Mr. Hays flatters me by devoting such a long and substantial post to my critique of sola scriptura. It has been nearly a decade since I wrote that piece, itself a lengthy chapter of some eighty pages. Since the appearance of Not By Bread Alone, the most substantial rebuttal mounted against it that I know of has been that of Keith A. Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura (Canon Press, 2001). Although Mathison took specific aim at some of my arguments in his book, I did not respond for a couple of reasons. One reason was that, by the time the book came to my attention, a number of Catholics had already responded to Mathison, offering ample rebuttals to his arguments. Among the best of these is the superb review of Mathison's book by Gregory Krehbiel, "The Shape of Sola Scriptura by Keith Mathison: Reviewed chapter by chapter, with discussion" (June 2001), which, among other things, responded to his specific attacks on my arguments (although the link to the full followup discussion doesn't work anymore). Dave Armstrong also wrote a fine article reviewing Krehbiel's review in Greg Krehbiel's Review of Keith Mathison's The Shape of Sola Scriptura (April 2004), itself a post well worth reading. Another two-part article by Armstrong relevant to the topic is "How Different (In Nature and Ultimate Effect) Are SolO Scriptura and SolA Scriptura (vs. Keith Mathison)" -- Part I and Part II.
The other reason I did not respond to Mathison was that I had lost some of my initial interest in these sorts of arguments. It often happens, I think, that arguments of this kind serve a purpose on the journey of those en route to the Catholic Church, but subsequent to their conversion these concerns are supplanted by others as they become habituated to their new environs within the Church. While this isn't always the case (witness the number of Catholic converts who become full-time apologists), I would submit that it is often the case. For example, Greg Krehbiel has apparently lost much of his former taste for apologetical writing, as can be seen from his rather skeptical article, posted the day after Christmas, "Top Ten Reasons Not to Argue" (Crowhill Weblog, Dec. 31, 2006). While not buying into the overt skepticism of Krehbiel's piece, which I take to be largely hyperbolic, I am nevertheless sympathetic to the disposition that animates it. Apologetic arguments can get very old, especially when they become rather timeworn and threadbare and all one really wants, while someone is badgering him about a certain verse in the Bible or a certain Church council of the fourth century, is a thirst-quenching draught of Guinness.
Having said that, I decided to respond to this article by Mr. Hays, for several reasons. First, I think the sorts of arguments he raises are fairly representative of contemporary Evangelical and Fundamentalist views of Catholicism. Second, I believe that these views continue to be based on some significant misunderstandings that need addressing. Thirdly, and lastly, the fact that Mr. Hays' criticisms are directed against my own arguments of nearly a decade ago offers me a chance to revisit these arguments to see what, if anything, I would change. These are not the sorts of arguments I am in the habit of dealing with these days. Personally, I do personally relish the challenge of this sort of debate in the way I once did; and, frankly, I have so many other fish to fry and so little time to devote to this sort of agenda, that I do not anticipate addressing these issues again in the future. Nevertheless, for the rare and exceptional -- I'm almost tempted to say, "deviant" -- reader who enjoys this sort of debate, I offer my assurances that I have attempted to keep my responses to Mr. Hays courteous, constructive, and from being too perfunctory or insubstantial: I trust there will be some positive substance with which to reckon here.
In his rebuttal of my piece, the procedure of Mr. Hays is generally to excerpt a quotation from my chapter and then to comment upon it. In return, I have proceeded in like manner, for the most part preserving as much of the original quotation from my chapter to offer necessary context. I have arbitrarily numbered arguments so as to offer a frame of reference for cross referencing, in case readers find this useful. I have also omitted points raised by Mr. Hays where addressing these struck me as redundant or extraneous. In the text, "you" refers to Mr. Hays.
Mr. Hays begins by stating: "A while back, Philip Blosser wrote a thoroughgoing critic [sic.] of sola scriptural [sic.] entitled: 'Philosophical and Practical Problems with Sola Scriptura.' . . . Blosser’s a Catholic blogger and philosopher prof. Strikingly, he has a degree from Westminster Philly."
He is kind enough to flatter me by calling my critique "thoroughgoing," just as he is in calling notice to my degree from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, a flagship seminary of the conservative Reformed and Presbyterian tradition in the United States. Whatever the weaknesses of its program in contemporary systematics and historical theology, I am grateful for the education I received at Westminster and have fond memories of my time there -- including a conversation over beers shared once with Cornelius Van Til, which still bring a smile to my face.
#1 -- You write: "Before plunging into the thick of things, I’d simply note that, as is so often the case, Blosser is a layman who comes to the defense of the Magisterium. The question this always raises is that if a layman can make a case for the Magisterium, who needs the Magisterium?"
How is this not like arguing that defending the Bible makes the Bible superfluous?#2 -- I wrote: “What is needed today more than ever is a mutual sorting out of what was really ‘necessary’ from what was ‘tragic’ in the movement of the Protestant Reformation, as well as the good from the bad in the life of the Catholic Church in and since the 16th century.”
You replied: "No sorting needed. The Reformation was not a tragic necessity, but a simple necessity."
This overlooks an important distinction between (1) reform and (2) schism. The Church has always needed reform: witness the reforms of Gregory I or the Cluny Reforms. The Church has always suffered schims -- the hiving off of the Gnostics from the Church of Ephesus to start their own thing (cf. First Epistle of John on those whom the Apostle calls "antichrists), the Arians in the third century, the Cathars much later, the Photian schism, and protestant schims still later, etc. The first is necessary housekeeping; the second is tragic loss.#3 -- I wrote: “The urgency of this need is now beginning to be felt within those traditions that have been most vocal about the “necessity” of the Reformation but silent about its ‘tragedy’.”
You replied: Since I feel no such sense of urgency, I’m happy to remain silent about its “tragic” dimension.
I find it sad -- even scandalous -- that you express no sense of “tragedy” over the broken Body of Christ.[Editorial note: I skip a number of arguments offered by Hays here that I judge to be dealt with sufficiently in subsequent entries]
#4 -- I wrote: “The suspicion that Catholics want to identify [the Church] exclusively with their own “denomination” only raises the hackles of most Protestants.”
You replied: " . . . a certain percentage of Evangelicals were cradle Catholics who converted to the Evangelical faith. So they know Catholicism from the inside out."
No, these typically convert from lack of adequate catechesis. Ask them whether the catechesis they received was substantial, and see how they answer. Many also convert for reasons of canonical impediment to remaining Catholic, such as divorce and remarriage, which would not allow the Church to recognize their marriage as sacramentally valid or permit them to licitly receive Communion within the Catholic Church. Most of the time such reasons remain off the radar of evangelical Protestants, who focus other doctrinal questions.You continued: " . . . During the Counter-Reformation, the Vatican did attempt to destabilize Protestant regimes."
Indeed, as the case of the French Huguenots in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (Aug. 24, 1570) illustrates. But what about the flip side? What about the Bourbons of Navarre and subsequent fate of France? What about Henry VIII and his lapdog, Thomas Cromwell, and, a generation later, Cecil William and his son, Robert and the extermination of Catholicism from England and revision of English historiography in Protestant textbook histories? What about the fate of Catholics in the Spanish Civil War, where over six thousand bishops, priests, and members of religious orders were slaughtered? What about the roles of Gustavus Adolphus and William of Orange in European history? What about the real motive of anti-Catholicism in the American Revolution, which, as Ben Franklin admitted, was more animated by a fear of the Quebec Act of 1774, granting the inhabitants of Quebec the right to practice their Catholicism, than any of the other so-called "intolerable acts" of England? (See Anti-Catholicism & the American Revolution) It seems to me there's more than enough political machinations to go around the whole table.#5 -- I wrote: " . . . it is almost as difficult for the Protestant to fathom the Catholic notion that the all-too-human Church of history could have anything like a divine nature or a real divine authority, as it is for an agnostic to fathom that the all-too-human Jesus could also be God Incarnate . . . ."
You replied: " . . . it’s difficult for a suspicious Evangelical like me to draw a parallel between the Borgia Papacy and the hypostatic union, or a pedophile priest and the inspiration of Scripture."
This is certainly a leap for the most grotesque caricature of Catholicism imaginable: What about Pope John Paul II? What about Pope Benedict XVI? What about the countless good and holy popes in Catholic history? How about Mother Teresa of Calcutta? St. Francis Assisi? St. Francis Xavier? St. Ignatius of Loyola? St. Columba, who converted your European forefathers? What about Johan von Staupitz, Luther's confessor, who referred him to the Gospel of grace in Romans?#6 -- I wrote: “Suffice it here to observe that if ever there was a safe truth, it is this: no higher view of Scripture and its authority exists in all of Protestantism than that which is to be found in the Catholic Church.”
You replied: "I see. Raymond Brown and Joseph Fitzmyer have a higher view of Scripture than Gleason Archer or John Warwick Montgomery. Whatever."
This confuses Church teaching with private opinion. Likewise with your subsequent conflation of Vatican II documents with the positions of Grillmeier and Küng. [Editorial note: I omit in my response here a section of Hays' text in which he endeavors to portray the documents of Vatican II as nothing more than the product of a liberal faction of theologians at the Council.] But this ignores the specific difference accorded the status of private opinion (what a theologian may opine) and Church teaching (what is de fide, binding upon the faithful because of its divinely delegated authority and indefectable truth). You can find a writer on theological issues who is happens to be Catholic who may say just about anything. But this has no authority in itself. Neither can the decrees of councils in the Apostolic tradition be simply reduced to arbitrary human constructs (cf. Acts 15:28). Even if König’s faction “carried the day” in Vatican II politics, the final documents are what count; and they are not inconsistent with ancient Church teaching.#7 -- You write: " . . . the top brass has capitulated to the Historical-Critical method."
Not so. While Pope Benedict XVI (the former Cardinal Ratzinger) has been careful to avoid condemning all the methods of historical-critical scholarship, he has also been careful to avoid indulging the tendentious naturalistic ideological inclinations embedded in much of the historical-critical tradition, not to mention those conclusions that have been inimical to sound Christian doctrine.#8 -- You write: "In liturgical churches, the liturgy is often more conservative than the priest or parishioner."
This may be true of mainline liberal Protestant liturgical traditions, such as the Anglican or Lutheran; but it is hardly true of the Catholic as a rule.#9 -- You wrote: "Is the Catholic priesthood generally distinguished by the quality of its expository sermons?"
Some are; but many more are not than I would like to admit. This is a problem that seminaries are currently endeavoring to remedy. It is also not a problem proper to Catholicism. We have, and have had, great expository preachers, such as Archbishop Fulton Sheen, whose television and radio programs many Evangelicals used to enjoy.#10 -- I wrote: “Fourth, the Catholic Church’s high view of Scripture is attested, ironically, at those points where her strict and literal interpretation is disputed by Protestantism. . . ." [Note: Here I have in mind such texts as John 6:53ff. (". . . unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you . . ."), which Evangelicals tend to interpret symbolically, rejecting the literalism of the Catholic tradition.]
You replied: "'Strict literalism'? As in the way Ratzinger or Jaki take Genesis at “face value”?
I disagree with Ratzinger and Jaki on points of their Genesis interpretation -- which, by the way, is not a matter of dogmatically defined doctrine (which means it’s open to legitimate differences of interpretation). The one thing that can be safely said about the first few chapters of Genesis, like the prophetic chapters of Daniel, Eziekiel and Revelation, is that they are a matter of ongoing debate within the Church and the larger body of Christians throughout the world. Not all Evangelicals are agreed upon the proper interpretation of first and last things either, as you well know. I do not know any reasonable Evangelical who would dispute this.#11 -- I referred to " . . . the indissolubility of marriage and prohibition of remarriage (Mk 10:11; Lk 16:18; Mt 5:32; 19:9; 1 Cor 7:10, 33) . . . ”
You replied: "Aside from the fact that Matthew and 1 Corinthians don’t teach the indissolubility of marriage or prohibit remarriage, there is the further fact that Catholicism entertains an extremely lenient version of divorce and remarriage by another name—annulment."
The first part of this sentence begs the question as to how these NT books should be interpreted without making an argument, while the last part of the sentence not only conflates divorce with the meaning of annulment without defining what Catholicism understands by their difference, but overlooks the reasons for the high number of annulments today – which has to do with abysmally poor catechesis of Christians today in the theology of marriage. Catholicism’s prohibition of contraception, masturbation, and non-coital orgasm (e.g., via fellatio) look like medieval superstitions to those who have no inkling of Catholic theology of the body or nuptial meaning of the body mirroring the sacrament of the Eucharist (articulated so well by John Paul II). Many Christians today view marriage as a contract, which is as different from the marital covenant as prostitution is from matrimony. Where individuals enter into attempts at marriage with defective understandings, it stands to reason that there may often times be impediments to their marriage having been recognized as sacramental at the beginning – where, for example, a marriage vow was taken only provisionally, or with the intent of not having children, or with the intent to contracept, and so forth.#12 -- [Note: I referred to the Catholic Church teaching against contraception.]
You replied: "Since Scripture never says that contraception is sinful, how does the Catholic prohibition reflect a high view of Scripture?"
By reasoning from Revelation entrusted to the Church to conclusions compelled by logic. If you want a thing to flourish, you treat it according to its nature. You water tomato plants, you put gasoline in cars; not vice versa. The purpose of sex is babies and bonding. You want marriage to flourish, you foster the purposes of sex, which are to promote these two ends. When you take a by-product of sex (pleasure) and make it the end (purpose) of sex, so that the formal purpose of sex (babies) is turned into an accident (which you try to prevent by contraception), you are thwarting the nature of the thing that God created when He instituted marriage and commanded us to be fruitful and multiply. (See my essay, "Answering Robert W. Jenson on contraception")#13 -- [Note: I referred, in passing, to Church teaching against autoeroticism.]
You wrote: ". . . since Scripture never condemns masturbation as sinful . . ."
This overlooks a long tradition of interpretation related to the biblical theology of Onanism (spilling of seed on the ground), long condemned by Protestant Reformers as well as Catholic tradition (not to mention Judaism and Islam). (See: Autoeroticism in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam)You continued: " . . . a blanket ban on masturbation does enormous moral, emotional, and spiritual harm to single men in their sexual prime . . ."
This is the view taken by many secularists and even Evangelicals such as James Dobson. However, I would ask any of you avid Christian masturbators out there to ask yourselves honestly whether masturbation does not in fact cultivate lust, a prurient appetite pornography, and a predatory view of other human beings. Try reading Dietrich von Hildebrand’s book on Purity: The Mystery of Christian Sexuality, or Pope John Paul II’s book on Love and Responsibility, or Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology Of The Body , translated by Michael Waldstein, or any of Christopher West’s summaries of the late Pope’s Theology of the Body.#14 -- [Note: I mentioned Church teaching on abortion.]
You replied: " . . . why are Catholic judges and legislators who promote abortion never excommunicated?"
This is a problem, and a more public discipline may be forthcoming, we hope. However, one of the difficulties is that a priest distributing Holy Communion may not be in a position to know the state of the soul of the person approaching the altar. Has he been to confession before approaching? One could cynically hazard a guess, but who knows? One can go to confession in any parish, to any priest. One simply doesn’t know. This has something to do with what St. Augustine said (against the Donatists) about the importance of letting the tares grow together with the wheat until the final harvest of Judgment. If you want a perfect society of saints, you won’t find it in the Catholic Church. On the other hand, it’s saints who know they are sinners, and sinners who think they are saints.#15 -- [Note: Here Hays repeatedly focuses on the Catholic sex scandal, sodomy, and other sins of the Church.]
Fair enough: there’s plenty of sin to go around. I could mention the no less appalling (if less publicly broadcast) scandals and related statistics within Protestant communions. Such scandals widely occur within Protestant circles, although Protestant clergy make less lucrative targets of litigation, since they do not tend to be tied legally to large diocesan (episcopal) corporations. But what you won’t find in the Catholic Church is popes declaring that sodomy is a "sacrament," or councils of bishops declaring that sin is virtue. You have to distinguish between doctrine and discipline in the Catholic Church. There has been a need for reform within the Church’s history at many junctures because of lack of discipline; but the Church’s defined doctrines (dogmas) are irreproachable. You may disagree with them, but there is no lack of integrity in their consistency or promulgation, or their arguable defensibility in terms of fidelity to Scripture.You continued: " . . . the OPC, PCA, WELS, SBC, and LCMS (to name a few) have a much better record on sodomy, to say nothing else, than Catholicism.
First, just in terms of mathematics, you're comparing Protestant denominations, some of which number less than 25,000 members (like the OPC) with the Catholic Church, whose membership is over 1,000,000,000,000 (1 billion). Is that fair?#16 -- I wrote: “[It is incumbent upon the Protestant to] show from Scripture that God’s will throughout history has been to commit wholly to writing all revelation and instruction that He intended as an ongoing authority for the His people and their salvation..”
Second, you’re also talking about scandal, but not teaching, which was the question at issue. The Catholic Church has never taught that sodomy was not a sin. On the other hand, which of the denominational bodies you have referenced has not compromised itself on some matter or other, following the Anglican church’s policy, for example, of opening the door to contraception in 1930, thus severing the link between sex and procreation, undercutting the argument against recreational uses of sex, or the acceptance of masturbation, or divorce and remarriage, etc.? Yet all of these were ancient prohibitions of the Church. See the Evangelical writer, Charles D. Provan's book, The Bible and Birth Control
You replied: "Sola Scriptura is tied to the end-stage of progressive revelation—the point at which all revelation to be inscripturated has been inscripturated."
How does this show that the Protestant need not “show from Scripture that God’s will throughout history has been to commit wholly to writing all revelation and instruction that He intended as an ongoing authority for the His people and their salvation”?#17 -- I wrote: “Paul demands that his readers 'stand firm and hold to the traditions' they have received 'either by word of mouth or letter' (2 Th 2:15).”
You replied: "Evangelicals don’t deny that apostolic tradition is authoritative. But we don’t have any oral apostolic tradition."
That’s because you assume that all of apostolic tradition has been subsumed into biblical tradition, which begs the question. But even if that were true, ex hypothesi, it would not follow (as Cardinal Newman shows) from the material sufficiency of Scripture that the Bible is formally sufficient. One would need extra-biblical criteria for identifying what counts as Scripture. Even that is a matter of Catholic tradition – one which Luther denied when he excluded the books of Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation from the books he considered canonical in the first edition of his Deutsche Bibel.#18 -- [Note: I refer to the verse that calls the Church the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim 3:15).]
You replied: "1 Tim 3:15 doesn’t refer to 'the Church,' but to a local church."
There is no reason why “household of God” cannot refer to the universal Church. The local church does not and cannot subsist on its own, any more than the branches can subsist apart from the vine from which it draws its sustenance.I continued: “These verses can be tailored to a Protestant pattern, but the resulting fit is never quite natural. As Kreeft says, ‘We are not taught by a teacher without a book or by a book without a teacher, but by one teacher, the Church, with one book, Scripture’ (Kreeft, 275).”
You replied: “A straw man argument since Evangelicals don’t deny the role of teachers in the life of the church.”
How is this a straw argument, since what you mean by teacher is severed from the teacher referenced: namely, the Church. Accordingly, you have many teachers and face the problem of factionalism referenced by Paul in 1 Cor. 1.You continued: “ . . . So the onus is on the Catholic to literally document the existence of oral tradition. But if it’s documentary, it’s not oral.”
Nonsense. The fact that something is later attested in writing doesn’t mean that it was not first oral tradition; nor does the fact that something was first in writing mean that it didn’t subsequently become oral tradition if the original writing was lost. 2 Chronicles 29:25 and 35:4 both reference liturgical instructions according to the command of the Lord in Scriptures that are lost to history. If these were once inscripturated, the fact remains they were extra-biblical traditions by the time the canon we now have was passed down to us. Likewise, there are no preserved written liturgical instructions for the early Church, and there is hardly enough material in the NT from which to infer how the early Church worshipped. Yet there are ample extra-biblical traditions. There is no evidence that these were encoded in writing until several centuries had passed, for the first written canons of the Mass did not appear until after the Edict of Milan. But there are some written indications in extra-biblical sources of what these liturgical traditions from the time of Christ down to the first encoded canons of the Mass must have been like from writings such as the Didache (Greek, 'teaching', for Teaching of the Apostles) [fragmant depicted, right], which speak of the Christians meeting for the ‘sacrifice,’ and so forth.#19 -- You challenged: “ . . . In addition, how does Catholicism verify that an oral tradition is apostolic or dominical?
This is an important and fair question and deserves a fair answer. It touches on the question of authority, which is differently understood by Protestants (for whom religious authority is ultimately the Bible as they interpret it) and Catholics (for whom religious authority ultimately resides in the Church as interpreter of Divine Revelation, which primarily but not exclusively resides in Scripture). Newman is good on this, and I don’t have more time than to briefly reference him here. Protestants see the Prophetic Office as having ceased with the close of OT times -- by which they mean the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, preceding what they term the "intertestemental period." Catholics see it as an ongoing office reposing in the Pope and universal college of bishops within the Church, which constitute the infallible Magisterial (teaching) authority of the Church. (See Cardinal Newman’s essay on the "Lecures on the Prophetic Office of the Church," which, though written before his Catholic conversion, contains many insights.)#20 -- I wrote: “ . . . First, if all bindingly authoritative oral instruction ceased with the death of the last apostle, and if the early churches did not have copies of all the NT books until well after that time, who spoke for the Lord Jesus and the apostles in the interim?”
You replied: “This makes unwarranted assumptions about the rate of dissemination. We know, for example, that Paul had couriers who transported his letters a considerable distance. We also know that some letters were always meant to widely circulate (e.g. Gal 1:3; Col 4:16; 1 Pet 1:1).”
How does this make “unwarranted assumptions about the rate of dissemination”? You state that “Paul had couriers who transported his letters a considerable distance, and that we “know that some letters were always meant to widely circulate (e.g. Gal 1:3; Col 4:16; 1 Pet 1:1).” But how does this remotely suggest that every church – or even most of them – within the universal Church were in possession of all the NT books? My question still stands unanswered.#21 -- I wrote: “ . . . how is one to plausibly imagine the transition from the partially oral framework of authoritative instruction (OT + teachings of Jesus and apostles) to a wholly written framework (OT + NT) required by this hypothesis? Gregory Krehbiel offers a wry scenario: ‘One imagines all the churches dutifully obeying Paul’s oral instructions on the Eucharist [1 Cor 11:34] and anxiously awaiting the publication in the Antiochian Post of the last apostle’s obituary, at which point they are to rewrite their book of church order and eliminate everything based on oral instructions.’ The whole idea, of course, seem ridiculous, but scarcely more so than some of the assertions commonly made in this connection (see n. 30).”
You replied: “What is ridiculous is the assumption that orality preceded textuality, as if you had to have an oral stage of transmission prior to a textual stage.”
Nothing. What is implausible is the assumption that the textual tradition absorbed everything intended for the ongoing governance of the Church from the tradition of oral teaching and instruction -- as suggested in Krehbiel’s wry scenario above.#22 -- [Note: skipping over some of Hays’ arguments, I pick up where he takes Newman’s oft-quoted statement (“to be deep into history is to cease to be Protestant”) and inverts it to read: “To be deep in Bible history is to cease to be a Catholic.”]
But this is nonsense, as any careful reading of the patristics will show. It was Newman’s own reading of the patristics that convinced him that he, as an Anglican, stood on the wrong side of the divide between the Athanasius and Arius on the question of authority. It was also Newman who discovered that there was more evidence among the patristics for belief in things like Purgatory than there was for belief in the Trinity. Of course, he embraced both; but the point is that the record of patristic history is an empirical one open for the inspection by all willing to examine it, and that it confutes the historical conceits of most Protestants. I would encourage each reader to examine it carefully and honestly for himself and draw his own conclusions. My view is that the Catholic Church’s credentials, at this point, are utterly irrefutable.#23 -- You wrote: “Catholics have no historical consciousness or groundedness when it comes to the history of the NT church or the covenant community in OT times.”
I’m afraid the writer of such words has little acquaintance with the historical biblical scholarship of Catholics. The French and Spanish and German and Italian scholarship here would take pages to relate. However, even sticking to Catholic converts, one may reference numerous biblical scholars who found the OT and NT data confirmatory of their Catholic convictions – including Kenneth Cooper (former NT professor at Covenant Seminary, St. Louis), Kenneth Howell (former NT professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, MS), William Farmer (Prof. of NT at the University of Dallas), Scott Hahn (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and author of many biblical studies), Robert Sungenis (graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary and author of many biblical studies), not to mention the likes of John Henry Newman, Ronald Knox, Henry G. Graham, etc. – none of whom anyone in his right mind would accuse of “having no historical consciousness.” So it is difficult to find your generalization credible.#24 -- I wrote: “But then, in all seriousness, what is the partisan of sola scriptura to say about those who remembered the oral instructions of the apostles—concerning, say, the Eucharistic liturgy—who perhaps even wrote down and preserved these, even though they never made it into the NT canon?”
You replied: “That’s irrelevant to the epistemic situation of a 21C Christian.”
How is it “irrelevant to the epistemic situation of a 21C Christian” whether a partisan of sola scriptura can say whether oral instructions concerning, say, the Eucharistic liturgy, made it into the canon or not? Partisans of non-liturgical traditions of worship (what the historian, Joseph Strayer, called “four walls and a sermon”) may consider liturgy an arbitrary matter, but Catholics do not, because they believe God is to be worshipped, not as we wish, but as He wishes -- in a manner divinely revealed through Sacred Tradition, which involves at its center the sacramental presentation of the once-for-all, atoning sacrifice of Christ.#25 -- I wrote: “The writings of the early Church are filled with extrabiblical sayings of Jesus, practices of the Christian community, liturgical and Eucharistic formulas, and so forth, which presuppose the divine origin and authority of these things.”
You replied: “[The writings of the early Church are] filled with apocryphal sayings.”
Since, most Protestants disagree with Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox over what constitutes the authentic canon of Scripture, they have different understandings and usages of the term "apocryphal." Catholics, for example, do not traditionally equate the Deuterocanical books with "apocryphal" writings (see "Apocrypha," Catholic Encyclopedia). Accordingly, you neglect to distinguish between “apocryphal” sayings, here, which Catholics also recognize as "apocryphal" (i.e., pseudepigrapha, falsely attributed writings professing to have been written by biblical personages or their associates) and extra-biblical writings, which not only Catholics but many other Christians accept as perfectly orthodox, if non-canonical, writings, such as the patristic Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, and so forth.#26 -- I wrote: “ . . . what is the Protestant Partisan to do with [ecclesial] instructions and practices that claim to be apostolic but were never put in writing in the NT?”
You replied: “Blosser is also operating with a rather quaint and outmoded motion [sic.] of tradition, as if sacred tradition has reference to a fixed body of extrascriptural instructions which Christ privately communicated to the Apostles.”
Catholics distinguish between lower-case “tradition,” which refers to everything that is passed down to us from the past, and upper-case “Tradition” (as in “Sacred Tradition”), which refers to that part of tradition (such as the decrees of the ecumenical councils) which are understood to be binding upon Christian faith. There’s nothing curious or outmoded or odd about this. It’s simply a result of the Catholic recognition of an authoritative interpreter of tradition, competent to sort out what is binding from what is not. We believe in what was passed down from Athanasius (the trinitarian dogma), not what is passed down from Arius (a denial of Christ’s divinity).#27 -- I wrote: “There is no reason to suppose that early Church practices are contrary to apostolic teaching or were intended to be only temporary, simply because we can find no explicit description of them in Scripture today.”
You wrote: “ . . . there’s no reason to assume that [early Church practices] weren’t [contrary to apostolic teaching or intended to be temporary].”
But there is. From the beginning right up through the Middle Ages, Catholics were constantly set on reconciling and justifying their beliefs and practices with Scripture. Anyone versed in early fathers such as Irenaeus, Jerome, Augustine, and Chrystostom knows this. And this is true even where the beliefs and practices in question are alien to Evangelicalism, such as beliefs concerning prayers for the dead, purgatory, Mary’s perpetual virginity, etc., etc.#28 -- [Note: Hays next proceeds criticize my reference to Krehbiel’s citation of 2 Chronicles 29:25 and 35:4 (as a biblical example of a reference to extra-biblical divine commands now lost to history) by stating that it represents an “anachronistic definition of sola Scripture . . .” He also claims that I equivocate over the meaning of “tradition,” even though “Blosser knows perfectly well that not all tradition ranks as sacred tradition.” He then says that it’s irrelevant that ancient kings of Israel had access to “non-canonical” sources of information, because we don’t have those sources anymore.
First, how Krehbiel’s or my definition of sola scriptura is “anachronistic” is not explained. Second, it’s true indeed that I know perfectly well that not all tradition ranks as sacred tradition. But, in the first place, how does this square with your earlier dismissal of my appeal to “sacred tradition” as “a rather quaint and outmoded motion [sic.] of tradition, as if sacred tradition has reference to a fixed body of extrascriptural instructions which Christ privately communicated to the Apostles” (a distorted caricature of my view); and, in the second place, since you conflate “sacred tradition” with that which accords with what you happen to find in Scripture, the possibility of a normative extra-biblical category of “Sacred Tradition” is excluded a priori and without the warrant of credible argument. Third, you classify the divine commands referenced in 2 Chronicles 29:25 and 35:4 as “non-canonical” since the commands are nowhere to be found in our present OT canon, but you thereby also assume a principle at odds with the cited texts, which clearly assume that the commands of the Lord can be conveyed through the recollected words of prophets long deceased and implemented as having a continuing binding authority, even though no written records of these commands survived in Scripture. In other words, Hezekiah and Solomon accepted as “Sacred Tradition” the commands of God nowhere recorded in the OT. Your view would exclude such a possibility. You would have to disregard any extra-biblical tradition such as they referenced as though it had no binding authority.#29 -- [Note: Hays proceeds to state that he has addressed the question of whether sola scriptura is self-referentially self-consistent because it isn’t explicitly supported by Scripture most recently in a post replying to Scott Carson entitled “Up the Tiber Without a Paddle” (Tribalogue, December 27, 2006). I will not offer a point-by-point fisking of his remarks on that post because it is equally long as this and does not seem anywhere to directly answer the challenge at issue. As far as I can see, this question remains unanswered.]
Another illustration of the same principle can be found in the Book of Acts. The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) imposed upon the first Christians in Antioch the prohibition of blood and the meat of strangled animals, and this decree of the bishops in Jerusalem was identified with the will of the Holy Spirit. In the absence of any biblical text rescinding this decree, would you understand Christians in Antioch as still bound by this prohibition, and, if not, why not? Would it be a transgression of God’s will for a citizen of Antioch, say, traveling in the UK to sample Scottish Black Pudding (blood pudding)? Catholics, who understand the Church as embodying an ongoing and living prophetic office, have no problem with such questions, since the Church is understood as having the authority to rescind decrees pertaining to matters of discipline (not dogma), such as the prohibition of eating meat on Fridays, etc. But how would an advocate of sola scriptura adjudicate the matter?
#30 -- I wrote: “ . . . sola scriptura represents a minority position among Bible-believing Christians; and historically it is a relative novelty, entertained by nobody explicitly prior to Wyclif in the 14th century.”
You replied: “Historically, most Christians were illiterate. Historically, most Christians didn’t own private copies of the Bible. So to talk about the majority or minority position among “Bible-believing” Christians is pretty anachronistic.”
The question of what percentage of Christendom was literate or owned copies of the Bible is altogether irrelevant to the question of whether or not they believed the Bible to be the exclusive authority over faith and morals. The expression “Bible-believing Christians” as applied to Evangelicals may be anachronistic as applied to ancient and medieval Christians. Indeed, I willingly assert that it is. However, it is not anachronistic to suggest that they believed the Bible. St. Jerome: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” However, the view that the Bible alone was to be regarded as authoritative in faith and morals is historically a relative novelty, entertained by nobody explicitly prior to perhaps Wyclif in the 14th century” and Hus in the 15th.#31 -- I wrote: “The claim that Scripture is ‘self-interpreting’ is self-serving and sophistical at this point, because conflicting interpretations make this claim.”
You replied: “What is sophistical is Blosser’s assertion that sola Scriptura is equivalent to the claim that Scripture is self-interpreting. But sola Scriptura doesn’t depend on that claim.”
Have I asserted that sola scriptura is equivalent to the claim that Scripture is self-interpreting? Where? I could be wrong, but I don’t think I make that equation anywhere. They are two different (though not unrelated) assertions. Having said that, it is not I but my seminary professors at Westminster Theological Seminary who repeatedly drew the connection between these two items for me from the Protestant Reformers on up through contemporary Reformed theologians.You continued: “At issue is the authority of Scripture over against the authority of tradition, and not whether extrascriptural evidence, such as Biblical archeology, is pertinent to the interpretation of Scripture.”
No, at issue is the authority of Scripture over the authority of Sacred Tradition, independent of such data as Biblical archeology. The way you put the matter disjunctively separates what Catholics see as belonging together – that is, the data of Sacred Tradition (both biblical and extra-biblical). The Bible is part of Sacred Tradition, the most important part (Catholics might accept prima scriptura, in some sense, though not sola scriptura), but not the only part.#32 -- You proceed to ask: “And how does Blosser establish [the authority that the Catholic Church claims]? By what non-circular evidence?”
Anybody who knows anything about the nature of logical demonstration knows that there is no disinterested way of conclusively establishing in a cogent way that will be accepted by all rational people (1) the existence of God, (2) that the world is more than five minutes old, having popped into existence with all the appearance it then had of age, (3) the existence of other minds, (4) the reliability of the deliveries of our sense perception of a sensible world external to our minds, let alone (5) sola scriptura or (6) the authority of the Catholic Church. This isn’t to say that rational decisions about these sorts of questions cannot be made. They can and should. But any Protestant who has read Plantinga’s work should know that the days of simple foundationalist evidentialism are over. That theory is unequal to its task. There is an important place for evidence, to be sure, and I have already spoken for the empirical record of Church history; but the picture is more complicated by that. I refer interested readers to the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman’s An Essay in Aid of a Grammar Of Assent.You continued: “Imagine, for example, how an Armenian or Orthodox or Coptic Christian would often agree with Blosser’s conclusions, but simply plug his own church into the premise.”
Indeed . . . just as there is, not far from here, a Gooch Gap Turkey Covian Baptist Church -- a denomination unto itself -- which likely claims to be the true Church of Christ. However, there is a grammar of assent, as Newman not only claims but argues persuasively. One must adjudicate between the conflicting claims, assessing each on its own terms. Do the Eastern Orthodox Christians do justice to the claims of their early Church fathers regarding the See of Rome, for example? The fact that questions such as these are hotly contested, you should agree, does not make us relativists who deny there is no final answer to these matters.#33 -- I wrote: “ . . . sola scriptura is self-referentially inconsistent also because the Bible contains no inspired index of its own contents and cannot even be identified as a Revelation except on extrabiblical grounds of tradition, in violation of sola scriptura.”
You replied: “This is either simplistic or tendentious. (1) True, the Bible lacks a formal index. But the Bible has an informal index in the form of intertextuality. The Bible is a highly cross-referential work; (2) the Bible also falls into various units, as a concentric subset of larger units . . . ; (3) there are the individual claims of individual books – [one] doesn’t need a collective claim to establish a collection if one can establish the collection distributively, one book at a time; (4) to say that we cannot identify the Bible, or individual books thereof, as divine revelation apart from tradition is simply question-begging; and (5) It also invites an infinite regress. How do we identify authentic tradition?”
How does any of this get you a complete biblical canon? Granted, Peter obliquely references certain “difficult writings” of Paul as ‘scripture’, but he doesn’t say which. Further, as mentioned earlier, Luther was ready to throw out four of the NT books as “non-canonical,” because he saw them as theologically opposed to his own understandings. I leave it to the reader to judge what is “simply question-begging” here. How do we identify authentic tradition? If there is a prophetic office, we don’t need to. The Church has done that work for us throughout the entirety of her long well-attested tradition.#34 -- [Note: When I asked how the partisan of sola scripture establishes the canonicity of individual books, whether by individual guidance by the Holy Spirit, or tradition, but without recourse to ecclesiastical authority, Hays did not answer the question. Instead, he replied as follows.]
You wrote: “. . . I don’t employ either approach, but to answer the question on its own grounds, why is it unreasonable to suppose that God would witness to the Church, but not to individuals? And doesn’t Blosser’s belief in the indefectibility of the Church boil down to a subset of individuals within the church, viz. the papacy and episcopate?”
It’s not unreasonable to suppose that God would witness to both the Church and to individuals. What is unreasonable is assuming that God witnesses only to individuals but not corporately in a decisively authoritative manner to the Church, which is what you have in the unrefutable data of hundreds of Protestant denominations headed by individuals and groups who claim to be guided by sola scriptura and by the Holy Spirit, yet teach radically antithetical doctrines about the most basic things Christ commanded us: “Go . . . baptize,” “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you,” “do this in remembrance of me,” etc. In acts 15 the bishops of the Church identified their decree with the will of the Holy Spirit, and none of us blink an eye. Today hundreds of Protestant teachers claim the guidance of the Holy Spirit while contradicting one another. Folks, we have a problem. The Holy Spirit doesn’t contradict Himself.You continued: “ . . . doesn’t Blosser’s belief in the indefectibility of the Church boil down to a subset of individuals within the church, viz. the papacy and episcopate?”
The indefectibility of the Church does not “boil down to a subset of individuals,” understood as Protestants understand autonomous atomistic membership of the laity. The Pope and bishops (consenting with him) are invested according to Catholic tradition with a charism of indefectability such as no other individuals possess. This is the equivalent of the Prophetic Office of the OT. It is the same charism that the Apostles possessed when they were guided infallibly by the Holy Spirit in writing Scripture. No Evangelical has trouble accepting the infallibile guidance of a fallible human being when it comes to the process of inscripturation. The problem surfaces in their thinking only when it comes to those who succeed – in apostolic succession -- the last apostle after his death. They cannot seem to imagine God infallibly guiding the successors of the apostles any more than they can imagine the apostles themselves being thus infallibly guided in their teaching before they set themselves down to writing Scripture. The relevant question would be: why? By what canon have they established this division in Church history?#35 -- I wrote: “Do you let each individual sort out Church history for himself?”
You answered: “How else would someone judge the claims of Rome?”
Fair question; but it confuses two issues. The first issue is: How do you come to assent to the truth of Rome’s claims? And, of course, there is no other way but to sift through the data and respective claims prayerfully and as best you can. The second issue is: Who has the authority to interpret Church history properly? And, of course, for the Catholic who has been led to assent to Rome’s claims, there is no answer but the Church and her Magisterium (teaching authority). Authority isn’t an arbitrary matter, like power. Authority is “author’s rights,” as Peter Kreeft somewhere points out. It’s about getting back to what the author intended. Who has the right to speak for the Author of the Church (Christ)? He who is lawfully commissioned to do so, of course, His Vicar or Representative (or “Ambassador,” if you will). I wouldn’t expect you to assent to these Catholic claims where you are now; but I should hope that you would note that the case isn’t altogether different from that involved in claiming authority (“Author’s rights”) for the writings of the Bible.#36 -- In response to my claim that Luther’s early rejection of the canonicity of Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation represents a prima facie case against sola scriptura, you reply: “No, it only constitutes a prima facie case against Luther’s criteria.”
I’ll grant your point. His criteria were certainly defective in assuming that James 2:24 contradicted Romans 3:28, for example (it doesn’t, when properly understood). But your answer skirts the larger issue, I think. The larger question is this: If I accept sola scriptura, then on what grounds do I dispute Luther’s early rejection of four NT books? I can’t appeal to Sacred Tradition as Catholics understand it, since that presupposes an ongoing Prophetic Office to interpret what is authoritative in tradition and what is not. I can’t appeal to Scripture, because it doesn’t tell me that James or Romans is a canonical book. Hence, the question remains. Doubtless you will endeavor to marshall such criteria for authorship as having been an eyewitness to the Resurrection of Christ, etc., etc. But such criteria always run into problems. We don’t know who some of the authors were, as in the case of the Book of Hebrews.#37 -- I quoted Peter Kreeft who wrote that sola scriptura “violates the principle of causality: that an effect cannot be greater than its cause. [But the] Church (the apostles) wrote Scripture, and the successors of the apostles, the bishops of the Church, decided on the canon, the list of books to be declared scriptural and infallible. If Scripture is infallible, then its cause, the Church, must also be infallible.”
You replied: (1) “Notice the patent equivocation of terms: the Church equals the Apostolate. But even as a Roman Catholic, Blosser would scarcely limit the Church to the Apostolate.”
True, there’s a semantic equivocation here in Kreeft's statement, though it doesn't violate the logic of dynamic equivalence. In other words, in the context of his argument the equivocation is benign, since it represents a distinction without a difference. Furthermore, there’s an important truth in Kreeft’s identification of the Church with the apostles and bishops of the Church. The Apostles were the first bishops of the Church. (When Peter called for a successor to Judas to be chosen and Matthias was selected by the Holy Spirit, the King James Version translates the Greek quotation of Psalm 69:25 (applying it to Matthias’ succession of Judas) thus: “Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein; and his bishopric let another take” (Acts 1:20). While it’s true that the sub-apostolic bishops were not apostles, in the sense of the immediate disciples of Jesus who witnessed His Resurrection, they were nevertheless lawfully appointed successors in the “apostolic succession.” They were invested, according to Catholic understanding, with the same charism of infallible teaching authority as the apostles were.Secondly, you replied: (2) “I’d add that the logic is pretty slippery. Isn’t David greater than Jesse? Isn’t Abraham greater than Terah?”
This misrepresents the logic of causality, that an effect cannot be greater than its cause. (a) In what sense is “David is greater than Jesse” or “Abraham greater than Terah”? They are both “greater” in terms of the divinely delegated role and authority with which they are invested by God in His redemptive plan. But then the cause of that role and authority is God, not their biological fathers, so the principle remains intact and unassaulted: the effect is not greater than its cause, since their authority is not greater than its cause, which is God. (b) If the claim that “David is greater than Jesse” and “Abraham greater than Terah” is taken as violating the principle of causality in question, it is because it is assumed that the causality in question applies to human biological generation, so that the father would be naturally the cause (and therefore ‘greater’) than the begotten son as the effect (which would therefore be seen as ‘lesser’). But seen strictly in genetic or biological terms, the principle of causality is not violated either, because the effect is not greater than its cause: the son is not “more human” than his father.#38 -- I wrote: “Protestants already accept implicitly the principle that God can infallibly guide fallible humans to teach infallibly, both in the oral teachings of the prophets and apostles, and in the writing of Scripture. But there is no more reason why one should deny that God infallibly guided the process by which the Church ‘discovered”’ the canon than the process by which the Church ‘wrote’ the books contained in it.”
You replied: “Same equivocation. The Church didn’t write the canonical Scriptures. The Church didn’t write the Pentateuch, or Job, or Isaiah, or the Psalms, or the Gospels, or Romans. Blosser is playing a shell-game.”
Nonsense. What difference does it make whether I say the “Church” canonized Scripture or the bishops of the Church canonized it? True, in either case, individual human beings were involved. But the relevant point is that both evangelical Protestants and Catholics take the authors of Scriptures to have been granted by God the special charism of infallible guidance – a charism none of us laity possess. I do not deny you the right to reject the claim that the Catholic bishops who canonized Scripture were invested with the same charism, but I do think it interesting that few evangelical Protestants would question for a moment the utter infallible certainty of the canon that they have been gifted by Catholic Tradition (with the exception of the Deuterocanonical Books). If you wish to call this a “shell game,” be my guest; but be assured that you have the Easter Letter (AD 367) of Athanasius [pictured right] and the Synod of Rome (AD 382) Augustine's Synods of Hippo (AD 393) and Carthage (AD 397) with which to contend.#39 -- In response to evangelical apologist James White’s attempt to link the Catholic Church’s infallibility to human fallible choices, trying to undercut the interlocutor’s subjective certainty, I ask: “But one could reply that a person’s decision to follow Christ is also a decision of a fallible human being. Does this mean one should feel uncertain about following Christ?”
You reply: “Catholicism denies that a Christian can be certain of his salvation. So the parallel undercuts the very thing it’s adduced to support.
Catholicism denies presumption of salvation, not a sure hope based on the promises of Christ. Much of what goes by the rubric of “assurance” in certain quarters of Protestantism strikes Catholics as sheer presumption, such as the out-of-context quotations of Luther’s injunction to “sin boldly” in light of the “Christian liberty,” and so forth. But that’s another question.You continued: “What Blosser has given the reader is an argument from analogy minus the argument. Why assume that the two cases are analogous?”
Because both rest on subjective human (and therefore fallible) judgments. This doesn’t imply a counsel of skepticism, but the simple realization that any epistemic claims, if assessed in terms of the algorithmic/apodictic canons of Cartesian methodical skepticism, will land us nowhere. That was my point in response to James White.You continued: “The issue isn’t one of epistemic parity, but epistemic superiority. Does Catholicism confer an epistemic advantage?”
Not if we’re talking about Cartesian subjective certainty in the face of radical skepticism, no. But granting a certain epistemic realism in one’s comportment toward the world, I should say it offers monumental advantages in terms of offering a picture of Church history which finally allows the pieces of the puzzle to fit together. How can you adjudicate between, say, the Reformed and Catholic views of authority here? There is no easy way. Alasdair MacIntyre, I think, suggests the most plausible way, even if it remains extremely difficult. The analogy he uses is language. The superiority of one language over another can only be appreciated by the person who is competent in both languages, where one language offers ways of articulating meanings lacking in the other, for instance. The Reformed picture of the world and of Church history offered by Bavinck, Kuyper, Berkouwer, et al., is reasonably coherent, in my view. But the trick would be to see how it stacks up against the Catholic view, having mastered its “language.” The only way to do that is with brutal honesty and charity, a herculean task.#40 -- You ask: “Is an infallible church an advantage over a fallible church? How is it advantageous to pile on one interpretive layer atop another? The Bible plus the councils plus the encyclicals plus the ordinary magisterium, &c.”
Absolutely. The professors at Westminster Theological Seminary taught me that the only progress in dogmatics and creeds is through progressive analysis, refinement and differentiation, not through further synthesis, summary and generalization. Thus the Nicene Creed [depicted being held, right, by Holy Fathers of the Nicene Council] is a clear advance over the Apostles’ Creed, even though they address slightly different concerns – the former responding to a denial of Christ’s humanity, the latter to a denial of His divinity. While it’s true that the decrees of no ecumenical council may be the last word on a matter, they do decisively conclude speculation on certain points. For example, since Nicea and Chalcedon, there’s no more room for speculation about Christ’s possible non-divinity. That matter is settled. Other questions may arise, but then the Church is there to authoritatively declare her mind on the matter, bringing further clarification. Read John Henry Cardinal Newman’s An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. It’s absolutely brilliant.#41 -- I wrote: “The doctrine that Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the regula fidei—the infallible rule for the ongoing faith and life of the Church—is of highly improbable orthodoxy since it had no defender for the first thirteen centuries of the Church. It does not belong to historic Christianity.”
You replied: “Observe his utterly provincial outlook, as if the covenant community began at Pentecost. The people of God have been around since antediluvian times.”
That’s a gratuitous cheap shot, my friend. Please. I was referring to “Christianity,” not to the “covenant” transcending Old and New testaments. But for the sake of the argument, let’s entertain your reference to the “covenant people of God,” which, I assure you, we both know “have been around since antediluvian times.” How does this change my argument? Does it weaken it in any way? If anything, would it not strengthen it? For if evidence for the doctrine of sola scriptura as the exclusive regula fidei of the covenant people of God is sorely meager in Church history preceding the Protestant Reformation, it is hardly more ample in Old Testament times when they subsisted under the spiritual government of prophets and judges.#42 -- I wrote: “Second, sola scriptura is inconsistent with the practice of the NT Church.”
You replied: “He continues his anachronistic definition of sola Scriptura. Obviously a living Apostle is as good as a written Apostle. But that’s beside the point 2000 years down the pike.”
First, I’m not sure what you mean by “anachronistic” in this context. Nothing you’ve written so far clearly defines what you mean, although you use the term repeatedly. I gather that it signifies for you something pejorative, but little more. Second, it’s not at all beside the point that you’re willing to concede that a “living Apostle is as good as a written Apostle.” This is precisely the point, because what you’re conceding is that God’s infallible guidance applies not only to the ipsissima verba of Scriptures authored by the Apostles but also to their spoken extra-biblical words while they were yet living and teaching. This is a momentous concession, for it constitutes an admission of a central plank in the Catholic understanding of how Revelation is communicated, which includes not only written Scripture but the living teaching (prophetic) office of the Apostolate, which they see as residing not only historically in the Apostles while they were yet living, but in their lawfully ordained successors. If God could infallibly guide the Apostles in their teaching ministry and keep them from falling into doctrinal error (which is different from sins such as hypocrisy, such as Paul confronted in Peter at Antioch), then why should we assume that this divine charism (gift) of infallible guidance should cease with the death of the last Apostle? Peter’s leadership in selecting Matthias in the apostolic succession after the death of Judas in Acts 1 suggests continuity, not a rupture.#43 -- I wrote: “Second, the apostles died centuries before the NT was fully canonized, and well before each church had copies of all the books that would later make up the NT.”
You replied: “We’ve already discussed this overstatement.”
Yes, you have; although I’m not so sanguine that you’ve shown how it’s an “overstatement.”#44 -- I wrote: “Yet someone had to be ‘in charge’ during these years who had the authority to declare, ‘This is orthodox,’ and ‘That is heterodox.’ The authorized successors to the apostles were the ones in charge.”
You replied: (1) “It depends, in part, on what one means by ‘authorized’ successors. The NT has no episcopate in the Catholic sense of the word—just the pastorate and deaconate.”
This is certainly the standard Presbyterian and Reformed line, isn’t it; and although one does find the Greek terms diakonos, presbyteros, and episkopos from which we derive ‘deacon’, ‘priest’ (a contraction of the Late Latin presbyter via Middle English preist, Old English prEost and colloquial ‘prester’, from presbyteros), and ‘bishop’ (from the Middle English bishop, from Old English bisceop, from Late Latin episcopus, from Greek episkopos), the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition is adamant about conflating the offices of the presbyteroi and episkopoi and calling both “elders” – sometimes distinguishing “teaching elders” (pastors) from “ruling elders” (‘presbyters’ who sit on the governing consistory or presbytery of denominational body). Their rationale for the conflation is that the terms appear to be used, at times, interchangeably. It is a widespread conceit that the three-fold offices found in Catholic tradition was only a later, perhaps medieval development. This assumption is so widespread today due to the pervasive dominance of Protestant textbook traditions even in Catholic theological teaching that you will even find Catholics who blithely concede the point. But I beg to differ.You continued: (2) “Notice how Blosser treats ecclesiastic authority as a makeweight in the (alleged) absence of Scripture. But the authority to declare one thing orthodox and another heterodox doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Apart from a sufficient basis in revelation, a clergyman lacks the authority to render such a value-judgment. Such a pronouncement can’t be made out of thin air by appeal to raw authority. Rather, the clergyman must be in a position to render an informed judgment.”
First, all through the writings of the sub-apostolic patristics, one finds a clear articulation of the three-fold distinction between deacon, priest, and bishop found in Catholicism. For example, in the Letter to the Magnesians by Ignatius of Antioch [depicted in an icon, right], one reads: “Take care to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop (episcopos) presiding in the place of God and with the presbyters (presbyteroi) in the place of the council of the Apostles, and with the deacons (diakonoi), who are most dear to me, entrusted with the business of Jesus Christ . . .” (6, 1). Ignatius’ letters repeatedly reiterates this threefold distinction of offices; and Ignatius was a contemporary of the Apostle John.
Second, according to the Catholic understanding of these three offices, although all priests (presbyteroi) are not bishops (episkopoi), a bishop (episkopoi) is by definition also simultaneously a priest (presbyteros), which accounts for the occasional interchangeable use of the two terms. A bishop is simply a priest who has been ordained in the apostolic succession to the office of ‘overseer’ – as we would say in terms of our contemporary rubrics, an overseer of a “diocese.”
This assumes that in the absence of Scripture, ecclesiastic authority has no basis in divine Revelation for judgment. But why assume that? Why assume that Revelation is exhausted in Scripture? Those who submitted to the OT prophets or NT apostles surely didn’t assume that. The Westminster divines who spoke of extra-biblical revelation in nature surely didn’t assume that. “Clergyman” connotes a Protestant layman functioning in the role of a ‘pastor’, and I would agree that such an individual would have no authority to render any spiritually binding religious judgments or decrees in a vacuum “by appeal to raw authority.” If he appealed to “the Bible,” this may carry some weight, seeing that the Bible is the inspired Word of God; however, his interpretation of what the Bible means may not necessarily carry any more weight than the opinion of a Jehovah’s Witness, who like him, believes ostensibly in sola scriptura and holds a “high view of scripture.” Catholics receive the instruction of their priests and bishops as authoritative because of their ordination in the apostolic succession, which binds their teaching to the Apostolic Deposit of Faith and the Sacred Tradition of the Church by which the interpretation of that Deposit has been developed and refined and passed down to us. It is altogether misleading to construe a doctrine such as “papal infallibility” as conferring carte blanche for a pope to arbitrarily invent new doctrines or teach whatever he wishes; rather, it binds his teaching to an irreformable Sacred Tradition that can be traced back through all the ecumenical councils to the Apostolic Deposit of Faith in the time of the NT itself. What do we do if a priest teaches error? We point it out. We ask: Doesn’t that contradict official Church teaching? Church teaching is the public record of defined doctrine (which we call “dogma”) that constitutes the binding content of the Christian Faith.You continued: (3) “And even if, for the sake of argument, we conceded his methodology, it directly undercuts Catholicism, for there were undoubtedly many times and places in church history during which the lower clergy and even many members of the upper clergy were abysmally ignorant or even illiterate. So you see, once again, how a Catholic polemicist has no genuine historical consciousness. Rather, he treats church history like an axiomatic system in which you posit certain initial conditions, analogous to self-evident first-truths, to yield the desired results. Blosser does church history the way Leibniz does Monadology.”
I’m not entirely sure what your point is here, but let me make a run at trying to understand it. Perhaps you’re suggesting that if Catholic clergy were ever abysmally ignorant or illiterate, then they could not have been well-versed in Scripture, so they must have lacked the ability to teach and instruct with proper authority what the laity needed to understand for their salvation – something like that? Well, although in the worst of the Dark Ages, it was only the clergy who likely received any education in reading and writing at all, I suppose it’s possible that there were times and places where comparative ignorance and illiteracy existed (although I often think this is an overwrought modernist conceit: I often think we live in the midst of Dark Ages today nearly as bad, if not worse in some ways, than that which lasted from the Fall of the Roman Empire until the coronation of Charlemagne. Why today we even have people who buy into The Myth that the medievals believed in a flat earth)! What did parishioners garner from their parish life? From the stained glass, they probably understood many of the basic Bible stories from the Old and New Testaments. From the requirement of confession, they understood that they were sinners. From the Mass itself, they saw that their salvation depended upon Christ’s sacrifice of Himself. Pretty basic, I admit, but probably more than a lot of our churches contemporaries these days, sad to say. But there’s also a difference here in how we understand religious authority. You see it as deriving more-or-less directly from the Bible that the clergyman has at his fingertips. Catholics see it as deriving from Ecclesia Mater et Magister, the Church which, as guardian of Scripture, is both our Mother who nourishes us and Teacher who instructs us.#45 -- I wrote: “Third, to recognize the authority of the apostles’ oral teaching but to assume that this teaching was transmitted without residue into the NT requires jiggery-pokery, as we have seen. One must assume either that everything they ever taught made it into the NT, or cobble together some sort of arbitrary criterion for explaining why those teachings and instructions that did not make it into the NT either (a) lacked authority, (b) ceased to have authority after the apostles died, or (c) may have had some sort of authority but lacked infallibility, divine inspiration, or the like. But then, what sort of criterion could be offered that would avoid the circularity of arguing that only what is inscripturated is inspired because what is not inscripturated is not inspired?”
You replied: (1) “It’s simply a question of verification. What is Scriptural is inspired. What is unscriptural may or may not have been inspired. At this stage of the game, it’s impossible to verify unscriptural traditions.”
Yes, it is a question of verification. That’s the problem isn’t it. You’re saying that unscriptural traditions can’t be verified, that it’s impossible. Is it possible to verify scriptural traditions, then? If so, how? The question is one of criteria? What I’m banking on is that I don’t think you can come up with a set of criteria large enough to include all the canonical books yet small enough to exclude those like the Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas and Didache, which aren’t canonical yet are completely orthodox. You can’t consistently appeal to Catholic Tradition as having any authority; so you must have some set of alternative criteria.You continued: (2) “And that’s precisely why God inspired Apostles and prophets to commit some of their material to writing. For that supplies the permanent record and reference point for historical revelation. This principle goes all the way back to the Pentateuch, where a documentary covenant is the future reference point for posterity. And the New Covenant follows the same principle.”
Well, at least we agree on the necessity and authority of the permanent inscripturated record; but that doesn’t mean Catholics agree with you on its sufficiency. You’ve probably heard the analogy before, which says that God giving us only a Bible without a Church to interpret it is like the U.S. Constitutional Assembly giving each of us a copy of the U.S. Constitution to govern ourselves without a Supreme Court to interpret it for us. Like all analogies, it falls short of perfection, because the Supreme Court is not invested with a divine charism of infallible divine guidance; but it does make a nice point.#46 -- I wrote: “Third, [sola scriptura] overlooks the extrabiblical influences on its adherents…The important question is whether or not the tradition in question is the one that Christ instituted and committed to his apostles to be passed down through His Church.”
You replied: “Sola Scriptura involves primatial authority. It doesn’t mean, and never meant, that Scripture exists in an airtight compartment. Scripture is no substitute for providence, just as providence is no substitute for Scripture.”
This sidesteps the issue in question, which was developed in the part of the quoted paragraph you omitted, which has to do with “extrabiblical influences” on the adherents of sola scriptura . In other words, no interpreter of Scripture approaches it in a vacuum. You are a Calvinist as opposed to an Arminian, a cessationist as opposed to a charismatic, an amillennialist as opposed to a premillenialist, a sacramental nominalist (Zwinglian) as opposed to a realist, among other things, as you reveal in your profile, and (a) these perspectives can’t help but color your particular reading of Scripture, and (b) you can’t pretend each of these perspectives was simply derived from Scripture (without having every Arminian, for example, taking vociferous issue with you).#47 -- You deny my claim that an outlook of sacramental realism pervaded the very identity and self-understanding” of the historical church. You ask: “Which church? The Catholic church? Yes. The NT church? No. The Old Covenant community? No.”
I could identify any number of patristic and sub-apostolic texts from the likes of Augustine, Irenaeus, Ignatius of Antioch [depicted right being martyred in Rome], which articulate a realistic sacramentalism. Ignatius, again, warns against those who hold heterodox opinions in his Letter to the Smyrneans, “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, Flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His goodness, raised up again” (6, 2). In his Letter to the Romans, he writes: “I desire the Bread of God, which is the Flesh of Jesus Christ . . . and for drink I desire His Blood . . .” (7, 3). In his Letter to the Philadelphians, he says “. . . for there is one Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup in the union of His Blood . . .” (3, 2). If we remember that Ignatius was a contemporary of the Apostle John, and then read Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel, it’s difficult not to note the parallel sacramental realism of John 6:53-54, where Jesus says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” For that matter, there is no lack of sacramental realism in Paul’s warning (I Cor 11:29), “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” And then, further strengthening the case, he adds (in verse 30): “That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.” More than mere symbolism at work here, quite evidently.#48 -- I wrote: “The seat of real authority was removed from the Church, as the teacher of Scripture, and placed on the individual interpreter of Scripture alone; where it was never meant to be.”
On the other hand, I’m banking on the assumption that you will be hard pressed to find any reference in the patristics or the NT that portrays the sacraments as having exclusively a symbolical significance. I stress the term exclusively, because Catholics, too, recognize sacraments as symbols; and you will not want for Church fathers who will refer to the sacraments as symbols and signs. The difference is this: according to Catholic Tradition, a sacrament effects what it symbolizes. It is an “outward sign of an inward grace,” as the traditional definition goes. As an outward sign, it is a symbol. The bread in the Mass symbolizes the Body of Christ, the wine symbolizes His Precious Blood. However, it does not end there. That would be Zwinglianism. The bread and wine become His Precious Body and Blood. So it will not due to point out, simply, that Augustine uses the word ‘symbol’ when speaking of the Bread. He certainly does. But he also goes on elsewhere to speak of the Bread as the real Body of Christ upon which the faithful feed in the Eucharist. So my challenge to you is to find a text anywhere among the patristics or NT which claims that the sacraments are exclusively symbolic.
You replied: “Blosser has a bad habit of personifying the Church. But the church is a collection of individuals. And teaching authority has always been exercised by individuals. It’s just a question of which individuals.”
What you refer to as my “bad habit” is a longstanding tradition in Church history by which the Church has been called our Mother, referenced by the feminine pronouns “she” and “her,” and personified in Scripture itself as the “Bride of Christ.” Do you wish to correct Scripture on this point? What you refer to as a “collection of individuals” is also called, traditionally, the mystical “Body of Christ.” My hunch as to why you wish to denigrate this view of the Church and replace it with the image of a mere “collection of individuals” is to undermine the authority that tacitly accompanies the notion of the Church as a real corporate entity. This tendency belies your underlying philosophical nominalism, which sees the only reality as discrete individuals, the “Church” being no more than a convenient fiction, a mere “name” (Latin, nomen) which might arbitrarily be applied to this or that loosely arranged collection of individuals. That, most certainly, is not the view of the Catholic Church. Rather she refers to the Holy Spirit as the “soul” of the Church. This is nothing new. It is a well-established point of Sacred Tradition: St. Augustine succinctly described the Holy Spirit’s role in the Mystical Body of Christ: “What the soul is in our body, that is the Holy Ghost in Christ’s body, the Church” (Sermon 267, 4: PL 38, 1231 D). Popes have since used St. Augustine’s statement as a starting point of a more elaborate explanation, including Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Divinum Illud Munus, as well as Pope Pius XII in Mystici Corporis Christi, who touches on the Holy Spirit’s role as soul of the Church.#49 -- I wrote: “Thus the extrabiblical influence of late medieval nominalism, together with various practical exigencies involved in trying to justify revolt against the Church and the whole ecclesiastical tradition, combined to facilitate the development of sola scriptura and to make each Protestant, in principle, his own pope.”
You want to suggest that since the Church is a mere “collection of individuals,” we shouldn’t be inclined to trust the opinion of an individual who happens to be a Catholic bishop or pope any more than the opinion of, say, a Cumberland Presbyterian who has a reasonable knowledge of his well-worn Bible. But whom was Jesus addressing when He said (in John 16:13) “when the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you into all truth”? Was he addressing the Cumberland Presbyterian gentleman? You? Me? The Arminian? The Premillennial dispensationalist Baptist? The Jehovah’s Witness who reads his Bible? (He accepts sola scriptura too, of course.) We would be in a strange pickle if that were the case, because we all disagree substantially at key points. No, Jesus was addressing His Apostles, those upon whom He conferred special charisms of authority to them – e.g., the authority to bind and loose sins (John 20:23) – even as God reserved to His lawfully appointed spokesmen in the OT prerogatives He withheld from others – e.g., the exclusive priesthood of the Aaronic Levites established at Sinai against which Korah led a rebellion (Num 16). Further, Nehemiah 8:7-8 offers a nice example of magisterial authority in action when the Levites -- Jeshua, Bani Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Masseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Peliah –- "helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading." No, the Church or OT covenant people of God are not merely a “collection of individuals.” Some are lawfully appointed to be priests, to teach, to administer the sacraments, etc.; while others are not, but are duty-bound to receive them with due submission and respect as God’s anointed. This does not mean they are always impeccable in their behavior or infallible in their private judgments. It does mean, according to Catholic teaching, that they speak for God when they teach in their official capacity what the Church infallibly teaches, and we are then no more in a position to stand in judgment upon their teaching than the Ethiopian Eunuch was in a position to correct the instruction of Philip upon being taught by him how to understand the Book of Isaiah (Acts 8:26-40).
You replied: (1) “Why is medieval nominalism any more of an extrabiblical influence than Patristic Neoplatonism or scholastic Aristotelianism?”
It’s not. However, where Neoplatonism offers philosophical arguments for why anything that God created cannot be evil (evil as the “privation of being”), or where Aristotelianism facilitates a philosophical articulation of the understanding of God’s purposiveness in nature (immanent natural teleology), they serve as ancilla theologiae, as servants of Christian theology. But where medieval nominalism leads Ockham to deny formal and final causality and to deny any sort of immanent teleology implanted by God within nature, and when it leads Luther, as one who called Ockham “my dear master” (B.A. Gerrish, “Luther,” in Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Macmillan, 1967, vol. 5, p. 112), to assert that whereas by human reason 2 + 5 = 7, yet, if God should declare them 8, one must believe contrary to reason and to feeling (Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Mentor, 1950), we have a problem, because the result is a radically fideistic worldview deeply inimical to a biblical (and Catholic) understanding of God as a God of reason. (In this connection, I call to witness Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg address of last year in which he offered an oblique challenge to Islam to consider whether it’s deeply nominalist theology, placing God beyond knowing, allowing only for the revelation of God’s arbitrary will, does not make rational discourse about religion impossible. There is a striking parallel between the Islamic rejection of the rational theology of the 8th century Mu’tazilite school and the 16th century Protestant rejection of the Catholic “Natural Law” tradition in favor of its voluntaristic divine command ethic.)You continued: (2) “Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Protestant theology makes every Protestant his own pope, so what? Why shouldn’t I be my own pope? What gives you the right to be my pope? The pope is still an individual among individuals. So popery is just another form of individualism. And an autocratic form of individualism at that. An individualism of the one over the many.”
Well, this is truly a first, in my experience: not only a frank admission but a ready embrace of the idea, “Every Protestant his own pope”! But I see you endeavoring to set forth a serious principle here, which is that no individual has any more authority than another. There is a rugged American individualism at work here, which evokes John Wayne (a Catholic convert at the end of his life, by the way). But what about this? Is it true? Are we simply an atomistic collection of individuals here? I’m certain that this is how many congregationalist Christians view the Body of Christ, ironically. So our Lord has left us each to fend for himself as best he can, with his online Bible translations and concordances and word studies and other biblical-grammatical helps? And where do you expect that will lead? To consensus? If the historical record is any predicter of the future, I would wager on further factionalism. At Westminster we used to talk about Presbyterianism in terms of the “Split P’s” because of the multiplication of splinter Presbyterian denominations – there were the Cumberland Ps, UPs, OPCs, PCAs, RPCNAs, ARPs . . . on and on. And there was the title by Gary North of the “TRULY REFORMED” Reconstructionist-Theonomist movement founded by Rousas John Rushdoony, The Failure of American Baptist Culture. Then there are the Van Tillian presuppositionalists vs. the Norman Geisler and R.C. Sproul evidentialists (though Sproul was also a Kuyperian); not to mention the unresolved debate between Van Til and Gordon Clark on the question of univocal knowledge and the incomprehensibility of God, or the heresy trial of Norman Shepherd at Westminster Theological Seminary in 1980 because of his instance upon a more nuanced interpretation of "Justification by Faith Alone" than the rest of the Westminster faculty and trustees felt they could permit (which ended with Shepherd switching denominations from the OPC [Orthodox Presbyterian Church] and becoming a CRC [Christian Reformed Church] pastor of the Dutch Reformed tradition). Then there are the Kuyperian Dutch Calvinists, and the Dooyeweerdians and Vollenhovians who don’t have much truck at all with other Calvinists. Dooyeweerd and Van Til couldn’t agree on the question of transcendental method. Vern Poythress and John Frame had no time for Robert Knudsen or any other Dooyeweerdians, particularly with the notions of “naïve pre-theoretical experience” and “cosmic time,” which struck them as too Neo-Kantian.You continued: (3) “However, the comparison is cute rather than acute. The position of evangelical theology is not that every Christian is his own pope, but that no Christian is the pope. Evangelical theology doesn’t claim that every Christian can speak ex cathedra, but that no Christian can speak ex cathedra—since the death of the Apostles.”
All of these individuals have remarkable insights and wonderful resources to share. But my problem – the Catholic problem – is with the notion that the Lord would have left us with nothing more to guide us in the ongoing governance of our faith and life within the Church than a Bible and this cacophony of competing interpretations. The historical record of the Church surely shows otherwise. Among the four marks of the church in the Nicene Creed are the marks “Catholic” and “Apostolic.” If one goes deep into history, one sees that these concepts have a stable and well-established meaning and aren’t susceptible of arbitrary interpretations such as one finds in modern times among Protestants.
It’s certainly cuter than accurate. I don’t doubt that your statement of the “position of evangelical theology” is accurate, though I do doubt its defensibility. How, for example, would you defend the proposition that none can speak ex cathedra “since the death of the Apostles”? Where do you get that? One needs more than wishful thinking to establish a claim, as you know. Furthermore, how do you defend the claim that “no Christian is the pope,” since, if “pope” means nothing other than “father,” Paul several times describes himself in a paternal relationship with those he “fathers” in Christ? I think often the problem when Evangelicals hear the word “pope,” they think of a fat Italian wearing a tiara wearing crimson robes with fine ermine trim being carried in a litter shouldered by a crowd of men. But these are only accidental properties of the pope. Peter is clearly established in the NT as the head of the Apostles, the “prince of the apostles,” and, in that sense, the first ‘pope.’ He’s given the keys of the kingdom (Mt 16:19), based on the symbolic “keys” given to the prime minister (or “chief steward” or “chamberlain”) of a King (cf. Is 22:22). He’s renamed “Cephus” (Lat. from Aramaic “Kepha,” meaning ‘rock’) and declared the foundation stone of the Church (Mt. 16:18). Furthermore, in every listing of the Apostles in the NT, Peter is named first, and Judas last, where the list is complete. If the list is partial, Peter is still named first, and then there follows a predictable order in an accepted hierarchy of Andrew, James the Greater, and John, and so on. Moreover, here’s an interesting circumstantial detail: the second-most frequently named Apostle in the NT is John, who is cited a total of 30 times. The most frequently named Apostle is Peter, who is cited a grand total of – could you have guessed it? – 179 times. A mere circumstantial detail, to be sure, but significant. Are you sure it’s fair to describe these as a mere “collection of individuals”?#50 -- I wrote: “Fifth, sola scriptura assumes that the Bible can be understood apart from tradition. It assumes no ultimate need for the larger context of the Church’s tradition and teaching. However, not only is the canon of Scripture incapable of being identified apart from tradition, as we have seen, but the meaning of Scripture cannot be fully grasped. Protestants argue that Scripture is clear, but they disagree even among themselves as to what it means. If they admit that parts of Scripture are unclear, they argue that the essentials are clear and that the unclear parts can be interpreted in light of the clear.”
Furthermore, if there was ever an Apostle who should have outranked Peter, the common poorly-educated fisherman, it should have been Paul, the protégé of Gamaliel, the head of one of Jerusalem’s two chief rabbinical schools. Paul was not only a highly literate Jew, educated in Aramaic and Hebrew; he was a Roman citizen. He knew Latin. He knew Greek. He was a highly refined and sophisticated young man being groomed by Gamaliel as a future leader of Judea – a great loss when he defected to the new sect of Christians in the region. But here’s the kicker: after Paul’s conversion, after his time of retreat in the Arabian desert, where does he go? In Gal. 1:18, he tells us: “Then . . . I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas [the ‘rock’], and remained with him fifteen days.” I would have given anything to listen in to the conversations between them – a common fisherman and a highly refined and educated sophisticate who came up in submission to let the head of the Apostolic team – the “prince of the apostles,” the ‘rock,’ the ‘head,’ the ‘papa’ or ‘pope’ of the group – that he was making his services available to play for the Varsity Team. Then in Gal. 2:1-2, Paul describes an incident some 14 years later after years of struggle on his mission journeys, when, he says, “I went up again to Jerusalem . . . and laid before them the gospel which I preached among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain.” What is interesting here is the humanity of Paul in humbly submitting the content of the gospel he had been preaching to have it vetted by Peter, James, and John “lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain.”
“No Christian can be pope”? That would be news to Paul and the other Apostles.
You replied: (1) “Actually, the case for sola Scriptura doesn’t depend on the perspicuity of Scripture, per se. That’s an apologetic move, and it has some merit. But the question of sola Scriptura is simply a factual question: is this the rule of faith that God has imposed on the church? The answer doesn’t turn on the exact degree of clarity—which varies in time in time and place, and from one reader to the next.”
Presumably, though, would you not agree that Scripture must be perspicuous and clear as to its teaching on sola scriptura, if indeed you think it teaches this? Otherwise, from what extra-biblical source would you garner the warrant for the tenet? And if you believe Scripture does teach this, then where is it perspicuously established?You continued: (2) “I’d add that impugning the clarity of Scripture is often quite misleading. It suggests that while Scripture speaks to an issue, what it says is unclear. But that’s rarely the case: (a) To begin with, we need to distinguish between what was clear to the original audience, and what is clear to us. (b) In addition, when a Catholic says that Scripture is unclear, what he ordinarily means is not that Scripture speaks to an issue, yet without sufficient clarity, but rather, that Scripture doesn’t, in fact, speak to an issue—at least, that it doesn’t say enough to answer the question of the Catholic. In other words, there’s a big difference between the claim that Scripture has a lot to say on a particular topic, but it’s unclear what it means by what it says—and claim that Scripture doesn’t have very much to say on a particular topic, which is why the reader is unclear on what do think or do.”
Okay. Fair enough. So let’s see you make your case.You continued: “The real problem is that Catholic priorities are out of sync with divine priorities. Catholics are terribly concerned with questions which Scripture isn’t terribly unconcerned with answering.”
Isn’t this what logicians call begging the question? It would help your case if you offered an argument, would it not? Statements of these kind are what my Westminster classmates used to dismiss as “papist pontifications,” even though, in this case, the pontifications happen to be Protestant.You continued: “This doesn’t mean that Scripture is unclear or insufficient. To the contrary, a Catholic is asking the wrong questions. If he’s interested in answers to questions which Scripture isn’t interested in answering, then the problem is not with the lack of answers, but the superfluity of misguided questions. If you can’t find the answers you’re looking for in Scripture, try posing questions which Scripture was designed to answer. The right answers select for the right questions.”
More of the same here, wouldn’t you agree? If not an argument, how about – at the very least – an example? That might spice things up, at least. I don’t know what you mean when you’re saying that Catholics are asking questions of the Bible it was never intended to answer. I hope you’ll forgive me if I say it looks for all the world like some sort of bait-and-switch tactic. Catholics follow Jerome in seeing ignorance of Scripture as ignorance of Christ. We love Scripture, as you do. This is the Word of God inscripturated, just as Christ is the Word made Flesh. For an easily accessible account of how Catholics experience the Bible, and how they think Protestants think Catholics experience the Bible (which is another matter), I would recommend the Peter Kreeft’s Fundamentals of the Faith, ch. 43 – “The Authority of the Bible.”You continued: “And that’s a pretty good indicator of God’s will. Scripture answers the questions it was meant to answer, which is another way of saying that Scripture answers the questions we were meant to ask.”
This sounds like it would fall under that classification which is the weakest of all arguments: an argument from authority, suggesting that the questions Catholics ask (by which I take you to mean the ways in which Catholics approach to Scripture) do not accord with God’s will. Well, um . . . that’s all fine, but – at the risk of sounding a bit tedious – how about an argument, please?You continued: “Catholics are obsessed with questions they were never meant to ask, not in the sense that there’s anything wrong with asking their questions, but if you think that Scripture is unclear or insufficient because it doesn’t answer your pet questions, then your spiritual priorities are seriously out of whack. You can come to Scripture with any questions you like, but if you come away from Scripture dissatisfied, then you’re the one with the problem.”
Hold it right there. Stop. Let’s be clear about something here: the question being raised here is not one of Catholicism’s creation but of Protestantism. The question concerns the Protestant teaching of sola scriptura. If Catholics raise the question as to how this question can be justified from Scripture, and you reply that Scripture was never designed by God to answer this question – that the question itself is illegitimate – aren’t you, in effect, shooting yourself in the foot? Aren’t you admitting that sola scriptura is alien to the entire ethos of biblical discourse? I would certainly agree that it is. It’s surprising that you would. But then, if that’s not what you intended to suggest (since it would pretty much end this debate in your conceding the argument), then what in the world were you trying to say?You continued: “Not finding the answers you sought is just as instructive as finding what you sought. If it isn’t there, you were never meant to find it there.”
I would agree that nobody was ever meant to find sola scriptura in Scripture. But I don’t think you intend to go there. The question is where are you intending to go?You continued: “It’s a winnowing process. One way of learning how to ask the right questions is to find what questions are answered in Scripture. To sift the truly important questions from all the unimportant questions. By process of elimination, you learn what really matters to God. If it wasn’t all that important to God to answer your question, it shouldn’t be all that important to you to know the answer. Knowing what you don’t need to know is a basic element in the walk of faith.”
I couldn’t have put the matter better myself. So why buy into all this sola scriptura nonsense? Jesus never taught it. Peter or Paul never taught it. Paul taught his readers to "Stand firm and hold fast to the traditions you were taught, whether by an oral statement or by a letter from us" (2 Thess 2:15, emphasis added).You continued: “A Catholic is like a senior citizen who thinks the steak is too chewy because he forgot to put his dentures in. No, the steak is just fine. The source of the problem lies at the toothy end of the transaction.”
Is that the reason for the Evangelical “de-catholicizing” translations of key biblical passages having to do with the Lord’s Supper and tradition in the New International Versions (NIV)? For example, there are thirteen instances of the term paradosis (usually in its plural form, paradoseis) in the NT, of which ten are critical of human traditions that have departed from God’s Word. In the other three cases, Paul commends traditions to the churches to whom he writes (1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thes 2:15; 3:6). Significantly all ten of the negative references are translated by the NIV as “traditions,” while all three of the positive references are deliberately mistranslated as “teachings”—the translation for didaskalia or didachê, not paradosis. Where’s the beef in the NIV?#51 -- I wrote: “But [Protestant] disagreements are not merely over unclear passages, but over the clear ones—about the very meaning of precisely those things that Jesus commanded us to do in His name: ‘Take, eat; this is my body ... do this in remembrance of me.... Go ... baptize ... teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.’”
You replied: “So what? We don’t have to understand or agree on the theological significance of a dominical command to carry it out. We can baptize people and administer communion without having any sacramental theology whatsoever. The ritual performance is one thing, and the ritual significance is another. Throughout Scripture, God tells people to do things even though they don’t fully grasp the rationale. They don’t need to. It’s enough that God knows.”
What you offer here is precisely just one more controvertable interpretation of the significance of Christ’s “dominical command” in his Great Commission. According to your view, the “ritual performance is one thing, and the ritual significance is another”; so it really doesn’t matter whether you understand what you’re doing as long as you do it. Well, you’re entitled to your interpretation, I suppose; but you shouldn’t kid yourself for a moment about all of Christendom agreeing with you. In fact, I doubt there are many Calvinists who would agree with your bald assertion that it doesn’t matter whether you understand the significance of what you’re doing. Moreover, the “dominical command” in question is not merely about practical “ritual acts,” but about “teaching.” It pertains not merely to acts, but expressly to beliefs, where it decidedly matters whether one understands the significance of what he’s affirming or denying. Unless we’re speaking of infants or the mentally retarded, a rational human being is accountable for what he believes. It’s not “enough that God knows.”#52 -- I wrote: “The fact is that Scripture is only a part of what has been handed down to us in sacred tradition. By itself it was never intended to communicate the whole of God’s instruction for the ongoing life of the Church and is ill-suited to that purpose. It contains many things that were not at first understood, but took time to become clear through decades and centuries of reflection and definition, often in contradistinction to emergent heresies.”
You replied: “While heresy is a catalyst to Biblical understanding, because it forces us to ask questions of Scripture we might not have thought to pose before, we must still be able to find those answers in Scripture itself.”
Try reading Mark Shea’s book, By What Authority?: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition, which shows, among other things, how commonly embraced Evangelical beliefs (like the Trinity, monogamous marriage, and opposition to abortion) cannot be conclusively grounded in Scripture alone apart from an authoritative apostolic tradition of interpretation.#53 -- I wrote: “[The Bible] contains many references which cannot be understood apart from the larger context of sacred tradition.”
You replied: “No, it contains many references which cannot be understood apart from the historical context of the past or contemporaneous events—in relation to the author—and not the future framework of church history.”
I’m sympathetic to the view you recommend here. Cardinal Newman compared it to the view according to which “a stream is clearest near the spring.” However, as he also noted, whatever use may be made of this image, it doesn’t apply to the history of belief, which on the contrary “is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full” (Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, p. 40). For example, if we were to ask what the author of Isaiah 7:14 had in mind when he wrote “Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” it’s difficult to say. I know Jewish commentators for whom the farthest thing from their imagination would be any reference to Mary and the birth of Jesus. But when we see Matthew quoting this passage in Mt 1:23, he uses the Septuagint’s translation, which renders the Hebrew term almah (which has a semantic range inclusive of both “young woman” and “virgin”) explicitly as “virgin,” and, further, applies this text explicitly to the birth of Jesus, we see that the meaning that was not altogether clear in the original historical context is clarified by later development.#54 -- I wrote: “Not only is [the Bible] multifarious and complex; it does not often clearly specify what is didactic or historical, fact or vision, allegorical or literal, idiomatic or grammatical, enunciated formally or occurring obiter, temporary or of lasting obligation, as Newman notes.”
Many other examples could be given of this. While we may wish to argue that the concept of the “Trinity” is somehow implicit in the writings of the NT, the fact remains that the doctrine of the triune nature of God was not very fully developed in the first couple of centuries after Christ. There were consequently various Adoptionist and Ebionite Christologies that held sway in some circles until the Arian controversy brought the matter to a head and the Church was compelled to define its stand over against error, the yield of which was the Nicene Creed. Etc., etc.
You replied: (1) “Notice how Blosser uses sacred tradition as a magic wand or exegetical shortcut or stopgap. But certain things is Scripture are bound to be obscure to a modern reader due precisely to the cultural difference in time and place between the modern reader and the original reader. . . .”
I don’t see much with which to take issue here, although I have yet to locate the “magic wand” to which you refer.You continued: (2) “Keep in mind that the Vatican has never issued an official commentary which systematically and clearly specifies what is didactic or historical, fact or vision, allegorical or literal, idiomatic or grammatical, enunciated formally or occurring obiter, temporary or of lasting obligation. So Blosser’s Catholic alternative is not a genuine alternative—even on its own grounds.”
Perhaps there’s a bit of a misunderstanding here. Catholicism distinguishes dogma (bodies of defined doctrine which are irreformable, understood to be infallibly revealed truth, such as the divinity of Christ, the triune nature of God, the immortality of the soul, the existence of heaven and hell, salvation as a gift of divine grace, etc.) from doctrine (teaching, which may be defined or undefined). There are large areas of Catholic doctrine where the Church has not dogmatically defined her doctrine and theologians are free to develop their ideas within the boundaries of orthodoxy established by the Church’s dogmatic tradition. For example, the Catholic Church has few defined eschatological dogmas beyond the existence of the “four last things” (death, judgment, heaven, and hell). We should also include as relevant doctrines, the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment, and purgatory; but there is very little in the way of details (e.g., in the Book of Revelation) about the “Antichrist” or “the woman who rides the beast,” or the final “great apostasy,” or the role of the state of Israel, or Gog and Megog, etc. concerning which the Church has yet defined any doctrines in any definitive way. Usually in Church history, dogmatic definitions are the product of controversies where the Church is compelled to define the position of orthodoxy over against the threat of a contemporary heresy. In his book, Will Catholics Be Left Behind: A Critique of the Rapture and Today's Prophecy Preachers, Carl Olson has gone some way toward addressing the challenge of dispensational premillennialist speculations about the pre-tribulational “rapture” of believers. But the Church has no dogmas on these matters yet. Hence theologians are free (within limits) to speculate.#55 -- I wrote: “In this sense, [Scripture] is not ‘self-interpreting.’ As Newman writes: ‘We are told that God has spoken. Where? In a book? We have tried it and it disappoints; it disappoints us, that most holy and blessed gift, not from fault of its own, but because it is used for a purpose for which it was not given. The Ethiopian’s reply, when St. Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading, is the voice of nature: ‘How can I, unless some man shall guide me?’ The Church undertakes that office.’ The question has nothing to do with whether one is a Christian or Jew, any more than it has to do with whether the text is from the OT or NT. What one needs is a teacher (magister) who can instruct him in what God intends him to understand; that is what the eunuch received in Philip, and that is what we have in the magisterium of the Church.”
In my view this reluctance to dogmatically define doctrines is not a liability but a credit to the judiciousness of the Church in the face of the relatively slow historical development and progressive unfolding our limited human understanding of divine Revelation. You seem to imply that it is a defect of Catholic teaching that the “Vatican has never issued an official commentary which systematically and clearly specifies what is didactic or historical, fact or vision, allegorical or literal, idiomatic or grammatical, enunciated formally or occurring obiter, temporary or of lasting obligation.” In my view such an official definitive commentary would be a ridiculous pretension that would precipitously slam the door on legitimate theological development. The Church in her wisdom leaves plenty of room (within limits of established orthodoxy) for theologians to ponder, puzzle, consider and contemplate the meaning of God’s Word. To my way of thinking, that is a credit to her prudence, not a liability.
You replied: “Evangelical theology doesn’t deny the role of theologians and Bible scholars in the life of the church. There is, however, a fundamental difference between a commentator who exegetes the text according to a transparent argument or publicly available evidence, and a prelate who dictates the interpretation by a purely authoritarian fiat.”
This misrepresents what Catholics understand by authoritative interpretation. “Authority,” once more, means “author’s rights,” not raw power. Hence, it has no meaning within Catholic Tradition apart from the rights of the Divine Author of Scripture and the Church to which He entrusted its care and interpretation. Please recall my earlier discussion of how notion of “papal infallibility” must never be interpreted as some sort of arbitrary carte blanche allowing the pope to invent new doctrines, but as a restriction, binding the pope and his successors to the Apostolic Deposit of Faith and to the Sacred Tradition by which it is transmitted via apostolic succession to our own day. Catholic interpretation of Scripture is open to investigation by anyone, and when examined with an open mind, can be seen to be quite reasonable. I invite our readers to read any of Scott Hahn’s books, among which I recommend:#56 -- I wrote: “Furthermore, even while claiming that Scripture is their only standard, Protestants typically presuppose Church tradition in ways of which they are often unaware. Mark Shea, for instance, offers a detailed analysis of certain fundamental commitments of evangelicals and argues compellingly that some of them—such as their commitment to the sanctity of human life in the pro-life movement, their rejection of polygamy, and their adherence to the doctrine the Trinity—are actually based more on tradition than on explicit Scripture. In fact, in some cases, such non-negotiable commitments are only weakly attested in the Bible, he notes, yet treated as revealed doctrines in much the same manner as Catholics accept sacred tradition as a channel of revelation.”
You wrote: (1) “I deny that the Trinity is weakly attested in Scripture.”
Then why was there a Christological controversy in the first several centuries involving (a) denials of Christ’s humanity (leading to the Apostle’s Creed’s affirmations that He was “conceived . . . born . . . suffered . . . died . . . was buried”) and (b) denials of His divinity (leading to the Nicene Creed’s affirmations that He is “God of God, light of light, true God of true God . . . begotten not made, consubstantial to the Father”)? Why are there still Jehovah’s Witnesses, who accept sola scriptura but not Christ’s divinity? The fact is that the NT contains both subordinationist passages (in which Christ clearly subordinates Himself to the Father, and these passages can mistakenly be read as distinguishing God from Jesus) – and equality passages (in which Christ claims equality with the Father, which could be mistakenly read as suggesting that Jesus was not really human). You and I, with the benefit of over 2000 years of Church history and the ecumenical councils behind us, can easily say that the NT attests to the fullness of the triune Godhead; but the fact is that this understanding took some time to be articulated by the Church. Concepts such as the ‘hypostatic union’ of the divine and human natures in Christ are not spelled out in the Bible. Theologians had to do that work reflecting on the Apostolic Deposit of Faith. A distinction had to be developed to understand the subordinationist and equality passages and how they could be reconciled: what was subordinated to the Father was not Christ’s nature but His will; what was equal with the Father was not His will but His nature. This is not explicit in Scripture. It’s only implicit and had to be teased out over time.You continued: (2) “But assuming, for the sake of argument, that some of what Evangelicals believe is actually more dependent on tradition than on Scripture, then we should make a comparable adjustment in the degree of our commitment.”
Nonsense. Are you saying that staunch Calvinists ought to compromise their 100% commitment to the pro-life cause, just because abortion isn’t explicitly condemned in Scripture? Abortion is explicitly condemned in Didache (ca. AD 50-160), one of the earliest extra-biblical Christian documents. If you’re such a literalist that you would be willing to accept abortion on the grounds that it’s not explicitly condemned in Scripture, you would be severing yourself from the mainstream of what Francis Schaeffer called “historic Christianity” which translates pretty closely into what Catholics understand by Sacred Tradition.#57 -- I wrote: “Other examples [of extra-biblical Church traditions pressupposed by Protestants], cited at random, would include the traditional commitment of Presbyterians to infant baptism, Methodists to the episcopacy, Lutherans to baptismal regeneration and the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and so forth.”
You replied: “This may well be true. Various denominations and theological traditions are historical accidents that carry over and bundle together a package of beliefs which are fairly conventional rather than tightly logical. And Roman Catholicism is no exception. But that’s a reason to reexamine tradition rather than rubberstamp it.”
“Reexamine” the tradition in light of what? The traditional Scriptures? How would a Calvinist re-evaluate the tradition it inherited from Catholicism of infant baptism? By reference to the Bible? Have you ever seen a Calvinist try to argue with a highly biblically-literate Baptist about the (lack of) biblically deducible grounds for infant baptism? My point would be that, despite the nominal appeal to sola scriptura, the ground you would ultimately be making your case from would consist of the Catholic traditions you’re saying need to be “reexamined.” How will you escape that circulus in probando, that petitio principii?#58 -- I wrote: “Seventh, sola scriptura leads to unhistorical understandings and distortions of fact. These can cover a great variety of issues, such as the erroneous belief that the early Church had no episcopal hierarchy”
Moreover, what do you mean by “Roman Catholicism is no exception”? That Catholicism involves a package of beliefs and practices that are “fairly conventional”? But who would dispute that? Catholicism is essentially traditional! It doesn’t try to derive it’s traditions from Scripture, since Scripture itself is understood to be the most important part of Sacred Tradition, and the Church is the authoritative custodian of Sacred Tradition (what has been handed down by the Church) in direct succession from the Apostles.
You replied: “This is vague. Early church as in what? NT church or post-apostolic church? Episcopal hierarchy as in what? Monarchal episcopate? Roman primacy? Papal primacy?”
My apologies for the ambiguity. By “early Church,” I mean the Church from its foundation by Christ, when He renamed Simon as the ‘Rock’ (Aramaic Kepha, Latinized as ‘Cephas’) upon which he would build His Church, giving him the keys of the kingdom (cf. Is. 22:22 – but we’ve been through this already; vide supra). By “episcopal hierarchy” I mean all of the above except Roman primacy, since Rome had no Christians as yet and Peter’s first episcopal See was Antioch.#59 -- I wrote [offering as another example of unhistorical Protestant understandings]: “. . . that the demand of priestly celibacy shows that Catholic doctrine has departed from Scripture.”
You replied: “Except that this a prime example of how Catholic doctrine has departed from Scripture.”
I recommend you read the article by Ray Ryland, a former Anglican priest who has explored this issue in detail, in “A Married Priest Looks at Celibacy.” For further detail, I highly recommend the bibliography following the article, particularly the volume by Christian Cochini, S.J., Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990).#60 -- I wrote [offering as another example of unhistoric Protestant understandings]: “. . . that liturgy is a medieval invention and nothing but empty ritual.”
You replied: “Often true in varying degrees.”
As to the claim that Catholic liturgy was a medieval invention, this is easily refuted by an examination of the facts. The Roman Canon of the Mass is the oldest of any still in existence, traceable back earlier than the liturgical reforms of Gregory I who became pope in AD 590. The Scottish Presbyterian editors of the historical study, the Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols. (1886; rpt. by Hendrickson, 1994) suggest in their Introductory Notice to the section on “Early Liturgies” (Vol. 7), that the earliest reference to the Roman liturgy was likely in the 5th century (either Innocentius, Leo the Great, or Gelasius), but add in a footnote (p. 533): “If Justyn Martyr describes the liturgy used in Rome, when he lived there under the Antonines, then it was nearly identical with the ‘Clementine,’ and had reached them from the East.” The ‘Clementine’ liturgy (linked to Pope Clement I (martyred ca. AD 102) is elaborated in Book 8 of the Apostolical Constitutions, which, the same editors tell us (in a footnote on p.532) “is most valuable, and indicates the usages of a period near the age of Justin Martyr.” They go on to state that it “is typical of an original from which the Liturgy of St. James itself derived,” and was “probably used in Gaul, if not also in Rome.” The Liturgy of St. James (the Liturgy of the Church in Jerusalem, where James was bishop), they state “is of earlier date, as to its main fabric, than AD 200,” just as “the Clementine Office is at least not later than 260,” and “ the Liturgy of St. Mark [in Alexandria, Egypt] . . . nearly coeval with that of St. James” (p. 533).#61 -- I wrote [offering as another example of unhistorical Protestant understandings]: “. . . that Papal infallibility means that the Pope supposedly cannot err in anything.”
As to the claim of “empty ritual,” I am not insensitive or unsympathetic to your view of the matter, which I myself used to share. There was a time before I was twenty years old when I would have considered liturgical worship the most boring thing imaginable. Let me assure you, this perception is due to an inadvertent nominalist-empiricist perspective that animates Evangelical understandings of the relationship of flesh and spirit. The spirit is really all that matters in Evangelical worship – that one worships God “in spirit and in truth.” What’s missing from this? Think of marriage. Imagine never embracing or kissing your wife, and when she asks why, you tell her: “Dear, you know that I love you, my heart is one with you, and that’s what really matters, after all.” Now it’s true that a kiss or an embrace could be ‘faked’. This is the danger of hypocrisy that exists anywhere (“empty ritual,” if you will). But that danger is hardly reason to avoid embracing and kissing your spouse.
You replied: “That popular misconception is hardly central to the case for sola Scriptura.”
Perhaps. Perhaps not. In any case, it’s a very common Protestant (as well as secularist) misconception about papal infallibility that, among Evangelicals, is closely linked to their aversion to what they mistakenly see as the inherent pretensions and abuses associated with Roman hierarchical authority.#62 -- I wrote [offering as another example of unhistorical Protestant understandings]: “. . . that the ‘extra’ books in the Catholic Bible were not part of the Scriptures used by the NT writers.”
You replied: “Blosser is simply assuming the Catholic viewpoint rather than presenting an argument for his assumption.”
In this context, you’re right, I offer no argument. But I have plenty of arguments, beginning with my page on The Bible and the "Apocrypha" (Deuterocanonical books of the Bible).#63 -- I wrote [offering as another example of unhistorical Protestant understandings]: “ . . . [the assumption] that Catholic devotions such as the Rosary and Stations of the Cross have no basis Scripture.”
Second, the marginal references in the Novum Testamentum Graece, edited by E. Nestle, 22nd ed. (Stuttgart, 1948; the linked edition is the 27th edition, published by the American Bible Society in 1993, which I have not examined), one finds numerous references to texts from the Deuterocanonical books. By my own count, I find 148, divided as follows – 38 in Matthew, 3 in Mark, 15 in Luke, 20 in John, 15 in Acts, 14 in Romans, 2 in I Corinthians, 3 in II Corinthians, 1 in Galatians, 3 in I Thessalonians, 2 in I Timothy, 1 in II Timothy, 7 in Hebrews, 6 in James, 3 in I Peter, 2 in II Peter, 1 in Jude, and 12 in Revelation.
Third, the NT was written in Greek (ca. AD 50-120), so it should come as no surprise that the NT writers would have made use of the Septuagint (ca. 300-200 BC), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (containing the additional Deuterocanonical books) when writing the NT. Thus it’s no surprise that when Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 (as noted earlier), he specifies parthenos (“virgin,” following the LXX, or Septuagint’s rendering) when translating the Hebrew term almah, which could just as easily have been rendered “young woman” in Greek.
Fourth, the earliest listing of all the 27 books contained in the canon of the NT is the Easter Letter of St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, Egypt (AD 367). This is typically recognized by Evangelicals, such as the Evangelical authors, Walter A. Elwell and Robert W. Yarbrough, in their textbook, Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey, 2nd edition, p. 27, where they quote the twenty-seven books of the NT canon from Athanasius’ letter. What they don’t tell you, however, is that, along with the 27 books of the NT, Athanasius also listed the books of the OT and that this OT list includes all of the Deuterocanonical books contained in the Septuagint. Remember, what Athanasius is doing in his Easter Letter is listing the books of Holy Scripture recognized as canonical. The Catholic canon is commonly supposed by Evangelicals to have been a creation of the Council of Trent (AD 1545-63). This is so far from the empirical record as to be appalling. Trent merely confirmed Athanasius’ Easter Letter, as did the patristic decrees of the Council of Rome (AD 382), Council of Carthage (AD 397), and St. Innocent (AD 405). (For further details see “The earliest lists of the Old Testament canon.”)
You replied: “Notice the weasel word: a “basis” in Scripture. If I commit suicide, that has a “basis” in Scripture. After all, Judas killed himself.”
Please, my friend. There’s nothing normative or praiseworthy about committing a mortal sin such as suicide. On the other hand, one has only to look at the lives of those who practice such devotions to see their salutary effects in humility and sanctity. Furthermore, the meditations of the Rosary are virtually all taken directly from Scripture (Joyful Mysteries – Annunciation, Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, Nativity, Presentation of Jesus in the temple, where He was recognized as Messiah by Simeon and Anna; Sorrowful Mysteries -- Agony in the Garden, Scourging at the Pillar, Crowning with Thorns, Carrying of the cross, Crucifixion, and so forth – on to the Glorious Mysteries -- Resurrection, Ascension, etc.). The Hail Mary itself, is a prayer compounded of parts of Luke 1:28 and Luke 1:48. The Stations of the Cross, in turn, offer meditations on the events of the via dolorosa ( “way of the cross”) described primarily by the relevant Evangelists in their Gospels. “Weasel word”?#64 -- I wrote [offering as another example of unhistorical Protestant understandings]: “ . . . that doctrinal ‘development’ in Catholicism means doctrinal “creation.”
You replied: “Maybe because it does.”
Give me an example and an argument, my friend.#65 -- I wrote [offering as another example of unhistorical Protestant understandings]: “ . . . that certain Catholic doctrines—such as purgatory, baptismal regeneration, prayers for the dead, the sinlessness of Mary, and the transformation of bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood—are medieval inventions.”
You replied: “Whether or not they’re Medieval inventions, they’re ecclesiastical inventions.”
This isn’t the place to delve into a detailed apologetic concerning each of these, seeing the ease with which you dismiss each Catholic claim in a matter of one or two sentences, while it would take some time and space to elaborate each of these. (Why should I do all the work?) But I would have hoped for an argument from you, at least. These are all ancient doctrines -- some of them (Purgatory, for instance) better attested in early Christian writings (in Tertullian, Perpetua, Cyril, Hilary, Jerome, Gregory Nyssen, etc.) than doctrines widely accepted also among Protestants, such as the doctrine of Original Sin (see Newman, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, p. 21). Prayers for the dead can be found among the Jews of the intertestamental period (II Maccabees 12:43-45), and II timothy 1:16-18 attests obliquely to the practice, even though it must be admitted that Paul does not explicitly state in the text that Onesiphorus was dead at the time of his writing. Augustine clearly argues for the sinlessness of Mary, and so forth.#66 -- I made passing reference to: “ . . . [the] prudential discipline imposed (in the case of celibacy) for the sake of fostering single-minded devotion to God and service in the ministry.”
One argument I would want to make is that if these were all “ecclesiastical inventions,” as you claim, where is the outcry against these innovations in Church history when they emerged? This is a weak argument, to be sure, since it is an argument from silence; but it is surely a silence that speaks volumes. Let me offer an example, the first mention of the perpetual virginity of Mary we have on record in Church history -- any documented history at all that we know of -- is the writing of the outraged Jerome against Helvedius, who is the first person we know of in Church history to have questioned it. But this would speak in favor of the Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary, not against it. But where are the similar cries of outrage against these sorts of Catholic doctrines -- purgatory, baptismal regeneration, prayers for the dead, the sinlessness of Mary, and the transformation of bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood, etc. – that we should expect to find if your Protestant claim that these were “ecclesiastical inventions” were true?
You wrote: “Not to mention the single-minded seduction of underage boys.”
My friend, it is true that we Catholics are still chaffing from a clerical sex scandal of unimaginable proportions. But I don’t see how it can be either charitable nor edifying to offer a ‘dig’ such as this. The sin of these priests deeply grieves us. Sin is neither an invention nor a monopoly of Catholics. There’s plenty to go around. I know plenty of sex scandals in our own vicinity involving Protestant and Evangelical clergymen, though their ability to garner the cooperation of law enforcement and media officials in keeping the lid on these affairs is impressive. I know good and holy Evangelicals, as I can assure you that I know many good and holy Catholic priests; and there is nothing about sin – including the sin of pedophilia – that makes it an ineluctable habit of Catholics or unique to Catholicism. The notion that celibacy fosters pedophilia or any kind of sexual self-indulgence is a popular argument in the anti-Catholic media and of Catholic dissidents opposed to celibacy, but it is a misconception based on broad ignorance of the psychological facts. First of all, sexual concupiscence and lust are the result of lifestyles that indulge sexual activity, whether autoerotic or interpersonal. Those who practice a disciplined life of celibacy, avoiding pornography, and other near occasions of sin, generally find that sexual temptations eventually begin to diminish, if not virtually disappear. A sexually active, married man is more apt to be tempted by sexual thoughts than a sexually inactive celibate. Second, notwithstanding a media conspiracy to the contrary, what has pervasively been presented to the public as a pedophilia scandal is actually a scandal of homosexuality stemming from an all-too-permissive policy of several decades toward admitting men with homosexual dispositions into the priesthood, on the assumption that they could remain faithful to their vows of chastity. The study commissioned by the Catholic-sponsored National Review Board and provided by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York (the John Jay Report) reported that 81% – that’s eighty-one percent! – of the reported victims were boys or young men molested by clergy! Michael Rose’s book, Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption Into the Catholic Church, (2002) provides a detailed exposé of this scandal. The problem clearly stemmed from those in charge failing to mind the store – a major negligence of discipline. Many men with actively homosexual histories slipped into the priesthood. However virtuous their intentions may have been (it’s hard to judge), an actively homosexual history presents a host of habituations that are extremely difficult to alter: the tendency to repeat homosexual activity, once habituated, is notorious. On the other hand, has having married clergy spared Protestant denominations from sexual problems – ranging from clerical infidelity and divorce to homosexuality? Hardly. The latest Garrison Keillor joke about why Anglicans can’t play chess is that they can’t tell the difference between a bishop and a queen.#67 -- I wrote: “Furthermore, despite the existence of married apostles, it is not without biblical warrant (1 Cor 7:32, 35; Mt 19:11-12).”
You replied: “Observe the bait-and-switch. The question at issue is not whether marriage is mandatory, but whether celibacy is mandatory.”
“Bait-and-switch”? You make me sound like a used car salesman! Come to dinner sometime, and I’ll endeavor to show you the meaning of courtesy, my friend.#68 -- I wrote: “Such misunderstandings can also stem from a failure to understand the nature of doctrinal development. John Henry Newman offered the classic study of this idea in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845).”
Did I mention anything about marriage being “mandatory”? Even celibacy is not mandatory, in Catholic teaching; not even for all Catholic priests. It depends on the Rite to which you belong. Eastern Rite Catholic priests are married in some cases. Western Rite priests are permitted to have wives in certain cases, as in the case of Fr. Ray Ryland, whose article “A Married Priest Looks at Celibacy” I cited above, who was permitted to become a Catholic priest under an Indult for former Anglican clergy who convert with their wives. So you can see it’s a matter of discipline, and not of doctrine. But even where the Catholic Church mandates celibacy for priests of its Western Rite, it’s silly to see it as something oppressive. Nobody is required to become a Catholic priest of this Rite. It’s a free choice. If celibacy is a requirement for becoming such a priest, one should consider the choice much in the way he should consider Jesus’ invitation to become a “Eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom” – i.e., “He who is able to receive this, let him receive it" (Mt 19:10-12).
Furthermore, celibacy has remarkable advantages for evangelism and mission work. The earliest missionaries to Japan, where I grew up, were Francis Xavier and his Jesuits, and later the Franciscans. Members of religious orders generally take three vows – (1) poverty, (2) chastity, and (3) obedience (others, confined to a monastery or convent, may also take vows of stability and silence). What are the three things most inhabitants of a country fear from foreigners? They fear theft, molestation of their women, and tyranny. These thee vows automatically remove these threats. They Jesuits and Franciscans came in poverty, with no interest in acquiring wealth. They came vowed to celibacy, with no interested in sex or prostitution. They came vowed to obedience to their superiors and their God, with no interest in seeking political power over their converts. Furthermore, celibacy allows priests and monks to go where any family man would dread to go, such as St. Damien (1840-1889) [pictured right], who embraced the apostolate of working in the leper colony of the Hawaiian islands before there was a cure for leprosy.
You replied: (1) “Typically, Blosser assumes that if you disagree with Newman, this means that you just don’t understand him.”
Can you show me an instance of where I assume this, and I will try to correct it.You continued: (2) “I’d add that Newman’s classic essay received classic rebuttals from reviewers like J. B. Mozley and William Cunningham.”
Fair enough. Can you point out specific rebuttals?#69 -- I wrote: “Thus, nowhere does the Bible formally and explicitly state the doctrine of the Trinity, as even Protestants admit (Geisler and MacKenzie, 184; cf. 198, n. 50). But the doctrine is clearly a development based on the teachings of Christ and the apostles—a natural outgrowth of later reflections on their traditions (including Scripture) and the process of defining Christian doctrine over against various challenges to the faith.”
You replied: “The question is not whether the heretics were a stimulus to the official formulation of the Trinity, but whether it is possible, in response to that stimulus, to go back to the Scriptures and exegete the Trinity from the Scriptures.”
Again, fair enough. But I would want to add that our going back to the Bible to “exegete the Trinity from Scriptures” is not an exercise that can be conducted as though we did so in an historical vacuum and have not been the beneficiaries of Sacred Tradition. But I doubt you’d quibble with that, unless you wished to be picky about the capitalization of my last two words.#70 -- I wrote: “Not only are these doctrines well-attested in the early Church (for example, Newman shows that there is stronger evidence for belief in purgatory in the early Church than for belief in original sin); they are also implicitly grounded in Scripture (e.g., purgatory in 1 Cor 3:12-15; transubstantiation in Jn 6:54-59; papal supremacy in Mt 16:18).”
You replied: (1) “Assuming that a doctrine is well-attested in the early church, that doesn’t make it true or even probable. Much of the NT is devoted to repelling various heresies which sprang up in the Apostolic church.”
I think it’s quite clear when the NT writers are approving or disapproving of what beliefs or practices are being attested. When the Apostle John in his First Epistle calls the Gnostics who went out from among the Christians in Ephesus “Antichrists,” I think there’s little doubt he’s not approving of their denials that Jesus came in the flesh. On the other hand when he speaks of those who took offense at Jesus’ literalism in the “Bread of Life” passage in John 6, where they “murmured at him because He said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven’” (v. 41) , I think it is no less clear that he is NOT disapproving of Jesus’ literalism, even though many of his hearers eventually leave Him. Jesus had every opportunity to tell his offended audience: “Wait! I didn’t mean you to take my words LITERALLY!” But He didn’t. Instead, he ratchets up his literalism, by declaring: “. . . unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (v. 53).You continued: (2) “Whether purgatory, transubstantiation, and papal supremacy are, in fact, grounded in Scripture is, of course, a primary point of contention. Citing Scripture and exegeting it are two different things.”
Point granted, so long as you remember this point when a Calvinist tries to defend his Calvinist doctrine of infant baptism against the Baptist.#71 -- I wrote: “First, it results in hermeneutical anarchy. The fact that hundreds of denominations, each professing to derive its teaching by means of the Holy Spirit’s guidance from “Scripture alone,” cannot agree even on the fundamentals of the faith, such as the meaning of baptism or the Lord’s Supper or even the means of salvation, constitutes a powerful prima facie case against it. The principle itself becomes impracticable and self-undermining—a recipe for anarchy.”
You replied: (1) “Is it a fact that ‘hundreds of denominations, each professing to derive its teaching by means of the Holy Spirit’s guidance from “Scripture alone,” cannot agree even on the fundamentals of the faith’?
First of all, let's be clear about the numbers of different denominations. According to the Dictionary of Christianity in America (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1990): "As of 1980 David B. Barrett identified 20,800 Christian denominations worldwide . . ." ("Denominationalism," page 351). Barrett "classified them into seven major blocs and 156 ecclesiastical traditions" (Oxford World Christian Encyclopedia , ed., David B. Barrett). The 1999 Encyclopedia of Christianity (edited by E. Fahlbusch, et al., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999, vol. 1, p. 800, s.v. "Denomination") raises the number: "In 1985 David Barrett could count 22,150 distinct denominations worldwide." The Wikipedia article on "Protestantism" now states that "According to the World Christian Encyclopedia (2001) by David B. Barrett, et al, there are "over 33,000 denominations in 238 countries."You continued: “On the one hand, you have charismatic denominations which profess to derive their teaching by means of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. But, by that same token, they reject sola Scripture, for they subscribe to continuous revelation in the form of contemporary prophecy. On the other hand, you have cessationist denominations which, by that same token, do not profess to derive their teaching by means of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. So which denominations is Blosser talking about?”
Second, look up what their basic tenets are and whether you can reconcile them. The differences, including many "irreconcilable" differences and in some cases ineluctable opposition to ecumenism, are enough to make one's head spin; and, as mentioned earlier (in #34), many of these differences are over the most fundamental commands the Lord imposed upon his disciples in His Great Commission.
Name one, and we can talk about it. We could start with the Gooch Gap Turkey Covian Baptists, but that might make it difficult to generalize. The only way we can generalize and have an intelligible conversation here would be to go back to those sects that are closer to the mainline branches that initially broke ways from the sixteenth century Reformation groups -- much as the Methodists were a reform movement within the Anglican branch of the Reformation, from which all sorts of splinter “free church” groups subsequently emerged, and so forth. But these aren’t typically charismatic. But even in the case of ‘charismatic’ groups we have a problem, because you attempt to generalize about “charismatic denominations” by stating that they reject sola scriptura and derive their teaching by means of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. That may certainly be the case with some of these charismatic megachurch groups we have today, but do these represent all charismatic groups? There is no central clearing house, no equivalent of the “Vatican,” for charismatic denominations. So what makes you sure that among the twenty-two thousand some Protestant denominational sects identified by Barrett, there isn’t one which embraces sola scriptura? There’s nothing innately incompatible with a person’s believing both sola scriptura and that the Holy Spirit can offer a person revelations, is there?You continued: (2) “From a Protestant perspective, Roman Catholicism is just one more denomination.”
Then we could talk about ‘cessationism’ (the view that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit – such as tongues, prophecy, and healing -- have ceased) and how you defend or attempt to derive that view from the Bible. I remember at Westminster Theological Seminary they taught a generally cessationalist view. But what struck me was the lack of any cogent biblical argument -- not to mention historical argument -- produced for the position, though I could have missed something. I suppose this follows hand-in-glove in the skeptical tradition of the Scottish Presbyterian editors of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, 14 vols., who, in their discussion of the miracles witnessed first-hand according to the testimony of St. Augustine in his City of God (Bk XXI, ch. 8), have appended a note (vol. 2 of the series, p. 485, n. 2), quoting Isaac Taylor’s Ancient Christianity (Vol II, p. 242) who takes the account offered by Augustine and his bishop Ambrose of a certain miracle, according to the editors, as “a specimen of the so-called miracles of that age . . .” In Taylor’s own words: “In the Nicene Church, so lax were the notions of common morality, and in so feeble a manner did the fear of God influence the conduct of leading men, that, on occasions when the Church was to be served, and her assailants to be confounded, they did not scruple to take upon themselves the contrivance and execution of the most degrading impostures” (p. 270). The editors add, “It is to be observed, however, that Augustin was, at least in this instance, one of the deceived.” Such a view betrays no only the extreme skepticism of the naturalism of the Enlightenment tradition that permeated much of 19th century Scottish thinking, but poor judgment of the integrity of these two prominent saints of the Church. Taylor’s remarks, in particular, reveal virtually no acquaintance with the writing of St. Augustine at all. But the most remarkable fact about these details is the sheer absence of any argument: the statements are nothing more than the expression of manifest prejudice. Compare John Henry Newman’s Essay on Miracles (1826) -- which the editors have the decency to reference in their bibliography -- which, even though written well before his Catholic conversion, reaches a vastly different assessment of both patristic and medieval miracles, and that based on careful argument.
I know . . . which always strikes me as something on the order of saying: “From a New Yorker’s perspective, Planet Earth is just one more American state.” I must admit I had to chuckle when Alvin Plantinga of the tiny (Dutch Reformed) Christian Reformed Church gave a speech at a Philadelphia gathering of the American Catholic Philosophical Association at which he, at the end of his speech, invited any dissatisfied Catholics to consider returning to “the Mother Church.”You continued: (3) “There were parallel divisions in second temple Judaism. If God didn’t see fit to install an OT magisterium to prevent doctrinal diversity in second temple Judaism, why is doctrinal diversity an argument for the necessity of a Magisterium under the New Covenant?”
The fact that there were divisions of practice and belief does not mean that every difference is divinely approved. Take the difference between the Sadducees and Pharisees. Although Jesus regularly lashed out at the Pharisees, it was their hypocrisy that he generally condemned, not their beliefs. In fact, in Mt 23:2-3, Jesus says: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.” Pharisee doctrine was the orthodoxy of the period and is unfortunately eclipsed by the hypocrisy of the Pharisees which gives them a bad reputation. However Pharisee doctrine was essentially what Jesus embraced, except for the additional deepening of the law (spirit of the law) that He offers in Mt. 5. By contrast, the Sadducees where the theological Liberals of the day, rejecting belief in the resurrection, angels and spirits, the last judgment, life after death, divine providence, and a coming Messiah. I don’t think Jesus was all about celebrating theological “diversity.”You continued: (4) “To say the meaning of baptism or the Lord’s Supper represents ‘fundamentals of the faith’ merely begs the question in favor of Catholic sacramentalism.”
I’m flattered you would say so, but why? Isn’t these baptism included in our Lord’s Great Commission itself? What could be more basic? And before the most important event in His earthly ministry, Jesus commanded His Apostles: “This do in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19), giving a radical new meaning to the Passover He was celebrating with them, and binding the Old Covenant to a New. What could be more basic?You continued: (5) “Of course, “anarchy” is a hyperbolic description, but to play along with Blosser’s usage, is religious anarchy worse than religious totalitarianism?”
It depends what you mean. On the one hand, Chesterton describes Hell as God’s monument to human freedom, implying that God honors our freedom, even if it means our free choice to reject him. C.S. Lewis echoes this when he says there are ultimately only two kinds of people in the world: “Those who say to God: ‘Thy will be done’ – and those to whom God says: ‘Thy will be done.’” The Catholic Church also affirms this freedom of conscience, as evident in St. Thomas Aquinas’ statement that if one disbelieved the claims of the Catholic Church, it would be his duty in conscience to leave the Church. Similar affirmations are found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in its discussion of Conscience (esp. sec. 1782) and Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Dignitatis Humanae (Subtitled: “Declaration of Religious Freedom”).You continued: “Both Catholicism and Protestantism have their share of horror stories. But the problem with an authoritarian, top-down denomination is that, once the hierarchy is corrupted, the disease is incurable since it’s the accountability mechanism which is infected with terminal illness.”
On the other hand, there is a sense is which Christ is “totalitarian,” isn’t there? As Abraham Kuyper once said: "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'" Moreover, Evangelicals such as Arthur Holmes at Wheaton have been fond of the slogan, “All truth is God’s truth!” It’s a good slogan. But it’s “totalitarian” in some sense, as I think you would agree. If truth is objective, it’s not my truth or your truth, but God’s truth. It’s not a matter of my wanting to impose my truth on you, or vice versa, but of my trying to persuade you to see what I think I see that you may not (and vice versa). In that sense, I think Christianity can’t help being totalitarian in terms of it’s dogmatic claims both about faith and morals. I don’t think this means that any body of believers should forcibly attempt to impose their views on others against their wishes as has been done too often in history – not only by Christians but Muslims and many others. But I do think the “totalitarian” claims of truth demand that we contend for our beliefs through persuasion, as we are endeavoring to do now in this exchange. Moreover, our Lord commands us to evangelize, though that is not the same thing as aggressive ‘imperialism’ or mere obnoxiousness.
I think you may want to be careful here. I don’t know of a human organization that doesn’t have a corruptible authority structure. Plato could tell us about the corruptibility of democracy as well as our own experience of democratic politics in our own country. Grass roots “bottom-up” authority is no guarantee, as much as we may prefer it as Americans to having a Queen, like England.#72 -- I wrote: “The resulting fragmentation of teaching authority in Protestantism has produced a proliferation of Protestant positions disagreeing over baptism, Communion, worship, divorce, remarriage, women’s ordination, altars, pictures, statues, kneelers, alcohol, cigarettes, cards, Zionism, contraception, pre-millennialism, the use of musical instruments in worship, and the like.”
Furthermore, although I’d like to be more sanguine about your declaration of “terminal illness” with respect to a “top-down” structure like the Catholic Church, I find myself hesitating over a story of Abraham, the medieval Jewish merchant in Boccaccio’s Decameron. As Kreeft relates the story (How can the Creed call the Church “Holy”?), Abraham is contemplating becoming a Catholic. He tells his friend, the bishop of Paris, who has been trying unsuccessfully to convert him, that he has to go to Rome on business. The bishop is horrified: "Don't go! When you see the stupidity and corruption there, you'll never join the Church." (This was the time of the Medici popes, who were notoriously worldly and corrupt.) But Abraham is a practical man. Business calls. Upon his return to France, he tells the bishop he is now ready to be baptized. The bishop is astounded, but Abraham explains: "I'm a practical businessman. No earthly business that stupid and corrupt could last fourteen weeks. Your Church has lasted fourteen centuries. It must have God behind it." There’s an implicit serious argument in the story: How could anything so corrupt as the Catholic Church survive for so long? Furthermore, one could add, how could it produce such holy saints as it has – men and women who forsook all to follow Christ, like St. Augustine, St. Dominic, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Lucy, St. Therese of Lisieux?
Church history, like the history of Old Testament Israel, shows that the People of God have progresses through cycles of obedience and rebellion. The Church has frequently gone through cycles of reform – the Gregorian reforms, the Cluny reforms, the reforms of Pius V and Pius X, etc. This is nothing new.
You replied: (1) “I see. And what, in Catholicism, is the de fide position on alcohol, cigarettes, cards, Zionism, and premillennialism? What ecumenical council or ex cathedra pronouncement has defined the orthodox position on these issues?”
I believe I’ve answered that already, when I described the large area of undefined Church teaching in connection with eschatology. As to the things you mention, the Church only has general teachings that would apply, no dogmatic definitions. For example, one’s use of alcohol and cigarettes, would fall under the category of one’s duty to protect one’s own health. There are no hard and fast rules here. One may drink beer, if one likes, though drunkenness is regarded as a sin. There are no official proscriptions forbidding smoking, although the dangers of smoking to one’s health ought to make any good Catholic take notice of what he’s doing in that area. Cards? No problems, not even with gambling (bingo, anyone?), as long as it doesn’t compromise one’s family’s finances, etc. Zionism? No official teaching, again, though Catholics don’t share dispensational fundamentalists gleeful clamoring for front row seats at the Battle of Armageddon or the view that Israel can do no wrong politically. At the same time, they do have a special regard for people of the Jewish faith, as any Christians probably should. Premillennialism? I’ve already spoken to that. Bottom line: no dogmatic definitions exist here yet.You continued: (2) “Blosser keeps harping on women’s ordination, but in Catholicism there is one woman in particular whose institutional standing has been elevated far above any pastor or priest or bishop, apostle, angel, archangel, prophet, or Pope. She goes by such titles as the Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, Mediatrix, and co-Redemptrix. Why choke on the gnat of women’s ordination if you’re going to swallow the camel of Mariolatry?”
A fair question, which deserves a decent (if here, brief) answer. First, women’s ordination: Outside Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, ordained ministry is understood chiefly in functional terms. Hence, if a woman can perform the functions of a minister by preaching and offering pastoral counseling, etc., nothing is seen as properly excluding her from ordination – that is, unless you belong to one of these more conservative evangelical or fundamentalist denominations that retains the Church’s tradition of an all-male ministry but tries to justify it on biblical grounds (e.g., such as Paul’s remarks about women keeping silent and subordinate in the assembly (I Cor. 14:34). On the other hand, in the common Sacred Tradition of Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, ordained ministry is understood in ontological terms. That is, when a man is ordained, he receives a charism that ontologically changes his being, imprinting him indelibly with the character of a priest who serves in persona Christi as a spiritual ‘father’ to his flock. Nancy Doe can no more become “Fr. Nancy” than a man can biologically be re-engineered to become a mother. Priests are “fathers” because they spiritually “father” children; and women simply cannot be fathers, even spiritually. Read Edith Stein’s Essays on Woman on the subject of the spiritual vocation of women. Stein was a Jewish philosopher under Husserl in Germany before becoming a Carmelite nun and being martyred at Auschwitz. She has remarkable insights.#73 -- I wrote: “The honest Protestant Bible student has little ground for easily presuming that his private interpretation of the issues that divide the Protestant denominations is necessarily the right one, or that the 2000 year-old consensus of millions of Catholics on every inhabited continent is necessarily wrong. It would be untoward ignorance to assume that he is the first person in history to have carefully examined Scripture; and presumptuous arrogance to assume that he is the first to have understood it.”
Second, Protestants often equate the Catholic view of Mary with the sinful idolatry of “Mariolatry,” as you seem to here. First of all, the worship of Mary is an explicitly condemned heresy in Catholicism. It’s called Collyridianism and first appeared between 350 and 450 A.D., when Epiphanius, the bishop of Salamis and a close colleague of St. Jerome, rose up to condemn it and combat it in his apologetic work, Panarion. An interesting point about his refutation is that in the same work he addressed not only the heresy of Collyridianism (the super-exaltation of Mary to a par with divinity), but the other extreme of Marian heresies -- Antidicomarianitism (an Arabian movement which demoted and debased Mary's importance).
Other Protestants – usually Evangelicals and Fundamentalists – recoil at Marian titles such as “Mother of God,” because they think this elevates Mary above God. The recoil, however, stems from ignorance, for anyone acquainted with the Third Ecumenical Council (held at Ephesus in AD 431) will know that the title “Mother of God” derives from the Council’s term theotokos (from Greek theos, ‘God’, and tokos, ‘bearer’), which was applied to Mary to indicate that her Son was divine, over against the heretical view of Nestorius that Mary should be called Christotokos (‘Christ-bearer’), restricting her role to the mother of Christ’s humanity only and not His divine nature. Hence, calling Mary “Mother of God” doesn’t mean that she was the mother of, say, God the Father, or the source of the Godhead, but simply that the God-man Jesus is (and was) not only the Son of God but the Son of Mary. In other words, Mary could point to her baby and say, “He’s God.” Evangelicals such as Michael Card have even composed songs about this beautiful mystery of a Son who creates His own mother, and so forth. Where’s the idolatry in this, my friend?
I could go on about the titles, “Queen of Heaven,” “Mediatrix,” and “co-Redemptrix” at length too, but let me try to truncate my response here a bit so that this doesn’t become too lengthy. In Hebrew understanding the Queen of a King was never his wife, but his mother. (I won’t elaborate on this now, but you can research it for yourself. The data is there.) An example would be I Kings 2:18 – “Bathsheba therefore went to King Solomon. . . . And the king rose up to meet her and bowed down to her, and sat down on his throne and had a throne set for the king’s mother; so she sat at his right hand.” Thus the tradition of calling Mary “Queen of Heaven” comes originally from a Hebrew convention, which would lead to mother of King Jesus naturally being viewed as his Queen. Furthermore, there’s the imagery of Rev. 12 (“ . . . a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars . . .”) which is identified with Mary the Mother of Church (note v. 17, where the dragon, angry with the woman, goes off “to make war on the rest of her offspring . . . who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus). I know Protestants exclude the Marian interpretation of this passage by restricting its meaning to the mystical Church, but it’s well to be aware of the larger tradition of Marian interpretation in Sacred Tradition (the Mexican image of “Our Lady of Guadalupe,” another name for Mary, comes right out of this text).
“Mediatrix” and “co-Redemptrix” are misunderstood only because they are transposed from a human to a divine context by those who misunderstand them. Jesus is the only mediator we have, if by that we mean the One who could atone for our sins and purchase our redemption. But in order to understand what the Catholic thinks, it helps to think of these notions in mundane terms. How did you first learn about the love of Jesus? Your parents? Your Sunday School teacher? An individual who shared the Gospel with you or gave you a Bible to read? In any case, the Gospel is “mediated” to us in countless ways. When we evangelize others, we serve as “mediators” – not in the sense that we presume to take Christ’s role, but in the sense that we become the means by which others hear the Gospel. Furthermore, when we pray for others, we become their “intercessors” before God, and in that sense, too, we become “mediators.” In each of these ways we also serve to facilitate God’s plan of redemption in the lives of those to whom we minister; and in this limited sense, one could also say, because we are cooperating with God’s plan to redeem the world, that we are Christ’s “co-redeemers.” The danger, of course, is that this can be misunderstood as implying that we are taking over the role of Christ’s inimitable redemptive work; but a moment’s thought should clear up any misunderstanding of this point. No Catholic for a moment assumes anything of that sort. Now if any of us can be “mediators” and “co-redeemers” in these sense, it shouldn’t be surprising that these titles are applied especially to Mary. Why “especially”? Because God allowed His entire plan of redemption to hinge upon the response of a young peasant girl when He sent his archangel, Gabriel, to announce His plan to her, and she replied: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word.” She was free to say “No,” although we assume God had a pretty good idea of how she would reply.
You replied: (1) “If you read any major commentary on the Bible by a Protestant Bible scholar, you will see that he interacts with the history of interpretation.”
This may be true, but it’s often of a very selective and limited scope, restricted to a “Protestant textbook tradition” of exegesis and blindsighted to large traditions outside of its own circles. There are some exceptions to this, or at least scholars who have read some of the Catholic Tradition, such as Jaroslav Pelikan, Alasdair McGrath, and N.T. Wright, but those are a Lutheran convert to Easter Orthodoxy and two Anglicans, not your bread-and-butter Evangelicals.You continued: (2) “Either a Roman Catholic must exercise his own discernment regarding the evidence for or against the identity of the Catholic church as the true church, or else he is exercising blind faith in Catholicism, like flipping a coin or going with whatever faith he happened to be born into. If the former, then he’s in the same boat as the benighted Protestant. If the latter, then he’s an accidental Catholic. In another time and place, he’d be an accidental Protestant, Hindu, or Marxist.”
Point well-taken. Of the latter kind, there are all-too-many of both unthinking cradle Catholics and cradle Protestants who simply have their religious identity by virtue of happenstance. For an Evangelical to convert and become a Catholic (as for a Catholic to convert and become an Evangelical) requires deliberation and careful investigation.You continued: (3) “To speak of ‘the 2000 year-old consensus of millions of Catholics on every inhabited continent,’ begs several questions in a row: (a) It assumes that Roman Catholicism is self-identical over 2000 years.”
However, my original statement was directed at something else: the presumption of contemporaries assuming that with a Bible and a few commentaries published in the last ten years, they can “know it all,” meanwhile overlooking two thousand years of careful biblical scholarship. Correct me if I’m wrong, but my distinct impression is that most Fundamentalists and many Evangelicals don’t really give much mental space to medieval or patristic biblical commentary. I don’t think they even know it exists, for one thing; and I don’t think they would imagine it worth their while to investigate it, for another. But I think this is arrogance. If one delves into the patristics and medievals, one finds a wealth of careful reflection upon the Bible; and to think that we cannot benefit from this, in my view, is a denial of the work of the Holy Spirit over the last two millennia in leading the Church progressively “into all truth.” This isn’t to say I don’t find much of value in Evangelical scholarship. I do. But hopefully you see my point.
There are two ways of remaining “self-identical”: (i) by remaining changeless, or (ii) by undergoing change while preserving a continuous identity. When the Venerable Newman was confronted by the question why the medieval church looked so different from the NT church if it was supposedly the “same” (viz., Catholic) Church, he responded by pointing to the difference between an acorn and an oak. An oak looks vastly different from an acorn; but everything that would be realized in the oak was implicitly present already in the acorn. The Catholic Church remains “self-identical” through continuous change in the same way. It’s doctrine “develops” in the same way. There’s nothing in the NT about the “hypostatic union” of Christ’s two natures, but that’s simply a later refinement of what is implicit in the biblical data of the NT. The doctrine of “transubstantiation” wasn’t officially defined until AD 1215 (Fourth Lateran Council), but the idea that the elements symbolizing the Body and Blood of Christ are somehow mysteriously “transformed” into them was present from the beginning. Thus Ambrose of Milan (d. AD 397) countered objections to this idea by writing "You may perhaps say: 'My bread is ordinary.' But that bread is bread before the words of the Sacraments; where the consecration has entered in, the bread becomes the Flesh of Christ" (The Sacraments, v.2,1339,1340). Q.E.D.You continue: (b) “It assumes a consensus among millions of Catholics. (c) Is there any polling data on what the laity believed in the year 800 or 1200? Did a survey team from Rome fan out over Medieval Europe and go door-to-door to ask every illiterate peasant what he believed about transubstantiation, condign merit, or the hypostatic union? Once again, Blosser has absolutely no historical sense.”
I’ll let the reader be the judge of whether I have “absolutely no historical sense.” When I referred to a “2000 year-old consensus of millions of Catholics,” I was assuming (i) that there were no orthodox Christian options other than Catholicism before the Great Schism of 1054; (ii) that even after the Schism there was a virtual consensus about Christian doctrine between East and West, except for the question of Papal jurisdiction and the filioque clause in the Nicene creed, which are both nearly as much political as theological differences, if they are truly theological at all; (iii) that until the 16th century this consensus was virtually uneroded (dissenters like Wycliffe at Oxford were condemned); (iv) after the Protestant revolt in the 16th century, Catholicism continued to preserve doctrinal conformity among the faithful pretty well until after Vatican II (1962-1965), when finding a dissenting Catholic theologian willing to just about any imaginable position became as easy as finding Baptists near the buckle of the Bible belt -- largely because the doors were opened to them after Vatican II to begin studying the traditions of Protestant Liberalism (German biblical “higher criticism”). So one has to distinguish two things: (1) the official teachings of the Church (which have been continuously refined in continuity with Sacred Tradition, but are irreformable in their identity), and (2) what the masses of Catholic faithful and unfaithful membership actually believe.You continued: (d) “It also ignores the historical reason that Catholicism is so sizable. If you combine national churches with infant baptism, then, in principle, citizenship is conterminous with church membership. Every citizen is a baptized Catholic and vice versa. And national populations add up in a hurry. All the French, Spanish, Poles, Irish, Italians, &c. This, however, is a purely nominal way of tabulating church membership. It says absolutely nothing about an individual’s Catholic faith, or lack thereof.”
Obviously there is no polling data from the medieval or patristic periods, as you suggest. But it’s a good guess that insofar as parishioners were reflective upon the Faith, they pretty much accepted what they were taught by the Church -- at least up until Vatican II. Nowadays Catholics have been so influenced by Protestantism, secularism, and New Age fads, that there’s no telling what an individual Catholic may believe, even though Church teaching remains as clear as ever. This does not mean one does not still find a solid core of thoughtful and religiously and biblically literate Catholic faithful. These certainly exist. But the Church also has a huge job on her hands of catechizing and re-evangelizing many of its own members who have drifted away because of the temptations of the world. I’m not so sure this is a uniquely Catholic problem, though, from what I see around me in other Christian communities.
Good point. There are a lot of nominal Catholics, obviously, just as there are a lot of nominal Protestants. Several observations: (i) Where this leads to indifferentism, it’s tragic. Italy is no longer a “Catholic country” in the sense of having a substantially churched, believing population, any more than ‘Anglican’ England or ‘Presbyterian’ Scotland or the ‘Calvinist’ Netherlands is a “Christian” country today in any intelligible sense of the word. And that is a shame indeed. (ii) Among many of those who Evangelicals might be tempted to dismiss as “nominal Christians,” however, are certainly a great many who do have faith, although they don’t express it in ways most Evangelicals would find recognizable. Former Gordon College Professor, Thomas Howard (Elizabeth Elliot’s brother) speaks to this issue from personal experience in his wonderful little book, Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey To Rome. (iii) Your generalizations about the “French, Spanish, Poles, Irish, and so forth as no longer authentically Catholic countries works in the other direction as well. Many times Protestants are ignorant of the tremendous anti-Catholic persecution in countries that they assume are simply Catholic. Take Spain, for example. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) well over six thousand bishops, priests, nuns and other members of religious orders were summarily slaughtered. Or take Mexico, another country everyone thinks is dominated by repressive Catholicism: in 1914, President Carranza, put in place by the U.S., inaugurated a period of open anti-Catholic persecution: priests were massacred (160 were killed in Mexico in February, 1915), and Catholic schools were subsequently shut and Catholic churches required to suspend services. The history anti-Catholicism in France since the French Revolution is also a largely untold story in the English-speaking world. Not to mention England and Ireland, as William Cobbett’s remarkable History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland will show any reader who wishes to redress the imbalance of the Protestant textbook histories. But this is perhaps somewhat besides the main point. (iv) More to the point would be what Catholicism teaches about ‘formed’ and ‘unformed’ faith and about ‘implicit’ as opposed to ‘explicit’ faith. The Dutch Reformed Calvinist author, Arvin Vos, has an excellent book that addresses these matters in its opening chapters, among other things, Aquinas, Calvin, and contemporary Protestant thought: A critique of Protestant views on the thought of Thomas Aquinas. The point here would be that faith does not necessarily have to be “explicit” and have all the trappings of an evangelical vocabulary (“What’s the Lord been doing in your life?” etc.) in order to be real faith. This does not mean that the faithful are not responsible for ‘forming’ their faith properly in conformity with Church teaching. (Read Vos. He’s good.)#74 -- I wrote: “Where was the Holy Spirit for these two thousand years?”
You replied: “Renewing and preserving the remnant.”
An answer worthy of John Nelson Darby or Ellen White. Good heavens! Some of these ‘remnant’ traditions don’t believe there were any “real believers” between the time of Constantine and Martin Luther! Or else, like the Anabaptist book, Martyr's Mirror, they includes as the ‘forerunners’ of today’s “believer’s church” heretics who were persecuted and martyred by the Catholic Church for sedition, such as the Cathars (Albigensians), who held quasi-gnostic, docetic views of Christ (as a manifestation of spirit unbounded by matter), believed in reincarnation, rejected the God of the OT as the devil, rejected the Trinity, etc., etc. These were representatives of the ‘remnant’ persecuted by the “Whore of Babylon,” the Roman Catholic Church, according to such traditions – and we haven’t even addressed their civil crimes of political sedition for which they were often persecuted and executed.#75 -- I wrote: “What about the centuries upon centuries through which the Christian faith was preserved, passed down from generation to generation, and carried by missionary monks to our barbarian ancestors in Europe? What about the millennia of godly champions of the faith, such as St. Augustine, St. Jerome, Pope Leo, Pope Gregory, St. Benedict, St. Anselm, St. Bonaventure, St. Bernard, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis Xavier (the first missionary to Japan), and John Henry Newman, for starters?”
I much prefer the image of the tormented young Luther, not knowing where to turn for help, going to his confessor for absolution. Luther’s confessor, Johan von Staupitz, was Vicar-General of the Augustinian Order in Germany. He understood Luther’s problem. Luther was afflicted by feelings of guilt – a psychological condition called ‘scrupulosity’ – which no amount of confession would alleviate. Although his problem was symptomatically psychological, it was rooted in a nominalistic conception of God as an unpredictable tyrant. Staupitz understood that what Luther needed was an understanding of God as a gracious and loving God, and required him to study the Book of Romans, wherein Luther discovered the ancient Pauline and properly Augustinian theology of grace. In short Luther rediscovered the Catholic Gospel of God’s grace through the prudent direction of his Catholic confessor. Where was the “Holy Spirit” for two thousand years? In the Church, as Christ promised, of course.
You replied: “Other issues aside, this is simply a Catholic version of church history, which anachronistically classifies every pre-Reformation believer as if he were a Tridentine or post-Vatican II Catholic. Blosser is ventriloquizing for the dead. We have no idea what any of these individuals would think of Roman Catholicism in the 21C. If, moreover, we’re going to indulge in ritual postmortem baptism, then assuming that Augustine or Anselm or Aquinas would have shared the same outlook as Rahner or Raymond Brown or Urs von Balthasar, the former would be just as heterodox as the latter.”
How do I assume that Augustine, for example, was a Tridentine or post-Vatican II Catholic? On the one hand, I do think that Augustine would recognize in the Catholic Church of either the Tridentine or post Vatican II period a Church that affirmed the same creed as himself, affirming all the marks of the Church as “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic,” understanding the Mass as an anemnesis of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ through which the faithful participate in His oblation, embracing the ancient Marian and other traditions, etc. On the other hand, how do I fail to recognize that Augustine (or any of these other saints) are products of their time, representing the unique stages of the Church’s development in which they lived? For example, Augustine would not have been acquainted with the term “transubstantiation,” which was a later development borrowing Aristotelian terminology, which became available in the West only after the writings of Aristotle – preserved by the Muslims – became available in the 13th century around the time of Aquinas, even though he would have been familiar with the Church teaching that the consecrated bread “becomes the Flesh of Christ,” as Ambrose, the bishop who received him into the Catholic Church taught. Hence, I do not see how my view is anachronistic, as you suggest.#76 -- I wrote: “What about the early bishops who personally knew the apostles, like Ignatius of Antioch.”
Your comparison of Augustine, Anselm or Aquinas, on the one hand, with Rahner or Brown or von Balthasar, on the other, strikes me as problematic. For one thing, the first set of three are canonized saints of the Church, whereas the latter three are not. For another, the three latter figures have aspects of their theology that have been deeply controverted within the Church: Rahner is essentially a far more orthodox Catholic counterpart to the Anglican, John Maquarrie. Both were highly influenced by Heidegger’s existential phenomenology, which they attempted to enlist in the service of Christianity. The latter’s Principles of Christian Theology, is more Heideggerian than it is Christian. The former’s work succeeds in being Christian and conforming formally to magisterial teaching, but has problematic features, such as notion of “anonymous Christianity” that has received much subsequently distorted attention. Brown is a historical-critical biblical scholar who is more orthodox than many, but whose work still retains many highly problematic features, including his skepticism about Christ’s birth narratives, virginal conception, Christ’s institution of the Eucharist, and his Protestantized opinions that the Twelve were neither missionaries nor bishops, that sacramental powers were given to the whole Christian community and not just to the “ordained” clergy, and that Vatican II was ‘biblically naïve’ in calling the Catholic bishops “successors of the apostles, etc. Of course, you would agree with some of these views, but for different reasons; Brown’s skepticism stems form the skeptical orientation of Liberal Protestant historical-critical scholarship in general. Von Balthasar is perhaps nearly on his way to becoming the orthodox Catholic theologian of our time. But even he has some problems, such as his highly tentative speculations based on Origen’s work entertaining the prospect of universalism (a position condemned by the Catholic Church). Like Origen, however, von Balthasar doesn’t actually affirm universalism, but only entertains it as a theological speculation. His theological work in general is not only solid, but brilliant, and well worth investigating.
A point not to be lost sight of here, however, is that the spoken or written declarations of Catholic theologians cannot be equated with the official teaching of the Catholic Church. Not even St. Augustine can be considered “Church teaching.” Augustine’s writings, rich and valuable as they are, if taken alone, can lead to misunderstandings such as predestinarian fatalism, etc. For Church teaching, one has to look to the Creeds, official catechisms, the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, and Encyclicals of the Popes.
You replied: (1) “What about Judas, who personally knew Jesus? Judas, who was “ordained” to the Apostolate by Christ himself. What about Simon Magus, who personally knew Peter? What about Hymenaeus, Philetus, Demas, and Alexander the Coppersmith—who personally knew Paul? What about Diotrephes and Jezebel, who personally knew John? What about an apostate high priest like Uriah, who collaborated with Ahab in introducing pagan idolatry into the official worship of Israel (2 Kg 16)?
True, their mere acquaintance with the Apostles or Christ, does not of itself authenticate their doctrine. However, my point would be this: Here you have a tradition of apostolic succession initiated by Peter in Acts 1. You may contest this understanding, but it’s confirmed by the first Church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea in his Ecclesiastical History, where he lists the succession of bishops of the first metropolitan sees, such as Antioch, Alexandria, etc., from the time of the Apostles down to his own day. The interesting thing is that some of these, like Ignatius, one of the early bishops of Antioch, were contemporaries of the Apostles, and this entire development of “apostolic succession” (bishop-to- bishop) occurred as a mater of course without even a raised eyebrow.You continued: (2) “And why assume that Ignatius would approve of Trent, Vatican I, or Vatican II?”
Good question. It’s one thing for me to say that a Church Father like Ignatius might have easily recognized the Catholic Church of today as a product of the progressive development and elaboration of the Church in his own time. I think he would have, given the fact that he himself was an ordained bishop with a diocese in Antioch and stressed in his writings the importance of being in communion with the local bishop in any province who is a lawful successor of the Apostles and of Christ, and his eucharistic theology, etc. But it’s quite another to speculate whether he would have understood or approved, from his own vantage point at the tail end of NT times, developments he had no way of anticipating, such as the Tridentine condemnation of the Protestant notion of “justification by faith alone” (as it was then understood, as opposed to how it is understood in the Joint Catholic-Lutheran Declaration on Justification, which reached a compromise), or Vatican I’s definition of papal infallibility, or Vatican II’s more nuanced interpretation of extra ecclesiam nulla salus (“Outside the Church there is no salvation”). Even Cardinal Newman opposed the definition of papal infallibility in Vatican I, not because he regarded it as heretical, but because he judged it untimely. So you may have a point here. Yet I think it’s important to see that this point does not undercut in any way the seamless unity of Sacred Tradition or Catholic teaching. The sort of illustration that Van Til and my other Westminster professors would use to make a similar point would be to point out, for example, that the Nicene Creed’s “development” upon the rudimentary elements one finds in the Apostles’ Creed does not undercut the unity of their doctrine, but only render more explicit what is already implicit in the earlier creed.#77 -- I wrote: “What about the popes and bishops who settled the Trinitarian and Christological controversies of the early Ecumenical Councils, who declared ‘This is orthodox’ and ‘That is heterodox,’ ‘This is canonical’ and ‘That is not,’ and preserved and passed down the Bible and the meaning of its message to us?”
You replied: “What about the popes promoting heresy, like Liberius, Zosimus, Vigilius, Julius I, Honorius I, Celestine I, and Eugenius IV?
Well, why don’t you get specific? What about them? You say that these popes promoted heresy? Which heresies? If you’re relying on Loraine Boettner (famous for his anti-Catholic “Bible,” Roman Catholicism, 1962) and his stepchildren here (most of these arguments seem traceable through footnotes back to Boettner), you’re barking up the wrong tree. I corresponded with Boettner when he was still living, and residing in Missouri. I know his writings well. The shortest and most accessible reply to these charges you will find is Karl Keating’s book, Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on "Romanism" by "Bible Christians", the 18th chapter of which is devoted to the subject of “Infallibility of the Pope,” where he explores these challenges regarding the popes you mention. Each of them can be answered clearly and honestly (p. 226 answers the case of Zosimus, p. 227 answers the cases of Liberius and Vigilius, and pp. 228-229 answers the case of Honorius.) There is nothing resembling even a prima facie case against Julius I, Celestine I, or Eugenius IV that I know of. Correct me if I’m wrong. (If you desire, we can go into much more detail here.)You continued: “What about the Sistine Vulgate?”
What about it? Are you implicitly criticizing the fact that it was the first standard edition (1590), produced under Pope Sixtus V out of the numerous editions produced during the Renaissance and manuscripts produced during the Middle Ages, and was hurried into print, yielding an infelicitous number of printing errors? Granted, popes do stupid things, just like you or me (and think of St. Peter, denying our Lord and hypocritically trying to save face with the Judaizers who visited Antioch). But these were quickly remedied in the Clementine edition (1592) under Pope Clement VIII.You continued: “Catholicism has a heads-we-win, tails-you-lose approach to the papacy. When the papacy happens to get it right, this validates the claims of the papacy—but when the papacy gets it wrong, that doesn’t invalidate the claims of the papacy.”
Or are you offended that this was adopted “rigidly” as the only authorized official Catholic edition of the Bible? Several points here: the Vulgate was first published by St. Jerome in AD 382 under orders of Pope Damasus I and it was called the “Vulgate” because it was in the ‘vulgar’ (common) tongue. It was the first vernacular translation of the Bible. As things developed through the Dark Ages, the peasantry of Christendom fell into illiteracy and the only individuals educated to read at all were the clergy and some royalty and nobility. However the common caricature of the Church as keeping the Bible from the laity is nonsense. Indeed, there were 18 Catholic translations of the whole Bible into German alone well before Luther’s German New Testament appeared in 1522 ("Versions of the Bible," Catholic Encyclopedia; see also Henry G. Graham, Where We Got the Bible... Our Debt to the Catholic Church). It should be more widely known, too, that the Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible, a translation made by English Catholic exiles from Elizabethan persecution, was published in 1582 (NT) and 1609 (OT), before the King James Version made its appearance in England in 1611. Translations – whether the Latin Vulgate or the King James Version – are always imperfect and require correction against the original manuscripts. Catholics recognize that as much as Protestants.
This isn’t quite fair. You have to distinguish matters of doctrine from matters of discipline. It’s only in matters of doctrine – and then only under certain specified conditions, such as that the pope or bishops have to be formally defining a doctrine for the universal Church – that infallibility or indefectibility is claimed for popes. In matters of discipline, they have generally been much better than most people imagine, but have sometimes made some pretty stupid decisions. They’re infallible, not impeccable.#78 -- I wrote: “It has spawned thousands of denominations, and sects and cults and conventicles. According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of World Christianity, published in 1982, there are more than 28,000 recognizable denominations of Christianity.”
You answered: “Other issues aside, I prefer an arrangement in which people are free to either be right or wrong over an arrangement in which no one is free to right a wrong.”
Besides dodging the issue, you’re introducing a distinction without a difference. Compare: anyone is free to accept or reject the Bible as God’s inspired Revelation, but once you assent to the conviction that it is God’s Word, you’re no longer free to reject that commitment – not because of any external coercion, but because you can’t help believing what you believe. I can’t pay you a thousand dollars to believe that the Catholic Church is the infallible interpreter of God’s Revelation, because you can’t help believing what you believe to be true, and you don’t believe that to be true. But once a person voluntarily assents to this conviction, seeing it as true, then he’s no longer free to reject it. It’s not a matter of external coercion. Of course, if you later conclude you were wrong about your belief in the Bible, you can freely reject it. The same with Catholicism. As Thomas Aquinas says, if a person disbelieved the claims of the Catholic Church, it would be incumbent upon him in good conscience to depart from it. So who’s unfree? It all depends what you mean. I would rather talk about the freedom to know the truth (which freely leads to the compulsion of true conviction) than the freedom of choice to go to hell (which begins as unconstrained license and ends in tyrannical slavery to self and Satan).#79 -- I wrote: “’Spirit-led’ Protestant leaders have split congregations and founded new denominations over disagreements sometimes serious and sometimes piffling.”
You replied: “The pope is just one more religious leader who presumes to have the ear of the Holy Spirit. Benny Hinn in vestments.”
You’re certainly entitled to your comical opinions, although I can imagine many of your fellow Protestants and Evangelicals finding this a rather tawdry comparison. Pope John Paul II had two doctorates, one in philosophy with a dissertation on Max Scheler, another in theology with a dissertation on St. John of the Cross. He suffered under the Nazis in Poland, was a playwright and poet, fluent in multiple languages, a gentleman and a good and pious and holy man who spent many hours each day in prayer. I met him once while he was still with us. His successor, Benedict XVI, is a refined German with a love of Mozart, whose music he himself plays on the piano, a love for good liturgical music (Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony), a love of the Gospel, and gift for theological writing, which has yielded an impressive count of outstanding volumes. Many Evangelicals have found his book, Introduction To Christianity, one of the best all-around introductions to the Christian Faith in print. Benny Hinn??? Please.You continued: “All . . . Blosser is doing here is to assume that Catholicism represents the true church, and then set that over against all those mischievous “sects and cults and denominations. But this identification simply begs the question in favor of Catholicism. So Blosser is substituting a tendentious assumption for a reasoned argument.”
A false inference. It’s true that I assume the truth of Catholicism. (Who can help but assume the truth of what he believes?) When Augustine declared, ”Credo ut intelligam” (“I believe in order that I may understand”), he wasn’t encouraging blind believism (gross fideism); rather, he was noting a profound point of epistemology -- that one can’t prove anything without assuming something (e.g., not even science can prove its own presuppositions scientifically). But this does not entail begging the question (a petitio principii), as long as I offer arguments based on a common record of empirically testable claims from history and experience and a common fund of metaphysical and logical first principles from which we all must argue.#80 -- I wrote: “It is one thing to wish to avoid sacrificing truth for the sake of unity; it is another to have a profusion of separate Christian communities of faith, each insisting on points of doctrine that conflict with the others, and many of them claiming to be the one true Church of Christ.”
You answered: “In general, I don’t think that most Evangelicals claim that their particular denomination is the one true church.”
I know some that do and some that used to, like the RPCNA, if you read their founding documents. But that’s a detail.#81 -- I wrote: “One must ask what has gone wrong here. Something about this picture is not quite commensurable with our Lord’s call for unity (Jn 17:21) and the repeated warnings throughout the NT about dissent against divinely ordained authority, factionalism, division, and the literal ‘denominationalism’ of those who claimed, ‘I belong to Paul,’ ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas.’ No great leap in logic is required to see how these warnings extend to those who claim to belong to Luther, Calvin, Knox, Cranmer, Wesley, Menno, and so forth.”
You replied: (1) “It wouldn’t hurt if Blosser bothered to exegete Jn 17:21 in context. It falls on the heels of v20, which has reference to Christian mission, involving the evangelization of the Gentile world, which will bring it into the fold of Messianic Judaism (cf. 10:16). To cite this verse as a prooftext for ecumenism is quite anachronistic.
So you think that Paul (or Jesus) would be happy with Christian missionaries from the U.S. going to Mongolia to convert Mongolians into Mongolian Cumberland Presbyterians, Mongolian Southern Baptists, Mongolian Missouri-Synod Lutherans, Mongolian Dutch Calvinists, Mongolian Free Will Methodists, and Mongolian Foursquare Gospel groupies? You find nothing ironic about that? A Japanese convert to the Christian Faith, Uchimura Kanzo [pictured left], rebelled against all of this and said he would stand for nothing more than “two J’s” – “Jesus” and “Japan.” He founded the Mukyokai (non-church) movement in Japan. A better answer would have been to found nothing new at all, but to quit trying to re-invent the wheel and come back to the universal Church. ‘Catholic’ (from the Greek καθολικός), of course, means “universal.”You continued: (2) “However, I’m all for Christian unity. Here’s my own proposal for the reunion of Christendom: (a) Creeds: Westminster Confession or London Baptist Confession; (b) Preaching: Black or Southern Baptist; (c) Music: German or Italian Baroque; hymns by Wesley, Watts, & Pantycelyn; (d) Architecture: Gothic, Romanesque, or Byzantine; (e) Liturgy: Cranmer; (f) Polity: Episcopal (Mondays and Wednesdays); Congregational (Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday); Presbyterian (Saturday and Sunday). Something along the lines of Tony Evans or Charles Stanley preaching a sermon by Spurgeon or John Piper or Martyn Lloyd-Jones in a Gothic cathedral with a choir singing Bach or Vivaldi.
How Baskin-Robins of you, and how very American! Only, it looks a bit like you’re mixing Mint Chocolate Chip with Butter Pecan and Orange Pineapple, which might not ultimately appeal to too many people. Another point: your scenario assumes that the Church is man-made. But she is not. She was founded by Christ. That is why Peter Kreeft could declare:You continued: (3) “We should, indeed, take to heart the NT admonitions about divinely constituted authority. That’s why no great leap in logic is required to see how these warnings extend to institutions that usurp authority, viz. the papacy. Remember the False Decretals?”“The Catholic Church claims less authority than any other Christian church in the world; that is why she is so conservative. Protestant churches feel free to change “the deposit of faith” (e.g. by denying Mary’s assumption, which was believed from the beginning) or of morals (e.g. by allowing divorce, though Christ forbade it), or worship (e.g. by denying the Real Presence and the centrality of the Eucharist, which was constant throughout the Church’s first 1,500 years).” (Peter Kreeft, “Gender and the Will of God: The Issue of Priestesses is Ultimately an Issue of God,” Crisis magazine, Vol. 11, No. 8 [September 1993], pp. 20-28.)One could add: That’s why Protestants feel that they can hive off and re-invent the church in their own image in every generation, while the Catholics submits to the Church passed town to them in unbroken tradition from the Apostles.
What’s your point? Pseudo-Isidore’s Decretals have been universally recognized to be forgeries by both Catholic and Protestant scholars for well over a century. Does this rather impressive forgery somehow undermine the credibility of the Catholic Church? If so, how? It wasn’t commissioned by the Church. It ended up fooling a lot of people for a while; but it had the opposite effect of that intended by the forger and ultimately corroded the authority of the curial hierarchy in the years that followed its appearance.You continued: (4) “I also agree with Blosser that we should avoid the literal ‘denominationalism’ of those who claim Peter for their own, viz. the papacy.”
You’re imputing to me a view that I do not hold – a view, furthermore, which makes no sense. But the upshot, I take it, is that you think of Catholicism as another factional ‘denomination’ of the sort that Paul condemned in I Corinthians, ch. 1. I would ask you, then, where’s a more plausible place to hang your hat on Sunday? Your Baskin-Robbins congregational-episcopal Anglican Black Baptist Calvinist mega-church? You’re grasping at straws! “Non-denominationalists” (who are invariably baptistic and/or charismatic) are trying the same thing. They’re trying to get beyond the denominational divisions by re-inventing the wheel. The wheel was already invented 2000 years ago. People just need to recognize this.#82 -- I wrote; “The Apostle Paul says that the “pillar and foundation of truth” is the Church (1 Tim 3:15) . . . ”
You replied: . . . (2) “ . . . Blosser’s confident appeal to the words of Jesus or the words of Paul is out of step with contemporary Catholic scholarship, which does not assume that Paul wrote the Pastorals or that Jesus spoke all the words attributed to him in the Gospels. The problem is that traditional Catholic prooftexting is based on precritical views of Scripture. But since Catholicism is no longer committed to the proposition that the Gospels preserve the ipsissima verba of Christ or to the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals, then its traditional prooftexting is seriously out of date with its modernistic embrace of the historical-critical method.”
You’re making an important point here that must be recognized; however, you’re doing so without making a necessary distinction – the distinction between Catholic official teaching and contemporary opinions of various Catholic theologians. They’re not the same thing. This is why faithful Catholics cringe every time there’s some sort of public question about the Catholic Church and the news media go to someone like the Notre Dame’s tenured dissident professor, Richard P. McBrien, for what they take to be an authoritative voice on “the Catholic position.” McBrien is known to be a liberal dissenter from Vatican teaching on a number of issues. Opinions like his a dime-a-dozen.#83 -- I wrote, criticizing a Protestant tendency, against: “ . . . ‘Spirit-led’ individuals hiving off to start their own independent thing.”
Now it’s true that among Catholic biblical scholars these days (especially Bible scholars), there has been a broad acceptance of the historical-critical traditions stemming from the Enlightenment’s rejection of supernaturalism, a tradition that has come down to us mainly and heavily through Protestant Liberalism (from Lessing to Bultmann). Add to that the postmodern rejection of evidentialist and foundationalist premises, and you end up with some pretty flaky Catholic Bible scholars, such as Dominic Crossan, a founding co-chair of the notoriously flakey Jesus Seminar. These sorts of theologians have managed to catch the ear of the media with their sound bytes and statements and have had a considerable (unfortunate) impact on many Catholics as well as non-Catholics.
This does not mean, however, that the Church herself has abandoned her traditional high view of Scripture. This view can be traced back through Pius XII’s encyclical, Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943) and Leo XIII’s encyclical Providentissimus Deus (1893), and beyond. But it is also articulated in the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum (1965) and in the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s “Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” (1993). Even though the Church has slowly accepted some of the tools of historical-criticism as having a legitimate use in textual analysis, she has never withdrawn her high view of Scripture as the inspired Word of God, inerrant in all that it proposes for our salvation. (See Fr. William Most, Free from All Error: Authorship, Inerrancy, Historicity of Scripture, Church Teaching, and Modern Scripture Scholars, 1985.)
You replied: “You mean, like popes who lay exclusive claim to the charism of infallibility whenever they speak ex cathedra?”
How have popes “hived off to start their own independent thing”? Even in Mt 23:2-3, Jesus says of the scribes and Pharisees -- of all things! -- that they “sin on Moses’ seat”; and then He adds: “so practice and observe whatever they tell you . . .” (emphasis added). You may not like the popes any more than you like the Pharisees. But that’s not the point. The question is: Is what they tell you true? Do they sin on “Moses’ seat”? Do they have the authority delegated by them to teach – the authority of Moses, of the Apostles, of Christ? Then listen to them and do what they tell you. You may question their authority all you want; but there’s no hiving off to start something new here.#84 -- I wrote: “The relation between the modern philosophical turn to subjectivism (Descartes) and the anti-Catholic turn to private interpretation (Luther) is itself an interesting question.”
You replied: “Given that Descartes was a French Catholic who studied under the Jesuits, the relation is, indeed, elusive.”
Michael Gillespie, in Nihilism Before Nietzsche, traces the roots of philosophical nihilism back through Descartes to the late medieval nominalist tradition. Descartes was steeped in this tradition through the influence of the Jesuits, among others (the contemporary Jesuit, Suarez, for instance, was a moderate nominalist). As I have described earlier, above, Luther was also steeped in this nominalist tradition through Ockham’s influence in his own Augustinian order. Wheaton College’s Arthur Holmes has a great chapter on this subject in his book, Fact, Value, and God, and Louis Dupre’s Passage to Modernity: An Essay in the Hermeneutics of Nature and Culture also has excellent sections on the influence of nominalism on Luther and the modern turn to subjectivism and skepticism. The philosophical speculations of the nominalist Catholic, Descartes, no more represent official Church teaching than diatribes of the nominalist Augustinian monk, Martin Luther.#85 -- I wrote: “But, in any case, once these moves were made, questions about traditional interpretations of isolated passages in the Bible led, by a natural and seemingly inexorable logic, to questions about the inerrancy and inspiration of those passages, and, eventually, to the full-blown demythologizing hermeneutics of ‘higher criticism’.”
You replied: “If that is so, then why has contemporary Catholic scholarship made the same hard left turn?”
Because Pope Paul VI abolished the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (“List of Prohibited Books”) after Vatican II, lifting the ban on Protestant scholarship. The motive wasn’t bad: the Index was a disciplinary measure intended to preserve Catholic orthodoxy, but it was judged in the 1960s to have outlived its usefulness. Paul VI, like his predecessor, John XXIII, aimed to prevent Catholics from becoming too ensconced in a Catholic cultural ‘ghetto’. However, as a result of his decision, many Catholics plunged recklessly headfirst into the scholarship of the likes of Bultmann and other Liberal Protestants who didn’t believe at all in the supernatural claims of Scripture, and we have witnessed many Catholic casualties as a result. Again, to repeat, “Catholic scholarship” isn’t official Church teaching; moreover, not all Catholic biblical scholarship has gone off the deep end. Some of it is very good. Pope Benedict XVI’s forthcoming book on Jesus of Nazareth promises to be first-rate, for starters.#86 -- I wrote: “It is hardly necessary to repeat the litany of apostasies in mainstream Protestant denominations, many of which are now on record endorsing not merely the serialized polygamy of divorce and remarriage”
You replied: “Not to mention the serialized polygamy of annulment and remarriage.”
I have already addressed the point you raise here.#87 -- I wrote: “But also endorsing abortion and euthanasia as acts of Christian stewardship, and flirting with the ordination of gays and lesbians, and with the acceptance of ‘same sex marriages’.”
You replied: Not to mention the ordination of homosexual popes as well as a homosexual subculture among the priesthood [Here you quote a list of renegade popes including the notorious Borgia popes citing their scandalous sexual and homosexual exploits.]
Here you miss an important point I was making in my statements to which you were responding. Perhaps you simply took me to be listing the sins of Protestants. This is not so. I know there is plenty of sin to go around. I trust we can agree on that. But that was not my point. My point was (and is) this: none of the worst of the Borgia popes ever went on record as declaring that their scandalous behavior was not sinful. They may have been notorious hypocrites and sinners; but they never taught that black was white, that vice was virtue, that sin was pure, that evil was righteousness. Likewise, the abuse of the annulment tribunals in the Catholic Church may be a serious problem (I think it is), but the Church has never said that it’s permissible (or even possible) to simply dissolve a sacramentally valid marriage. The difference is that Protestant denominations have. Many of them have accepted divorce as an “acceptable” thing, even producing liturgical services for divorce; and, with that, remarriage. Many of them have endorsed abortion and euthanasia (the ELCA now allows its institutional pension investments to fund abortions for members). Some mainline Presbyterians, Methodists and Anglican groups have given their blessing to actively sexual “same-sex partnerships,” and the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) now has an ordained homosexual bishop who regularly offers pious theological rationales in defense of his lifestyle. But as the prophet says: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, and put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!" (Isaiah 5:20)You continued: “The popes were the original prosperity preachers, with a lifestyle to match.”
This is a generalization that is either ignorant or unfair. There have been self-indulgent popes, as well as over forty “antipopes” who weren’t even legitimate popes. But the vast majority of popes have been only good and holy men, as anyone who takes the time to investigate their lives will learn. Nobody ever seems interested in the good popes. Read the lives of the popes who are canonized saints. Not all of them are, for obvious reasons. Dante placed several popes in the lower cantos of hell in his Divine Comedy, for reasons with which few would quarrel. But the canonized popes were wonderful, saintly men. Read about the lives of Pope St. Leo I (reigned 440–61), Pope St. Gregory I (590–604), and Pope St. Nicholas I (858–67), Pope St. Pius X (1903-14), or even the many un-canonized popes, like Pope Paul III (1534-49), who went through the streets of Rome in sackcloth and ashes for the sins of his predecessors, or popes of our own time, like John Paul II (1978-1005). If you think these were self-indulgent “prosperity preachers,” you simply don’t know them.#88 -- I wrote: “Hence it is beside the point that liberals theologians and even professing atheists can be found who call themselves ‘Catholics,’ perhaps in some cultural sense, as there are secular Jews. This does not mean that Catholic teaching is divided against itself.”
You replied: (1) “The Catholic church has officially liberalized its view of the Bible, and, what is more, (2) It has done so in conflict with its prior position. Just consider the anti-modernist encyclicals of Pius IX or the Pontifical Biblical Commission under Leo XIII with post-Vatican II developments.”
As to your first point, I repeat: you cannot take Catholic Bible scholars as reliable spokesmen for the Church’s official view of Scripture. Many Catholic Bible scholars have been unfortunately infected by the bug of Protestant Liberalism and its stepchildren.#89 -- I wrote: “How does one know whether his religious leaders agree with God? The Protestant’s answer of sola scriptura is insufficient at this point, because the interpretive autonomy and individualism it permits, as well as the profusion of conflicting interpretations it has fostered historically, run into unavoidable conflict with one of the fundamental functions of Church authority, which is to settle matters of doctrinal dispute (e.g., Acts 15).”
As to your second point: the difference in attitude and orientation towards modernity and modern scholarship before and after Vatican II does not betoken a revision of dogma. The abolition of the aforementioned Index does not imply that heretical biblical theology is now formally or materially embraced by the Church. In fact, while the dissidents are busy trying to interpret Vatican II as a ‘rupture’ with past Catholic tradition, Pope Benedict has been adamant about the importance of interpreting Vatican II (and its documents) in continuity with Sacred Tradition.
You replied: “Appeal to the Council of Jerusalem either proves too much or too little, for it is both more as well as less than an ecumenical council. On the one hand, it’s more than an ecumenical council because Apostles (as well as James, a half-brother of Christ) rather than bishops oversaw the proceedings. On the other hand, it’s less than an ecumenical council because the laity were also involved (Acts 15:22). So it’s too hierarchical and too laical to model an ecumenical council. By turns apostolic, presbyterial, and congregational, whereas an ecumenical council is strictly episcopal—outranked by the Apostolate while outranking the laity.”
Because it was an Apostolic council, Acts is not listed as the first Ecumenical Council of the Church. You are right that it was more than an ecumenical council in the sense you specify. You may even be right that it was less in the very interesting way you relate the Apostolate and the laity. However why should you assume that the Apostles were not bishops? The NT doesn’t hesitate to identify the office of an Apostle with that of a bishop (e.g., Acts. 1:20, where episkopos is used). Furthermore, is we assume the Catholic understanding of hierarchical authority, there’s nothing disordered about the proceedings of the Council in Acts 15. We read that after there has been “much debate, the first to stand and make a statement is Peter (v. 7), summing up the position of salvation by grace over against the Judaizers’ position. Then all listen to the reports by Paul and Barnabas about the progress of the work in Antioch (v. 12). After they finish, James offers his assessment of the situation. Evangelicals are often eager to suppose that James’ role in the Council trumps any Catholic assumption about “Pope Peter” here, but this is hardly the case. James was bishop of Jerusalem, not Peter. This was effectively James’ “diocese.” Thus, while it is natural that the other Apostles and presbyteroi (‘presbyters’ or ‘priests’ – though Protestants favor ‘elders’ [not to be confused with episkopoi) in the assembly deferred first to Peter, as the one whom Christ made head of the whole Church, it is not at all surprising that James should have authority of jurisdiction within his own metropolitan diocese.#90 -- I wrote: “Here the Protestant finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. What does he do if his beliefs conflict with those of his denomination?”
Incidentally, James was not a “half-brother” of Jesus, but a cousin. This common Protestant confusion is based on (1) a widespread Protestant animus against the knowledge that the claim of Mary’s perpetual virginity is a Catholic claim, (2) ignorance of the historical record, and (3) a linguistic confusion.
There are only three – and possibly only two – NT saints by the name of ‘James’:
James the Greater was not the writer of the Epistle of James, but the brother of John and Son of Zebidee. James the Lesser was a brother of Matthew, also known as Levi (Mt 2:14). Hegesippus, according to Eusebius of Caesarea, records that Alphaeus/Clopas was the brother of Joseph (Eusebius, Hist. eccl., III, 11), so that James the Lesser and Matthew (Levi) were, like James the Greater and John, cousins of Jesus. Eusebius reports the tradition that James the Just was the son of Joseph’s brother Clopas (the Greek form of the Aramaic transliteration Alphaeus), and therefore was of the "brethren" (which he interprets as "cousin") of Jesus described in the New Testament. The Greek word adelphos (‘brother) was not restricted to the literal meaning of a full brother in the Bible, a use still common today in Greece and other Balkan cultures. Jerome (d. AD 410) argued vehemently (De Viris Illustribus, "On Illustrious Men") that James was merely a cousin to Jesus, the son of another Mary, the wife of Clopas and "sister" of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, in the following manner:
- James the Greater, son of Zebedee, brother of John, called as an Apostle.
- James the son of Alphaeus/Clopas/Cleophas, known as James, the Lesser, called as an Apostle.
- James the Just, ‘brother’ of the Lord."James, who is called the brother of the Lord, surnamed the Just, the son of Joseph by another wife, as some think, but, as appears to me, the son of Mary sister of the mother of our Lord of whom John makes mention in his book." Jerome's reference is to the scene of the Crucifixion in John 19:25.The writer of the Epistle of James and the first bishop of Jerusalem, called “James the Just,” was therefore most likely one and the same individual as “James the Less.”
Protestants who hold out for the unlikely possibility that James the Just might have been a distinct individual from James the Less, and the even less plausible possibility that this James was literally a ‘brother’ of Jesus Christ (at least in the sense of a “half-brother”) generally bank on the fact that the NT explicitly refers to Jesus’ “brothers.” James, as well as Joseph (or Joses), Simon, and Jude or (Judas) are unequivocally mentioned in Mt. 13:55 and Mark 6:3 as Jesus’ “brethren,” and Paul refers to James as “the Lord’s brother” (Gal. 1:19). However, as briefly mentioned above, this linguistic appeal rests on a flawed semantic assumption. First of all, these were Hebrew men, and the Hebrew term ach (conventionally translated ‘brother’) has a wide range of meaning. It is not restricted to a brother german (full blood brother) or half brother. The same is true for the term for ‘sister’ and the plural ‘brethren.’ Accordingly, Abraham’s nephew, Lot, is described as Abraham’s ‘brother’ (achi from ach) in Genesis 14:14. This pattern is ubiquitous throughout the OT. The Jews who translated the Hebrew OT into Greek in the Septuagint (LXX) had available two terms in Greek that would have specified a difference between ‘brother’ (adelphos) and ‘cousin’ (anepsios), but they simply took the term adelphos and used it as though it had the same ranger of semantic reference as the Hebrew ach, using it here for a brother german and there for a nephew or cousin, etc. Thus in translating Gen. 14:14, the Jewish writers of the Septuagint translated the Hebrew term for ‘brother’ by the Greek term adelphos, referring to Abraham’s nephew, Lot, as his ‘brother’ (Septuaginta, ed. Alfred Rahlfs, 5th ed., Stuttgart: Bibelanstalt, 1955, p. 19). The NT writers simply follow this convention. Thus when James is called Jesus’ adelphos, this does not necessarily mean brother german or half-brother.
But the actual positive evidence that Jesus in fact had no brothers german or half-brothers is laid out quite clearly in Karl Keating’s aforementioned book, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, pp. 282ff., on “Mary’s Perpetual Virginity,” a doctrine both Calvin and Luther accepted.) The evidence is circumstantial, at best, but probable. For one thing, Jesus was Mary’s “first born,” and when Jesus was taken to the temple in Jerusalem at age twelve, he is mentioned as evidently the only Son of Mary (Lk 2:41-51); there is no hint of other children in the family. He is never referred to as “a son of Mary,” but only as “the son of Mary” (e.g., Mk 6:3). Moreover, it would have defied Jewish custom for Jesus to entrust his mother’s care to the Apostle John as He did (Jn 19:26-27 – “. . . And from that hour the disciple took her into his own keeping [or home]”), if He had elder siblings, who would have naturally shouldered the conventional Jewish responsibility of care for their mother. There’s some more complicated exegetical detail Keating goes into that is quite interesting, but goes beyond the scope of what I am willing to take on for my purposes here. (See “St. James the Greater” and “St. James the Less” in The Catholic Encyclopedia; and “Saint James the Great,” “Saint James the Less,” and “Saint James the Less” in the Wikipedia.)
You replied: “Change denominations.”
Indeed . . . Or start a new one, no doubt. You make it all to easy, don’t you!You continued: “True, it’s subject to abuse. Equally subject to abuse is a fallible denomination with delusions of infallibility.”
That would certainly be true, I agree; and there may be quite a number of such denominations around. However, in the case of the Catholic Church, it’s not a matter beyond empirical testing. Setting aside the question of ‘peccability’ (sinfulness) – since I trust we can agree that ‘infallibility’ pertains to the indefectable truth of doctrine, not to the unimpeachable sanctity of behavior – all one has to do is find a single Catholic doctrine that contradicts (1) Scripture or (2) extra-biblical Sacred Tradition. Then you’ve felled your “Whore of Babylon” for good! Give it a try. Go ahead, make my day. ;)#91 -- I wrote: “What does it mean for him to ‘submit’ to his spiritual leaders?”
You replied: “Good question. Is this blind submission to a self-appointed authority? Or is this rational submission to someone who can make a reasonable case for his interpretation? Notice how often Jesus and Paul reason with their audience. And this is despite the fact that Jesus, for one, is divine authority Incarnate.”
First, unlike some Fundamentalist preachers who perceive a God’s ‘call’ and go out and found their own church, no Catholic clergy are “self-appointed.” You can’t just make yourself a priest, or decide to become a bishop. You have to go through a discerning process, a novitiate -- years of preparation, training and study, during which you might be judged unsuitable for the priesthood at any time, and then the bishop may be willing to ordain you a priest. All bishops are appointed by Rome. Popes are elected by a college of cardinals. None of these are “self-appointed.”#92 -- I wrote: “His pastor might tell him: ‘You have to trust that God leads through the elders.’ What should the Protestant do? If his denomination represents a valid ecclesiastical authority, he should submit.”
Second, even after you’ve become convinced of the truth of the claims of the Catholic Faith and assented to the authority of the Church, the Magisterium (pope and bishops) are constantly appealing to your reason. Have you ever read a papal encyclical? Try John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio (On the Relationship between Faith and Reason), or his Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (On Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone), or the Vatican’s Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the “New Age” (a brilliant critique of the New Age movement). Your portrayal of Catholicism is a caricature reminiscent of Mel Brooks’s cinematic historiography, or, worse, Jack Chic’s tracts.
You replied: “We *trust* God, but we *listen* to men. A Christian should never take an interpretation on “trust.” Appeal to divine leadership to validate a particular interpretation is just so much bluff and bluster.”
That caricature, again . . . Catholic apologists (from Augustine to Chesterton) have repeatedly testified that Catholicism is the most intellectual satisfying of any conceivable religious worldview and way of life. Converts have repeatedly attested to the same. Men such as John Henry Newman, Ronald Knox, G.K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, Thomas Merton, etc., etc., etc. would have been utterly repulsed by a religion that made blind appeals to authority with no credible warrant. In fact, did you know the source of the maxim that “the argument from human authority is the weakest of all arguments”? Most people assume it came from some Enlightenment philosophe or more recent secular curmudgeon of a skeptic. But this is not the case. The saying in question was a maxim of medieval Catholic philosophers! Medieval philosophers and theologians were rational to a fault, while most modern philosophies since the so-called Enlightenment have attacked reason in dozens of ways, exalting authority instead – the authority of ideology, or politics, or passions, or power, or pragmatism, or positivism, or Marxism, or feminism, or Freudianism, or Romanticism, or Existentialism, or postmodern Deconstructionism – such that nearly the whole history of Western philosophy for the last two centuries has been an attack on reason, while the Catholic Church has been nearly the lone champion of reason standing in the breech. I will concede one possible exception here – the Dutch Calvinists have a philosophical tradition worthy of note, perhaps the only alternative in the running besides the Catholic – at least according to Wheaton College’s Mark Noll in his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (and see my Review).#93 -- I wrote: “In the final analysis, there would seem to be no more than a couple of alternatives: either we are left with nothing but personal opinion, illumined as it may or may not be by private interpretations of others—which means it comes down to this: every man for himself, interpreting Scripture as best he can and joining whatever group or denomination agrees most closely with his personal understandings.”
Whom does it take more faith to trust – (1) a devout Christian who has founded his own denomination and believes God has graced him with a special illumination to understand how Jesus intended the Church to be run and Christianity to be understood, even though most other denominations haven’t got it quite right, or (2) a Christian who claims no original insights but has Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Anthony of the Desert, Augustine, St. Benedict, Leo the Great, Methodius, Gregory the Great, Anselm, Albert the Great, Bonaventure, Dominic, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Bellarmine, Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, Teresa of Avila, Frances a Kempis, John Henry Newman, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Edith Stein, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Mother Teresa, Malcolm Muggeridge, Alasdair MacIntyre, Mortimer Adler, Thomas Howard, Scott Hahn, Steve Wood, Marcus Grodi, William Farmer, and Peter Kreeft on his side? (see my list of Notable Catholic Converts)
You replied: “Notice his deistic way of describing the Protestant alternative, as if God’s providence were in abeyance.”
I don’t think either of us wants do deny divine Providence. The question is, How does it operate? Neither of us would assume, I think, that the Lord would be happy with anyone who trust Providence to protect him if he blindfolded himself before crossing an Interstate highway. Should we expect Providence to lead every Protestant “into all truth” by simply relying on the Holy Spirit, the Bible, and whatever insights he can muster from Church history? The proof is in the pudding, is it not? Ever since 1517, Protestantism has seen nothing but a proliferation of factions. (But we’ve been through that before . . . Well over 20,000 distinct Protestant denominations, and counting . . . .)#94 -- I wrote: “Or God has established some kind of identifiable authority, with a promise of protection against error, to guide the Church.”
You replied: “And how does he identify this identifiable authority? How does he identify the true church?”
The best advice I could suggest would be to read some of the conversion stories of those who have previously made their way into the Catholic Church and analyze their reasoning. For example:#95 -- I wrote: “Why is it important for the advocate of sola scriptura to also affirm ecclesiastical authority? Because if the Church has no authority, there is no discipline.”
Beyond that, of course, you have the ancient (Nicene) Creed, which offers the Four Marks of the Church: (1) One, (2) Holy, (3) Catholic, and (4) Apostolic. That will get you in the ballpark, at least. (1) One -- This means that Christ founded one Church: He has only one Bride. He’s not a polygamist. This doesn’t mean non-Catholics Christians are not in some way related to the Church; but they are not incorporated into the fullness of unity that our Lord desires. (2) Holy -- This means ‘set apart’, different, consecrated to God. Catholics believe we’re made holy by being incorporated into Christ’s holy Body. Holiness is the Church’s final end or goal, her telos. As such, many of her members fall sadly short that holiness in this life. Yet the Church’s holiness is also in a sense her number one selling point. More people have been brought into the Church by the authentic holiness of individuals like Francis Assisi, Mother Teresa and John Paul II than any argument. (3) Catholic -- This means that the Church is not only a particular, local church with a specific center of authority at a specific place, Rome, comprised of those particular individuals, but also a universal Church, for all people. Furthermore, the Church embraces earth, purgatory, and heaven – the ‘Church militant’, ‘Church suffering’, and ‘Church triumphant’. (4) Apostolic -- This means the Church subsists in direct continuity through lawful ordination (in the laying on of hands) in “apostolic succession” from the first Apostles commissioned by Christ.
- Timothy Drake, ed., Richard John Neuhaus, Foreword, There We Stood, Here We Stand: Eleven Lutherans Rediscover Their Catholic Roots
- Richard John Neuhaus, Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, And the Splendor of Truth
- Scott and Kimberly Hahn, Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism
- Scott Hahn, Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God
- Scott Hahn, Catholic for a Reason II: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mother of God, Second Edition
- Patrick Madrid, ed., Surprised by Truth: 11 Converts Give the Biblical and Historical Reasons for Becoming Catholic
- Patrick Madrid, ed., Surprised By Truth 2: 15 Men and Women Give the Biblical and Historical Reasons For Becoming Catholic
- Patrick Madrid, ed., Surprised by Truth 3: 10 More Converts Explain the Biblical and Historical Reason for Becoming Catholic
- Mark Shea, By What Authority?: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition
- Thomas Howard, Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey To Rome
- Thomas Howard, Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament
- Stephen K. Ray, Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church
- David B. Currie, Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic
- Dave Armstrong, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism
- Louis Bouyer, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism
- Robert Baram, ed., Spiritual Journeys: Twenty-Seven Personal Experiences
- G.K. Chesterton, The Catholic Church And Conversion
- Ronald A. Knox, A spiritual Aeneid
- Ronald A. Knox, The Church on Earth: The Nature and Authority of the Catholic Church, and the Place of the Pope Within It
- Dan O’Neill, The New Catholics: Contemporary Converts Tell Their Stories
- Sheldon Vanauken, Under the Mercy
- John Henry Cardinal Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua
- Peter Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics
- Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain
- David Armstrong, ed., Malcolm Muggeridge’s Conversion Story
After that, I would explore what some of the early Popes and other patristic fathers had to say about Rome, such as:
- Pope St. Boniface (d. 422): "... it is clear that this Roman Church is to all churches throughout the world as the head is to the members, and that whoever separates himself from it becomes an exile from the Christian religion, since he ceases to belong to it's fellowship." (Ep. 14, 1)
- Pope St. Leo The Great (d. 461): "Though priests have a like dignity, yet they have not an equal jurisdiction, since even among the most blessed apostles, as there was a likeness of honor, so was there a certain distinction of power, and the election of all being equal, pre-eminence over the rest was given to one, from which type the distinction between the bishops also has risen, and it was provided by an important arrangement, that all should not claim to themselves power over all, but that in every province there should be one, whose sentence should be considered the first among his brethren; and others again, seated in the greater cities, should undertake a larger care, through whom the direction of the Universal Church should converge to the one See of Peter, and nothing anywhere disagree with its head." (Ep. 14)
- Pope St. Agatho (d. 681): "... Peter's true confession was revealed from heaven by the Father, and for it Peter was pronounced blessed by the Lord of all; and he received also, from the Redeemer of us all, by a threefold commendation, the spiritual sheep of the Church that he might feed them. Resting on his protection, the Apostolic Church (of Rome) has never turned aside from the way of truth to any part of error and her authority has always been faithfully followed and embraced as that of the Prince of the Apostles, by the whole Catholic Church, and by all the venerable Fathers who embraced her doctrine, by which they have shone as most approved lights of the Church of Christ, and has been venerated and followed by all the orthodox doctors..." (Mansi XI, p. 233)
- St. Maximus the Confessor (d. 622): "For the extremities of the earth, and all in every part of it who purely and rightly confess the Lord, look directly towards the most holy Roman Church and its confession and faith, as it were to a sun of unfailing light, awaiting from it the bright radiance of our fathers, according to what the six inspired and holy Councils have purely and piously decreed, declaring most expressly the symbol of faith. For from the coming down of the Incarnate Word among us, all the churches in every part of the world have possessed that greatest church alone as their base and foundation, seeing that, according to the promise of Christ Our Savior, the gates of hell do never prevail against it, that it possesses the Keys of right confession and faith in Him, that it opens the true and only religion to such as approach it with piety, and shuts up and locks every heretical mouth that speaks injustice against the Most High." (P.G. 91, 137ff.)
Then I would want to follow up by checking the following linked articles on “Eastern Orthodoxy.”
You replied: (1) “Church discipline is nearly nonexistent in Catholicism. So, if church discipline is Blosser’s rationale for the Catholic rule of faith, then the rationale undercuts the Catholic rule of faith in actual practice.”
You’re missing my point, which is that the condition for any possible discipline – let alone effective discipline – is ecclesiastical authority (remembering that ‘authority’ means, not ‘power,’ but ‘Author’s rights’) – which the Catholic Church has in spades by virtue of her Apostolic Tradition.You continued: (2) “Underlying his attack on sola Scriptura is Blosser’s unspoken and unsupported assumption that the rule of faith is supposed to function a problem-solving device, and if it fails to solve the problem, then it’s a faulty rule of faith. But the rationale for sola Scriptura is principial rather than pragmatic.”
If by “discipline” you mean a coercive measure imposed on a recalcitrant church member, that’s one thing. If you mean the power of moral and spiritual persuasion brought to bear in life of a believer, that’s another.
The dissident periodical, the National Catholic Reporter, printed an article in 2005 in which it presented as evidence of Vatican “repressiveness” the example of 24 prominent theologians and clerics who had been censured, silenced, or otherwise disciplined by the Vatican since 1979. That’s only 24 cases in 26 years! (See my article, “The Vatican too ‘repressive’?? Gimme a break!”) We’ve already seen that your earlier caricatured portrayal of the Catholic Church as an authoritarian institution demanding blind, unreasoning submission contradicts the existence of well-reasoned catechisms, encyclicals, and other magisterial documents inviting open examination. Here, too, we see that the Catholic Church has been lenient to a fault in allowing her theologians “elbow room” to speculate and explore, and that she is reluctant to silence or discipline them unless there is no alternative – and even then only after painstaking and protracted investigations. Sometimes some of us wish she were quicker to move against those we judge to be renegades.
On the other hand, it is important to acknowledge that ecclesiastical discipline is often of a kind that requires the voluntary cooperation and submission of church members. Not all excommunications are of the public type effected by an explicitly performed rite. For example, a young woman who procures an abortion automatically excommunicates herself (excommunicatio latae sententiae). But how would anybody know about this publicly? If she were turning her back on the Church for good, there’s little use in speaking about the need for ‘discipline’. If she were to be reconciled to the Church, it would be through the sacrament of confession between her and her priest alone. The Church requires members to receive the sacrament of confession at least once a year as a bare minimum, and encourages frequent confession as a means of grace and spiritual growth (John Paul II went to confession every day, or at least once a week). But the Church hardly has means of enforcing such practices except through the usual exhortations heard in Sunday morning homilies and read in Catholic literature.
We might wish that the lives of Catholics conformed more readily to Church teaching in matters of faith and morals. We might wish for homilies that more frequently addressed the hard and difficult sins more directly. But even as things are, Catholic teaching is pretty well known on the basics. Who doesn’t know what the Catholic position on abortion is, for example? Have you ever gone to Washington, D.C., on January 22nd anniversary of Roe v Wade for the National March for Life? If you have, you know that it’s dominated by tens of thousands of Catholics. This doesn’t mean that in a Church whose membership numbers one out of every five people in the world, you’re not going to run into a lot of Catholics who defy Church teaching, even in matters like abortion. But I doubt there’s much ignorance about what that teaching is.
This is not so. I make no such claim. What justifies a rule of faith (regula fidei) is its truth, not it’s ability to solve problems. However, if the rule is true, one expects it to solve problems.You continued: “As I recently said: Sola scripture derives from the identity of the Christian faith as a revealed religion. We believe in sola Scriptura because we believe in the primacy of revelation. Revealed theology is the basis of doctrine. And Scripture is the only record of revealed theology.”
I commend you for this statement, which comes as close to anything I’ve seen you write here to being a statement of what you take to be the justification for sola scriptura. A few observations: First, does your last sentence state your underlying premise or your conclusion, or neither? Perhaps there’s no implicit argument at all here, but only a profession of faith, as it were.
Second, whatever the function of your last sentence, I think you mis-state yourself a bit. I think what you may mean to say is that “Scripture is the only divinely inspired record we have of revealed theology.” Surely there are many extra-biblical records attesting to revealed theology – Didache, records of Church councils, Eusebius, statements by Julian the Apostate, etc.
Third, although Aquinas uses the term “theology” as you do, to refer to the contents of Scripture (see Summa Theologiae, I, I, a. 1), it’s not a typical Protestant manner of speaking. For example, some people might (perhaps mistakenly, I don’t know) assume you to be suggesting that Divine Revelation has only one subject: God – and is exclusively about Him, to the exclusion of anthropology and so forth. While “theology” literally means the “science of God,” however, I suppose it can be taken in a broader sense to embrace much more than simply the subject of God and His nature.
Fourth, while I agree with your last sentence as I’ve restated it (above), I think you actually intend to say more than this. I think you intend to imply that everything God intends for us to know for purposes of our salvation and the on-going governance of His Church is exhaustively contained in Scripture. I doubt I’m wrong in this supposition. Furthermore, I don’t see how anything you’ve written here demonstrates this.
Fifth, I don’t see how sola scriptura “derives” from “the identity of the Christian faith as a revealed religion.” You referred earlier to the Covenant People of God going back to the OT. Abraham is reckoned as the father of our Judeo-Christian faith, yet there were no Scriptures in his day. Hence, the principle of the Prophetic Office comes into play here, which is something other than sola scriptura. Neither do I see how one can believe in sola scriptura “because” he believes in the “primacy of revelation.” This faces the same objections as the former claim. I may agree with you that “revealed theology is the basis of doctrine,” but why must I add to that the supposition that this revealed theology must be inscripturated? Where’s the warrant for that?
I know that a noble fear of Evangelicals is that Catholics, by raising questions such as these, may be threatening to undermine the authority of Scripture, or to substitute some other authority for Scripture that would be inimical to it. Let me assure you that this is not the case. Here is how we view the matter: There is only one divine Revelation, which has one source: Christ. But this Revelation is conveyed to us in various different ways (setting aside ‘natural revelation’ [e.g. Rom. 1:19ff.], for our purposes): Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Prophetic Office. God saw to it that He never left Himself without a witness. “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets,” . . . “but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son . . .” (Heb. 1:1-2). God’s people weren’t left in the dark before His Revelation began to be inscripturated under Moses; and the Prophetic Office continued concurrently with the development of Scripture in the OT. Nor did it cease in NT times, which is a common Protestant conceit. One may recall John 18:14, which identifies Caiaphas as he who “gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.” This passage alludes to an earlier text (John 11:49-52) in which John offers greater detail: “And one of [the Pharisees], named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, ‘Ye know nothing at all; nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.” And then John adds: “And this spake he not of himself -- but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.”
We have already seen Jesus’ imperatives to “practice and observe” whatever the Pharisees (who “sin on Moses’ seat”) told them to do; and now we see the additional links drawn between the office of high priest and the Prophetic Office. It is common knowledge that Peter alludes to Paul’s writing as “Scripture” (II Pet. 3:15-16); and we all know, also, how Paul equates what he has spoken with what he has written, commanding his followers to stand firm and hold to the traditions which they’ve been taught by him, whether those traditions were conveyed in writing or by word of mouth (II Thes. 2:15). Even before he became a Catholic, Newman wrestled extensively with these questions in his Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church (Via Media, Vol. 1). The Catholic position is simply that the Prophetic Office of the Covenant People of God continues in the Church today in the living authority of the Magisterium.
[Acknowledgements: A tip of the hat to Fr. Al Kimel for locating the updated link to Greg Krehbiel's article for me; and to Dave Armstrong for the "Sola Scriptura Problem" pop-up icon.]