Saturday, December 19, 2009

Osama's little helpers


“But this beloved American armed-forces were going in to destroy a tribe of people in order to acquire something which did not belong to them in the first place. I hardly think that that is something to be admired. The American-soldier-turned-‘jihadist,’ as you put it, was defending the weak and oppressed.”

Which completely misses the point. It’s tautologically true that if you concoct a defamatory fictitious narrative in which the American armed-forces really are the villains, then you’ve turned the tables on who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.

That, however, in no way justifies a defamatory narrative which vilifies the American armed-forces in the first place. Given the defamatory narrative, that reaction justifiable–but the narrative itself is unjustifiable.

What Cameron has done is to stack the deck against our troops.

“The movie mirrored what the English did in coming to America, when it was occupied by Native Americans.”

Well, that’s grossly simplistic on several levels. It wasn’t just the “English” settlers. What about the French and Spanish?

And it’s not as if the American Indians were flower-children or lotus-eaters. What we had, instead, was a clash between different warrior cultures. All parties concerned were warrior cultures.

In addition, relations between English settlers and American Indians were complex and varied.

“I certainly wasn't cheering for the oppressive and destructive Americans in this movie.”

Naturally, since that would require a modicum of critical detachment. But Birch is made to order for Cameron’s allegorical propaganda-machine.

“And who would?”

That’s because the film is a set-up. Like any adept propagandist, Cameron is attempting–quite successfully, in Billy’s case–to sway the attitudes and emotions of the audience. And Billy is playing the role that Cameron assigned him to play. He cheers the sympathetic characters and jeers the unsympathetic characters. Funny how a freewill theist is so easily manipulated. Cameron is pulling his strings.

“Destroying the homes and lives of people for sordid gain is hardly something to defend.”

And defending a scurrilous political allegory is equally indefensible.

“The American soldier who ‘turned against his country’ was defending the weak and oppressed - a godly attribute, no?”

It’s not a godly attribute to play the chump for a Hollywood director with twisted values. It’s not a godly attribute to root for a thinly-veiled political allegory which slanders the very men who put their lives on the line to protect us from our mortal enemies.

“Since this script was created over 15 years ago, it is hard to imagine that Cameron’s motive was based on a reaction to our place in Iraq. Neither do the events in Avatar mirror-image the events which led up to our place in that country. I’m not seeing the connection.”

The fact that the script was rough-drafted 15 years ago hardly means that Cameron can’t update it with topical allusions. And, in fact, he’s already tipped his hand, both in the heavy-handed allusions in the film itself as well as his public statements. For example:

However, it [Avatar] also contains heavy implicit criticism of America’s conduct in the War on Terror…Cameron said yesterday the theme was not the main point of Avatar, but added that Americans had a “moral responsibility” to understand the impact that their country’s recent military campaigns had had.

“We went down a path that cost several hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives. I don’t think the American people even know why it was done. So it’s all about opening your eyes.”

This is where the politics comes in. The hero is with the Na’vi when the humans attack their homes. The fusillade of gas, incendiary bombs and guided missiles that wreck their ancient habitat is described as “shock and awe”, the term popularised by the US military assault on Baghdad that opened the Iraq war in 2003.

The humans’ military commander declares: “Our survival relies on pre-emptive action. We will fight terror, with terror.” One of the more sympathetic characters preparing to resist the human invasion bemoans the need for “martyrdom”.

After the Na’vi homes collapse in flames the landscape is coated in ash and floating embers in scenes reminiscent of Ground Zero after the September 11 attacks.

Cameron, who was born in Canada, said he had been “surprised at how much it did look like September 11. I didn’t think that was necessarily a bad thing”.

Referring to the “shock and awe” sequence, he said: “We know what it feels like to launch the missiles. We don’t know what it feels like for them to land on our home soil, not in America. I think there’s a moral responsibility to understand that.

Moreover, it scarcely seems coincidental that Cameron chose to specify American forces. Futuristic films don’t ordinarily have American forces. In futuristic films, you either have a pan-national/pan-galactic “peacekeeping” force under the aegis of a UN-style one-world gov’t, or else you have private mercenary armies employed by evil multinational corporations.

The only reason that Cameron has to specify an American force is because the film is a political allegory, ostensibly set in the future, but really about the “war on terror” and other alleged atrocities of US domestic and foreign policy.

“I see this review as yet another over-reaction by Christians who missed the mark.”

I see Birch’s response as the mark of someone who is easily duped.

“What if the US Army began to oppress and murder innocent people (as is portrayed in this movie)? Hypothetically, what if the US Army began to murder Jews, for example. Would you then ‘fight against your own country and ‘brothers’ in arms’?
Murdering innocent people is not acceptable in any country - not ‘even’ in the United States of America.”

What is even less acceptable is to pose hypothetical questions which deflect attention away from unambiguously evil and dangerous enemies like the jihadis. Not to mention defending the calumnious viewpoint of said film.

“Comments such as this one, from one who has yet to see the movie, is what concerns me most about Christians today, especially Southern Baptists. Here there is zeal without knowledge.”

That’s very ironic coming from a guy that Cameron successfully recruited to promote his own political agenda. Funny how a freewill theist plays the puppet to Cameron’s puppet-master.

Once again, I have no problem with folks who go see the film or enjoy the film for its artistic imagination. I do have a problem with Americans who are so disloyal and ungrateful to the men in uniform who live and die so that we may live in freedom and safety.

Is Avatar the new Olympia?

In reading reviews of Avatar, I can’t help making mental comparisons with another couple of films from a different war era–Olympia and Triumph of the Will. Although Goebbels was the official minister of propaganda, he was no match for the artistic genius and popular appeal of Riefenstahl. Such is the surpassing power of great art as an instrument of great evil.

I have no inherent problem with moviegoers who can bracket the political allegory and simply enjoy Avatar at a purely aesthetic or mythopoetic level.

But reading about moviegoers who give it a standing ovation when it celebrates the defeat of the American armed forces–not to mention when it glorifies an American soldier who turns against his own comrades, what are we to think?

At the intended, allegorical level, that represents an American soldier who becomes a jihadist. Is that what moviegoers are applauding? The triumph of militant Islam?

Therein lies the power and peril of great art. It disarms the critical sense. The unwary and undiscerning viewer is swept away in the heat of the moment–just like the malleable German masses in Riefenstahl’s insidious masterpieces.


A friend just sent me Russell Moore's review of Avatar (at the Gospel Coalition blog). After reading Ebert’s laudatory, but politically biased review, I had the same impression.

It seems to be two movies in one: a bad movie wrapped inside a great movie. On the outside is this magnificently imagined alien world. On the inside is treasonous, radical environmentalist screed.

At one level I think it’s monumentally stupid for the director to waste so much artistic imagination on something as ephemeral as a political allegory about the alleged evils of the Bush administration, &c. It takes a degree of fanaticism to squander your artistic vision on something that passé.

Then, as Moore points out, the viewpoint of the film is downright seditious and morally inverted. It turns the war on terror upside down, so that our US soldie’s are the villains while our sworn enemies–jihadis disguised as noble savages–are the heros.

It’s just like French communists who used to wax nostalgic for Stalinism because they didn’t have to live under it.

And the power of art makes the poison fruit delicious. Reminds me of the false prophet in Rev 13 with his lying wonders.

Friday, December 18, 2009

On tipping a losing hand

I’ve been pointing out for a long time now that Perry Robinson rarely makes even a gesture towards presenting a positive case for Eastern Orthodoxy. And when you encounter an opponent like that, it’s hard to shake the suspicion that he’s not very forthcoming because there’s nothing in the bank.

Just read through his halting, fumbling, groping, hedging, question-begging, half-baked, ad hoc attempt to field the concerns of one commenter and ask yourself what makes the Orthodox rule of faith superior to the alleged deficiencies of sola Scriptura. I’ve bolded some statements for emphasis.


Perry Robinson Says:
December 19, 2009 at 12:51 am

I have no doubt that the whole thing is messy, but such is the case with a historical religion. That I don’t think implies that it is impossible from the get-go to make sense out of it. So I hope what I offer will move us in that direction.

From what I can discern in the history, there is a difference between pentarchial ratificaiton and pentarchial ratification in a council. The former is of great weight, but not the highest degree of authority. This secures I think in part against the worry of five popes. Moreover, if we have to have five altogether that helps to secure against any one of them being supreme in a subordinating way. It also helps address the matter of monothelitism.

As for Patriarchs and monothelitism, not all fell into it with respect to specific occupants and not all at the same time. So I don’t take it to be a defeater for the model I am proposing. Maximus argues along these same lines.

The apostolic lineage of Constantinople is obviously not from any direct founding. I can’t recall the sources at the moment but my understanding was that Ephesus was transferred to Constantinople. If so, we know that John and Paul play significant roles in founding the church there. This explains well the patriarchal references to Peter and Paul when conflicts of like the Acacian schism were remedied. Constantinople took itself to be Pauline.

It’s true that the Pentarchy is in one sense convention, but it is a convention of the Church which means that it isn’t convention in any common sense of the term and so doesn’t necessarily lack the kind of normative weight that say local custom does. Secondly, it also materially is not a custom, in the sense that it is a manifestation of apostolic authority and power.

As for Constantinople and Moscow, this is something that requires some further thought and investigation, specifically in what way and what understanding was Moscow elevated by to a Patriarchate and what relation such sees have to the ones with an original apostolic deposit. That said, whatever claim Constantinople can make, it is significantly older and certainly that part of the world bears a number of churches that were founded by the Apostles from which it has drawn in a way that Moscow can’t. So there is some potential here to tease out. Part of the problem is that there is a fair amount of literature in Greek on this but my Greek isn’t good enough to reliably access it at the moment.

At present I only offered up what I garnered from 2nd Nicea. I thought it worth discussing as it generally doesn’t show up in Catholic apologetic materials, from the most sophisticated to the more popular. Certainly with Rome leaving the Church we don’t have that pentarchy as such now, but since it was constructed by the church as a means in part of manifesting the power and authority of the apostolicity of the episcopate, it seems to me that it can be and was adjusted. Perhaps there are principles that will allow us to expand it or explain the adjustment. That said what I am doing here is offering lines of discussion and investigation, which just points out that this is all far more complicated than the pop apologetic arguments really make it out to be. I think it is important to interact with the best works a position can offer, which is what I try to do in so far as I am able.

Known universe

"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Gen 3:15)

"Is not God high in the heavens? See the highest stars, how lofty they are!" (Job 22:12)

"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork." (Psa 19:1)

"Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases." (Psa 115:3)

"The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?" (Psa 113:4-6)

"When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?" (Psa 8:3-4)

"You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. You are the Lord, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. You found his heart faithful before you, and made with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous." (Neh 9:6-8)

"But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham . . . Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord: 'I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.' And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. Then the Lord said to him, 'Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.' This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and a judge?' - this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, 'God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.'" (Acts 7:17, 30-37)

"Thus says the Lord: 'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.'" (Isa 66:1-2)

"He bowed the heavens and came down." (Psa 18:9)

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." (John 1:14)

Measuring Oral Roberts' influence

John MacArthur on Oral Roberts.

HT: Charlie Sebold.

33,000 denominations and counting!

Here’s the Catholic version of church history in a nutshell: Jesus prayed for all Christians to be one (Jn 17:21); all Christians were one before the Photian schism, and then, with the Reformation, there has been escalating fragmentation so that we now have about 33,000 Protestant sects or denominations.

That’s a very intriguing take on Jn 17:21. On that interpretation, when God the Son Incarnate asked God the Father to make all Christians one, the Father answered his prayer by making Christians into 33,000 denominations. In other words, he gave his Son the polar opposite of what he asked for.

I suppose, if Jesus had it to do all over again (given the Catholic interpretation), he’d use reverse psychology on the Father.

And that’s not all. According to the Catholic interpretation, the prayer Jesus hasn’t merely gone unfulfilled. Rather, it’s gone progressively unfulfilled. The more time passes, the more unfulfilled it becomes. Christians started out as members of the one true church, back in the golden age before the Photian schism, but over time the prayer of Jesus has gone increasingly and exponentially unfulfilled.

On the Catholic interpretation of Jn 17:21, answered prayer is like a leaky container. God filled it to the brim, but as time goes by it drains away from full to three quarters full to half-full to a quarter full, and so on. Like watching a water cooler bubble and gurgle as it goes down…down…down.

So that’s how the Father “answered” Christ’s prayer. The answer is inversely proportional to the request. And with the passage of time it continues to diverge rather than converge. Indeed, to diverge at an ever accelerated pace.

That’s a very ingenious theology of prayer. It means that every good Catholic should have a pocket thesaurus of antonyms so that, whenever he prays, he can choose the right antonym to get exactly what he wants. First think of what you want, then look up a corresponding antonym which is diametrically opposed to what you want so that, by asking God for the antithesis of what you really want, he will unwittingly grant your wish by giving you just what you didn’t ask for.

It takes a bit of practice to get the hang of it. But it helps to periodically reread Through the Looking-Glass to get yourself in the right frame of mind.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Moral of Oral

I don’t claim to be an authority on the life and times of Oral Roberts. Over the years I’ve seen some things, read some things. Based on that, these are my provisional impressions of his life and legacy:

1.It’s often the case that those who have far less envy those who have far more. This can motivate a person to become a social climber. To get all the goodies he felt deprived of in his younger years.

2.Apropos(1), if you lived through the Great Depression, like Roberts did, that could exacerbate a sense of financial insecurity. And that would be another incentive to become a social climber.

That may or may not be what made Roberts tick. But that’s one of the explanations which springs to mind.

3.He was a pioneer televangelist. TV is a tremendous fundraising tool. Nothing compares with TV for reaching potential donors, and hitting them up for contributions.

I’m not necessarily saying that was Roberts’ only or primary motive. I’m just saying that if you want to raise lots of loot for your “ministry,” that’s where to go.

4.His folk Pentecostal theology is also characteristic of someone with his socioeconomic background. However, the “seed-faith” angle is tailor made to rake in the cash. Indeed, it reminds me of an old sales pitch: "As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs."

5.As a faith-healer, it’s quite possible that Roberts was just your garden-variety charlatan. However, I’d note in passing that Kurt Koch apparently thought Roberts was a genuine healer. However, Koch suggests that Roberts acquired that ability when he was healed of TB by an Indian shaman or witch-doctor. Cf. Occult Bondage & Deliverance, p54.

I don’t know enough to have a firm opinion one way or the other. But I think it’s worth mentioning.

In this connection, one of his daughters died in a plane crash while one of his sons committed suicide. That could be purely coincidental. On the other hand, it would also be consistent with somebody who acquired occultic abilities of one sort or another. The ability is a curse. It empowers you, but like a devil’s pact, there’s a hidden surcharge.

6.He was a better husband than father.

7.Was he sincere, or was he just another conman? Actually, the question of sincerity is potentially misleading. We’re apt to assume that someone sincere is honest. Not a deceiver.

However, deception and self-deception frequently go hand-in-hand. A conman has ways to rationalize his behavior. And not just to others. But to himself.

8.There’s something especially egregious about men and women who come from humble backgrounds, then enrich themselves by ripping off the very folks they grew up around.

From what I can see, Roberts was better at doing well than doing good. It’s hard to think of him without recalling a German priest who used to hawk indulgences to finance lavish building projects in the name of God.

Causes of death of philosophers

It would appear philosophy is risky business. As such, philosophers might carefully consider their work and research as it could portend the mechanism by which they are ushered from this life to the next.

HT: Maverick Philosopher.

Teaching evolutionary biology in med school

I just saw this on Uncommon Descent.

1. I agree with O'Leary that there's little point teaching evolutionary biology in med school. It's not directly relevant to clinical medicine. At best, it might be relevant to research.

In fact, it'd be more relevant for future docs to learn, say, plant biology and physiology than to learn evolutionary biology. Like maybe there are pharmacological applications med students might gain from understanding plant physiology. So, unless evolutionary biologists are going to start recommending med schools add plant biology (and/or other equally or more relevant subjects) before or alongside evolutionary biology in the med school curriculum, then I don't see why teaching med students evolutionary biology should be a serious consideration.

Of course, this assumes evolutionary biology is even true in the first place - which is highly contestable. But that's another debate.

2. Re: the quote: "Most medical schools do not have a single evolutionary biologist on the faculty." I don't know whether that's statistically true or not. But there are plenty of med school profs (scientists and clinicians) who may not have doctorates in evolutionary biology but who nevertheless strongly understand and espouse it. So it's still possible for evolutionary biology to come through in lectures and labs and so forth without having a single evolutionary biologist on the faculty.

"The Funeral of a Great Myth"

The following article looks at CS Lewis' old essay "The Funeral of a Great Myth".

The myth is not the theory of evolution, per se, but "popular evolutionism".

Although our attitudes and so forth may have changed since CSL first penned "The Funeral of a Great Myth", I think it's an important essay and still valuable reading today. For instance, CSL points out a few things which some would do well to take on board (e.g. evolutionary change doesn't necessarily imply improvement).

Related, I believe Alvin Plantinga's EAAN owes a fair bit to CSL's argument that evolutionism is self-refuting because, on the one hand, science (which those who subscribe to evolutionism believe includes evolution) depends on logic and reason; but, on the other hand, those who subscribe to evolutionism likewise argue logic and reason are products from irrational processes. Or as CSL put it: "I will prove that there are no proofs."

BTW, CSL "fictionalizes" much of the content here in his book That Hideous Strength. I think he might've done so in part because he believes one of the main reasons evolutionism is so embedded in our society and culture is that it captures the imagination, and he wanted to strike at the imagination: "It gives us almost everything the imagination craves - irony, heroism, vastness, unity in multiplicity, and a tragic close. It appeals to every part of me except my reason. . . . It is our painful duty to wake the world from an enchantment."

Perhaps evolutionism is indeed the great myth of recent generations (e.g. CSL's) as well as our generation. In any case, it needs to be debunked. I think reading CSL's "The Funeral of a Great Myth" would be a good start. You can find it in his collection of essays titled Christian Reflections.

Update: I stand corrected re: Plantinga's EAAN owing something to CSL. Steve points out the following interview (PDF).

The spinning fingerpost

Harry Truman

Give me a one-handed economist! All my economists say, ''On the one hand…on the other.''

If all the economists were laid end-to-end, they’d point in all directions.

On the one hand:

Dave Armstrong

I agree with Adomnan on this one, and on the "New" Perspective on St. Paul (N.T. Wright et al). I have a section on this in my first book, citing my friend Al Kresta at length.

Protestantism has traditionally taken the other perspective, which is why Wright is not a very loved figure in many circles. He dares to criticise Luther's flawed paradigm: he goes after the sacred cow of Luther's "Reformation" soteriology from within Protestantism.

Bryan Cross

Jason, Is it even possible, in your mind, that you have misinterpreted St. Paul’s words in his letter to the Galatians? You are not making any distinction between the works of the ceremonial law as part of the Old Covenant, and works of the moral law, done in a state of grace in the New Covenant, out of love [agape] for God. In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul wasn’t condemning (or even referring to) growth in justification through good works done in a state of grace; he was condemning a return to the Old Covenant by Christians, because that was a rejection of the New Covenant and implicitly a rejection of Jesus as the Messiah who established the New Covenant in which the requirement of those ceremonial laws is done away. If you don’t understand the distinction between the ceremonial law and the moral law, then you have entirely misunderstood Paul’s point in his letter to the Galatians. Then your whole warrant for calling the Church’s teaching a “false gospel” is based on a misinterpretation of Scripture.

On the other hand:

Robert Sungenis

Today, many Catholics are confused as to the meaning of the phrase "works of the law." This phrase appears in such passages as Romans 3:28: "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." I receive calls and letters quite frequently from people asking what the phrase really means. They read in my books what they understand as the historic teaching of the Catholic church, but then they hear some other Catholic apologist say something a little different.

Unfortunately, the meaning of "works of the law" is such a crucial area to understanding both St. Paul and the Catholic teaching on Justification, that I feel compelled to reiterate more forcefully what I have already written in my 1997 book, Not By Faith Alone.

Various Catholic apologists today, when teaching on the meaning of the "works of the law," will often explain it as referring to the ceremonial law of Israel, to the exclusion, or the virtual exclusion, of the remaining law in Israel. (The ceremonial law refers to all the ritual religious practices, such as circumcision, eating kosher foods, priestly sacrifices, seventh-day sabbath observance, etc).

Sad to say, that answer is at best a half-truth, and at worst, it is a distortion of the Catholic teaching on Justification.

One of the reasons these apologists categorize "works of the law" as referring to the ceremonial law is that they have found it to be an easy polemical tool against Protestants. Protestants say that St. Paul condemns ALL work as having any part in Justification. The Catholic apologist counters by saying that when Paul uses the phrase "works of the law" he does not mean ALL works; he only means the works of the ceremonial law of Israel.

The Catholic will then add that in Paul's confining "works of the law" to the ceremonial law, he specifically meant to exclude the moral law, such as those we find in the Commandments. Therefore, in Romans 3:28, Paul really means: "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Ceremonial Law," (but all other "good" works can, and do, justify a man).

In giving this kind of answer, the Catholic thinks he has satisfactorily defended the Catholic faith and silenced the Protestant. To bolster his case, he may enlist the help of Romans 3:29 as proof that his answer is correct: "Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also." He then explains that since Paul speaks of "Jews only," then the "works of the law" mentioned in the previous verse (3:28) must be something that identifies only with the Jews but not with the Gentiles. In that he is correct, but as we will see later, the answer he gives as to the distinguishing characteristic (the ceremonial law) is only partially correct, and in being such, it is the wrong answer to this most crucial question.

In a similar vein, there are also a few Catholic apologists who have sided with the views of a new breed of Protestant exegetes. These Protestants have advanced what they call "The New Perspective on Paul." Current proponents of this new perspective are such Protestant names as James D. G. Dunn, E. P. Sanders, Alan Suggate, N. T. Wright and R. B. Hays, among others.

As for the argument that the "works of the law" applies to the ceremonial law, such that Paul is teaching that the ceremonial law cannot justify but that the moral law does justify, the first thing I would like to mention is that the Council of Trent, which is our central authoritative source on matters of Justification, NEVER used such argumentation. (Nor did they use anything close to Dunn's view, noted above). This fact becomes significant for our investigation, since during the Counter-Reformation there were certain Catholic clerics who, in opposition to the Lutherans, were trying to advance the argument that "works of the law" referred only to the ceremonial law. As it stands, the Council of Trent rejected that apologetic.
In the sixth session of the Council (where Justification is addressed), neither the words "ceremonial law," "ritual practices," nor anything of the sort are mentioned, not even one time. The only time the Council mentions the word "circumcision" is in Chapter 7 when it is quoting from Galatians 5:6 ("in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith, which worketh by charity"), but it gives no elaboration on the usage of the term. Again, this is significant because it shows us that the Council did not think the "works of the law = ceremonial law" argument was a good, or even biblical, argument to explain the nature of Justification.

Rather than focus on the ceremonial law, the Council of Trent went right to the main, overarching issue, that is, the issue concerning "grace versus works" that I mentioned above. In the very first Canon the Council says:
"If anyone shall say that man can be justified before God by his own works which are done either by his own natural powers, or through the teaching of the Law, and without divine grace through Christ Jesus: let him be anathema."

Notice that the Council's view of "works" includes ANY kind of work, whether the work stems from one's "own natural powers" or "through the teaching of the Law." In the Council's mind there is no distinction between "ceremonial" works and "moral" works, at least in regard to how a man is justified before God.
Thus, the Council's tactic is to make an immediate antithesis between "works" and "grace." In the remaining 32 Canons, the Council continues the same argument, never once trying to settle the issue by an appeal to the ceremonial law of Israel, or an antithesis between Jew and Gentile.

The Council twice mentions the "Jews," but in neither case does it make a dictinction between the ceremonial law and the moral law of the Jews. The two references are in Chapter 1 and 2 of the Sixth Session: (1. "not even the Jews by the very letter of the law of Moses were able to be liberated (from the power of the devil and of death"; 2. "that He might both redeem the Jews, who were under the Law").
Again, in Chapter 8, Trent states: "...and are, therefore, said to be justified gratuitously, because none of those things which precede justification, whether faith, or works, merit the grace itself of justification; for, ‘if it is a grace, it is not now by reason of works; otherwise (as the same Apostle says) grace is no more grace' [Romans 11:6]." Obviously, if Trent includes "faith" as "none of those things" which can justify, then surely moral works are included in the "none."

Now one might argue that by these injunctions Trent was merely denying Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism. First, Trent never makes such a claim. In fact, the very foe they were fighting, Martin Luther, was the one accusing the Catholic Church of Pelagianism. Second, if Trent used some other kind of argumentation other than the one presented in Canon 1 and Chapter 8, namely, an argument that focused on the ceremonial law as the exclusive meaning of the "works of law," then the objection could be sustained. But such is not the case.

The point remains that Trent NEVER sought to answer the question of Justification by dissecting the Law into its constituent parts, i.e., ceremonial, moral or civil precepts. Although they had every opportunity to do so, the Council simply did not cite any verses from the New Testament that single out the ceremonial law. They only quoted from the NT passages which view the Law in its totality, since their main objective was to distinguish grace from law, not grace from ceremonies.

Logic dictates that if the ceremonial law apologetic was so crucial to the understanding of the issue of Justification (as some modern Catholic theologians claim) then Trent would have been REQUIRED to use it. They would have no right to ignore it in favor of a view which taught that the Law referred to the WHOLE law of Moses and Works referred to ANY work.

Now some might argue that the Council's focus was dictated by the particular arguments that the Reformers were advancing; and since this is not our concern today, nor was it the concern of Paul in the first century AD, then we are not obligated to use it. Let me say quite candidly, this is wrong.
First, as I noted above, the Council of Trent already ignored the "ceremonial law" argumentation which was being advanced by various Catholic clerics who were trying to answer the Lutherans.

Second, and this should come as no surprise to Catholics who know their history, the Fathers of the Church show quite clearly in their writings that there was a consensus of understanding that, in reference to how a man is justified, the words "works of the law," "works," or "law" referred to ANY work, ceremonial or moral.

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

Judgment according to works


"The point of my paper and question about it is not to stake out some 'works alone' position (which would, of course, be a Pelagianism that Catholics totally reject as heresy), but to note that it is rather striking that only works are mentioned in the judgment passages, and never faith alone (and faith at all only once out of 50)."

Why should Armstrong be allowed to take Pelagianism off the table? If he thinks a Christian merits the eschatological reward, then he must logically believe the reward (of eternal life) is commensurate with Christian good works. If that’s the case, then why isn’t that Pelagian?

If, on the other hand, the reward is out of proportion to good works, then it isn’t something which the Christian merited.

Or is it his position that we use Jesus’ credit card to finance part of the reward, while we use our own credit card to finance the remainder? Or, if that doesn’t’ cover the entire tab, maybe charge another part of the bill to Mary’s credit card for good measure?

They are thematically related insofar as they are also soteriological, but my 50 passages had specifically to do with final judgment, God's wrath, and eschatological salvation.

i) He’s tried to snow the reader with a blizzard of verses. However, if he really thinks they all teach the same thing or point in the same direction, then they count as one prooftext rather than many. Adding one after another doesn’t add anything to the basic argument. At best, it’s just repeating the same point ad nauseum.

ii) Conversely, if his inference is fallacious, then that systematically invalidates his appeal. If it’s fallacious to infer that works are justificatory because they figure in the final judgment, then quoting 50 verses is a fallacy multiplied by 50. His snowjob melts on contact.

iii) BTW, notice that Armstrong never presents a supporting argument for his inference. He simply asserts, in question-begging fashion, that if works figure in the final judgment, then works must be justificatory. A lonely, isolated conclusion.

John 11:25-26 is of the same nature, and moreover, if we look at it closely, we see that the Greek for "believe" is pistuo, which is considered the counterpart of "does not obey" (apitheo) in John 3:36).

Actually, it would be the counterpart to Jn 3:16f. In any case, he misses the point. Since “disobedience” is being deployed as an antithetical parallel to “faith,” “disobedience” functions as an antonym for belief and synonym for disbelief in the aforesaid Johannine usage. Therefore, it’s not equivalent to a work–much less in the Pauline sense (“works of the law.”)

"Faith alone" is tough to verify from Scripture once everything is taken into account and not just the garden-variety Protestant passages that are always utilized.

When Armstrong keeps repeating the same schoolboy errors, even after he’s been corrected, you have to wonder what his problem is. Is he dense or is he dishonest?

“Faith alone” has specific reference to Paul’s doctrine of justification. We are justified by faith along, apart from, and in contrast to, justification by works of the law. That’s what the phrase has reference to. It is, of course, possible, to see that principle operative in non-Pauline passages as well.

This is classic Protestantism, of course: works are relegated to post-justification status, as part of a separate sanctification and the realm of differential rewards of those already saved.

Well, that’s a revealing way to divvy it up. Since he believes in baptism regeneration and resultant justification, does his opposition to merely “post-justification” good works mean that he subscribes to pre-justification good works? But, in that event, the unregenerate can perform good works. Is that his position?

The problem is that Scripture doesn't teach such a view. The disproofs are already in my paper, in many passages that directly connect or associate salvation with the works that one does: therefore, works are not unrelated to either justification or eschatological salvation, as you claim they are.

i) Note the use of weasel words like “connect,” “associate,” and “relate.” This is so vague that it could be right or wrong depending on the direction in which you develop it.

But, of course, you can relate or associate just about anything with anything else.

ii) Also observe the slippery way in which he elides “justification” into “salvation,” as if these were interchangeable categories in Pauline usage.

Matthew 25:34-36 (RSV) Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; FOR I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'

The "for" shows the causal relationship: "you are saved because you did all these works."

i) Notice that this passage describes the kingdom as a royal estate. Something a Christian “inherits”–not merits. Does an heir ordinarily merit his father’s estate? Is that an achieved status? Or is that typically an ascribed status? Something you inherit as a birthright, or by virtue of adoption. Something you have by benefit of your gratuitous relationship with your father.

ii) Also observe the predestinarian language. Their inheritance has been “prepared” for them from the foundation of the world. They were written into the will before they were born.

iii) They’re not saved “because they do good works.” Rather, as Jesus taught in the very same Gospel, a good tree bears good fruit whereas a bad tree is either fruitless or bears rotten fruit. Their fruitfulness or fruitlessness is a sign of grace or gracelessness.

A direct correlation: the ones who do good works are saved; the ones who do evil are damned.

There’s an elemental asymmetry. The damned are getting what they personally deserve. Does Armstrong think the saints get what they personally deserve? Who needs Jesus? We (sheep and goats) both got what was coming to us, on the very same principle. Is that it?

2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 . . . when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

Note that simply believing the gospel and knowing God is not enough for salvation. One has to also "obey the gospel" (and that involves works).

No, “Obedience” is being used as a synonym for faith. It picks up on Isaiah’s usage (in the LXX rendering of Isa 66:4). “Obedience” to the “call” of God (Isa 66:4, LXX) or call of the Gospel is equivalent to faith. Responding to what you hear in faith. That is not at all what Paul means by a “work.”

Revelation 2:5 Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

If we don't do the works, we can lose our salvation; therefore works have to do with salvation; they are not separated from that by abstracting them into a separate category of sanctification, that is always distinguished from justification. That ain't biblical teaching. That is the eisegesis and false premises of Melanchthon and Calvin and Zwingli.

i) This verse is not addressing the individual Christian. Rather, it’s addressing a local church (at Ephesus). A “church” can’t lose its salvation since a church can’t be saved in the first place. A church is a collective. What’s true of parts isn’t necessarily true of the parts, and vice versa (composition/division fallacy).

ii) The lampstand doesn’t represent salvation. Rather, it represents this church’s Christian witness to the world (cf. Rev 11:3-7,10), or loss thereof.

But in any event, bringing out ten, twenty, fifty passages that mention faith does nothing against our position, because we don't reject faith as part of the whole thing.

Paul doesn’t make faith a “part” of a faith-plus-works package. Paul sets faith and works in diametrical opposition where justification is concerned.

Acts 2:38, 41 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Because of the baptism, souls were added to the kingdom. They weren't already in the kingdom, and then decided to be baptized out of obedience. Therefore, the work of baptism directly ties into both justification and final salvation.

i) Notice that this passage doesn’t use “justification” terminology. Armstrong constantly indulges in verbal (and conceptual) bait-and-switch tactics.

ii) There is no fixed sequence between baptism and reception of the Spirit in Acts (cf. 8:12,14-17; 9:17-18; 10:44-48; 19:5-6).

iii) Repentance is a precondition for baptism in this passage. Yet repentance is a gracious disposition in Acts (cf. 3:26; 5:31; 11:18). But if baptism confers regeneration (a la Catholicism), then an unregenerate baptismal candidate would be manifesting a gracious disposition.

iv) Baptism is a concrete metaphor for spiritual purification. The same imagery is used for repentance in 3:19. Therefore, baptism is simply a picturesque figure for God’s forgiveness of the penitent believer. Repentance, not baptism, is what literally results in divine forgiveness. Baptism merely signifies that transaction.

v) In this passage, repentance is a precondition for baptism. Yet infant baptism is the norm in Catholicism. But infants aren’t contrite or penitent. Therefore, Armstrong can’t cite this as a Catholic prooftext without further ado.

Faith and baptism are virtually equivalent in their importance. One is "in" Jesus both through faith and through baptism. Both/and.

Of course, that “virtual equivalence” is exactly what we’d expect in a symbolic correlation between the sign and the significate.

Baptism is not a separate, optional work.

Really? What about the Catholic “baptism of desire”?

GPTS Conference

From 9-11 March 2010, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary will have their Spring conference on "The Nature and Sufficiency of Scripture." Please see here for more information.

HT: Jeff Downs.

Libidinous mortality

I'd be remiss if I didn't draw your attention to the awesome fact that Perry Robinson has discovered the fountain of youth. As he recently explained:

"The magisterium hasn’t defined that issue one way or another. The’ve held off from saying she died. The reason why they haven’t done so is because death is a product of libido. If Mary died a natural death then she had original sin and original guilt."

So, at least where men are concerned, the secret to immortality is chemical castration.

Of course, that carries certain tradeoffs, so it comes down to one of those "Your libido or your life" type dilemmas.

Self-inflicted wounds

Earlier this month, Perry Robinson did a post in which he attempted to show how Orthodoxy isn't vulnerable to the same authority-issues as Protestantism. Of course, since I myself am I card-carrying Protestant, I don't think our position is inherently problematic. It's only problematic if you think it's a problem, then propose an unstable compromise (a la Orthodoxy) which is prey to the same objections you found objectionable in the Protestant rule of faith.

I've now posted two replies to Robinson. However, above and beyond my own replies, it was quite revealing to watch the barroom brawl which broke out in the combox the moment he posted his "solution." It's a perfectly illustration of how a deceptively simply "solution" to the alleged problem of sola scriptura is fraught with its own uncertainties. Moreover, while sola Scriptura leaves us with some uncertainties, these are divinely-sanctioned uncertainties. That's quite different from the gratuitous uncertainties generated by a man-made rule of faith.

I'm going to reproduce most of the crossfire in his combox so that everyone can see for himself how elusive and unstable the Orthodox rule of faith really is. The response almost instantly devolved into a case of friendly fire, where various high-churchman were shooting one other right and left. Keep that in mind if you're under the misimpression that Orthodoxy slices through all the knotty problems imputed to Protestantism.


48 Responses to “Against Khomiakov”

Grail Seeker Says:
December 2, 2009 at 11:04 pm
Thanks, Perry. I’ve wrestled with this issue when considering Orthodoxy. I guess along the lines of your last paragraph, for there to be a new Ecumenical Council, would it have to be approved by the 5 sees? Would this be unrelated to Orthodox countries recovering Alexandria, Jerusalem, Constantinople/Istanbul, and Antioch?

Ariston Says:
December 2, 2009 at 11:29 pm
This is one of the best short-summaries on this topic I have seen.

trvalentine Says:
December 2, 2009 at 11:46 pm
Perry, there are many assertions here to which I could object, but I don’t have the time to pursue them all. For now, I’ll stick to one area of focus.

ISTM you dismiss the idea that a council requires reception by the faithful and make approval by East and West (i.e. the pope of Rome) the criterion for being deemed official. Is that a fair summary?

The problem with this is it doesn’t fit historical fact. Nicaea I took many years to be accepted. Constantinople I wasn’t accepted by the Roman pope. Ephesus I wasn’t accepted by the East as a whole. Ephesus II wasn’t accepted by the Roman pope. Chalcedon wasn’t accepted by the East as a whole. I think historical facts compel one to acknowledge that the decisions of an imperially sponsored synod of bishops have never been immediately accepted. There was always initial doubt and contention afterwards.


Fr. Andrew Says:
December 2, 2009 at 11:51 pm
I recently had a question on this same issue in an email. Here’s how I framed my answer:

You’ve actually hit on one of my minor soapboxes/rants within Orthodox circles, what I call “receptionism,” i.e., the idea that a particular council has to be “received” by the whole Church in order to be considered truly ecumenical. This begs two questions:

1. Since the councils were rejected by some Christians, how do we know that they’re not the real Church and those who received it aren’t outside the Church? (As with your example of Chalcedon.)

2. How long do we have to wait before we can say a council has been “received”?

I know a convert to Orthodoxy who later reverted to Roman Catholicism due precisely to this becoming quite maddening for him. (Of course, he later held a gun to his (now ex-)wife’s head, so he had deeper issues!)

The fathers at those councils nowhere in their texts indicate that they’re waiting for their rulings to be “received.” Indeed, the rulings were immediately written into Roman imperial law. Fr. John Romanides makes this point: “The current idea among many Orthodox that an Ecumenical Council becomes finally official when it is recognized by a subsequent Ecumenical Council has no basis in Roman Law. Each such Council became Roman law the moment when its minutes were signed on the spot by the participating Patriarchal and Metropolitan Synods and countersigned by the Emperor himself. Heretics and their heresies were condemned on the spot and not at a subsequent Ecumenical Council. Their Creeds and Horoi became Roman law on the spot. The Creed of 381 became the Orthodox Creed on the spot in 381 and not in 431 which simply repeated the Creed of 381 as did each subsequent Ecumenical Council.”

(From here: )

What’s underneath all this is the psychological need, borne of the so-called Enlightenment, for epistemological certainty about these things. The Latins want an absolute system centered in the Pope, so we answer it with an absolute system centered in “receptionism,” which is a decidedly slippery concept which turns out to be entirely impractical in actual use (much, I might add, like papal infallibility).

In the end, it really is a matter of faith. There is no rational, logical way to know for sure. What makes the Ecumenical Councils trustworthy is that they are true, not that they have been “received” by anyone (pope, populace, etc.). They conform to the Scriptures, to the rule of faith (regula fidei, a concept found most prominently in the writings of St. Irenaeus of Lyons)—in short, the tradition of the Church. Yes, it’s a nasty, messy business being in the middle of a doctrinal controversy, when everyone seems like he’s got the corner on what is true. But somehow, God sees us through.

In some sense, ecumenical councils are really not at the center of our faith—one was certainly perfectly Orthodox before 325 if one held to the faith of the Church. These ecumenical synods were extraordinary gatherings to deal with pastoral issues, not legislative bodies called together to create doctrinal and canonical legislation. Normally, church governance happens in local synods.

I know that this answer—namely, that all of this really is a matter of faith—will not satisfy those who want an airtight system granting epistemological certainty. Such folks would probably be better off becoming Latins. But, once they do, if they ever find out the dirty little secret about no one agreeing on when papal infallibility really is occurring, then they’ll likely drive themselves further and become Calvinists. And there, they can spend the rest of their lives certain of what they think they know but entirely unsure as to whether they’re among the elect!

I hope this helps, at least a little, in my decidedly non-ecumenical way.

Perry Robinson Says:
December 2, 2009 at 11:53 pm

In principle yes, but the situation now is different than in say the fourth century. We’d need a way to unite at some level prior to a council with Alexandria if they were to be included and if the Copts can be said to be a church or not. In any case,the point is that the pop usage of Khomiakov or something like it as *the* Orthodox view is mistaken.

Let me clarify. When I say the situation is different and such, I mean the “depends” is in terms of conversation or this discussion. I do not doubt that the Orthodox could have an ecumenical coucil tommorrow in principle. I do not think as things stand that the Coptic rejection of Chalcedon was justified. I also do not doubt that they are bound by it regardless. But that requires an analysis of that situation.

trvalentine Says:
December 3, 2009 at 12:12 am
Fr Andrew,

The problem with what strikes me as a more legalistic look at the synods is that Ephesus II was enshrined as imperial law but is now rejected. Heck, if not for a (horse) riding accident, it would have been more than a couple of years before a subsequent synod was gathered which overturned Ephesus II.


Fr. Andrew Says:
December 3, 2009 at 12:23 am

It seems to me that receptionism is no less legalistic, though (like papal infallibility) it’s so slippery that it’s useless in actual practice. It’s still an attempt to provide a rational formula for a phenomenon which seems to resist any such codifications.

I think Romanides’s main point is simply that the synods themselves had no idea that they had to be “received” before they were binding. That the emperor signed them did not make them trustworthy, but his signature (and that of the assembled fathers) certainly was an indication that they understood their decisions to be immediately in force.

Perry Robinson Says:
December 3, 2009 at 12:30 am

I don’t think that’s exactly what I had in mind. I don’t deny that there can be or has been a measure of reception on the part of the people. I deny that it’s a sufficient condition or the backstop for a council being ecumenical. It isn’t. It never was.

I think the extent of the council was determined by the Episcopal sees invited and represented. An open call seems significant in the patristic literature. Constantinople was normative in the East but not in the West for a while till the west accepted it at a later date. It became ecumenical at that point, though it wasn’t lacking normative force in the East prior to that point. That seems to explain best the data regarding its status and reception.

ITSM that Nicea was accepted at the time, but that for a long time people found ways to try and over throw it. It was ratified by all the requisite sees. 2nd Nicea seems to think it was normative from the time the ink was drying.

I am not clear on what you are referring to by Ephesus I and II. Can you clarify?

I am not concerned with acceptance outside of a certain scope since it obviously isn’t adequate at the level of each and every person. What seems canonically and historically to be important is invited sees participating, how they did so and then ratifying it. Contention afterwards isn’t sufficient to imply that the conditions for the council to be ecumenical and normative weren’t met. It might imply that one would have trouble knowing it, but that is a separate question. For my part, I don’t think the arguments that one couldn’t know it are good ones either. I don’t need to infallibly to know in order to know. I just need to know.

As for the Pope, as recognized by the bishops of my jurisdiction, the Pope will *resume* his place as first among equals when and if he becomes a member of the church again. His ratification then will be significant and not before. So when I speak of papal ratification I am either speaking in terms of pre-schism history or in terms of contemporary Catholic claims.

The relevant thought experiment would be to consider the council in Acts 15. Was it normative even though Judiazer’s dissented from it? Yes. It can be normative even if it is not recognized as such by certain individuals.

Basil Says:
December 3, 2009 at 12:31 am
I cannot comment on whether this concept, in fact, originates with Khomiakov. Nor can I comment on every thinker since Khomiakov who has espoused similar perspectives.

This argumentum is ad hominem. It makes no case whatsoever against the idea itself; it can only conclude that Khomiakov was not trained in the ways of doing theology that were current in 19th century Russia. Whether those methods were the best is a question that has occupied Orthodox thinkers (particularly in the Slavic tradition) for most of the twentieth century. Certainly, the Paris school thought not. They considered them to be too imitative of the Scholastic philosophy of Roman Catholicism. Bulgakov, Florovsky, Schmemann, and Meyendorff, etc., are not the only Orthodox tradition in the twentieth century, but they have influenced many of those who came after them. Not everyone thinks they are the best representatives of Orthodox theology, but many do.

My point is that an idea cannot be discredited by prooftexting the opponents of its purported originator.

Perry Robinson Says:
December 3, 2009 at 12:40 am
Fr. Andrew,

Needless to say, I am not a “receptionist.”

How we know which councils are normative turns on what makes them so. I need to have in hand the conditions for it to BE such and so before I can go out and find out if it is such and so. Consequently the fundamental issue is what are the conditions for it to BE ecumenical or normative. Fulfilling the conditions on knowledge then is a separate question, which I don’t think requires any more difficulty in meeting conditions than any other epistemological claim.

2. I think people in general have a need to know. What they do though is mistake infallibly knowing or having a specific psychological disposition with knowing. Certainty is a psychological disposition which is neither necessary nor sufficient for knowledge. Geocentrists 2,500 years ago were certain and were wrong and hence didn’t know what they thought they did.

I think the more important mistake is not in wanting an absolute authority, since God is, but rather that they think that having one reduces to having one person that counts as that authority. I don’t see why normative entails only one person who’s statements are such.

I think there is a way to know for sure, just like I think there is a way to know that Protestantism is false or Catholicism is. I don’t claim that it is easy, but difficulty and achievability are two different things.

You are correct regarding the church being Orthodox prior to 325. It was Catholic in A.D. 33 in the upper room with a handful of Jews. Catholic has nothing to do with how many continents one is on.

Perry Robinson Says:
December 3, 2009 at 12:45 am

I can understand how the argument can seem ad hominem, but it isn’t. I am not claiming the idea as such is false. What I am claiming is that the claim that the idea is THE Orthodox view is false. As such the texts I cited support that claim. I think there are other reasons, reasons given in those sources and the Fathers and councils of the Church for thinking that materially speaking, the idea is false. But I don’t need to do that to show that it isn’t some official teaching of Orthodoxy.

Basil Says:
December 3, 2009 at 12:54 am
I see. Well, all you really need for that claim is to quote all the authors who remind us that there is no official teaching on the subject.

trvalentine Says:
December 3, 2009 at 1:17 am

Are making a distinction between ‘ecumenical’ and ‘accepted’ in the sense of qualifying as official Church teaching?

If being official in the eyes of the empire is all that is meant by ‘ecumenical’ then we have several synods which are ecumenical but not accepted.

I think history demonstrates that Nicaea I was not widely accepted at first.

Ephesus I = 431, Ephesus II = 449

Constantinople I runs into big problems if you think simple invitation to all sufficient. Not only was the West not present, it was unknown to many *Eastern* bishops present at Chalcedon before it was raised in discussion.

I think you misunderstand my comments about the Roman pope (as opposed to the Alexandrian pope!). Since Old Rome was the only Apostolic See in the West, I read your requirement for acceptance by the West as the equivalent of acceptance by the Roman pope. Is there some way you envision a synod could have been accepted in the West apart from the Roman pope?

I don’t think it possible to produce a list of criteria as to what makes a particular synod ‘official’ Church teaching and have it apply to all the synods. Heck, there is disagreement today within Orthodoxy regarding an Eighth and Ninth Ecumenical Synod!


xpusostomos Says:
December 3, 2009 at 1:36 am
What is the exact quote saying that the pentarchy is the criteria?

Didn’t Alexandra break away in one of the councils resulting in the Coptic church, requiring the “Greek” patriarchate to be reconstructed? I’d like to see the situation laid out for all 7 councils before I could think about entertaining this theory.

Councils were signed into imperial law immediately? Seems irrelevant to me. If the emperor signs something into law, that is just him as a private Christian exercising his right to receive a particular teaching. Obviously the theory of reception does not advocate that everybody wait for everybody else to make up their mind, or else nobody would ever make up their mind!

Receptionism is no less legalistic? Only if you want try to micro-analyse it. As far as I see it is the most anti-legalistic, precisely because it defies micro-analysis.

Lucian Says:
December 3, 2009 at 3:23 am
Well, … it pretty much seems like such a non-issue, particularly since Orthodoxy is a revealed faith; a given. It basically all boils down to these three: antiquity, universality, and consensus: in other words, the expression of the cohesion of the mind of the church throughout space and time.

Arius’ teachings, at his time, constituted an easily-observable theological novum: a very tempting one, to be sure, but a novum nonetheless. It was also very interesting to see that the only five bishops of Arian persuasion attending Niceea had one thing in common: they were all the pupils of one man: my namesake: so Arianism was a local and new teaching: hardly something ancient and universal.

Monophysites and Nestorians are all Semites: there’s no distinction in their [kindred] languages between two diferent concepts: person and nature; they use the same word to denote both terms. — hence why there was no such heresy in the Latin-speaking West or in the Greek-speaking East. (Parshapa was borrowed from the Greek prosopon; it’s not a native word). — Again, we have a local, culturally-determined oddity or peculiarity: not something universal. (Nestorinism is even more local, since its teachings can be traced back to one man, and one man alone: Theodore of Mopsuestia).

But the Latin-speaking West had its own linguistical issue: *it* used, in its turn, one and the same word for two entirely-different concepts: the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father AND His sending into the world by the Son. — hence why neither the Greek-speaking East, nor the Semitic Orient, had any knowledge of such a [local and Western] teaching as the Filioque.

I guess that will have to suffice for now.

So in the case of Monophysism and Nestorianism, it’s two against one; and in the case of the Filioque we have once more the same ratio: two to one.

Craig Says:
December 3, 2009 at 5:03 am
I just wanted to point out that the filioque was known as early as the year 410 in Persia.

Perry Robinson Says:
December 3, 2009 at 5:13 am

Even earlier if you read Plotinus’ Enneads where he discusses the procession of Psuche from the One and Nous jointly.

In any case let’s try all to stay somewhere near the topic of the post.

Thanks for your support.

John Says:
December 3, 2009 at 6:16 am
I’d have to say that the Triablogue criticism of this is quite fair, and I’m normally a big critic of Triablogue. Appealing to 2nd Nicea is a woefully inadequate apologetic by itself.

trvalentine Says:
December 3, 2009 at 2:26 pm
I just came across an interesting statement by (Hieromonk, IIRC) Alexander Golitzin in ‘The Vision of God and the Form of Glory: More Reflections on the Anthropomorphic Controversy of AD 399′ which is particularly germane (CAPS added):

[begin quote]
The Anthropomorphic Controversy was played out against the background of the most important doctrinal development of the fourth century: the debate over the Nicene /homoousion/ and the latter’s emergence at CENTURY’S END as the OFFICIAL TEACHING of the imperial church.
[end quote]

ISTM Fr Alexander is saying that Nicaea I took several decades to *emerge* as the official teaching of the Church, i.e. it wasn’t official in 325.


Perry Robinson Says:
December 3, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Suppose he does claim it. Its a claim, not a demonstration. We need the latter and not the former.

trvalentine Says:
December 3, 2009 at 6:34 pm

How does one demonstrate that Nicaea I — or any other imperial synod — did not become the official teaching of the Church immediately upon promulgation?

I’ve already given examples of imperial synods (whose decisions were made the law of the empire) which were later overturned. How do you explain Ephesus II (in 449) or Hieria (in 754) as not being official teaching of the Church even though they were the law of the empire? Because they weren’t accepted in the West (by the Roman pope)? Then how do you explain Constantinople I which never received official approval in the West (by the Roman pope)?

I think Fr Andrew is correct, the acceptance of a particular synod as official teaching of the Church is ‘a phenomenon which seems to resist any such codifications.’


Andrea Elizabeth Says:
December 3, 2009 at 7:05 pm
Very interesting discussion.

I’m not sure how Solovyov is characterized as an Idealist. According to Wikipedia (which doesn’t have as much to say about Khomiakov),

“What prompted this radical change (returning to Orthodoxy) appears to be Solovyov’s (who may have inspired Dostoevsky’s Alyosha and Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov) disapproval of the Positivist movement.[2] In Solovyov’s The Crisis of Western Philosophy: Against the Positivists, he attempted to discredit the Positivists’ rejection of Aristotle’s essentialism or philosophical realism. In Against the Postivists, Solovyov took the position of intuitive noetic comprehension, noesis or insight stating consciousness, in being is integral (Russian term being sobornost) and has to have both phenomenon (validated by dianonia) and noumenon validated intuitively.[2] Positivism according to Solovyov only validates the phenomenon of an object denying the intuitive reality people experience as part of their consciousness.[2] Vladimir Solovyov was also known to be a very close friend and confidant of Fyodor Dostoevsky.”

Realism is supposed to be the opposite of Idealism, so I don’t see how Solovyov can be pinned with that.

Perry: “So the idea is that a council can only be ecumenical if the “whole church” assents to it. This is obviously problematic since no council could ever meet such conditions where every professing Christian agreed.”

“Whole Church” probably needs to be defined. All of the baptized, or as Romanides describes, those purified or at least being purified?

One of the ideas about sobornost, according to Wikipedia (forgive me), is,“Nikolai Lossky for example uses the term to explain what motive would be behind people working together for a common, historical or social goal, rather than pursuing the goal individualistically.”

This points to unity being achieved by unselfishness, and I would add a commitment to the truth, which God has promised to reveal to His Church.

Quote of Protopresbyter Winogradow: “Their whole training was entirely philosophical and generally humanistic, certainly not theological. The strictly theological methods of theological research were foreign and unknown to them.”

I wonder if this has to be so dialectically stated. Istm that such an opposition between human nature and divine nature isn’t necessary. I am interested in the idea of sobornost as pertaining to the common image of God in everyone: peasant, monarch or Bishop. Intuitive understanding of the ontological truth in beings who are enlivened by the energies of God cannot be dismissed, even though sin (of monarchs, peasants and Bishops) tends to obscure it.

Perry: “Pinpointing some of the problematic matter of Khomiakov, Harkianakis following Romanides, that it was the Idealistic view of the church as an organism to the exclusion of the idea of the church as the bringer of salvation that served to motivate Khomiakov’s erroneous ecclesiological views.”

Again I don’t understand the dialectical opposition between “the church as an organism” or body and “bringer of salvation”.

jnorm888 Says:
December 3, 2009 at 8:06 pm

What about a combination of the two views?

A combination of “Pentarchial ratification” and “Receptionism”.

I think Receptionism has it’s strengths and so, to toss it out the window completely would be unwise.


ZSDP Says:
December 3, 2009 at 8:39 pm
Andrea -

Realism and idealism are not always diametrically opposed in philosophers’ thought. Essences and Forms are, for Aristotle and Plato, real. They are, however, really existing ideal (i.e. intellectual, not physical) objects.

The article you quote from should make Solovyev’s Idealism clear in two ways. First, he is defending the existence of ideal objects against the positivists, who are famous for denying the real existence of ideal objects. Second, his defense rests on the theory of noumena (ideal objects) and phenomena (their sensible manifestations), which is German Idealism’s (especially Kant’s) bread and butter.

Furthermore, it is pretty clear that Solovyev’s (and Bulgakov’s) sophiology is heavily indebted to Schelling’s Naturphilosophie, which is, again, a fairly important moment in German Idealism.

ZSDP Says:
December 3, 2009 at 8:48 pm
Andrea -

Realism and idealism are not always diametrically opposed in philosophers’ thought. Essences and Forms are, for Aristotle and Plato, real. They are, however, really existing ideal (i.e. intellectual, not physical) objects.

The article you quote from should make Solovyev’s Idealism clear in two ways. First, he is defending the existence of ideal objects against the positivists, who are famous for denying the real existence of ideal objects. Second, his defense rests on the theory of noumena (ideal objects) and phenomena (their sensible manifestations), which is German Idealism’s (especially Kant’s) bread and butter.

Furthermore, it is pretty clear that Solovyev’s (and Bulgakov’s) sophiology is heavily indebted to Schelling’s Naturphilosophie, which is, again, a fairly important moment in German Idealism. It is this sophiological influence (which really finds its origins in a reading of Spinoza’s Ethics that glosses “God” as “Nature”) that led to viewing the Church as an Organism. To make a long story short, this ecclesiological view was rejected as the bastard offspring of sophiology. Or so I would assume.

Perry Robinson Says:
December 3, 2009 at 11:17 pm

You’re right about Schelling.

Perry Robinson Says:
December 3, 2009 at 11:37 pm

To clarify I am speaking of ecumenical in terms of being the teaching of the church. Whether this is co-extensive with imperial law at all times and points isn’t germane as I don’t think the imperium was the source of teaching or infallible. So I freely grant that there were imperially convoked and ratified councils that failed to be ecumenical in the theological sense that I am picking out or at least attempting to pick out.

As for the Synod of Bandits of Ephesus and other examples I think there are clear reasons for rejecting them. I am not claiming that pentarchal ratification is a single sufficient condition. It could be a jointly sufficient condition. If that is so, then if the Bandit Synod failed in other respects then that would explain why it was not theologically normative. The same goes for Hieria. I do in fact think that those other conditions were not met or violated and I don’t think it is hard to show that this is so.

What is significant that I tried to direct readers toward was the fact that first, here is an ecumenical council that spells out the conditions, at least some of the necessary conditions and it is incumbent on both Catholics and Orthodox to adhere to those judgments. I have yet to see a sustained discussion of these conditions as articulate at 2nd Nicea by Catholic theologians and how they are harmonized with Catholic theology regarding papal ratification. This doesn’t mean there isn’t one. I just haven’t seen it yet, which is just to say that I haven’t read everything.

Now if Rome adheres to it, then there is a prima facia problem or so it seems to me since Rome has had lots of councils without pentarchal ratification. And it isn’t open to simply say that those sees aren’t in communion with Rome and don’t have valid orders. First because Rome separates the validity of orders from the question of being in communion with the Roman see. Secondly, there are a handful of counter examples where persons were not in communion with Rome but participated in ecumenical councils that Rome participated in and accepted as such.

Whatever problems 2nd Nicea presents for the Orthodox it presents problems for Catholicism as well. It would be worthwhile to discuss them in both contexts because both sides are bound by it.

Perry Robinson Says:
December 3, 2009 at 11:39 pm

If i thought it was workable I would entertain it, but received by whom? What constitutes reception? And what kind of authority is required? And how could it possibly escape an infinite regress?

ZSDP Says:
December 4, 2009 at 1:15 am
Perry -

Of course I am.


Andrea Elizabeth Says:
December 4, 2009 at 4:18 am
Hello Z,

I didn’t catch that he was defending ideal objects rather than real or particular(?) objects. Are you saying that you believe “they are, however, really existing ideal objects”?

I realize that there is a chain of the history of ideas, but to me “organism” and “body” are how Orthodox frequently describe the Church, so that distinction was lost on me. I’ll probably get to reading Solovyov before I get to reading Schelling.

The underling faithful can’t rationalize their way into true teaching, but it does seem they are capable of experiencing a disruption when an erring Bishop tries to pass off wrong teaching, which is how I understand that iconoclasm and monothelitism, for examples, were defeated.

ZSDP Says:
December 4, 2009 at 9:01 am
Andrea -

I’m not sure I understand the confusion. He wasn’t defending “ideal objects rather than real or particular” ones—he was defending real ideal objects. An essence is, to put it crudely, a particular real ideal object. Before I go any further, am I heading the right direction?

Also, I certainly don’t mean to say that any Orthodox group has condemned calling the Church the Body. (That sure would make reading the Bible a little awkward!) The Russian synod’s condemnation (here I am thinking of sophiology in general, and Bulgakov in particular) was meant to pick out something rather precise, something which chose Organism over and against all other images of the Church delivered by Tradition.

Andrea Elizabeth Says:
December 4, 2009 at 1:10 pm
A real ideal, is that like a dream come true?

ZSDP Says:
December 4, 2009 at 7:21 pm
Though I love talking about dreams coming true, I’m pretty sure my wife is off the topic of this post.

Mr Tundra Man Says:
December 5, 2009 at 12:50 am
Perry wrote “The relevant thought experiment would be to consider the council in Acts 15.”

Yes it would be interesting – a good thread, perhaps.

Tap Says:
December 5, 2009 at 8:21 am

“Then how do you explain Constantinople I which never received official approval in the West (by the Roman pope)? ”

Anyways, It would seem also that the Pope did “sign off” on Constantinople I even, albeit indirectly. I mean when he signed off on the Chalcedonian decrees/canons (along with its affirmations of Constantinople I). The problem of This really isn’t a problem for Catholics.

The abstract phenomenon thesis by Fr. Andrew (bless his heart) doesn’t fly.

Thomas Says:
December 5, 2009 at 4:05 pm
If the question is /when/ did an Ecumenical (Imperial) Synod become the official teaching of the Church, then Constantinople I /is/ problematic because it did not receive official approval from Old Rome, Antioch, or Alexandria. Approval of a later Synod which favourably cites a previous synod doesn’t help.

I cannot think of a formula that can pinpoint /when/ an Ecumenical Synod became the official teaching of the Church that explains all the synods called by the Empire. There are too many variations. I suspect some form of ‘reception-ism’ would be required, but that would be as undefined as papal ‘infallibility’ is for the Latins.

William Tighe Says:
December 5, 2009 at 8:10 pm
Rome appears to have recognized the 381 Council of Constantinople as ecumenical only in 534, and that in a rather offhanded manner. Previous Popes, such as Leo, Gelasius and Hormisdas had insisted that there were three and only three councils which were universally binding, Nicaea, Ephesus and Chalcedon.

This is discussed in some detail in the relevant section of *The Church and the Papacy* (1944) by Trevor Gervase Jalland, an English Anglican church historian. The author seems to strive for scrupulous accuracy, although rather clearly he is well disposed to the papacy, at least durning the first milennium, and ill-disposed to post-Constantinian Eastern “symphonia.” His conclusion, giving his own judgment on the “papal claims” in the last few pages of the book, is, by contrast, rather unclear and even evasive.

William Tighe Says:
December 5, 2009 at 8:19 pm
Oh, and I might add that the 381 council wasn’t even a fully “eastern” council, as only bishops from the area running from Constantinople to Antioch were bidden to it. Patriarch Timothy of Alexandria turned up with some of his bishops after it began, but that was to pursue his vendetta against St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and they left after their attacks on his were rejected. In fact, it appears that the Patriarchate of Alexandria, both the Orthodox one and the “non-Chalcedonian” one (which seem only to have emerged as separate entities in the 560s) did not accept the “ecumenicity” of Constantinople I until a tsome point durning the Seventh Century.

There were western councils in Rome in 381 and 382. I understand that one of these (I can’t remember which one; perhaps both) accepted the creed formulated at Constantinople in 381, but rejected the canons of that council, particularly as regards the standing of Constantinople as a see.

Perry Robinson Says:
December 6, 2009 at 3:03 am
Dr Tighe,

Suppose there is nothing to nuance the facts you present. We are still left with an ecumenical council that requires patriachial ratifiation. So I am not sure how any of the above removes that fact.

Mr Tundra Man Says:
December 6, 2009 at 3:38 pm
Perry wrote “There is no council that I know of, even the Apostolic council in Acts 15 that didn’t result in some measure of dissent.”

IIRC, the council decided against eating things sacrificed to idols vv 28-29. Paul didn’t seem to agree with that being a real issue (1 Cor 8).

Thomas Says:
December 7, 2009 at 3:42 am
The objection that Orthodox ecclesiology is subject to the same problems as Protestant Christianity because there is no ultimate source of authority in the hierarchy of the Church, overlooks one extremely important difference: Protestant Christianity is based on individualism; Orthodox Christianity is quite communal in character.

The term ’sobornost’ is a good descriptor for the communal nature of Orthodoxy, but the word cannot be rendered as simply ‘catholic’ — its meaning is much, much richer.

Fr Dcn Patrick (Monk Patrick) Says:
December 7, 2009 at 9:32 am
Perhaps we should make a distinction between the rank of a council whether it is Ecumenical or local and whether it is an Orthodox Council.

I understand that it is Ecumenical because the Emperor called the Council for it to determine the faith of the Empire and symbolically for the world. This Council would ideally but not necessarily consist of representatives from all the churches and primarily from the five Patriarchs. It is Ecumenical immediately that the Emperor signs it into Law but this does not mean that it is orthodox. Thus, we can have a unorthodox ecumenical council.

Whether it is Orthodox is another matter and this depends on whether it is of God, i.e. inspired by the Holy Spirit. If so then the holy people of God, who have the Holy Spirit, will recognise it being from God and if it is not then the holy people will reject as false and seek to have it officially rejected. This happens with God’s help and within a fairly short space of time an Orthodox Council overturns the unorthodox Council, whereas Orthodox Councils stand the test of time. This is largely a matter of faith. Orthodox Councils are binding on all because they are from God. That is why the local councils, and even single Bishops, recognised by the Ecumenical Councils are also binding on the Church but they are not ecumenical councils because they were not called as such or lacked church-wide representation. The ecumenical council testifies that the local council indeed represents the faith and practice of the whole church and not only a local custom. Any these are my thoughts.

berenike Says:
December 8, 2009 at 10:20 pm
[re perpetual virginity of Our Lady post, Perry, you said somewhere that the Catholic teaching is that Our Lady didn't die. There's no consensus on this, in fact. If you look at Munificentissimus Deus, for example, you'll see that it's phrased to avoid saying anything on the subject.


a passerb-by]

Aglaios Says:
December 9, 2009 at 6:16 pm
I always have a very simple response to my Roman friends that hurl the line of “Protestant divisiveness” in the direction of Orthodoxy. I tell them something like: “Pick up a phone book, and look up and attend 10 of the nearest random Roman Catholic parishes; then find and attend 10 of the nearest Orthodox parishes… then come back and tell me where you saw true unity and sameness of faith, practice and worship.”

All they can do after such a comment is look down to the ground with little response… for they already know that most of the 10 nearest Roman parishes are drum-banging charismatic “church in the round” Novus Ordo hippi parishes, or some variation of 1960’s pop-Catholicism. They also already know that in the few Orthodox parishes they’ve ever stepped foot in, they saw pristine and beautiful heavenly worship.

For example, compare two major religious events that took place near in time over a year ago: 1. World Youth Day in Sydney and the Pope’s mass at the end.
2. The pan-Orthodox ‘Baptism of Russ’ anniversary celebrations in Kiev where the Patriarchs Bartholomew and Alexey con-celebrated with multiple hierarchs from around the world.

Go find pics and video of each, and then ask the question… which side is truly under the influence of Protestantism.

Matthew Yocum Says:
December 10, 2009 at 3:36 am
I stumbled upon this blog yesterday and Iike what I see. I did not really understand the flow of the comments because they are using a few terms that I am not familiar with and I don’t have time to carefully read them because of finals.

Was your conclusion that eccumenical councils are only valid if they are accepted by all five Sees and not by universal consenus?