Thursday, December 19, 2013

The “interpretation” of “God’s Word” is NOT “God’s Word”

This was a clever commercial. But with respect to
Roman Catholicism, the trucks are moving in
opposite directions, and “development”
just simply fails to bridge the gaps. 
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been in a long and wide-ranging discussion over at Darryl Hart’s “Old Life” site, with a commenter who goes by the handle “Cletus Van Damme” (“CVD” below).

At first, he seemed to be knowledgeable, and able to appreciate some of the finer distinctions to be made with respect to understanding doctrines, but over time he just seemed to fall back on some of the cliché methods of Roman Catholic apologetics, providing his own “infallible interpretations” in defense of some inconsistencies that Rome had imbibed in.

For example, when I questioned him about the historical way that “the hierarchy” was fastened onto the leadership of the church, and the different ways that Trent, Vatican I and Vatican II subsequently described those in very different ways, he made the claim that the “hierarchy” as described by Trent in existed both “seed form” and “explicit” at the same time, for example, despite Trent’s firm affirmations that this was both “explicit” and “visible”. “Some people just spoke that way”, he said, ignoring so-called conciliar authority.

In any event, what follows is probably going to be my concluding comment on the thread, which I offer here as a pretty good summary both of “development” (as seen properly, and as used improperly in Roman Catholic apologetics), as well as a summary of my own intense dislike for Roman Catholicism.

CVD: You are saying if something is the fruit of post-New Testament development, that it must be a non-Scriptural development.

Let me show you an example. Here is how “reflection” on the Trinity becomes “development”:

The term “Trinity” is not a Biblical term, and we are not using Biblical language when we define what is expressed by it as the doctrine that there is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Persons, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence. A doctrine so defined can be spoken of as a Biblical doctrine only on the principle that the sense of Scripture is Scripture. And the definition of a Biblical doctrine in such un-Biblical language can be justified only on the principle that it is better to preserve the truth of Scripture than the words of Scripture. The doctrine of the Trinity lies in Scripture in solution; when it is crystallized from its solvent it does not cease to be Scriptural, but only comes into clearer view. Or, to speak without figure, the doctrine of the Trinity is given to us in Scripture, not in formulated definition, but in fragmentary allusions; when we assemble the disjecta membra into their organic unity, we are not passing from Scripture, but entering more thoroughly into the meaning of Scripture. We may state the doctrine in technical terms, supplied by philosophical reflection; but the doctrine stated is a genuinely Scriptural doctrine.

(from a Triablogue article series on “Warfield on the Trinity”)

In this way, the Trinity, Christology, and similar kinds of doctrines are “deduced from Scripture” “by good and necessary consequence”.

Critics of Newman’s theory distinguish two kinds of development.

The example above is an example of the first type of “development” (which is based upon the OT citations I mentioned above and the 275 various references to the Holy Spirit, plus the observation of the early “explosion” of the worship of Jesus in the NT and in history) -- where the doctrine “lies in Scripture in solution”. The raw elements are in Scripture, and they are extracted and “systematized” from those elements, and in that way they are brought into a sharper focus. This kind of development is legitimately Scriptural.

That is distinguished from a second kind which is not Scriptural -- the “raw materials” are NOT contained in Scripture or in the words of Scripture -- they are fashioned from what is said to be “implicit”, but this is a euphemism for “what is more or less pure speculation, with no Scriptural warrant”.

Dr. William Witt presented several examples of the second type of “development”, which are largely crafted out of non-Scriptural speculations:

Classic examples of Development 2 would include the differences between the doctrine of the theotokos and the dogmas of the immaculate conception or the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the former, Marian dogma is not actually saying something about Mary, but rather something about Christ. If Jesus Christ is truly God, and Mary is his mother, then Mary is truly the Mother of God (theotokos). She gives birth, however, to Jesus’ humanity, not his eternal person, which has always existed and is generated eternally by the Father. The doctrine of the theotokos is a necessary implication of the incarnation of God in Christ, which is clearly taught in the New Testament. However, the dogmas of the immaculate conception and the assumption are not taught in Scripture, either implicitly or explicitly. They are entirely new developments [JB note: and these are based entirely upon speculations].

The same would be true, of course, for the doctrine of the papacy. The New Testament says much about the role of Simon Peter as a leader of the apostles. It does not say anything explicit, however, about the bishop of Rome being the successor to Peter.

Witt says:

I believe that J. B. Mozley’s “The Theory of Development” provides the decisive critique of [John Henry] Newman on development of doctrine. Mozley argues that Newman commits a logical fallacy of amphiboly by not distinguishing between two different kinds of development.

Roman Catholics all-too-often are guilty of conflating these kinds of concepts and using that kind of confusion in their own favor.

CVD: That does not follow. A post-New Testament development can bring out what was implicitly contained in Scripture. That’s the point of development – implicit to explicit.

Per my discussion above, your categories of “implicit to explicit” are too broad and too vague. My discussion describes the difference between doctrines that are found in Scripture, those that are deduced “by good and necessary consequence”, and those that are in the category of “speculation”.

Would you say that the Scriptural basis for the Trinity is “implicit” or “explicit”? Father, Son, Spirit, all amply mentioned, amply attested.

As for “development”, for all the councils and discussion, what was added to the doctrine of the Trinity had ample Scriptural basis – and in fact, Rome did not feel any compunction about leaving alone those conciliar decisions – unilaterally modifying them with the filioque clause.

CVD: I would not be surprised to see Sullivan also say conciliar doctrines on the Trinity/Christology or the Nicene creed was a post-New Testament development – he would not mean those teachings are therefore not implicit in Scripture because of that.

That’s speculation on your part. Find it in his writing and support your claim.

CVD: [The notion of “apostolic succession” given by Irenaeus] “was clearly formulated.” That does not mean he spun it out of thin air and introduced something novel. Heresy can develop/clarify doctrine.

Good that you understand the concept of something being “spun out of thin air” and the introduction of “something novel” – as were the Marian doctrines.

But still, early on, you want to say “heresy helps develop/clarify doctrine”. But lots of things “develop/clarify” doctrine. Including “reflection on speculative things”. “Further reflection” helps develop/clarify doctrine. The inner workings of a pope’s own mind can develop/clarify doctrine. A concept can exist “full-blown” and “in seed form” at the same time, and morph back-and-forth between two extremes, and still count as a “legitimate development” in the Roman Catholic schema.

Any theory at all will do in support of Roman doctrine. No matter that these processes are different. At a high level, any process will do to defend “development”, so long as it supports Roman claims.

It is easy for you to make speculations at a high level. Development here, development there, by this process or that: “Development, presto-change-o”, and we always have the legitimate Church Authority that we have today.

What you have consistently done in this thread is thrown about different ways that “development” can occur.

What you have failed to do consistently in this thread is to say precisely how a Biblical doctrine (“an elder must be”) can “develop” precisely into its opposite (“a bishop needs not be”) (with a throwaway statement like “Oh, we’d like them to be blameless too, but we dismiss that kind of perfection because all are sinful…”)

You have dismissed, with mere “hand-waving”, how Trent’s claims that Christ founded an “explicit and visible” priesthood and hierarchy (you merely said “I’ll admit, some people thought that way”) with more contemporary claims that concepts were “Spirit-led developments” that nevertheless became seen as “the structure of the Church”.

How vague that all is.

You seem to care a great deal about the precision of language with which the Trinity and Christology were defined in the fourth and fifth centuries – this precise crafting of the language was important work. But when Rome goes back-and-forth with its concepts of priesthood/hierarchy, then the vague concept is introduced that a thing may exist “implicitly” and “in seed-form” and “full-blown” (“explicit”) at the same time.

You dismiss, you throw away “modern scholarship” as a whole, without analyzing a single argument of modern scholarship in-depth.

What you have failed to do, all through this thread, is to say precisely how (referring back to one of my original questions), Trent could have looked at a “seed-form” “priesthood/hierarchy” and mistaken it for a full-blown “explicit” and “visible” priesthood/hierarchy, which is then “recognized” as having been only “implicit” and “in seed-form”. And this gyration goes round-the-block several times.

CVD: You still avoid my question on parallel/subsequent figures espousing and strengthening this “novel” concept [Irenaeus’s concept of “succession”] rather than resisting it, and the apparent absence of any dissent/disagreement with Irenaeus the maverick who had the gall to claim this novel doctrine as apostolic.

We are talking about a specific instance of Irenaeus borrowing a concept that (as I’ve mentioned in the Jason Engwer article citing Everett Ferguson) was prevalent in the culture. Even here you’re making an assumption though. From a textual perspective, we have only fragments of Irenaeus’s original writings, and we have only a Latin copy from many centuries later (and the text of that seems to have been tampered with in certain “key” places).

How much notice did Irenaeus actually receive in his own day? In an era when Scripture was copied and distributed widely, the writings of Irenaeus (and many of the other “early church fathers”) were largely forgotten for centuries. There was not only an “apparent absence of dissent/disagreement”, but there was a corresponding absence of affirmation and agreement.

* * *

I appreciate you hanging in here and having this discussion with me, but the nature of your objections to the things we know in a positive sense from history (which I have been pointing out) has really been to throw out a bunch of vague and undefined concepts (“development”, “implicit-to-explicit”), without really taking the time to explain what any of them are.

Newman recognized “difficulties”, and he came up with a wide-ranging theory of “development” that was inconsistent to its core – it was based on a fundamental assumption that the doctrines of the church in their “substance” were “essentially” the same – but that’s such a broad and nebulous way of looking at it, if you don’t start with that initial assumption, if you attempt to prove, from history, how one thing “developed” into another, you end up all over the place with no consistency whatsoever.

Pope Ratzinger noticed this too. He said:

The Second Vatican Council, with its new definition of the relationship between the faith of the Church and certain essential elements of modern thought, has reviewed or even corrected certain historical decisions, but in this apparent discontinuity it has actually preserved and deepened her inmost nature and true identity.

(from his address to the Roman Curia, 22 December 2005)

If starting from the New Testament, you don’t make the assumption that the “inner nature and true identity” of the church is equivalent to the Roman Catholic Church (or where it “subsists” – an unverifiable weasel-word in any case), and if you proceed to try to understand “what they knew and when they knew it”, then you can’t show that Roman Catholicism developed in a “spirit-guided way” and make it a dogma. All you can do, starting with the New Testament, is make excuses for some truly bad things that the church got itself into, that Rome later dogmatized.

Ratzinger’s “apparent discontinuities” which Vatican II “corrected”, are in reality the fruits of modern scholars whom you dismiss with hand-waving.

Again, I’ll point out to you that, while the life of Christ and the Apostles in the New Testament have been confirmed and reinforced in spite of the most skeptical searching of the most skeptical of “modern scholars”, it is the Roman Catholic account of its own history that has fallen apart in major ways, calling for the kinds of backpedalling we’ve seen on all kinds of things that were dogmatically understood to be unchangeable before Vatican II, but which have really changed “in substance” following that council.

Here’s the way that “development” works in Roman Catholicism today: anything that can be seen to strengthen Rome’s claims for its own authority is accounted to be “legitimate development”. And anything that works against the Roman accounting of itself is a mere “apparent discontinuity” that can be dismissed as easily as you have done so here and in fact, as Ratzinger has done.

The truly sad thing is that nobody is paying attention, and just as you see in modern journalism, that things become a matter of “he-said, she-said”, there is little concern to investigate the actual sources with the attempt to really understand the underlying causes for thing, to really get to the heart of the matter.

But some “modern scholars” have taken care to make this investigation; others are following and broadening the conclusions, and those conclusions are inescapable. It is why even the infallible, semper eadem church has to “correct” “historical decisions”.

A brighter spotlight would show these things for what they truly are. But many in today’s world don’t even care. 95% of Roman Catholics in the US blatantly disregard such papal teachings as Humani Generis, classifying themselves not as “the faithful”, but really, cafeteria-style pick-and-choose Catholics. Much of today’s culture is far more interested in what this star or that one is wearing, or the glitzy multi-billion dollar sports industry, than in understanding what the truth of human existence is.

There is a line from a Keith Green song which, I think is entitled “Song from the Devil”. It is characteristic of Roman Catholic apologetics has been in the centuries since the Reformation. That line is, “I mix a little truth with every lie, to tickle itching ears”. Roman Catholicism does retain some true elements from its past. But over time, the falsehoods have accumulated and many have become dogmatized. And with the air of ancientness and authority, such things have been believed, precisely because there is SO MUCH information, and Roman apologists are SO GOOD at “mixing a little Rome with every truth, so that it seems like Rome has always been in charge”.

The problem with that is, modern scholarship, which has investigated Jesus and the New Testament every which way and left it stronger than ever, has also investigated Roman claims and left them with reams and reams of “apparent discontinuity” and 50 years-worth of backpedalling on formerly unassailable Roman claims.

You may think that’s overly harsh, but there is the “principle” in the “principled distinctions” that you and others are always looking for.

The real, genuine principle in all of this, however, is God. God is sovereign; If you truly believe in “One God”, “The Father Almighty”, “His Son Jesus Christ”, and “The Holy Spirit”, you should also believe that this One God is sovereign in his ontology – the “Creator/creature distinction” – and in his epistemology – His Word is infallible and inerrant, and nothing else is like it, and in fact, nothing is capable to even come close.

Yes, God guides the church providentially – and providentially, he allows sinful men and concepts to have their day too – but outside of and apart from “God’s Word”, the providentially-guided human deliberations are useful, but they are not “God’s Word”.

The “interpretation” of “God’s Word” is NOT “God’s Word”.

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