Friday, January 31, 2014

“Talking past one another”? Or is it being evasive?

If you look pained, and close your eyes more
tightly, are you any closer to knowing what the
early church was like?
I’ve responded to Andrew Preslar at some length about the early church and “arguments from silence”.

Andrew –
First off, I appreciate the opportunity to comment on your blog. Thank you

If you are truly grateful, I would appreciate it if you would make some attempt to honestly respond to my questions below.

Regarding arguments from silence, I think that we might be talking past one another. You are referring to times when the extant record is silent on points which you believe would have been explicitly mentioned in those records at those times, if the papacy were something willed by Christ. Responding to such arguments from silence, as Catholics have often done, does not constitute arguing from silence.

Of course we are talking past each other. I am not just referring to something that “may have been willed by Christ”. Or let me ask you, how can you know what is “willed by Christ”?

“Willed by Christ” is not something you can know outside of what the Scriptures say, and the Scriptures testify to Christ – not to “the Church”. (“i.e., Peter’s “commissioning” is actually a demonstration of Christ’s forgiveness rather than a statement about a future church. But, as I’ve said, it very much seems as if Rome is all about aggrandizing Rome, and in doing so, it fails to see that the Gospels were establishing Jesus’s authority vis-à-vis the Jews – but Rome only see a mirror in the Scriptures).

Outside of that, however, I am talking about history which actually existed, and which we can re-visit. We know from writings (both inside and outside of the church) what that world was like. We have the ability to understand the reality and the brutality of that world.

I think the Roman Catholic tendency (one you have exhibited here with quite a bit of ennui) to call Protestant analyses of the early church an “argument from silence” is evasive and frankly an excuse not to have to examine the evidence that we do have.

What we know of “the earliest church” – of all the things we know, we should have known more about a papacy if such a thing existed. (Or even, as it is called now, in what I’d consider to be a backpedalling move, a “successor of Peter”). If such a thing existed, it must have been important. And as such, it is inconceivable that we don’t know more about it in the first two centuries (than the four very weak items that you bring up and which I discuss below).

To be clear, what I am arguing from are the explicit accounts (not the silences) that we do have from those early times, which constitute a picture of the universal church in its early stage of development, is quite consistent with later stages of development, beginning with the Gospel accounts of the call of the Apostles and the various commissions given them and others (cf. the seventy) by Christ, the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles (where we can see how the Apostolic ministry was exercised in its first stages), Clement (who specifically mentions Apostolic succession), Ignatius (who specifically mentions the monepiscopacy), and Irenaeus (who specifically mentions the bishops of Rome going back to the first century).

The record from these times is not exhaustive, but it is sufficient to give us some idea of how the sacramental kingdom of God began to spread and grow throughout the world (Mt 13:31-32).

First of all, I know we are abbreviating things for brevity here. But in the first 200 years of church history – that is a long time – you have four points to which you refer: Apostolic ministry (of which we can only know via written documents – specifically the New Testament) – Clement, Ignatius, and Irenaeus.

Of these four things:

• In the NT references to Peter, I would counter that Christ is talking about himself and not “the Church” (“i.e., Peter’s “commissioning” is actually a demonstration of Christ’s forgiveness rather than a statement about a future church); that is, the New Testament writers were still making the claim that Jesus was the Messiah, not that “the Church” has Christ’s authority (which, speaking of “Christ’s authority”, was still being established in the first century world).

• The “approved men” in 1 Clement is a natural thing to say, when the author’s concern is that some “approved men” had been deposed. This has absolutely nothing to do with later RC views of succession.

• Ignatius’s mention that Rome is somehow important pales in comparison with the rest of his rhetoric, which is widely recognized to be reflective of his time and place (“the Second Sophistic”) and thus exaggerated.

• And Irenaeus, who, while defending the church, “does not contemplate a special sacramental ‘character’ of the episcopate, nor does he ever stress the authority of bishops as opposed to that of the laity” (von Campenhausen); indeed “ideas bound up with office and succession” “take up very little space in Irenaeus’s writings” and which “have an apologetic and polemical intention” and don’t look forward to an “unbroken succession” for two thousand years. In addition, you have Irenaeus’s passing on of such mistakes as that Simon Magus was the source of all heresies, that Jesus lived to old age, and that Paul (counter to what is written in Romans) somehow “founded and established” the church at Rome.

There are other considerations, but you should know of all of these various Protestant considerations, which, in my estimation, are far more than an “argument from silence”, but rather, portray a very clear image of the NON-“sacramental” structure of the church up to that point – and in no way reflect later Roman Catholic views of things.

And yet you and Roman Catholics from your group simply, with (ironically) the “wave of a hand” (i.e., “begging the question” or “argument from silence”) , refuse even to consider the Protestant considerations contra the Roman “interpretation” of these things.

However, these four, highly-contested points, for Roman Catholics, represent “explicit accounts” that are “sufficient” to somehow verify the Roman Catholic account, which used to hold a 25-year bishopric of Peter in Rome (which also has been greatly whittled down and even forgotten in “official” Roman accounts, but which were highly present in Roman polemics up through the 18th century).

These you say that these four (in our opinion, highly deficient reasons) are “sufficient” “to give us some idea of how the sacramental kingdom of God began to spread and grow throughout the world”.

But aside from these four highly deficient reasons – there is nothing but silence concerning a successor of Peter. Does that not strike you in any way? In the space of 200 years’-worth of the most important history of the church, and there is NO central leadership, either in Rome, and especially not in the wider church. There is good evidence that the Persian churches of that period had no idea that Rome even existed.

I am not simply saying “Lampe” here, but I am reflecting a huge tide of scholarship, which includes Roman Catholic commentators [except for admitted child molester Bernard Green] and even a pope in search of “a new situation” for the once-and-forever papacy is moving in the same direction.

Obviously, a tree is going to look different at earlier stages of development (growth) than at later stages.

A little tree and a big tree have certain very definite and unchanging characteristics, however, and if you want to apply this metaphor, the shape of the trunk remains the same throughout the life of a tree. If it is straight as a small tree, it is straight as a large tree; if it is crooked in some way as a small tree, it remains crooked throughout the life of the tree.

Certain properties that are of the essence of the organism remain latent in earlier stages, and gradually become manifest (or explicit).

Which “properties” of an organism are there that “remain latent”? In a human organism, everything at birth is there and fully functional. Do you want to say that “the Church” at Pentecost was only “embryonic” there?

Or do you want to say that at birth, the church had its eyes, ears, mouth, hands, feet, etc.? All fully manifest (explicit) as with a human child. Or do you want to say it’s a different type of organism?

To use this metaphor again, which strains credulity when talking about the Roman Catholic Church, what are some of those “latent” traits in organisms that “gradually become manifest”?

In a tree, the trunk remains either straight or crooked from very early on. Newman’s “stream” even retains the same shape, even though the stream bed becomes deeper and more pronounced later.

Eyes retain the functionality of eyes, lungs of lungs, hands of hands – from birth through the end of life.

Rome uses “development” as a kind of duck-and-cover for such “latent” things as the adoption of images, which didn’t exist in the first centuries, but which came about later, the cult of Mary and the saints, which didn’t exist in the first centuries, but which came about later, the change from presbyterial government in the New Testament to a firm structure several centuries later. From the non-existent early papacy to the Imperial papacy (and now back down again in Francis-style, eh?)

That metaphor genuinely strains credulity.

But the nature of the thing does not change, and the nature of the Church can be discerned in the Gospels: an Apostolic, sacramental kingdom in which Peter plays a unique role. Any genuine development that occurs must be a development in accordance with this nature. It is evident that the Catholic Church has remained distinctively sacramental, Apostolic, and Petrine, which constitutes good reason to believe that she is the sacramental, Apostolic, and Petrine church which Our Lord established.

What “nature”? Could you pick a term more vague than “nature”? From our perspective, this is really loaded, “begging-the-question”-type of language. Just a couple of more quick points.

Looking at the some of the mawkish language from guys like von Balthasar and de Lubac, and projecting it back on the earliest church (“sacramental, Apostolic, and Petrine”), of course it looks to you as if “essence” has never changed.

But looking at it from the beginning, the concept of “sacrament” was several hundred years down the road, “Apostolic” meant “Apostolic teaching”, not in the “hand-off of power” sense, but in the sense that the Apostolic message was guarded. And as I mentioned above, “Petrine” in the sense that Peter was a foil to project an image of Christ’s forgiveness (think “man born blind” in John 9), not in the sense of an office that was put into place and held there by Roman adoption laws (and figured out only several hundred years after-the-fact).

First century Palestine was a brutal time and place; and first and second century Rome were also brutal for the church. Christians of that era had no sense of the quiet, contemplative lives of 20th century Jesuits walking around with hands folded and all their physical needs cared for, imagining what “nearness to Christ” must have meant for those in earlier centuries.

In the case of the “development” of earliest Christianity to Roman Catholicism, we see nothing of a papacy evolve into an imperial papacy (non-eyes evolving into eyes), prohibition of images into mandatory use of images (non-eyes evolving into eyes), not really a second thought about Mary (see Paul, who himself claims to be the model, modeling Christ) to the point where she is “the model” (and mandatorially so). What “essence” do you see in Paul (or Jesus, for that matter) which says “give your allegiance to an institution, a “visible hierarchy” other than God alone through Christ alone in the power of the Holy Spirit alone?

Those early Christians weren’t missing out on “the fullness”. They had the riches of Christ. Most of what later passed for “developments” are unneeded and even harmful accretions.

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