments.

We believe the Lutherans are the true inheritors of the Tradition, that means Rome left the right path. It is as simple as that, and a quick reading of some sources would show this is what we believe. And regarding authority, it is an authority claim, because embedded in the claim is that the RCC has a better claim to be "the" church than Lutherans. We don’t think so. And I bet you do based on--wait for it--authority.

I don't know why you guys think this kind of posturing and argument by assertion works. Really.

"No, because we were discussing apostolic succession as a part of our rule of faith, o, because we were discussing apostolic succession as a part of our rule of faith, and whether you do or don't think the BoC distills the deposit of faith, it doesn't make its teaching have succession throughout church history.

*You* say so. Again, you simply assert your authority. Is that all you really have? Let me rephrase your statement and perhaps at last you will see what the issue is:

"..and whether you do or don't think [the teachings of the EOC through apostolic succession] distills the deposit of faith, it doesn't make its teaching have succession throughout church history..."

Your arguments are basically completely reversible.

I mean really, this kind of posturing makes your claims look really suspicious.

"I haven't even mentioned authority yet. Though in point of fact, the whole Christian religion is about arguments from authority. If you can't handle that, may I suggest a new age religion for you?"

The whole Christian religion is about arguments from authority? That's funny, I thought it was about the salvation of mankind. Interesting take you have there, but I think I'll pass.

Your whole argument is one based on authority. You merely assert, on authority, that you church is the real church. You assert, on authority that my church is 500 years old because we don't fit into your categories.

You and Alex are trying to change the subject. I can see why, as it is quote obvious that the trite argument that SS engenders disunity is as applicable to your church if we substitute AS for SS.

Now, perhaps you never used AS as an authority in an argument to wave aside another's claims. If so, the post was not really addressed to you.

7:44 PM, DECEMBER 16, 2009

The problem is obvious - Rome, sedevacantists, traditionalist Catholics, Pope Michael-ists, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, and various other churches with incompatible teachings all appeal to this set and limited corpus of Scripture and Tradition. It would appear that the criticism against Sola Scriptura of multiple denominations applies to the Roman and EO rule of faith as well."

So, if multiple denominations prove Sola Scriptura is an invalid teaching, then multiple denominations and schisms prove that your authority system is invalid.

So, even if we allow arguendo that SS is not Apostolic doctrine, it does not make the particular critique being discussed here--that the divisions in protestantism prove SS is wrong--a valid critique primarily because it is reversible.

IOW, find another argument against SS.

10:16 PM, December 16, 2009


  1. I appreciate a number of things Reiss had to say in that thread. His responses were of a high quality. I only have one comment to add.

    One potential response I've encountered when discussing this on CARM is to say that the claims to Apostolic Succession from various groups are not identical in nature (e.g. different lists of succession for different groups), that they are really different kinds of authorities altogether. Therefore there is no comparison and the argument cannot be turned back onto their position.

    I think that retort ultimately fails on other grounds, but it is useful to note that, at least for Catholics, Roman Catholicism claims the Orthodox have a valid apostolic succession. How could valid apostolic succession lead to such a massive and long-lasting division as we see between the RCC and the EOC? Consistency demands we reject valid apostolic succession because of the disunity it creates.

  2. "So, if multiple denominations prove Sola Scriptura is an invalid teaching, then multiple denominations and schisms prove that your authority system is invalid."

    A nice reaffirmation of Rhology's argument.

  3. I didn't read everything written in the post, but I do have something to add (if it wasn't mentioned already):

    It was said by one of Reiss's interlocuters that the EO and OO have reconciled and that, after all this time, there were no essential theological differences.

    However, many in the Russian Orthodox communion (which tends to be the most conservative of the EOs) are declaring this reconciliation heresy. So, even within the EO communion, you have disagreement.