Saturday, January 16, 2010

The mind of the church

Andrew Preslar:

Catholics believe that the Church is the mystical Body of Christ, visible upon earth. As such, the Church, having the mind of Christ, is most intimately related to the Word of God and cannot err in the dogmatic expression of her understanding of the Word.

Of course, this is deeply problematic on at least two grounds:

1. If the church has the infallible mind of Christ, then what constitutes the church? Does this extend to every Christian individually? To each Christian in concert with every other Christian? Or to a subset of Christians?

As a Catholic, he obviously has to par this down. But his allusion to 1 Cor 2:16 has no such restriction.

2. If "the Church" has the mind of Christ, then why would would ecclesial infallibility be limited to "dogmatic" expressions? Was dominical infallibility limited to "dogmatic" expression?

Tales From the Darkside

Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action.

But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished.

Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth — glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"?

If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox — that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it — I'm just saying: Not how I roll.

You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings — just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.

Best, Satan



(Pat Robertson - false prophet since,what 1975 at least?)

"Baptism now saves you"

I see that Andrew Preslar has done a separate post in response to Jason Engwer:

I’ll comment on what I take to be his primary contentions:

Our Lord undeniably instituted the sacrament of baptism as a prominent part of the Apostolic mission to “all the nations” (Matthew 28:19).

But from a Catholic standpoint, that’s far from undeniable. For modern Catholic Bible scholars don’t assume that just because the Gospels attribute a statement to Jesus, he must have said it.

Mind you, I don’t share their scepticism. But I’m not the one who’s writing from a Catholic perspective. Preslar is.

If the key baptism passages actually refer to something other than the sacrament, and if it is vital to detach spiritual baptism from sacramental baptism, then the New Testament writers were, in some important instances, remarkably cavalier in their use of the term. The prominence of baptism in the Christian community, and its close association with the believing reception of the Gospel (“who can forbid water for baptizing…”) make it extremely unlikely that references to baptism, water and washing in connection with the gifts of initial salvation are simply metaphors. Metaphorical uses of “vine,” “door,” “rock,” etc., are in a different category, because no sacrament uses these substances. But the fact of water baptism makes for a huge interpretive difference when it comes to watery passages.

Unfortunately, Preslar just doesn’t get it. He seems to have a very simplistic grasp of symbolism. By contrast:

1. X can be symbolic if X is merely a verbal metaphor or figure of speech. It has no objective existence. No existence beyond the written or spoken word.

2. X can be symbolic if it’s a tangible object, action, or gesture with a figurative significance.

3. X can be symbolic if it’s a tangible object which actually conveys what it stands for.

i) Preslar seems to think your position on sacramental realism comes down to a choice between #1 and #3. But that’s a false dichotomy. Consider #2.

To illustrate: take the V-sign. On the one hand, this is “literal” in the sense that it’s a real hand-gesture. You use a real, flesh-and-blood hand to make this gesture.

On the other hand, it’s symbolic in the sense that a V-sign merely symbolizes peace (which is why it’s called a “peace-sign”). But making that gesture doesn’t cause a peaceful state of affairs. It doesn’t actually pacify any hostilities.

ii) Apropos (i), a Zwinglian could easily regard 1 Pet 3:21 as a literal reference to water baptism without, however, inferring the efficacy of baptism. For he still might regard baptism as a symbolic action, like the peace-sign. Even though it’s a literal deed, this doesn’t mean it actually conveys what it symbolizes.

Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. But you can’t infer that from the rite itself. And there’s no antecedent presumption to that effect.

Likewise, even if a Zwinglian thought that Jn 3:5 or Tit 3:5 had literal reference to water baptism, that wouldn’t ipso facto make them prooftexts for baptismal regeneration–for they might just as well be symbolic actions, having no efficacious power.

iii) If you think that’s special pleading, let’s consider some Biblical illustrations of the same principle. Ezekiel was, among other things, a sign-prophet. God directed him to perform symbolic actions or “sign-acts.” Let’s cite a few examples:

“As for you, son of man, prepare for yourself an exile’s baggage, and go into exile by day in their sight. You shall go like an exile from your place to another place in their sight. Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious house” (Ezk 12:3).

"And you, son of man, take a brick and lay it before you, and engrave on it a city, even Jerusalem. And put siegeworks against it, and build a siege wall against it, and cast up a mound against it. Set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it all around. And you, take an iron griddle, and place it as an iron wall between you and the city; and set your face toward it, and let it be in a state of siege, and press the siege against it. This is a sign for the house of Israel” (4:1-3).

"And you, O son of man, take a sharp sword. Use it as a barber’s razor and pass it over your head and your beard. Then take balances for weighing and divide the hair. A third part you shall burn in the fire in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are completed. And a third part you shall take and strike with the sword all around the city. And a third part you shall scatter to the wind, and I will unsheathe the sword after them. And you shall take from these a small number and bind them in the skirts of your robe. And of these again you shall take some and cast them into the midst of the fire and burn them in the fire. From there a fire will come out into all the house of Israel…A third part of you shall die of pestilence and be consumed with famine in your midst; a third part shall fall by the sword all around you; and a third part I will scatter to all the winds and will unsheathe the sword after them” (5:1-4,12).

Are these efficacious signs? Do these symbolic actions cause what they symbolize? Did Ezekiel cause the exile? No. They are purely emblematic.

Yet they’re more than verbal metaphors. They are tangible actions. But even though these are literal deeds, their significance is merely symbolic.

iv) Therefore, the Catholic apologist actually has a two-step burden of proof to discharge:

a) He has to show that his prooftexts refer to water-baptism (or the eucharist).

b) Even if he can demonstrate (a), he also has to show that such ceremonies are meant to be efficacious, not emblematic.

Back to Preslar:

The relationship between the Old and New Covenants can be rightly (though not completely) characterized as type to antitype, and anticipation to fulfillment…An interpretation that equates the efficacy of the sacraments of the New Covenant to those of the Old Covenant makes for a relatively flat reading of Sacred Scripture, greatly reducing the significance of the Incarnation in the history of redemption. It is true that Our Lord did not come to destroy the law (doing away with ceremonies and rituals), but neither did he come in order to carry on in the same old way (instituting sacraments that are non-efficacious types or signs). Christ came to fulfill the law.

Yet this assumes, without benefit of argument, that OT types prefigure NT types. But why should we assume that? Why shouldn’t we assume that OT types prefigure NT events?

Does the Passover prefigure the Eucharist? Or does the Passover prefigure the death of Christ?

The Church Fathers interpreted the New Testament as teaching the salvific efficacy of sacramental baptism. There is no competing view.

I don’t happen to have a personal opinion on question that one way or the other. However, I’m struck by something that Peter Escalante once said. He was the most erudite and levelheaded member of the now-defunct Reformed Catholicism blog. Although, in context, he was specifically commenting on patristic Christology, his hermeneutical take seems to be equally germane to patristic sacramentology. Among other things, he said:

“[#17] Thanks, that’s the beginning of a discussion. I will start by saying that what seems to you something like a contradiction between, say, Danaeus, and the old Fathers on this score, really isn’t one, because the Fathers are often speaking rhetorically, but when one parses their doctrine out into logical propositions, one will find that there isn’t any real difference of doctrine. For example, when Danaeus says that suffering is only rhetorically ascribed to the Son of God, he means the eternal Son of God, that is, the Word, who as such cannot suffer. But insofar as He has assumed human nature, He is said to have suffered, since His humanity did. None of this is any departure from Chalcedon, and close linguistic examination will bear this out. Apparent contradictions easily arise whenever one isn’t minding the differences between kinds of expression: tropes, figures, rigorous proposition, and so on. Reformed Christology doesn’t contradict Chalcedon or the old Fathers at all, let alone ‘100%.’”

“[#19] You’ve completely missed what I said above. It isn’t a question of specious prooftexting, but rather of *examining the different kinds of expression involved*. My contention was that it might *speciously,* that is, on the surface, seem that there is a wide divergence or even direct contradiction between some expressions of the Fathers and the more rigorous explanations of the Reformed doctors, but in these cases it will be found that the Fathers are speaking rhetorically, and that the Reformed are speaking more precisely, but that there is no real difference of doctrine.”

If valid, then Escalante's distinction regarding different kinds of expression complicates a facile appeal to the church fathers to attest baptismal regeneration or the real presence.

Back to Preslar:

Any interpretation of Scripture which sets aside the consensus patrum must assume that, on a matter pertaining to the Gospel, the Holy Spirit abandoned the whole Church, which was then given over to dogmatic error.

i) Notice how Preslar thinks the “whole church” is reducible to the church fathers. That’s a pretty small church. That definition of the church excludes the vast majority of Christians who ever lived.

ii) And why is it a unacceptable to suggest that God “abandoned” the church fathers to dogmatic error, but quite acceptable to suggest that God abandoned, say, all the Baptists to dogmatic error? Why is Preslar such an ecclesiastical snob?

Armstrong, acorns, and other mixed nuts

I’m continuing my response to Armstrong. Armstrong’s basic contention is that modern Catholicism is the oak tree which sprang from the apostolic acorn.

No doubt there’s something sufficiently nutty about his reasoning to make that analogy irresistible to squirrels and chipmunks, but whether it commends itself to higher animals is a different question entirely.

Much of Armstrong’s reply consists of nothing more than derogatory denials rather than actual counterarguments. Therefore, much of what he says can simply be ignored.

I’ll try to isolate the few statements which bear a passing resemblance to a rational argument from all his bluff and bluster.

“Well, by looking at the history! Its not rocket science. But there is also the biblical evidence regarding indefectibility, strongly implying that God will preserve His Church in faithfulness to true doctrine, which in turn implies infallibility.”

i) When Protestants look at the history of Roman Catholicism, they don’t see evidence of an indefectible church. Rather, they see evidence of an apostate church.

ii) Why does fidelity imply infallibility? There were faithful Jews in OT times, even though the religious establishment was often quite compromised.

“This displays Jason's lack of understanding of the Catholic view of development. He tries to make this elaborate argument from silence. But he misses the forest for the trees. Cardinal Newman, in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine gives several proposed (and quite plausible) explanations for the relative early silence or lack of specificity: things that are perfectly consistent with his theory and altogether to be expected.”

The problem with Armstrong’s appeal to the argument from silence in relation to Catholic ecclesiology is that we could redeploy the same argument in relation to the canon. There might have been unanimity on the canon at an early date, but until someone like Marcion came along, there was no occasion for early church writers to enumerate all the books of the NT canon.

“I know; this is the problem. Tunnel vision and historical revisionism have this blunting effect after so many years of doing that. By this I mean "equivalent" in terms of being consistent with Catholicism in kernel form, and inconsistent with Protestantism. It's not equivalent in terms of his views being as fully developed as they were later on. But that is our view, so it is no problem for us.”

An obvious problem with the “kernel” metaphor is that it can be applied to Protestant development as well as Catholic development, viz., Protestantism is to the ear what Catholicism is to the kernel. And that’s more than a metaphor, for Protestantism does, in fact, represent a historical offshoot of the Latin church. Organic metaphors are too flexible for Armstrong’s purpose.

“As usual, the fathers (with some exceptions, as always) overwhelmingly favor the Catholic position.”

But if the status of the Deuterocanon was an open-and-shut case in the church fathers, then why was this such a contested issue at Trent? Why did Trent only affirm the Deuterocanon by a plurality? Not even a majority? Much less a unanimous vote?

“What is not often mentioned by Protestant apologists, however, is the fact that when he listed the Old Testament books, they were not identical to the Protestant 39…F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture.”

Of course, citing Bruce is a double-edged sword since Bruce defends the Protestant canon to the detriment of the Catholic canon.

“In the same fashion, the disputes about the papacy and Roman primacy and the authority of same are about the ‘edges’ and particulars: but not about the thing itself. There was such a thing as a central authority in the Church and an apostolic See and a pope: how the authority was exercised in particulars, and its exact extent and nature were debated, as we would fully expect.”

Of course, the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, who also know their way around the church fathers, don’t seem to think the dispute is limited to “edges” and “particulars.”

On the one hand, Armstrong says: “This is a strange place for Jason to try to make some sort of case for proto-Protestantism in the fathers, for the canonical disputes of those times are exceedingly complicated.”

On the other hand, he says: “If Jason wants to dichotomize the development of the canon with the development of the papacy and Roman primacy (and infallibility), he is in a no-win situation. Either he will prove the validity of the former by analogy (once the broad scope of facts are examined, rather than Jason's carefully hand-picked prooftexting), as no less indicated than the canon, or he will show that the process concerning the canon has more difficulties than the ecclesiology questions, in which case it is a counter-productive argument for him. But above and beyond all that, always lurking in the background in the canon dispute, is the question of the deuterocanonical books, where he loses (in terms of disputational ‘points’) again, because the Church accepted these books that Protestants reject.”

But if, by Armstrong’s own admission, “canonical disputes of those times are exceedingly complicated,” then how can he turn around a few sentences later and assure us that “the Church accepted these books that Protestants reject”?

Why isn’t that a “no-win” situation for Armstrong?

“He [Jason] wants to separate everything into airtight compartments, so that if we discuss apostolic succession and the certainty claimed to be obtained thereof, he simply dismisses that as off-topic, as if it has nothing to do with felt certainty, that is the very essence of infallibility and its reason for existence. His game-playing only reveals, in the end, how shallow and revisionist his analysis is.”

Seems like Armstrong wants to separate into one of those airtight compartments his claim that “the Church accepted these books [e.g. Deuterocanon]” from his prior admission that “canonical disputes of those times are exceedingly complicated.”

“Why would I trust him [Jason] for what these men believe? He's no scholar.”

Yet Armstrong admitted at the outset of his mini-series that “I don't claim to be a scholar; never have. I'm not; I'm merely a lay apologist, who writes on a popular level.”

i) So why should we trust Armstrong for what these men believe?

ii) Moreover, there’s a difference. Armstrong relies on whatever sources he can scavenge from the Internet. By contrast, Jason invests serious money in the purchase of standard monographs and reference works on patrology. Therefore, Jason is far better informed on patristic scholarship than Armstrong.

“One had to cling to Rome in order to know for sure what was orthodox and what wasn't. That was the gold standard. Rome faithfully kept the faith of the Bible and the apostles.”

Really? Did the heresies of Liberius and Honorius represent the gold standard of orthodoxy? Even if Catholic apologists think that they can successfully explain away these aberrations, that would be in spite of the papacy, and not because of it. If you were just “clinging to Rome” at the time, you’d be a heretic.

“Everything goes back to the Bible.”

I’m gratified to see Armstrong vouch for the Protestant rule of faith.

“If there is such a thing as priests, bishops, and popes, and hierarchical ecclesiological structure in Scripture (as there assuredly are), then those things are worthy of belief as well, as part of the apostolic deposit…How do we do that? By following the line of apostolic succession and determining what was believed everywhere and by all, and the true line of development of doctrine.”

Notice the bait-and-switch. On the one hand he baits the reader by claim that those things are “assuredly in Scripture.” But having said that, he suddenly switches to apostolic succession and the Vincentian canon.

But in that case he can’t actually find those things in Scripture. At best, he can only find them in church history, then read them back into Scripture via some auxiliary principles like apostolic succession. Not only is this at odds with his original claim, but his auxiliary principles are among the very things in dispute!

“He resides, after all, in the ‘much different position’ of the 21st century. He knows better than those old fuddy-duds 1500 years ago. What do they know, anyway?”

But 21C Catholics also reside in a much different position than 16C Catholics.

“If cornered, he can appeal to the oh-so-cool fetish of uncertainty and nuanced relativistic theology and ecclesiology. That's the cure-all. It's the timeworn Protestant slippery fish / moving target routine (like the ducks at a carnival sideshow), in a clever new guise. It's also a curious mix of fundamentalism and postmodernist mush.”

Aside from the mixed metaphors, I’d note that Catholics like Armstrong also retreat into degrees of certainty and “relativistic” nuances. Take the following analysis, by Fr. William Most, which Armstrong plugs on his own blog:

First level:

a) Solemn definition. LG 25: No special formula of words is required in
order to define. Wording should be something solemn, and should make clear
that the teaching is definitive. Councils in the past often used the form:
"Si quis dixerit. . . anathema sit." That is: "If someone shall say. . . .
let him be anathema." But sometimes they used the formula for disciplinary
matters, so that form alone does not prove. Further, they also could define
in the capitula, the chapters. Thus Pius XII, in Divino afflante Spiritu
(EB 538) spoke of such a passage of Vatican I (DS 3006 -- saying God is the
author of Scripture) as a solemn definition.

The Pope can define even without the Bishops. Of his definitions LG 25
said: "His definitions of themselves, and not from consent of the Church,
are rightly called unchangeable, for they are pronounced with the
assistance of the Holy Spirit, an assistance promised him in blessed Peter.
So they need no approval from others, nor is there room for an appeal to
any other judgment." So collegiality even in defining is not mandatory. Yet
most definitions of the Popes have been taken in collegiality, that is,
with consultation of the Bishops. Even the definitions of the Immaculate
Conception and the Assumption were such, for the Popes did poll the Bishops
by mail.

b) Second level: LG 25: "Although the individual bishops do not have the
prerogative of infallibility, they can yet teach Christ's doctrine
infallibly. This is true even when they are scattered around the world,
provided that, while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves, and
with the successor of Peter, they concur in one teaching as the one which
must be definitively held." This means: (1) The day to day teaching of the
Church throughout the world, when it gives things as definitively part of
the faith, (2) If this can be done when scattered, all the more can it be
done when assembled in Council. Thus Trent (DS 1520) after "strictly
prohibiting anyone from hereafter believing or preaching or teaching
differently than what is established and explained in the present decree,"
went on to give infallible teaching even in the capitula, outside the

To know whether the Church intends to teach infallibly on this second
level, we notice both the language -- no set form required - and the
intention, which may be seen at times from the nature of the case, at times
from the repetition of the doctrine on this second level.

c) Third Level: Pius XII, in Humani generis: "Nor must it be thought that
the things contained in Encyclical Letters do not of themselves require
assent on the plea that in them the Pontiffs do not exercise the supreme
power of their Magisterium. For these things are taught with the ordinary
Magisterium, about which it is also true to say, 'He who hears you, hears
me.' [Lk 10. 16]. . . If the Supreme Pontiffs, in their acta expressly pass
judgment on a matter debated until then, it is obvious to all that the
matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs, cannot be
considered any longer a question open for discussion among theologians."

We notice: (1) These things are protected by the promise of Christ in Lk
10. 16, and so are infallible, for His promise cannot fail. Though that
promise was first given to the 72, it is certain that the Apostles were in
the group, and as the trajectory advanced, it became clear that the full
teaching authority was only for them - the mission given to the 72 was
preliminary, and the full meaning was made clear later when the Apostles
were given the authority to bind and to loose. This was part of the broader
picture: Jesus wanted only a gradual self-revelation. Had He started by
saying: "Before Abraham was, I am", He would have been stoned on the spot.
(2) Not everything in Encyclicals, and similar documents, is on this level
- this is true only when the Popes expressly pass judgment on a previously
debated matter, (3) since the Church scattered throughout the world can
make a teaching infallible without defining - as we saw on level 2 -then of
course the Pope alone, who can speak for and reflect the faith of the whole
Church, can do the same even in an Encyclical, under the conditions
enumerated by Pius XII. Really, on any level, all that is required to make
a thing infallible is that it be given definitively. When a Pope takes a
stand on something debated in theology and publishes it in his Acta, that
suffices. The fact that as Pius XII said it is removed from debate alone
shows it is meant as definitive.

In this connection, we note that LG 12 says: "The entire body of the
faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of
belief." This means: If the whole Church, both people and authorities, have
ever believed (accepted as revealed) an item, then that cannot be in error,
is infallible. Of course this applies to the more basic items, not to very
technical matters of theological debate. But we note this too: If this
condition has once been fulfilled in the past, then if people in a later
age come to doubt or deny it -- that does not make noninfallible what was
once established as infallible. Many things come under this , e. g. , the
existence of angels.

This does not mean, however, that the Pope is to be only the echo of the

d) Level 4: LG 25: "Religious submission of mind and of will must be
shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff
even when he is not defining, in such a way, namely, that the judgments
made by him are sincerely adhered to according to his manifested mind and
will, which is clear either from the nature of the documents, or from the
repeated presentation of the same doctrine, or from the manner of

We note all the qualifications in the underlined part The key is the
intention of the Pope. He may be repeating existing definitive teaching
from Ordinary Magisterium level - then it is infallible, as on level 2. He
may be giving a decision on a previously debated point - as on level 3,
then it falls under the promise of Christ in Lk 10. 16, and so is also
infallible. Or it may be a still lesser intention - then we have a case
like that envisioned in Canon 752 of the New Code of Canon Law: "Not indeed
an assent of faith, but yet a religious submission of mind and will must be
given to the teaching which either the Supreme Pontiff, or the College of
Bishops [of course, with the Pope] pronounce on faith or on morals when
they exercise the authentic Magisterium even if they do not intend to
proclaim it by a definitive act." If they do not mean to make it
definitive, then it does not come under the virtue of faith, or the promise
of Christ,"He who hears you hears me". Rather, it is a matter of what the
Canon and LG 25 call "religious submission of mind and of will." What does
this require? Definitely, it forbids public contradiction of the teaching.
But it also requires something in the mind, as the wording indicates. This
cannot be the absolute assent which faith calls for - for since this
teaching is, by definition, not definitive, we gather that it is not
absolutely finally certain.

How can anyone give any mental assent when there is not absolute
certitude? In normal human affairs, we do it all the time. Suppose we are
at table, and someone asks if a dish of food came from a can, and if so,
was it sent to a lab to check for Botulism. It is true, routine opening of
a can would not detect that deadly poison. Yet it is too much to check
every can, and the chances are very remote, so much so that normal people
do not bother about it - yet their belief takes into account a real but
tiny possibility of a mistake. Similarly with a doctrine on this fourth
level. And further, the chances of error on this level are much smaller
than they are with a can of food. Similarly, in a criminal trial, the judge
will tell the jury they must find the evidence proves guilt beyond
reasonable doubt. He does not demand that every tiny doubt be ruled out,
even though it may mean life in prison or death.

If one should make a mistake by following the fourth level of Church
teaching, when he comes before the Divine Judge, the Judge will not blame
him, rather He will praise him. But if a person errs by breaking with the
Church on the plea that he knew better - that will not be easily accepted.

Continuing with Armstrong:

“They're like a suicide bomb strapped to his entire argument. It just went up in smoke.”

And are the gradations of authority in Catholicism a suicide bomb as well?

“That was Arius' method, because it was precisely the heretics who adopted sola Scriptura. Arius agreed with the Protestant rule of faith, and he did so for the same exact reason: if one can't trace his beliefs back through an unbroken chain of apostolic succession and tradition (Arius, being a denier of the Trinity clearly couldn't dop that), then one must become a-historical and pretend to arrive at one's heresies by Scripture Alone. Arius did that and his followers today: Jehovah's Witnesses and Christadelphians and The Way International, continue to do it. Church history is their enemy. JWs only utilize history in order to engage in wholesale lies about it, such as that Arius' position was the original one, and trinitarianism was the corrupting innovation.”

This is just another example of how Catholic apologists are closet heretics. By their own admission, the only thing that stands between them and rank heresy is the pope.

“The Deuterocanon is the elephant in the room.”

Yes, a rogue elephant.

“Or the dark family secret.”

Like the priestly abuse scandal?

“Worship at a Catholic Church: this is some novelty for a Church father to say? In other words, if he were here today, he would tell me to separate from a Protestant pastor if he doesn't adhere to the succession of unbroken doctrine, and teaches heresy. He would recognize Jason as a heretic insofar as he espouses false doctrine. But he would recognize me as one of his own party: a Catholic.”

Protestants are heretics? I thought modern Catholicism classifies Protestants as “separated brethren” who belong to “ecclesial communities.”

“J. N. D. Kelly also writes about this: Not that Vincent is a conservative who excludes the possibility of all progress in doctrine…But this development, he is careful to explain, while real, must not result in the least alteration to the original significance of the doctrine concerned.”

And does Catholicism abide by that exacting restriction?

“Therefore, the Catholic Church was not itself corrupted (as he makes clear in 1-3, and in the two appearances of "attempt" in the other excerpt).”

At the risk of stating the obvious, no church father was vouching for the 21C church of Rome.

Schismatic persons are always around:

1 Corinthians 1:13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

1 Corinthians 11:18-19 For, in the first place, when you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, [19] for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.

Jude 1:17-19 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; [18] they said to you, "In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions." [19] It is these who set up divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.

We are also told in Scripture that there will be those of counterfeit faith who will infiltrate the true Church. But this does not lead to corruption of doctrine, which is a different thing (indefectibility). Hence we read:

Matthew 7:15 (RSV) Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

Luke 8:11-15 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. [12] The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. [13] And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. [14] And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. [15] And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.

Acts 20:27-30 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. [28] Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son. [29] I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; [30] and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.

2 Timothy 3:1-9, 14 [1] But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. [2] For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, [3] inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, [4] treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, [5] holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people. [6] For among them are those who make their way into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, [7] who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. [8] As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith; [9] but they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men. . . . [14] But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it

1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they all are not of us.

Once again, we see Armstrong’s implicit faith in the perspicuity of Scripture. No magisterial interpretation required. Just quote chapter and verse. Case closed.

Armstrong is never more Protestant than when he attempts to oppose Protestants.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Is sola Scriptura self-refuting?

1. It’s become increasingly popular for Catholic apologists to counter sola Scriptura by claiming that sola Scriptura is self-refuting. For example, Francis Beckwith has been touting this objection at every available venue.

2. Their objection goes as follows:

Unless Scripture teaches sola Scriptura, then sola Scriptura is self-refuting.

3. Now, there are different ways of fielding this objection. For example, Scripture could implicitly teach sola Scriptura even if it didn’t explicitly teach sola Scriptura.

4. However, I’d like to address the objection on its own grounds. The objection seems to be a special case of a more general argument:

A rule of faith is self-refuting unless the rule of faith is self-referential.

In other words, a rule of faith must include itself, and in order to do so it must designate itself as the rule of faith.

5. Despite its facile, sales-worthy appeal, it isn’t clear to me that this is logically sound. I think its true that a rule of faith is self-inclusive. But it isn’t obvious to me that a rule of faith must also be self-referential.

For that’s not the rule of faith in itself. That isn’t built into the very nature or intrinsic definition of the rule.

Rather, that’s a statement about the rule of faith. That’s a convenient way to identify the rule of faith.

But a statement about the rule of faith is not, itself, the rule of faith–although it’s possible for the rule of faith to make a statement about itself. A statement about the rule of faith can obviously come from the outside. It can also come from the within, but that isn’t inherent in what makes it a rule of faith, that I can see.

For example, consider the need to standardize weights and measures. The BIPM issues the International System of Units. Yet it would be fallacious to say the units are self-refuting unless they refer back to the BIPM.

Therefore, I think the objection is fallacious. But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that it’s sound.

6. To reiterate the principle:

A rule of faith is self-refuting unless the rule of faith is self-referential.

Now, Catholics sometimes try to prooftext their rule of faith by appeal to certain Biblical or patristic statements.

7. However, there is also a popular, a priori argument for the Catholic rule of faith. Let’s take a classic statement of this argument:

Surely, then, if the revelations and lessons in Scripture are addressed to us personally and practically, the presence among us of a formal judge and standing expositor of its words, is imperative. It is antecedently unreasonable to suppose that a book so complex, so systematic, in parts so obscure, the outcome of so many minds, times, and places, should be given us from above without the safeguard of some authority; as if it could possibly, from the nature of the case, interpret itself. Its inspiration does but guarantee its truth, not its interpretation. How are private readers satisfactorily to distinguish what is didactic and what is historical, what is fact and what is vision, what is allegorical and what is literal, what is idiomatic and what is grammatical, what is enunciated formally and what occurs obiter, what is only of temporary and what is of lasting obligation? Such is our natural anticipation, and it is only too exactly justified in the events of the last three centuries, in the many countries where private judgment on the text of Scripture has prevailed. The gift of inspiration requires as its complement the gift of infallibility.

Where then is this gift lodged, which is so necessary for the due use of the written word of God? Thus we are introduced to the second dogma in respect to Holy Scripture taught by the Catholic religion. The first is that Scripture is inspired, the second that the Church is the infallible interpreter of that inspiration.

Not only is that how Newman argues, but Liccione, for one, also uses the same type of argument.

According to this form of the argument, you don’t really need to have the Catholic rule of faith asserted in Scripture or tradition. Rather, the Catholic rule of faith is treated like a necessary precondition or presupposition or self-evident truth-condition.

We should accept the Catholic rule of faith simply because the consequences of the Protestant alternative are unacceptable. So its status is axiomatic. A first principle.

8. Yet that invites a comparison. For if the Protestant rule of faith is self-refuting unless it is self-referential, then why isn’t the Catholic rule of faith self-refuting unless it is self-referential?

Conversely, if the Catholic rule of faith can be treated as simply axiomatic, then why can’t the Protestant rule of faith be treated as simply axiomatic? If an a priori type of argument is sufficient for the Catholic rule of faith, then why can’t the same reasoning be applicable to the Protestant rule of faith?

9. Is it just because the Protestant rule of faith contains the word “only,” whereas the Catholic rule of faith does not? But that’s a superficial, semantic difference–depending on how your verbally formulate the respective positions.

Yet Catholics also regard their rule of faith as the only true rule of faith, so there’s no material difference in terms of exclusivity.

From what I can tell, the Catholic objection is nothing more than a muddleheaded, verbal trick.

The divine sonship of Christ

I'm going to post some email comments I recently made:


I generally agree with Helm’s reply to Roger Beckwith–which is why I asked Patrick Chan or Evan May to post it for me. There is, however, one position he takes from which I demur:

“As for the verses regarding the relationship between Father and Son which Dr. Beckwith alludes to, such as John 17:5, I believe that they may all be understood, without exception, in the references they make to ‘Father’ and ‘Son’, as reading back into the eternal relationships of the godhead what became true at the Incarnation.”

That’s a very elegant way to finesse the problem that Helm has posed for himself, and it’s the sort of thing I’d expect a philosophical theologian to come up with, but I hardly think it’s exegetically tenable.

i) For one thing, the sonship of Christ (i.e. “Son of God”) is frequently used as a divine title in NT Christology. But it can’t be a divine title if it’s merely an economic title.

ii) Also, the way writers like John present the atonement, there’s something about the Son qua Son, in relation to the Father qua Father, that accentuates the magnitude of the atonement. That relation can’t be the result of the Incarnation. Rather, what makes the Incarnation special is the fact that God the Father is giving his Son, while his Son is volunteering to be given.

As I recall, without pulling it off the shelf just now, that's a point that John Murray makes nicely in his analysis.

To be sure, we’re still moving in the realm of metaphors, but they’re metaphors that do have some analogue in the immanent Trinity. We simply need to abstract the intended analogy. I don’t think Helm has the right handle on the metaphor.


A merely economic title would denote what God is like in relation to the world, in distinction to what he is like in himself.

To be sure, economic roles are grounded in the immanent Trinity. But there are contingencies to the economic Trinity, whereas the immanent Trinity is essential. An economic role is something voluntarily assumed–rather than a necessary state of being.

And due to the principle of divine accommodation, the revelation economic Trinity can't simply be identical with the immanent Trinity.

To be a divine title implicates the essential nature of the subject.


That's a complex example. In Hebrews, the sonship of Christ is both a divine status as well as an economic status.

Heb 1:5-6 combines several metaphors involving adoption and primogeniture to underscore the theme that Christ is heir (1:2,4) to the Davidic covenant. There we also have literary allusions to Davidic enthronement psalms and/or Davidic messianic psalms (e.g. 2:7; 89:26-29), which, in turn, go back to 2 Sam 7:14.

Lying in the background of this NT usage is the OT motif of primogeniture, including paradigmatic cases like Isaac (Gen , as well as God's "adoption" of Israel (Exod 4:22), which is, in turn, concentrated on the Davidic line (Ps 89:27).

At one level, that's an economic status.

But at a deeper level, only a divine individual can be the heir presumptive of God's kingdom. Only a divine individual can assume divine honors (e.g. angelic worship).

So there's a dialectical relationship between economic and immanent categories in Hebrews.

Making the old man proud

We all know the cliché of smothering mothers and overbearing fathers. Parents who view their kids as a vicarious extension of their own ambitions. The dad who screams at his kid during Little League practice. The mom who will do anything to make her daughter a cheerleader.

Conversely, there are grown kids who are the mirror image of this codependency. They live to please their parents. Go to whatever college their parents prescribe. Major in whatever field their parents prescribe. Marry the “right” man or woman. Work for the “right” firm. Join the “right” country club.

Their parents have a script for how their kids were meant to live, and their kids dutifully play the role their parents have assigned. And their parents continue to control them from the grave.

We see the same mentality in the way Catholic and Orthodox believers worship the ground on which the church fathers walked. It’s as though they’re striving to win the approval of mom and dad. The church fathers have a blueprint for their lives, and they comply with their every wish. Mama’s boy and daddy’s girl.

It’s symptomatic of the spiritual and emotional immaturity which Catholicism and Orthodoxy foster in their charges that this is considered virtuous.

But maturity involves a capacity to emulate the good without a fawning emulation for all things traditional.

The Haitian crisis

The Haitian crisis has drawn a variety of reactions. At one end of the spectrum, Pat Roberson, basing his comments on an urban legend about a national pact with the devil, apparently suggested that Haiti is cursed. (Disclaimer: I haven’t bothered to listen to his actual comments. But I’ve read a statement by a CBN spokesman.)

At the other end of the spectrum we have pundits demanding a Marshall Plan for Haiti.

From what I’ve read, Robertson has actually done a lot of good over the years. The problem is not so much what he does, but what he says. He suffers from the occupational hazard of a false prophet. The self-delusion that he’s so much wiser than ordinary mortals. Kinda like the Pope.

Speaking for myself, I’m all for emergency relief. Private Christian charities which specialize in emergency relief are best. And I’m all for foreign missions. I once attended a church that supported a Haitian mission.

But I don’t support foreign-aid of the “nation-building” variety. Haiti has been on the dole for billions in foreign aid year after year. One country can’t expect to leech off the largesse of another. At some point you need to grow up. Seize control of your national destiny.

Why is Haiti chronically worse off than other Caribbean islands with similar natural resources? Is the Caribbean an especially inhospitable place to live? If Eskimos can manage, why can’t Haitians?

Why is Haiti worse off than the Dominican Republic, which shares the same island? I’m not saying the Dominican Republic is by any means idyllic. It, too, has a very checkered past. But it seems to be faring better than Haiti.

Foreign aid represents the earnings of American workers. Every dollar that goes overseas is one less dollar they have to provide for their own family. Or the private charity of their choice.

American wages are not a piggybank for bureaucrats to dip into whenever they please to redistribute to whatever they deem to be the worthy cause du jour.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Saving the papacy from the pope

Turretin Fan has been patiently responding to 38+ questions for “Bible Christians.” I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll take time out to work up my own reply. For one thing, I’ve been over this ground soooo many times before.

For now I’ll content myself with a general observation. I notice that, by Steve Ray’s own admission, the questionnaire was basically ghostwritten by David Palm.

But that casts the questionnaire in a wholly different light. For Palm is a traditionalist Catholic. And traditionalist Catholics have a love/hate relationship with the papacy. Their basic attitude is that, if it weren’t for the pope, the papacy would be a really swell idea. Indeed, it’s still a pretty swell idea, but you have to take great pains to distinguish the papacy from the flesh-and-blood incumbents.

Normally, when a Catholic epologist tries to coax an Evangelical to swim the Tiber, he presents the church of Rome as a solution all the ills, real or imagined, that beset Protestantism. The blueprint for anarchy and all that good stuff. He’s like a used car salesman who’s enticing you to trade in your clunker for a more reliable model. Something you can count on, day in and day out.

But, of course, a traditionalist Catholic is quite ambivalent about his own communion. Basically, the papacy went off the reservation with the election of John XXIII–and hasn't been seen since.

BTW, I’ve never known why traditionalist Catholics draw the line with John XXIII. After all, it was really Pius XII who poked a hole in the dike with encyclicals like Divino Afflante Spiritu and Humani generis. But I guess that Munificentissimus Deus covers a multitude of pontifical sins.

Anyhoo, when a traditionalist Catholic salesman offers you a great deal, there’s more to that car than meets the eye.

We’ve all seen those nifty two-seater convertible sports cars sunning themselves in the used car lot. The kind we died to own in junior high or high school.

They have a great wax job. And the interior has that “brand new” aroma. Used car salesmen seem to store that “brand new” aroma in spray cans which they apply liberally to the musty interiors of “preowned” vehicles to give them that factory fresh scent.

It’s just so doggone tempting. Like being a teenager all over again!

You can forego the obligatory midlife crisis. Don’t have to ditch wifey and your five kids. No alimony or custody battles. This car will restore your long0lost youth!

But after you drive the car around for a few days, problems begin to surface. Engine stalls. An oil leak here, coolant leak there. Car battery dies. Power windows on the fritz. Fun stuff like that.

Your “new,” preowned car spends an inordinate amount of time in the shop. As soon as the mechanic has one thing fixed, something else acts up.

Look at poor Gerry Matatics. Saving the papacy is from the pope is a full-time job. Indeed, you have to work overtime. Weekends. Graveyard shift.

The circle of the one true church keeps gets smaller. Every month. Every week. Poor Gerry has to sleep with one eye propped open by a toothpick lest he blink and find one true church contract microscopically while he wasn’t looking.

Of course, Palm isn’t quite as far along as Matatics. Palm is a “reluctant” traditionalist.

But when you read through his questionnaire for “Bible Christians,” consider the alternative. Read his questionnaire side-by-side his diagnosis of contemporary Catholicism. Before you trade in your clunker for that shiny preowned model which David Palm has sitting in the lot, take a close look under the hood:

[Quote] I can easily imagine someone saying, "Why do we need the labels anyway? Isn't just 'Catholic' enough?" Well, it ought to be. But we live in a time when Charles Curran, Hans Küng, Ted Kennedy, and John Kerry all call themselves "Catholic" and no bishop in the Church says otherwise. So we take to calling ourselves "orthodox Catholics" or "faithful Catholics" or some other such modified phrase, to distinguish ourselves from self-styled Catholics who have yet to be informed that they are no Catholics at all.

But even within the relative minority of orthodox, faithful Catholics there is another distinction to be made, primarily concerning the nature of the "reforms" that have taken place since the Second Vatican Council. There exists a small, but definitely growing, movement that in its broad outlines can be identified and is commonly described as the "traditionalist Catholic movement"; its adherents are naturally called "traditional Catholics". Now as a formal movement, as embodied in certain publications and groups, there are a lot of serious problems. I hope to comment on these difficulties more in the months to come and I will most certainly step on some toes by doing so.

As with a lot of things in life, though, the matters raised by seemingly simple questions turn out to be not quite so simple. Yes, the NOM is valid, but there are concerns about its creation, its relationship to the larger liturgical tradition, and its effect on the life of the Church. Yes, Vatican II is a valid and binding ecumenical Council, but there are a lot of legitimate questions about the precise level of magisterial authority with which the various documents are invested and exactly how certain portions can be reconciled with the Church's pre-conciliar teaching, to say nothing of the prudence of the inclusions, omissions, and pastoral approach embodied in the documents. And yes, Benedict XVI and John Paul II and Paul VI and John XXIII are/were validly reigning Popes, but this bare fact does not place their every word and action beyond all analysis and evaluation. Still less does it guarantee that the course set by their words and actions has had the desired effect of renewing and invigorating the Church.

There is a pithy saying that is oft repeated in traditionalist circles that captures well the dynamic between those who define their Catholic identity to a great extent by what has transpired since 1964 and those who seek to maintain more continuity with the perennial doctrinal, liturgical, and disciplinary tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.

We live in a time of crisis (and rebuilding) in the Catholic Church. I think every orthodox Catholic can agree on that. But the precise nature of that crisis—its root causes, the dynamics behind its present manifestation and unfolding, and the appropriate solutions—are all matters of intense debate. And here, although there is plenty of infighting within the movement, traditionalists firm up into a more unified front. What I think all traditionalists can agree upon is that behind the crisis stands in large part a de facto—and sometimes de jure—abandonment of numerous doctrinal, liturgical, and disciplinary traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, traditions that had held her in good stead for centuries, if not millennia.

in the Church those Catholics who are ostensibly conservative but who embrace every single change that comes down the pike (as long as it comes backed by ecclesiastical authority and ofttimes even if it does not) have no legitimate claim to the label "conservative", for they do not conserve the Faith and the observances that have embodied and protected it over the centuries. Rather, they are by historical standards quite liberal and so, in my own writings if a distinction is necessary I will refer to them as "neo-conservative Catholics" or just "neo-conservatives", with the caveat that they are really only moderately and selective conservative at best (but with the emphasis that they are, of course, certainly Catholics!)

Hopefully such definitions answer certain questions, but I have been very broad in sketching the outlines of the traditionalist position. And obviously I leaves lots of questions unanswered, questions concerning the Mass, Vatican II, ecumenism, the Society of Pius X and "independent" priests, and so on. All of those issues will receive more detailed attention on this site but one issue in particular requires a bit more treatment here, namely, traditionalist attitude toward the papacy.

the traditionalist, of all people, knows that outside of the Catholic Church there is no salvation. Rather, as I have said, traditionalism is characterized by an historically Catholic attitude toward change. Unfortunately, in our present day this attitude brings us into tension with many prelates in the Catholic Church, including at times even the Popes. There may be times in which we sincerely disagree with the courses adopted by the Roman Pontiff, but I believe such conclusions should only come after serious reflection mingled with holy fear. Still, as Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote, the traditionalist who vigorously upholds the theoretical authority of the Pope may, at times, find himself in serious disagreement with a particular exercise of that authority

Clashing paradigms

Michael Liccione

“Once again, the debate returns to the fundamentals of ecclesiology…I shall close my contribution to this thread by noting that we’re dealing here with a clash of paradigms. According to the Catholic one, no merely intellectual exercise on texts, the data of history, and the varieties of epistemology could suffice, even in principle, to exhibit the full content of the deposit of faith as anything more than a rationally defensible set of human opinions. On that showing, something called ‘the Church’ is needed to resolve, in a definitive manner with authority acknowledged as divine, disputes about what the texts and the history are really telling us.”

Unfortunately, he’s overlooking the obvious. In order to identify something called “the Church,” you need to reason from textual and historical data. If such reasoning is inconclusive, then ecclesial resolutions are equally inconclusive.

“Accepting such an authority, like the virtue of faith in general, is a gift.”

I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean. Is he claiming that Roman Catholics enjoy a unique grace which is denied all other Christians?

“Accepting such an authority, like the virtue of faith in general, is a gift; when accepted, it yields a kind of certitude which, given the subject matter of theology, reasoning on the data of texts and history can never attain. Arguments merely dispose or indispose us to accept the gift.”

How can it yield a kind of certitude which textual and historical reasoning can never attain if the upper story of ecclesial certitude is built over the uncertain foundation of textual and historical reasoning–without which the one true church can’t be identified in the first place?

“According to the other paradigm in play here–I won’t call it ‘Protestant’ tout court, because any such generalization would be unjustified–Scripture alone affords us all we need to exhibit the full content of the deposit of faith as an object for the assent of faith, as distinct from merely a set of rationally defensible opinions about what the texts and the surrounding historical data mean. I have always found the former paradigm far more rationally defensible than the latter. My apologetical activity is designed to explain why.”

I’d say that his best efforts have subverted his goal.

“Unfortunately, there is no way to formulate, from within one of those paradigms, an argument that could appear rationally decisive within the other. To my mind, that fact is itself a major reason why I find the Catholic one, as described above, more illuminating.”

How does the second sentence even begin to follow from the first? If there’s no way, within each competing paradigm, to formulate an argument which is rationally decisive in relation to the rival paradigm, then how could he possibly say that one paradigm is “far more rationally defensible” than another? What’s the standard of comparison?

“But the uncommitted inquirer simply has to decide for himself with prayer and ascesis, and after all the arguments he has time to hear, which paradigm he finds more illuminating. If one chooses the Catholic sincerely and self-consistently, then one chooses to conform one’s judgments to those of the Magisterium when it claims to bind the faithful definitively. If one chooses the other paradigm sincerely and self-consistently, then one reserves to oneself the right to decide when any teaching authority’s decisions are justified and when they are not.”

The basic problem with this approach is that Liccione is treating the issue as though we have a problem to solve, and it’s then a question of which paradigm has the greatest explanatory power.

This assumes that he can state, a priori, what the problem is–which then demands one theoretical solution or another.

Notice what he doesn’t ask. He doesn’t stop to consider God’s actual modus operandi in the life of the covenant community. He doesn’t consider what providential precedents we can find in the OT or NT. He doesn’t consider what specific institutional structures God has dictated in Scripture. Their configuration and limitations. He doesn’t consider what specific promises God has made, regarding the degree or kind of guidance he will exert in the life of his people–individually or corporately. Their conditionality or unconditionality.

In sum, Liccione doesn’t begin with what God has said and done, or said that he will do in times to come.

Instead, he treats ecclesiology like a Rubik’s cube. He sits in his lounge chair, with the Rubik’s cube in his lap, toying with different permutations and optimal solutions as he tries to figure out the right ecclesiastical algorithm to solve the puzzle.

It’s completely removed from historical revelation or past providence. Instead, Liccione is living inside a theory. Christianity as a theoretical construct.

Up from the acorn

Dave Armstrong is attempting to critique a post by Jason Engwer. After several paragraphs devoted to poisoning the well, Armstrong tries to rebut Jason’s argument.

I’m not going to reply to everything. Armstrong’s missive is directed at something Jason wrote, not something I wrote. Depending on his time and priorities, Jason can comment on whatever he thinks is relevant. And he isn’t bound by what I said. I’ll just comment on what I think is most germane.

That's it, and the concept is already (I would contend) explicitly present in Scripture, in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), which not only claimed profoundly binding authority, but even the express sanction of the Holy Spirit, making it close to the concept of biblical inspiration: a thing that goes beyond all Catholic claims for infallibility: an essentially lesser gift than inspiration.

Is the council of Jerusalem really the archetype and prototype for the ecumenical councils of Rome? Does the council of Jerusalem point to an “authoritative church,” as the church of Rome defines herself?

i) What makes a church council ecumenical by Catholic criteria? Let’s see:

Ecumenical Councils are those to which the bishops, and others entitled to vote, are convoked from the whole world (oikoumene) under the presidency of the pope or his legates, and the decrees of which, having received papal confirmation, bind all Christians.

The bishops in council…hold no power, no commission, or delegation, from the people. All their powers, orders, jurisdiction, and membership in the council, come to them from above — directly from the pope, ultimately from God.

The council is, then, the assessor of the supreme teacher and judge sitting on the Chair of Peter by Divine appointment; its operation is essentially co-operation — the common action of the members with their head — and therefore necessarily rises or falls in value, according to the measure of its connection with the pope. A council in opposition to the pope is not representative of the whole Church, for it neither represents the pope who opposes it, nor the absent bishops, who cannot act beyond the limits of their dioceses except through the pope. A council not only acting independently of the Vicar of Christ, but sitting in judgment over him, is unthinkable in the constitution of the Church.

On this model, you have one authoritative, hierarchical institution. The bishops are papal appointees. They derive all their authority from the pope. The church of Rome is the central institution which empowered them in the first place.

ii) Compare that to Acts 15.

a) ”Pope” Peter doesn’t even preside at the council. James does. What is more, “Pope” Peter doesn’t even confirm the proceedings of the council.

b) The council of Jerusalem exists to pass judgment on Peter’s actions–as well as Paul’s. Peter is not above the council.

Mind you, this is collegial. No individual mission leader outranks any other individual mission leader in these proceedings. No one is above another.

Indeed, as Paul makes emphatically clear in Gal 1-2, his authority did not derive from the “authoritative church” of Jerusalem.

c) Each speaker in this debate (Peter, Paul, Barnabas, James) is the coequal leader of different mission churches or missionary fields. There is no hierarchy in which one individual (the “supreme leader”) appointed the others to subordinate positions in the power structure. No chain-of-command at this level. There may be people under Peter, Paul, James, &c. But no one is over them.

What we have, rather, are representatives of different, semiautonomous mission churches who come together to hammer out a common policy for the good of the church at large. On the one hand they aren’t entirely independent of each another. On the other hand, no one church can unilaterally impose its will on other mission churches and mission leaders.

That’s a completely different polity than Roman Catholicism. Yet this was Armstrong’s paradigmatic example of the “authoritative church” in action.

Now, Dave may claim that things change when we transition from the apostles to their “successors,” but he can’t logically evolve the Catholic ear from the kernel of Acts 15.

d) Although Paul complies with the policy which he and his fellow mission leaders agreed to at the time (15:30), he does so at his own discretion–for he also feels at liberty to demur from the conciliar prohibitions regarding sacrificial food when he must later deal with the Corinthian situation (1 Cor 10:27-28).

Therefore, he doesn’t regard the “canons and decrees” of the Jerusalem council as binding on him or his congregants. Rather, it’s a pragmatic compromise which can be selectively set aside depending on the demands of the situation at hand.

And this is a textbook example of Catholic spooftexting, whereby Armstrong begins with Catholic ecclesiology as his frame of reference, then anachronistically superimposes that grid onto Acts 15, conveniently overlooking or disregarding the fundamental differences.

The authoritative Church also includes apostolic succession. The true apostolic tradition or deposit is authoritatively passed down.

Of course, that simply begs the question.

All that really needs to be found, then, is a notion of an authoritative Church that can "bind and loose," over against sola Scriptura, in which Scripture alone is the infallible authority.

i) Dave would need to properly exegete the concept of “binding and loosing” in the Gospels.

ii) Paul didn’t feel bound by the particulars of Acts 15 when it came to Corinth.

Aspects of particulars such as where this Church resides, exactly how it is governed, etc., are distinct from this basic kernel, and we would fully expect relatively more disagreement in the early centuries, just as we would expect the known fact of disagreement over the NT books (the canon): more so, the further we go back. That should surprise no one or make no one think Catholic doctrine is brought into question on this ground by itself. Men could differ on the exact nature of the infallible Church, while agreeing that there is such a thing, just as men can differ on individual books, while agreeing that there is such a thing as a Bible, that is inspired.

i) If we equate early tradition with apostolic tradition, with a deposit of faith handed down without adulteration from one successor to another, then we wouldn’t expect more disagreement the closer back in time we go to the wellspring. To the contrary, we’d expect more unanimity.

ii) Dave can’t legitimately isolate the bare “kernel” of an infallible/authoritative church from the “particulars,” for, on his model, the true church is self-defining and self-identifying. The infallible church is the custodian of the “kernel.” It defines the “kernel.”

So you need the true definition to identify the true church, yet you need the true church to identify the true definition. Unless you already know where this church resides, you can’t specify what is meant by an infallible, authoritative church. For the church itself must specify the concept. Otherwise, words like “authoritative” and “infallible” are simply ciphers.

But unless you already have an accurate definition, you can’t use that to pick out the one true church. So how does Dave ever get started?

iii) He can’t very well invoke the criterion of “binding and loosing” in the canonical gospels, for, according to him, it’s up to the authoritative church to authorize the canon in the first place. Without his infallible church, he has no warrant for the “binding and loosing” criterion.

iv) And if all we need is the bare concept of an authoritative, infallible church, then the LDS church might as well claim to be the oak which sprang from this indistinct acorn.

Well, obviously -- if we are talking about the fathers --, because Protestantism didn't exist. When it does come around over a thousand years later, it obviously has to be derived from Catholicism (being a western European phenomenon) in order to claim historical continuity, and then it has to provide a rationale for the "primacy" supposedly being switched over to them over against the existing Catholic Church.

But given the principle of development, Protestantism, in its “particulars,” didn’t have to “exist” back then. All we’d need to unearth is a Protestant acorn from which the Protestant oak tree arose.

The existence of apostolic succession as a major part of the rule of faith in the fathers isn't even arguable. It is simply a fact. It also has a directly biblical basis and a secondary, indirect (deductive) biblical basis, if the thing itself is to be disputed.

It’s gratifying to see Armstrong’s bold confidence in the perspicuity of Scripture. But now that he’s affirmed his faith in the perspicuity of Scripture, the Magisterium is dispensable.

They could conceivably be so, but the historical pedigree in those cases is far inferior to the pedigree of Rome: largely because of the historical function of the papacy.

Would the pedigree of Rome include the False Decretals, fraudulent papal elections, &c.?

East and West were united at that time, not separated, so it is anachronistic to apply those categories of some 800 years later, after the schism, to him.

In which case it’s anachronistic to claim that Jesus Christ founded the Roman Catholic church. Thanks, Dave. Perhaps I should move aside while you demolish your own denomination.

We can't jump from the second century to the 16th and after.

Why can’t we jump from the “kernel” of the 2C to the “ear” of the 16C?

But I suppose that would put Jason out. How many Christians, period (including Protestant pastors), abide by the scriptural admonitions of John?:

1 John 3:9 (RSV) No one born of God commits sin; for God's nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God.

1 John 5:18 We know that any one born of God does not sin, but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.

Once again, we're terribly impressed by his boundless confidence in the perspicuity of Scripture. He doesn’t even bother to exegete his prooftexts. For him, their meaning is self-evident. Who needs the Magisterium when we can simply input key search terms into our online concordance, then copy/paste the unadorned verses of Scripture to prove our point?


Reformed Christian scholar John Byl has started a weblog called Bylogos. Byl has a doctorate in astronomy from the University of British Columbia, and is Professor of Mathematics and Head of the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Trinity Western University. Among other publications, Byl is the author of God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Space, Time, and the Universe and Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math, and Meaning.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rome's Pinocchio

"I have temporarily suspended my ongoing policy of not interacting with anti-Catholic arguments and polemics, for a very good reason (one of the best reasons I can imagine)."

Dave Armstrong is a man of firm resolve. And for a man of such indomitable resolve, one resolution is hardly enough

As a result, Dave is a man of many resolutions. Resolutely irresolute in his multitude of rubbery resolutions.

When he “suspends” one of his resolutions, he always has a good reason for doing so. You see, he only suspends a resolution whenever he feels like it.

But this is temporary, you see. Suspending a resolution and breaking a resolution are two entirely different things, you see.

Whatever resolution he makes, he keeps. He always sticks to his resolutions–except for all the times he doesn’t.

When he suspends a resolution, it’s only temporary. If, for example, he swears off desert, he may temporarily suspend his resolution every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and 2nd Sunday of the month to have a slice or two of Häagen-Dazs chocolate cookie crunch cake after lunch or dinner, yet he remains resolute in his punctilious fidelity to every solemn vow. His word is his bond. He never ever goes back on his word, except whenever he happens to go back on his word–which, however, is not to be confused with breaking a promise. It’s just a suspension–and a temporary suspension, at that–of his firm, uncompromising principles.

Dave can be relied upon to mean what he says and say what he means. For whatever he says invariably means whatever he means it to mean–subject only to temporary suspensions every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and 2nd Sunday of the month.

If only more men were half as scrupulous as he, the world as we know it would be a better place by far.

Go West, Young Man!

According to Dave Armstrong:

The Orthodox decided to split off. That was simply yet another instance of the constant schismatic (as well as caesaro-papist) tendency of the East. After all, they had done so at least five times before in the previous 700 years, and were on the wrong side of the debate in every case (231 out of 500 years, or 46% of the time!), according to their own judgment now (and our Catholic standard):

The Arian schisms (343-398)

The controversy over St. John Chrysostom (404-415)

The Acacian schism (484-519)

Concerning Monothelitism (640-681)

Concerning Iconoclasm (726-787 and 815-843)

These are historical facts, that can be easily verified. Anyone can go look it up if my report isn't trusted. For much more along these lines, see my paper, A Response to Orthodox Critiques of Catholic Apostolicity .

Secondly, if an Orthodox wishes to claim primacy, then he has to show that his doctrines are that of the early Church, over against Catholic doctrines. But they clearly are not, in several clear instances. The most clear ones are in the case of the papacy (we continue to have it like the early Church; they do not), ecumenical councils (we continue to have them like the early Church; they do not), divorce (we continue the overwhelming patristic consensus on no divorce and no remarriage; they do not, and this first changed in the sixth century in the East), and contraception (they now widely sanction it; we continue to regard it as grave sin, as all Christians did until 1930, including the fathers, as contraception was not unknown at all in ancient times).

Take your pick. If one desires apostolic Christianity: the Christianity of the apostles and Church fathers, there is no contest: Catholicism is for you. Orthodoxy caved to Byzantine cultural pressure in the sixth century, to change the apostolic and patristic teaching on divorce and indissoluble marriage, and it caved into the sexual revolution and modernity in the last fifty years, to change its views on contraception and allow what it once regarded as a grave sin, while Catholic teaching in both regards remains as it always has from the beginning.

I look forward to the deluded souls over at Energetic Procession, Well of Questions, Ad Orientem, &c., swimming the Tiber now that dear old Dave has definitively shown them the error of their ways.

"Of God, and of the Holy Trinity"

Paul Helm responds to Roger Beckwith (PDF).

The great silent majority

Some comments I left over at Turretin Fan's blog on the perspicuity thread:

steve said...
Mark P. Shea said...

"I love it when Calvinists get going on the incredibly elaborate explanations of 'perspicuity'."

Explain how Whitaker's definition was "incredibly elaborate"? Seemed like a pretty lean definition to me. Do you think a definition of "perspicuity" should have absolutely no qualifications?

Do you think the Catechism of the Catholic Church is unqualifiedly perspicuous?

steve said...
SP said...
I agree that the follow is perspicuous from scripture:

1) Justification not by faith alone
2) Baptismal regeneration
3) The Eucharist
4) Apostolic succession
5) Mary as the Mother of God
6) Petrine primacy


Since the vast majority of Christians who have ever lived profess those doctrines you must either say that those doctrines A) Are not essential or B) Scripture is not perspicuous after all.


I look forward to the polling data to substantiate your claim. For example, can you point me to the polling data from, say, 13C Lombardy? Is that in the Vatican Secret Archives?

steve said...
SP said...

"Yeah Steve. Because, you know, if the world of never ending sophistry its reasonable to ask this of me."

You ticked off a hand-dozen doctrines (and insinuated that you could cite other examples) which, according to you, "the vast majority of Christians who have ever lived profess."

That's a very sweeping, very specific claim. So I'd like to see your documentation. I'm sure you wouldn't presume to make a claim like that unless you could back it up with commensurate evidence.

So why not begin with 13C Lombardy. Or perhaps you'd prefer 9C Umbria. Take your pick.

What did the questionnaire look like that papal pollsters used when they went door-to-door to interview 13C Italians in Lombardy? What questions were on the survey? How did the respondents answer? What were the percentiles? What about the internals of the poll?

steve said...
SP said...

“You know as well as I do that there were many theological novums that were introduced during the Reformation that were breaks from orthodoxy.”

i) There was a break with the status quo–which is hardly synonymous with “orthodoxy”–unless you wish to beg the question.

ii) Objecting to Protestant theology because it’s allegedly innovative is obsolete. That’s a throwback to the type of argument we find in Bellarmine and Stapleton. The pretension that you can trace all Catholic dogmas directly back to primitive tradition.

That went out the window with Newman. Roman Catholicism also has its share of theological innovations. Are you Rip Van Winckle?

“There is a reason that Lutheran justification was such a paradigm shift. There is a reason that Henry 8th breaking from papal communion was a big deal. There is a reason.”

Well, that nicely undercuts your claim. For centuries, ever since Augustine of Canterbury, England had been Roman Catholic. But overnight, Henry VIII broke with Rome. And notice that the vast number of his loyal royal subjects made the transition without a peep. The week before they were Roman Catholic. A week later they were Anglican. And the “vast majority” of them continued to go about their business as usual as though nothing momentous ever happened. So their beliefs were pretty flexible, when it comes right down to it. They could switch from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism without missing a beat.

“That is all I am saying.”

No, that’s not all you were saying. Indeed, that’s very different from your original claim. If you think that’s all you were saying, then you lack the intellectual aptitude to follow your own argument. You are now substituting a very different claim from your original claim.

Your original claim was, “Since the vast majority of Christians who have ever lived profess those doctrines…”

You’re now substituting a claim based on the alleged existence of Protestant innovations. But that’s not the same claim. If you can’t tell the difference, I guess I’ll have to explain your own argument to you. Here are two different propositions:

i) Protestants don’t believe some things that the vast majority of Christians have always believed.

ii) Protestants believe some things which the vast majority of Christians have not believed.

These are two very different claims. For example, a theological innovation wouldn’t have to contradict any prior belief. It could simply add to a prior body of beliefs.

“Rather than focus on the meat of my argument, that scripture is not perspicuous based on the simple fact so many people read scripture and come to such different conclusions, you act is if my point cannot be granted unless there were some polls taken throughout every age.”

The vast majority of Christians until the modern era weren’t reading the Bible. Most of them were illiterate. Most of them didn’t know Latin. Most of them didn’t own private copies of the Bible, whether the Vulgate or LXX or vernacular translations. So your claim is absurdly anachronistic.

“Well Steve, I guess you win because there aren't any 'polls' that I can cite.”

Yes, I win. And I win even though I’m playing by your rules. You’re the one who made sweeping historical claim. Historical claims require historical evidence–evidence commensurate with the scope of the claim.

“Incidentally, I recently read the quite a volume of 12th century Cistercian writing from St. Bernard of Clairvaux but I guess I cannot make any determination about his theology or that of his contemporaries because there is no polling data.”

Well that’s just pitiful. Once again you’re unable to follow your own argument. You’ve gone from what “the vast majority of Christians believe” to some Medieval monk or Scholastic theologian.

What in the world makes you think that’s a representative sample group? Just the ability to read and write put Bernard in a tiny tiny cultural elite.

Or take Aquinas. He was an Italian nobleman. He grew up in a monastery. He was literate and highly educated (by the standards of the day). How is that comparable to the situation of an ignorant peasant with his folk superstitions?

Or let’s take a different example. Consider the state of Polish Catholicism after the collapse of Communism. Turns out that a lot of outwardly devout Polish Catholics weren’t all that devout once their common enemy was gone.

I'd add, at the risk of stating the obvious, that the perspicuity of Scripture doesn't mean that you can accurately interpret Scripture regardless of how inaccurate the translation you're using may be. Before the modern era, most literate Western Christians read the Vulgate. But that's hardly a test-case for the perspicuity of Scripture.

steve said...
SP said...

"Name one."

Read what current pope, in his autobiography, has to say about the state of the debate leading up to formal definition of Mary's Assumption (Milestones, 58-59).

steve said...
SP said...

"Debate in the Church before a dogma is solemnly defined does not prove that the dogma was an innovation."

That's exactly what the debate was over, which is why I referred you to Ratzinger's first-hand account.

"There was certainly a lot of debate about predestination during the Reformation and among the Reformers. Do you thus concede that Calvinism is an innovation?"

Well, there's a first time for anything, so if you wish to classify predestinarians like Isaiah, Solomon, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John, &c., as theological innovators, then I guess I'll have to suffer the stigma of being too innovative in my theology.

Not to mention a little thing called the "New Covenant," which, by definition, is innovative in contrast to the "Old Covenant."

Come to think of it, the Abrahamic covenant was innovative for its time. So that makes Abraham a proto-Protestant schismatic–by breaking ranks with the Mother Church of Ur.

As I recall, the Sanhedrin seemed to think the Christian movement was a theological novum. Indeed, I have it on good authority that the first church was a splinter-group from Judaism, comprising 120 members in all.

steve said...
SP said...

“Your modus operandi of trying to get little 'gotchas' and diverting the issue might earn you chest bumps from your buddies but others can see right through it.”

i) My modus operandi consists of responding to you on your own terms.

ii) ”Little gotchas”–as in you bandy factual assertions which evaporate on contact the moment they’re challenged.

iv) Far from diverting the issue, I held you to your own words. You chose to frame the issue the way you did, so I responded in kind. Your inability to present a counterargument is a backdoor admission that you lost the argument. And it was your very own argument!

v) If others can see right through it, then present your evidence.

“The sand you stand on is constantly shifting.”

To the contrary, you’re the one who tries to change the subject when your original argument goes south.

“First you say, ‘Gee, Rome has a lot of innovations and this is evidenced by the fact that doctrines were debated.’”

Are you consciously dishonest, or is dishonesty an involuntary reflex on your part?

I cited an example from the current pope, according to which what was at issue was precisely the lack of primitive traditional attestation for the Assumption of Mary. And that was an intramural debate within Catholicism. That wasn’t a Protestant allegation.

“And then you switch to, ‘Well our innovations, although also debated, are biblical and there is a first time for everything."”

I haven’t said if Protestant theology is innovative in any particular respect. I simply performed a reductio ad absurdum on your criterion.

Morality Without God...or maybe not!

[Quote] These weaknesses of the harm-based approach become clearest when Sinnott-Armstrong presents his answer to "why be moral"—that is, why be moral in the way he describes. He can only offer the response that "The fact that an act causes harm to others is a reason not to do that act, and the fact that an act prevents harm to others is a reason to do that act." (Page 117.) But on this account, there is not much to say about why one should care about harm to others, other than the thin comfort of it not being irrational. Sinnott-Armstrong concedes that

"Nontheless, some people still wish for a reason that is strong enough to motivate everyone to be moral and also to make it always irrational to be immoral. I doubt that secular moral theories can establish that strong kind of reason to be moral. For people who really do not care about others, the solution is found in retraining or restraining rather than in theory. (Page 118.)"

Imperspicuous objections to perspicuity

Catholic epologists like to assail the perspicuity of Scripture. There are, however, some basic problems with their stereotypical objections. I’ll concentrate on three:

1.When we affirm (or deny) that a text (or speech) is clear, does this have reference to objective clarity or subjective clarity?

i) Take traffic signs. Traffic signs are meant to be objectively clear. Each different traffic sign has a different meaning. And each one has a single meaning. It’s meaning is designed to be unambiguous. Only intended to mean one thing. A traffic sign isn’t subject to interpretation.

ii) This, however, doesn’t mean that traffic signs are subjectively clear. Indeed, unless you know the symbology, their significance is fairly opaque.

But their subjective ambiguity (indeed, opacity) doesn’t count against their objective clarity.

So when a Catholic epologist tries to disprove the perspicuity of Scripture by pointing to “33,000” denominations, that wouldn’t undermine the objective clarity of Scripture, for even if we accept that bogus figure, subjective clarity, or the lack thereof, isn’t synonymous with objective clarity.

You might as well invoke the number of traffic citations that drivers receive every year to prove the ambiguity of traffic signs. The meaning of the signage can be univocal even though multitudes of drivers disregard it.

2.On the one hand, Catholic epologists assure us that Scripture is not perspicuous. And they cite whatever evidence they think proves their point.

On the other hand, we can find the very same Catholic epologists attempting to prooftext Catholic theology from the Bible. They quote the Bible to prove Catholic faith and morals. They also quote the Bible to disprove Protestant faith and morals.

Oftentimes, they don’t even bother to interpret their prooftexts. They’ll simply quote a catena of verses, as if their meaning were self-explanatory.

And if a Protestant takes issue with their prooftext, they will accuse him of playing fast-and-loose with the plain sense of the text. It’s only because the Protestant comes to the Bible with his Protestant theological commitments or hermeneutical method that he refuses to acknowledge what the Catholic prooftext “plainly” teaches.

So the Catholic objection to Biblical perspicuity boils down to this:

Scripture is perspicuous whenever it happens to prove Catholic faith and morals, or disprove Protestant faith and morals.

Scripture is never perspicuous when it happens to prove Protestant faith and morals, or disprove Catholic faith and morals.

3.The Catholic objection to the sufficiency of Scripture is often at odds with the Catholic objection to the perspicuity of Scripture.

On the one hand, a Catholic epologist will say the Bible can’t be perspicuous since the vast majority of Christians didn’t find what the Protestant Reformers discovered in Scripture.

On the other hand, a Catholic epologist will say the Bible can’t be sufficient since the vast majority of Christian up until modern times were Biblically illiterate.

All-in-all, I’m struck by the absence of perspicuity in Catholic objections to perspicuity.

"No mean scholars"

Dave Armstrong said...

“Venerable Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI are post-Vatican II. Last time I checked they were both considered no mean scholars.”

“During those years a certain Karol Wojtyla from Krakow is also preparing for his doctorate in theology at the Angelicum. He has been rejected at the Gregorian, the top place in Rome, because he hasn’t completed his studies in Poland satisfactorily. So he has to content himself with the Roman Dominican university (a hotbed of traditional theology in contrast to the first-class French Dominican college, Le Saulchoir)…Rejection from the Gregorian must have been quite a blow for the ambitious Wojtyla…while this Polish student learned some philosophy, he evidently has a very thin theological foundation-not to mention a lack of knowledge of modern exegesis, the history of dogmas and the church,” H. Küng, My Struggle for Freedom: Memoirs (Eerdmans 2003), 79.

“However, I was unaware that with my critical questions about Wojtyla’s theological limitations I had touched on a sore point in his life story of which he never spoke–unlike Joseph Ratzinger and ‘the drama’ of his habilitation. Rather, this man who in his youth had devoted himself not to theology but to professional acting can admirably disguise the fact that he studied only lightweight theology. He was turned down as a doctoral student by the Gregorian, Rome’s top university–as I already reported in My Struggle for Freedom (III: Dogmatics Romans-style), to the disproval of some Pope venerators–because of a deficient theological background (certainly not deficient intelligence), so that he had to go to the second-ranking Dominican Anglicum University,” H. Küng, Disputed Truth: Memoirs II (Eerdmans 2008), 435.