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Life Imitates Art

Update: Folks, I'm going to shut down this combox. People have been remarkably civil given the way the original topic has morphed into a redebating of the Reformation. But because the discussion has drifted so far from my original post, I'm ending it.

In May 2007, Alan Streett of Criswell College offered a humorous blog post about my return to the Catholic Church, Top Ten Reasons Frank Beckwith Became a Roman Catholic. Here's reason #3:

Altruism: In the spirit of brotherly love, Frank wanted to provide Norm Geisler with a subject for a new book project.

Believe it or not, I just saw this on Amazon.com last night:

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It is set for release on October 31, 2008, just in time for the 60th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Providence, Rhode Island (Nov. 19-21, 2008), at which the ETS membership will consider amending its statement of faith in order to make sure that any question about whether Catholics may join the ETS is permanently sequestered from serious and scholarly discussion.

Comments (164)

Please persevere and continue to do incredible things, Dr. Beckwith!! I’m working on an educational YouTube video that is based on your brilliant book titled Defending Life A Moral And Legal Case Against Abortion Choice. It is going to take me a lot of time to finish the video. I want it (the video) to be a question and answer video that is highly beneficial for people that are looking for answerers to all types of pro-life questions. I hope that other people will finish other educational projects that are based on your aforementioned book before I do. It is going to take me a lot of time to finish the aforementioned project. We must try our best to educate people on the pro-life position (using the best educational resources available!!). We must never give up.

I don't really like making predictions but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Geisler's answer to his book title/question is no.

Speaking as an ETS member, I hope the amendment doesn't pass. I'd love for you to feel welcome there again one day, Frank. We have so much in common.

You're very kind, Michael. Thank you. I've purposely stayed out of this debate, and for that reason will not be attending the ETS meeting this year. However, I plan on attending after 2008, and perhaps delivering some papers. I have not resigned as a member of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, which meets in conjunction with ETS every year. So, I still hope to contribute to ETS for years to come.

Hi, Frank. I was looking at the proposed 11-clause statement that's being proposed ( http://www.dennyburk.com/AmendETS/?page_id=3 ). I can guess, but am not sure I'd identify all the problems (& I don't want to embarrass myself here!), so I thought I'd just ask: Which portions of the proposal are problematic for Catholics?

I must be wrong since the amendment page says:

The Tyndale fellowship unites around evangelical truths a broad group of Christian scholars from varying denominational and theological perspectives (Calvinists, Wesleyans, Baptists, Anglicans, etc).

But isn't #8 a denial of Wesleyan synergism; isn't it a statement that is only consistent with Reformed monergism?

8. The Holy Spirit alone makes the work of Christ effective to individual sinners, enabling them to turn to God from their sin and to trust in Jesus Christ.
(emphasis added)

I was so dense that I read the main post as saying that the amendment would _allow_ Catholics to belong to the ETS. I get it now.

Wouldn't it be simpler for them simply to come out and say what they mean instead of trying to do it roundabout with doctrinal statements?

#10 is the most problematic, for the ETS itself. It doesn't really say anything at all, because "true believer" is undefined. Does it mean that all and only Marvel comics fans are members of the Universal Church?

Or, maybe they are saying that outside the Catholic Church, with the Bishop of Rome as her vicar on earth, there can be no salvation.

How does ETS feel about having an effectively meaningless statement as part of their statement of faith?

Speaking as an Eastern Orthodox, non-anti-Western, former Evangelical, it seems to me that the question the Evangelicals need to answer is not "Is Rome the True Church?" but "Is there, or can there be, such a thing as the 'true church'?" Evangelical ecclesiology does not seem to allow for that beast to even exist, except in the vague, rather nebulous sense of the "blessed company of all faithful people."

Wouldn't it be simpler for them simply to come out and say what they mean instead of trying to do it roundabout with doctrinal statements?

If they just came out and said "no Catholics allowed" that wouldn't be very charitable. The better route to go for those who would exclude Catholics (and I'm not a member but if I was I wouldn't be one of those who wanted to) is to give a positive, doctrinal description of what it means to be an evangelical.

It sounds uncharitable. But I don't quite understand how it is objectively any more uncharitable than trying to achieve "no Catholics allowed" in a different fashion. It's best to be honest: This happened because one of the founders stood up and said that they originally put in one of the phrases in the original very minimal statement of faith *because they wanted to exclude Catholics.* Now, that's straightforward enough, but as it happened, some Catholics believed they could still subscribe in good faith to the statement of faith. The whole point of the current amendment process is apparently to achieve the goal of making it clear that Catholics are excluded, based on the original purpose of the organization not to include Catholics. That is either allowed by charity among Christians or it isn't. But it isn't somehow _more_ allowed by charity if they do it by way of doctrinal statements that they hope Catholics will not be able to subscribe to than if they do it by saying outright, "No Catholics allowed." That's the purpose of the whole exercise in any event. The clearer the doctrinal statements are, the closer they are going to get to "no Catholics allowed." For example, they might say, "There is no positive teaching magisterium, guided by the Holy Spirit to interpret Scripture." Or, "There is no vicar of Christ on earth." Those would exclude Catholics, all right, but at that point the difference from "no Catholics allowed" is invisible to the naked eye.

I say it's better to be straightforward.

These theologians obviously feel that what they mean by evangelical (and what ETS as an organization means by evangelical) is inconsistent with Roman Catholicism. When they see that some Roman Catholics "still subscribe in good faith to the statement of faith" than they have to conclude that their statement is ill defined. It seems better to me (not least for the health of the organization) to be more precise in what is entailed by evangelical than to define the organization by what it doesn't accept. Being more precise in their definition of evangelical allows them to put the focus on the positive content of what they mean by it. Which they obviously think has merit on its own than to just say that it isn't Catholic.

I know I'm doubly-dense, but could someone explain to me why these ETS members see "evangelical" and "Catholic" as mutually exclusive terms? The Catholic Church has effectively communicated the Gospel to Billions of members throughout the centuries; how much more "evangelical" can you get?

Regarding ETS membership by Roman Catholics, the amendments are unnecessary because when the ETS founders affirmed in the late 1940s that the Bible, and the Bible only, was the inspired and inerrant word of God, by "Bible" they meant the 66 books of the Protestant canon, not the Apocrypha, which Catholics count both as Bible and inspired, and which the ETS founders did not. To the ETS founders, the affirmation of inspiration and inerrancy did not include books outside the Bible. The apocryhpa, they believed, is outside the Bible. For a Catholic to subscribe to the original intent of the ETS founders would be either to deny Catholic doctrine and Catholic Scripture, or to fudge the original intent of the ETS founders.

If you affirm one theology in its original form, you cannot affirm the other. You can't really walk two paths at once, even if you want to. You must make a principled choice and live with the consequences.

Hi MarkC,

Evangelical (as it is used in contemporary theology and even culture) entails more than just doing evangelism. It usually entails something about biblical inerrancy, sola scriptura, solo fide etc. At least I think its safe to say that these are the things that the supporters of the ETS amendment have in mind.

But if evangelical is to be tightly allied with Reformed theology (or Calvinism) as the amendment appears to portray than Wesleyans (or Arminians) will also be increasingly shunned. It would be interesting to to know how ETS members would handle an N. T. Wright membership.

See, Mike D, I think you're making my point for me by pointing out the issues concerning Arminianism, Anglicanism, etc. I think that for the sake of clarity organizations like that need to get over their psychological weddedness to the idea that they _must_ state these things positively and then force the people they wish to exclude to _deny_ something positive. I think that's just a desire to "look positive." Of course, they are entirely free to say, "No Catholics allowed" and then to go on to say what they think is good and positive about being a Protestant, as a kind of explanatory note. But that still keeps things quite clear.

I suppose come to think of it that a statement of sola fide (just saying "Salvation is by faith alone") _might_ do the job, though, given that if I'm not mistaken the Council of Trent expressly condemned sola fide and said that salvation was by both faith and works. I wonder if Catholics would accept that as exclusionary in itself.

I think that for the sake of clarity organizations like that need to get over their psychological weddedness to the idea that they _must_ state these things positively and then force the people they wish to exclude to _deny_ something positive.

I suppose but it seems to turn on whether or not you think you're group's distinctives have enough positive merit to stand on their own. If the American Catholic Philosophical Association decided to get exclusive about their membership (I have no idea if they are or would want to be) they would state Catholic distinctives (papacy, magisterium, etc). I doubt they would feel the need to add "by the way we're not Evangelical Protestants". I doubt that would even enter their minds because they know that Roman Catholicism has plenty of distinctives that make it what it is. Simply stating Catholic distinctives would be sufficient and it allows the organization to not be defined by its negations.

The ETS members pushing the amendment must have something similar in mind; that evangelical theology has enough positive distinctives to stand on its own. Besides you should know that Protestants (protesters) don't enjoy being defined as "not Roman Catholic" :)

Here's something I posted on the AmendETS.com website several months ago. (You can find the entire entry here).

Points 4 and 5 seem to be inconsistent with each other:

“4. Since the fall, the whole of humankind is sinful and guilty, so that everyone is subject to God’s wrath and condemnation.

5. The Lord Jesus Christ, God’s incarnate Son, is fully God; he was born of a virgin; his humanity is real and sinless; he died on the cross, was raised bodily from death and is now reigning over heaven and earth.”

How can “the whole of humankind” be “sinful and guilt” while the Lord Jesus Christ’s “humanity is real and sinless”? If Jesus is fully human and the whole humankind is sinful, then Jesus is sinful. But if Jesus is not sinful, then the whole humankind is not sinful, for Jesus (per Chalcedon) is fully human.

Also, are doubts about parts of the 66 books acceptable under this new statement of belief? IN other words, does it include the old or new ending of Mark, the Trinitarian passage in I John 5:7, or the woman caught in adultery in John, all of which have been challenged as authentic?

#7 is also puzzling:
“7. Those who believe in Christ are pardoned all their sins and accepted in God’s sight only because of the righteousness of Christ credited to them; this justification is God’s act of undeserved mercy, received solely by trust in him and not by their own efforts.”

For it puts ETS in the peculiar position of excluding those present at the Council of Orange, which teaches infused rather than imputed grace. It also would exclude any Anglican members of ETS who would accept the view of justification offered by John Henry Newman in his Lectures on Justification (which he wrote before he became Catholic). Or perhaps Jonathan Edwards would not make the cut, since his view of “infused grace” sounds suspiciously Catholic.

One of the risks of this amendment is that if it loses, then some will draw the conclusion that what it was intended to exclude cannot be excluded. That is, by suggesting that ETS requires this change in order to affirm a particular understanding of theology, the absence of this change would seem to entail that that particular understanding is not excluded by the current doctrinal statement.

Frank

To quote Michael Myers' Linda Richman, "Now, discuss."

I think the "66 books" argument is the strongest case against Catholic inclusion in ETS. But I have two counter-arguments:

1. When I was president-elect of ETS, we amended the bylaws to include a statement that affirmed that ETS's view of Scripture should be seen through the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which does not define the parameters of the OT canon, but merely states: "It appears that the Old Testament canon had been fixed by the time of Jesus. The New Testament canon is likewise now closed, inasmuch as no new apostolic witness to the historical Christ can now be borne." But this leaves open the possibility that the OT does include the deutero-canonical books.

2. Why not include Catholics who embrace a high view of Scripture? Perhaps they will learn from their Protestant friends and vice versa. This cross pollination can't help but enrich each others perspectives. I know that the counter-argument is, "But that's what AAR and SBL are for!" But I think that misses a deeper point: serious Catholics and Protestants share much more with each other than they do with the wide range of religious traditions that are represented at AAR and SBL. These in-common interests include a commitment to Christian orthodoxy and a high of Scripture.

Frank

My impression of the sheer breadth of the new statement is that it's cracking a peanut with a sledge-hammer. If they wanted to include all that material for its own sake, then it could be argued point by point. But is all of that really required to exclude Roman Catholics, if that is their goal?

Even if they want to find some sort of "magic bullet" statement that will exclude Roman Catholics while sounding like a positive statement that can stand on its own (to refer to Mike d's comments), surely something briefer would suffice.

For example, perhaps they might affirm the God-given ability of laymen to interpret the Bible accurately without the assistance of magisterial teaching. That sounds a _bit_ negative but can be spun positively as "priesthood of all believers" or "individual soul liberty" or something of that sort, with the gloss just given about the individual's right to interpret. I would think no Catholic could sign on to that in good conscience, and their goal would be fulfilled, without the need to fight all the Calvinist vs. Armenian wars over again.

Mind you, I'm not here meaning to imply that it's a *good idea* to try to exclude Catholics from the ETS. My own preference is for a somewhat bigger tent. But why are they doing it in such a complicated way? I find that baffling.

"For example, perhaps they might affirm the God-given ability of laymen to interpret the Bible accurately without the assistance of magisterial teaching." That would, of course, defeat the whole purpose of having a statement of faith issued by those with the authority to do so in ETS. After all, if the assistance of magisterial teaching is unnecessary, then why have a statement of faith that has normative status, unless those who issue that statement are in a special position with the requisite insights to issue such statements? A passive-aggressive magisterium is still a magisterium.

Frank

Oh, I think that's easy enough. The idea would be just to say, "This is a private club with a defined membership. This is who we want in the club. We're not anybody special and have no special right to interpret the Bible, and of course Catholics, like anybody, can interpret the Bible for themselves. But we're just saying what this club stands for. If Catholics interpret Scripture to mean that private interpretations are dubious and that a magisterium is needed, that's their right. But that's not what this club is all about."

I'm just an outsider looking in, but what Lydia has stated above makes perfect sense -- at least, to me.

Dr. Beckwith: Why are you so insistent with including Catholics into the ETS? Although I find the determination in your efforts admirable, I just don't see (after what both Michael Bauman and Lydia has rightly mentioned in their previous posts) why any Catholic would even consider joining since many of the principles stated appear contrary to Catholic Teaching.

The ETS is, after all, for Evangelicals and, therefore, is governed accordingly.

For the record, I want to be clear that I think Frank's vision of a society that includes both Catholics and Protestants for cross-pollination purposes is a good one. But I suppose it's up to the membership of the ETS (I guess there will be some global vote?) on whether the ETS will itself choose to be such a society or not. My perspective here is just that I think some further grief down the line for everyone involved can be saved, if the ETS _does_ decide definitely to exclude Catholics, if they do so in an open and straightforward way without any dancing for the sake of "looking positive" or "not looking uncharitable." If it's uncharitable to exclude Catholics, they should conclude that independently and not try to do so. It doesn't, in that case, make it any _more_ charitable to do so by way of doctrinal statements that Catholics might plausibly sign in good conscience. And if it's not uncharitable, then why not call a spade a spade? Look at the trouble and pain that has arisen already as a result of not saying outright what they were trying to do.

The gap between the ETS statement and the RCC's magisterium is enormous in content, in purpose, and in function. The ETS statement is identificational, not magisterial. That is, it provisionally defines and provisionally identifies the group; it sets up provisional and movable membership boundaries. Thus, while it defines and affirms, it does not speak with anything like divine authority. Unlike the RC magisterium, if ETS members can muster the requisite number of votes, they can change the content of the identificational affirmation at will in any direction. They can change all of it, some of it, or none of it, as they wish. All they need is enough votes. The ETS is a deliberative and democratic theological society, with rules appropriate to the organization. Its rules are not to be compared to the RCC's magisterium anymore than are the rules of Boy Scout membership or the Scouts' code of honor. To employ the "M" word here seems to me an unjustifiable stretching of the term, one that works only if one papers over the important and enormous differences involved. The chief characteristic of the magisterium, is not that it defines membership and belief. That which sets it apart from all Protestant declarations must not be diminished, namely its divine authority. The ETS statement makes no pretense to such authority. The differences between the ETS statement and the magisterium of the RCC are far large than their superficial similarities.

Also unlike the RC magisterium, those with the authority to establish the boundaries of ETS membership are the members themselves -- not someone else -- not a select caste who is "in a special position with the requisite insights to issue such statements." This stands in sharp contrast to the Roman hierarchy, which does exercise such a function for those lower down the ladder, a hierarchy that need not submit its decisions to all the members of the church in order to make those decisions binding. They come TO all the the members as binding already, not to the members to establish if they are binding or not, and acceptable or not. Magisterial teaching is not conducted by popular vote. The fact that the ETS members intend to have a vote on the issue shows how very different their affirmation is from the RCC's magisterium -- in content, purpose, and function. In other words, it's not a magisterium, passive-aggressive or otherwise.

The Chicago Statement does not include the apocrypha. Any argument to the contrary must argue from silence, and be subject to all the weaknesses that accompany such an argument. In this case, given the clarity and consistency of Protestant and evangelical statements regarding the alleged canonicity of the apocrypha over the years, I think the weaknesses of the argument from silence are fatal and cannot win the day.

But, hey, I'm a Protestant. Of course I'd say that (wink).

Does the fact that a Catholic accepts the inspiration of the 66 canonical books plus the 7 deutero-canonicals really mean one is not "evangelical"?

Martin Luther wanted to exclude the book of Revelation from the canon. Would that mean he was not an "evangelical"?

The problem with merely stating "no Catholics are welcome" is it appears arbitrary and petty and does not get to the heart of what an evangelical really "is". What really is the crux of the issue? Why is it that Catholics should never be thought of as "evangelicals" no matter how "evangelical" their outlook?

Was St. Francis an evangelical? If not, was it because he accepted the inspiration of the books of Maccabbees (among others)?

Why does an identifying statement of the sort in question have to "get to the heart of the matter"? Catholics and Protestants have been arguing for a long time. There are plenty of different ways into seeing the "heart of the matter." It isn't clear to me that trying to "get to the heart of the matter" should take precedence over avoiding future misunderstanding and painful interpersonal problems when someone already a member of the ETS joins the Catholic Church. Better for it to be clear beyond all doubt one way or another so that this sort of decision-making doesn't come up again over and over in the course of the society's history.

That being said, does my idea of the individual believer's ability to interpret Scripture without a teaching magisterium seem to you to get more to the "heart of the matter," MarkC? If so, I suggest that it would be sufficiently clear for the purpose of those who wish to exclude Catholics from the ETS while at the same time alluding to a fairly central doctrinal or at least meta-doctrinal point of difference between Catholics and Protestants. And it ought to avoid excluding Methodists or Anglicans, too.

If they want to go the exclusionary route, that is. Perhaps it would be better not to go that route at all. But if so, that should be clarified as well.

Dr. Beckwith: Why are you so insistent with including Catholics into the ETS?

A very good question indeed. The answer, of course, is the V2 call for ecumenism among Trinitarian, Bible-believing Christians, as Dr. Beckwith as already said. Why is ETS so insistent (and yet, not) on excluding Catholics? Lydia makes a compelling point. If Catholics are persona non grata at ETS, then the society ought to just say so plainly. I wonder if Lydia's suggestion wasn't merely rhetorical, because of course that is precisely what ETS is trying to keep from doing. It would be a tacit admission that there is no doctrinal formulation that can simultaneously keep all the evangelicals in and the Catholics and Orthodox out. If all they can muster is the issue of the canon, it seems to me a thin, thin line. I mean, it would likely work, but would those at ETS be satisfied with it as the only positive doctrinal position separating them from Rome?

As Mr. Bauman has noted, of course, there is no direct comparison between the RC magisterium and what the ETS is trying to accomplish in its doctrinal statement. Or is there? ISTM that what ETS is trying its best to do is, by virtue of their authority as scholars, assist in the formulation of an evangelical creed, if you will. Certainly they won't mistake their club rules for a universal evangelical creed. But would it be, more or less, something like their idea of what such a creed might ought to contain? Oughtn't these proposed points of doctrine to be considered authoritative for evangelicals, at least in the mind of the framers?

No, I don't see why such a formulation should be considered "authoritative" for anyone, even by its framers. I'm not even sure what that would mean. It's really just a matter of identification of the group, of the membership's saying that this is who they are. The most they can do is _recommend_ a statement of such a sort to other people because they think it _true_. That's hardly giving up any Protestant principle. I'm sorry; I realize that the trope of saying that Protestants are committing some sort of self-contradiction when they try to formulate any sort of self-identifying statement is tempting to many of a more Catholic bent (not only Roman Catholics). But formally, it just won't work. There's no self-contradiction there, and you can't squeeze one out.

The more I think about it, the more I tend to think that some formulation referring to the lack of a need of a magisterium is perhaps the clearest way to go if the ETS wishes to make such a statement and is hardly a thin line, either. It's a pretty big and bright line.

The more I think about it, the more I tend to think that some formulation referring to the lack of a need of a magisterium is perhaps the clearest way to go if the ETS wishes to make such a statement and is hardly a thin line, either. It's a pretty big and bright line.

Yeah, that would pretty much do it. And it really ought to be there, because, as you note Lydia, it is thought to be true. And it is definitive. And it makes the separation plain and clear.

No, I don't see why such a formulation should be considered "authoritative" for anyone, even by its framers. I'm not even sure what that would mean.

Forgive me if I appear a bit thick on this point. It's just that, I assume that Protestants have dogmas that are authoritative for their belief, just like everyone else. I'm not trying to pursue a polemic here. I assume that Protestants have dogmas, even low church folks who might not make direct references to old creeds in their liturgies. They still believe in those old creeds, and if you were to stand up and say that God was not a Trinity or that Christ was not both/and, you'd find yourself out in the cold right quick. Even low Protestants have points of doctrine that they won't allow to be gainsaid. Now, this is just the sort of way that I understand 'dogma.' It's authoritative in your hermeneutical approach. If you start doing theology outside the Trinitarian framework, you've stopped doing Christian theology. I assume that everyone at ETS would agree with that. Once a Protestant assents to dogma, he might open himself up to further examination by a Catholic who wants to know on what foundation, etc. etc, but I'm not going to touch that with a ten-foot pole. I just want to understand what the ETS is doing. Because ISTM that any doctrinal statement has got to have some weight of seriousness behind it beyond just provisional parochial consensus. When I see the ETS' proposed doctrinal statement, I recognize orthodox evangelical Christian belief, I recognize authoritative dogmas that evangelicals begin with when they open the Bible and open up Christianity. I don't think that Protestants and Catholics are different in that regard. ISTM just the nature of the Christian religion that you have to have authoritative dogmas.

I think there's just an ambiguity (I can't type tonight; don't know why; forgive the typos) on "authoritative." The sort of Protestant idea is that there isn't some institutional body that makes pronouncements that other people are obligated to listen to in virtue of being Christians. That's very roughly stated, of course. So the ETS could be saying that they think various things are very important. They might think, for example, that inerrancy is very important or even that not being a Catholic is very important. Perhaps that an individual Christian's prerogative to interpret Scripture is very important. Or the Trinity, etc., etc. That would seem to fulfill one of the things you seem to mean by "authoritative." But they could also continue consistently to say that neither they nor anyone else constitutes a central body that defines that sort of thing. So their pronouncements are not "authoritative" in the sense of making _them_ authoritative--a lifted-up dogma-declaring body.

thebyronicman: Though I very much appreciate both the tremendous effort and clarity with which you have framed the issue; however, from my basic (although admittedly ignorant) understanding on the matter, the ETS was created by Evangelicals, for Evangelicals and thus (at least, in my albeit narrow view of the organization) should be governed likewise by Evangelical principles -- such as that which I believe Lydia had alluded to earlier concerning the prominent Evanglical Protestant belief in Sola Scriptura versus the Catholic's being both Scripture & Tradition.

That said, although I greatly admire the grand vision of Dr. Beckwith (as expressed also by Lydia), perhaps instead of forcing such an agenda on the ETS (whose foundation is evidently strictly a Protestant one); maybe Dr. Beckwith along with those with like minds should found an ETS-like organization that invites Christians of all stripes, including Catholics, for similar purposes concerning Scripture and the like?

Dr. Beckwith: Why are you so insistent with including Catholics into the ETS?

Because a Catholic may be an Evangelical. Here's an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Confessions of a Vain Philosopher: Reflections on My Return to the Catholic Church:

According to the Catholic Church, the Bible itself, though infallible, arose from the life of the Church, in its liturgical practices and theological reflections. It is a source of theological truth, to be sure, and uniquely the Word of God written. But the Church maintains, quite sensibly, that the Bible cannot be read in isolation from the historic Church and the practices that were developing alongside the Church’s creeds that became permanent benchmarks of orthodoxy during the same eras in which the canon of Scripture itself was finally fixed. So, for the Catholic, the Magesterium and the Papacy are limited by both Scripture and a particular understanding of Christian doctrine, forged by centuries of debate and reflection, and, in many cases, fixed by ecumenical councils. Thus, the Catholic Church and its leadership are far more constrained from doctrinal innovation than the typical Evangelical megachurch pastor.

For example, Gregory Boyd, a Baptist theologian and pastor of a Minneapolis congregation, denies that God knows the future, and bases this denial on a literal reading of Scripture. This is called the Open View of God or Open Theism. But two fellow open theists, Clark Pinnock and John P. Sanders, could not be removed as members of ETS in a November 2003 membership-wide vote initiated by founding ETS member, Roger Nicole. Sanders and Pinnock affirm both inerrancy and the Trinity, and they seem to embrace these views sincerely and without mental reservation. (For the record, I did not vote for their removal, as a matter of principle, even though I believe their views are seriously in error). Yet, in contrast to Pastor Boyd, Pope Benedict XVI, has far less power to steer his theology in any direction he may find consis-tent with his own professional theological project. For the Pope is constrained by settled doctrine—including Scripture, ecumenical councils, and prior ex cathedra papal pronouncements. Pastors and theologians like Boyd, Pinnock, and Sanders are constrained only by “inerrancy” and “the Trinity,” which means that they could embrace any one of a variety of heresies condemned by the ancient church and yet still remain an ETS member in good standing: Nestorianism, Monophystism, Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, denial of eternal sonship, or the pre-existence of the soul. And yet, someone, like me, who embraces the Church that claimed to have the ecclesiastical authority to condemn these heresies, and which provided to its separated progeny, including Evangelical Protestants, the resources and creeds that provide the grounds for excluding these heresies, has apparently no place in ETS. For example, St. Augustine, whose genius helped rid the Church of the Pelagian and semi-Pelagian heresies, would not be welcomed in ETS or as a faculty member at virtually any evangelical seminary, because the Bishop of Hippo accepted the deuterocanonical books as part of the Old Testament canon, the deposit of sacred tradition, apostolic succession, the gracious efficacy of the sacraments, the Real Presence of the Eucharist, baptismal regeneration, the infusion of God’s grace for justification, and the authority of the magisterium.

This is why I still consider myself an Evangelical, but just not a Protestant one. Surely it is true that contemporary Evangelicalism has its roots in conservative Protestantism, but it has also been shaped by the Catholic and Protestant charismatic and Pentecostal movements as well as the spirituality and apologetics of authors like C. S. Lewis, who, though an Anglican, produced works that were “Catholic” in their tone and substance. This is why Lewis is one of the most beloved writers among Catholics. Moreover, if one thinks of Evangelicalism as a renewal movement that stresses personal conversion and spiritual development, evangelism, a high view of Scripture, and fidelity to Christian orthodoxy, then one can certainly be a Evangelical Catholic, as I believe I am. If the term “Evangelical” is broad enough to include high-church Anglicans, low-church anti-creedal Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, the Evangelical Free Church, Arminians, Calvinists, Disciples of Christ, Pentecostals, Seventh-Day Adventists, open theists, atemporal theists, social Trinitarians, substantial Trinitarians, nominalists, realists, eternal security supporters and opponents, temporal theists, dispensationalists, theonomists, church-state separationists, cessationists, non-cessationists, kenotic theorists, covenant theologians, paedo-Baptists, and Dooweyerdians, there should be room for an Evangelical Catholic.

Of course, if the ETS wants to permanently exclude people like me, I won't lose any sleep over it. And I suspect that there are very few Catholic scholars who have an opinion either way. But you have to remember that the ETS has many, many members with whom I have worked and continue to work. They are dear friends who I consider brothers and sisters in Christ. For me, keeping that connection--even if it cannot be official--will remain an important part of my vocation as a Christian philosopher.

Thanks Lydia. You've expressed what I understand to be the case.

Aristocles: I hear you on that point and thank you for your kind words. Protestants of all stripes can and do emphasize that reference to the tradition of Christian antiquity is necessary in forming and upholding right Christian belief and practice, and have a long history themselves of appealing to this Great Tradition as a judge upon us all in the here and now. This state of things presents a continued opportunity for ecumenical dialogue. As Lydia points out, we must be clear when we use the term 'authority' that the RCC takes a certain line with respect to the tradition that differs from the Protestant view. But as you say, the ETS is what it is, and they have the right to define themselves and order themselves in any way that they wish. This is ultimately why I agree with Lydia that they should do so clearly (as it seems they are trying to do right now). Evangelicals know themselves as Evangelicals, and not Roman Catholics. So in drafting up their doctrinal agenda, ETS, in order to clarify to would-be Catholic members (such as our esteemed Dr. Beckwith), that there is a definite line in the sand, well, just go ahead and draw it. Since those at ETS presumably know precisely what differentiates them from Roman Catholics, then it shouldn't be difficult to order the new statement appropriately.

From the beginning, Protestants have employed the word "evangelical" as a self-designation to distinguish themselves from the Catholic church. In most instances, they still use it that way. For example, the Protestant churches in Germany and in Switzerland, where the Reformation began, are still so designated today -- the evangelical church. Historically, the terms "Protestant" and "evangelical" there are interchangeable. In historic Protestant parlance, to call the RCC "evangelical," would be to call it the Protestant (i.e., not Catholic) Catholic church. To them, it would seem nonsensical.

Historically, the early Protestants chose that designation, etymologically rooted in the word for "gospel," because in light of the Bible they concluded that the gospel of Rome was not the gospel at all. By that self-designation, the Protestants were asserting that they were evangelical, were "gospel-ical," so to speak, and that Rome was not. At Trent, the RCC agreed that what the two sides trumpeted as gospel was, indeed, distinctly different, and they formally anathematized those who believed the other one. They were not such inept theologians in the 16th century as to be utterly wrong about themselves and about one another, some modern revisionists notwithstanding.

So, no, St. Francis was not evangelical; nor is the honorable church of which he was a part, at least not as Protestants normally use the word. I am not saying he and it are not Christian -- not in the least. But I am saying that the term "evangelical," in historical usage, does not apply to them.

That exclusionary historical usage has contemporary consequences, among them the notion that no matter how wide the spectrum of Protestant belief and practice, the word "evangelical" does not include Roman Catholicism.

And that precise notion, the centuries-old notion that "evangelical does not include Roman Catholicism," is partially what stands behind the current movement in the ETS to define things more expansively. If I were still a member of the ETS, I'd vote against the motion. (I was book review editor of their theological journal for 12 years.)

Another part of what stands behind the inclination to thicken the theological boundaries of ETS membership is not just the gospel differences (which they are convinced still persist), but the Bible and inspiration differences I mentioned in an earlier post. If you don't believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of the 66 books of the Bible, and in the inspiration and inerrancy of them only, you don't get in -- even if your name is Martin Luther and you came back from the dead to apply for membership. The ETS has maintained that precise view since it began in 1949. That view has always been thought to exclude the Catholic view. The current move to amplify the doctrinal boundaries of the ETS is not meant to lower the bar to prospective members from the RCC, a bar set there by the ETS founders, it is intended to raise that bar and to make it more clear, rightly or wrongly. There is no move afoot to lower the original bar.

So, while I concur fully with Frank's properly ecumenical intention, I am convinced that what he wants cannot be had in the ETS, and that he and others would have to begin another theological society, with a different purpose and with different boundaries, in order to get it.

I think Bauman's comments above are pretty right on. It just depends on how we're using the term evangelical and as far as I can tell ETS is using it in the historical theologically laden way Bauman describes above. Not just in a way that means tends to go out and share the good news.

At any rate it sounds like Beckwith's next splash ought to be an orthodox ecumenical theological society. Dr. Beckwith try to have it in place pretty quickly so I can be active in it while I'm at seminary :)

Lydia,

Although he backed off a bit (I think) thebyronicman expressed the reason for my earlier insistence on not defining membership in the negative:

I wonder if Lydia's suggestion wasn't merely rhetorical, because of course that is precisely what ETS is trying to keep from doing. It would be a tacit admission that there is no doctrinal formulation that can simultaneously keep all the evangelicals in and the Catholics and Orthodox out.

Undoubtedly lots of Catholics and Orthodox folks would think something just like that. It seems to me that it would lead to more fighting not less. And if it is a "tacit admission" it would be one that I would bet no members of ETS would want to make.

Lydia asked, "... does my idea of the individual believer's ability to interpret Scripture without a teaching magisterium seem to you to get more to the "heart of the matter," MarkC?"

Lydia,

Catholics are taught to interpret scripture, following the Patristic model, according to the four senses of Scripture; the literal (not literalist) sense and the three spiritual senses - allegorical, moral, and anagogical. In this way, we search out what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us, beyond even what the human authors have consciously asserted.

"God ... has qualified us to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor 3:5-6).

With that said, we are not "free" to depart from historical Christianity, the Creeds, the Councils, or from the "living Tradition of the whole Church". This is what protects us from any sort of chronological or cultural provincialism, such as scholarly fads that arise and carry away a generation of interpreters before being dismissed by the next generation.

If the criterion is the individual believer's ability to interpret Scripture, and my interpretation of Scripture leads me to the conviction that I am an "evangelical" believer, how can that be disputed? Inversely, if the members of ETS are themselves constrained by the 16th Century Canon, and the doctrine of the Trinity, how does that differ from Catholics who interpret Scripture within the "living tradition" of the Church?

MarkC, I feel a little impatient at the tacit idea that we really don't know the difference and can't see the difference between Protestants and Catholics here. I think the other commentators "get it" when I've talked about the concept of authority in Catholicism. For that matter, most traditional Catholics know _perfectly well_ that all those Protestant notions of "private judgement" and such are incompatible with Roman Catholicism. If your reading of Scripture leads you to take the label "evangelical," it doesn't follow that you have no deep disagreements with Protestant evangelicals, nor that those disagreements are so hard to get a handle on that they cannot be stated in a self-identifying document by a Protestant group. Look: When you talk about "the living tradition of the Church" let's be honest--you mean, and you should mean, if you're a good Catholic, the teaching of the magisterium, including their teaching _today_ or _tomorrow_. You don't mean merely the doctrine of the Trinity or a canon set up hundreds of years ago. If the RC magisterium decides there's been a "development of doctrine" so that the death penalty may not be given in a developed country for purely retributive reasons when society could be protected from the further evil acts of the murderer by some means other than the death penalty, and if they teach that in an authoritative fashion so that you have to admit it's the teaching of the Church, you have to believe it. A Catholic makes a meta-commitment to abide by the teaching of the Church. A Protestant makes no such meta-commitment, period. If the members of the ETS are "constrained by" the doctrine of the Trinity, that's because they think it _true_ and _important_, not because they are committed on the meta-level to "thinking with the Church" and have determined that the Church teaches the Trinity.

It really annoys me when some Catholics insist on pretending that any Protestant who _in fact_ agrees with Catholics on particular doctrines is therefore secretly, unbeknownst to himself, accepting the Catholic view of the teaching authority of the Church. Balderdash. Just admit that there is a deep difference there regarding authority and leave it at that. It's not that I want to _argue_ about those points of disagreement but that it seems to me silly to pretend that they don't exist and to intimate that Protestants are somehow formally inconsistent for believing in the Trinity while not binding themselves to accept all the magisterial teaching of the Catholic Church. There just is no inconsistency there.

Lydia,

I know what a Catholic is and what a Protestant is (in regards to their relative commitments to historical Christianity). What I'd like to dispute is the notion that a Catholic is not nor cannot be "evangelical". The implication is that Catholics adhere to a diminished or truncated "Gospel", somehow different from what Paul preached or Peter or the other Apostles. To that notion I answer "Balderdash"!

I'll jump in here after observing this conversation for two days. I am assuredly out of my league. However, I would love if those who are trained in philosophy, especially as it relates to theology, would comment on something for me. GK Chesterton in his book Orthodoxy talked about how certain people were energetically sawing from the tree the branch they are sitting on. It seems to me that this is an excellent way to describe the doctrine of Sola Scriptura once it is practiced by anyone. I think it can be seen clearly in Martin Luther's, "Here I Stand" speech at the Diet of Worms. Luther states that Pope's and Council's have erred. Thus, they can't be trusted. Scripture Alone is infallible being the logical conclusion. Calvin stated that Scripture Alone lies beyond the sphere of our judgement. IOW, everything else can be judged. And it is precisely here that Chesterton's remark fits perfectly. Both Luther and Calvin and all Sola Scripturists to this day are sawing from the tree the branch they are sitting on. IOW, as one accepts that Pope's and Council's have erred, ie, there is no Divinely constituted Church that speaks for Christ and Scripture Alone lies beyond the sphere of our judgement then one must of necessity accept that what Luther, Calvin and indeed themselves say about the Gospel is subject to error, thus there is no assurance only subjectivism. After all, "Who's to say?" The entire result leads necessarily to skepticism. I'm not sure if what I've written amounts to a question. It's more of a comment. However, in my mind it's the elephant in the living room of all Protestantism.

For the record, I am with Lydia on this one. I think ETS is struggling with a practical problem as if it were a theological one. They founded an organization with a purpose and intent in mind. They defined the organization in theological terms and they have now realized that some people are fitting into that definition that they did not intend to be a part of the particular organization. I do not even see it as uncharitable to say that this is not what we had in mind so let us be clear. No Catholics, No Open Theist, no cat lovers, or whatever. It is merely organizational freedom of association.

I work in fundraising and organizations and foundations make distinctions like this all of the time without explanation or apology. When a private organization tells me that they only give to Catholic causes it never occurred to me to demand that they explain why. It is their "club" they can do what they want. The "No Homers Club" on The Simpson's was fine with me.

I think ETS needs to decide what they are (inclusive beyond Protestants or not) and state it plainly. They are not obligated to couch every decision in some theological justification. I don't think it raises those policies to the level of magisterium as much as it makes them look pretentious and silly. As if they are saying the ETS is too smart to say that we do not want Catholic members so we are going to craft clever arguments to prove that Catholics and ETS members are fundamentally different. What a dumb waste of time.

Jay said, "I think ETS needs to decide what they are (inclusive beyond Protestants or not) and state it plainly."

In that case, ETS ought to change it's name to better match the reality of what it is: the Protestant Evangelical Theological Society (PETS). Or, better, why not PETA? They could adopt the slogan "I'd Rather Go Naked than Be Catholic" ...

MarkC

If the goal is to exclude Catholics, then state it. If the goal is to engage Frank in a debate that Catholics by definition are not Evangelicals then engage the debate in open forum. Do one or the other.

My point is that private organizations have a freedom of association and they can determine the requirements of membership. If that is what is happening then all of the theological posturing in unecessary.

But if there is a real need to address the definition of Evangelical and whether or not Frank can be both Catholic and Evangelical then do so. Make the case and engage Frank in his arguments.

No need to change the name no matter what they decide. Let me be clear on one point as well, I do not see excluding Catholics as anti-Catholic any more than I see Catholic organizations excluding me as anti-Protestant. It is merely the freedom of association in practice. If they decide that Frank's vision for an inclusive intellectually rigorous Christian organization is not their vison for ETS so be it. No reason to freak out because ETS has decided to clarify how they identify themselves.

Unless they do so in such a clumsy manner that they magnify their problems which appears to be a future possibility on this current path.

Thanks, Jay. Well-stated.

MarkC, and everyone: I definitely do not mean _any_ disparagement to Catholics by suggesting that the ETS could, without self-contradiction, make some minimal statement (perhaps just a practical one, perhaps the meta-doctrinal one I've suggested about a magisterium) that would include Protestants but not Catholics. I don't think they mean, or at least they don't need to mean, any disparagement to Catholics either. It's a matter of historic word usage, as Michael Bauman has pointed out, that 'evangelical' has not usually referred to Roman Catholics. That needn't be an insult. It needn't imply a "truncated version of the gospel." I don't think the word is worth fighting over, as if it's such a wonderful compliment to call someone "evangelical" that it's an insult to say that he's not "evangelical." We should just make it clear what we mean and get on with our activities. I understand the emphases Frank means to make about, for example, a personal relationship with Christ and evangelism. But some people don't use the term that way but rather in such a way as not to include Catholics.

Right on Lydia - and in terms of the method ETS should use to achieve their ends I think I may have come around to your view.

Some people use evangelical as a swear word or a synonym for [insert something here like Wal-Mart fascist] so its pleasant that everyone here, in one sense or another, sees being evangelical as a good thing.

They are not obligated to couch every decision in some theological justification.

No, they aren't. But then, they are calling themselves an evangelical theological society. So it doesn't seem to me unreasonable to think that they might have a precise definition of what makes the society evangelical. Once we knew what they meant by 'evangelical', then we'd know generally what type of theology they were doing--evangelical theology. Perhaps the sort of precision I as a Catholic would like to see is by the nature of the case impossible for evangelicals. But ETS isn't generally run by post-modernists, and so it seems clear that they have always considered a primarily doctrinal/theological self-definition, to be proper. As commenter Jay Watts has mused above:

"I think ETS is struggling with a practical problem as if it were a theological one."

Well, that's for ETS to decide, and perhaps this is the moment of truth for them. Mr. Bauman's last long post helped to clarify for the sake of this thread what evangelicals traditionally mean by the term 'evangelical.' Assuming that definition holds as a general rule, you'd think Catholics wouldn't want any part of ETS. But as Mr. Beckwith has, I think successfully, shown, what an evangelical thinks of as distinctively evangelical theologically is not something so remote from Catholic belief as has been traditionally thought. It seems then that evangelicalism is both a package of doctrinal positions derived from scriptural scholarship and a way of conceiving of the church. I don't know which comes first. ISTM that of the two, it is the latter which most differentiates evangelicals from Roman Catholics, traditionally. In these days of American liberalism and the various ecumenical moods, the lines have gotten a bit blurry.

To Lydia,

I agree there is a real tension, paradox even, or you might even say contradiction, in the popular Catholic polemic against protestants. On the one hand, we denigrate you for not placing enough emphasis on the authority of settled tradition and formal ecclesial structure, on the other hand, we're liable to accuse you of (or alternately praise you for) secretly or unknowingly doing precisely the opposite--of leaning on tradition and authority for the doctrinal positions you take that we agree are orthodox. If Pelikan has written of "The Riddle Of Roman Catholicism," a Catholic might just as easily speak of "the riddle of Protestantism." What a conundrum we pose to each other.

Dr. Beckwith:

But you have to remember that the ETS has many, many members with whom I have worked and continue to work. They are dear friends who I consider brothers and sisters in Christ. For me, keeping that connection--even if it cannot be official--will remain an important part of my vocation as a Christian philosopher.

I hear what you're saying and, as I have said, your vision (re: an ETS organization that involves Catholics as well) is a grand one which I, myself, do indeed admire.

However, that doesn't mean that because the ETS is fixed on excluding Catholics (since, after all, they are a Protestant organization and, therefore, have the right to be governed according to Protestant principles), that you should sever your ties with our separated brethren or even surrender such a beautiful vision.

Instead, you might consider, as I previously proposed, founding an organization of your own for like purposes as the ETS -- only difference is that it will include Catholics as well as Protestants.

Just a thought.

God continue to bless you in your Journey of Faith!

Just thought I'd throw this in there. From a post I did recently on J. I. Packer and Anglicanism (who in case you don't know is about as evangelical as it gets). Packer says:

Evangelicals, though historically hesitant to call themselves catholic because of what they see as incomplete Christianity among those, Roman and Anglican, who claim the name, are as catholic in purpose as anyone else, and their reluctance to use the label is a pity, just as it is a pity that self styled Anglican Catholics who love the Lord Jesus should hesitate to call themselves evangelicals. The essence of evangelicalism, as today’s scholar’s usually define it, is bible-based, cross-centred, commitment- oriented (I forgo the word conversion here, since it begs questions), and mission-focused: four qualities that, one way or another have marked the Christian Church as such since it began (if you doubt me, look at St. Paul!). To suspect those who call themselves evangelicals of being standoffish within the church to the point of sectarianism, as has been done in times past, is unworthy and untrue.

It seems to me, from this quote - the latter parts at least, Packer would be on the side of Beckwith here.

thebyronicman & Lydia:

Many of the things you both have stated in the preceding posts are certainly legitimately thought-out positions which carry much validity in their own right; however, the inevitable differences between our respective "traditions" will be what continue to divide us -- even historically. How much more scripturally?

Perhaps it is for this very reason why the ETS is so adamant in purposely excluding Catholics even in light of the possibility of Catholics actually being "evangelical" in the sense that thebyronicman has rightly mentioned.

I believe Michael Bauman's rather good explanation on the matter encapsulates the core of the issue:

"So, no, St. Francis was not evangelical; nor is the honorable church of which he was a part, at least not as Protestants normally use the word. I am not saying he and it are not Christian -- not in the least. But I am saying that the term "evangelical," in historical usage, does not apply to them.

That exclusionary historical usage has contemporary consequences, among them the notion that no matter how wide the spectrum of Protestant belief and practice, the word "evangelical" does not include Roman Catholicism."

I rather don't mind allowing Protestants the exclusive right to the term 'evangelical' if they would be willing to allow catholics the exclusive right to the term 'catholic.' What's good for the goose. What do you say, Dr. Bauman? Shall the two of us and J.I. Packer all get together and hammer that one out for everyone?

It might be fun, byronicman. But my expectations are subdued. I suspect that if the three of us got together, we'd end up affirming at least four positions (wink)

I suspect that if the three of us got together, we'd end up affirming at least four positions (wink)

Indeed. Well, one day we shall all find ourselves in perfect agreement.

it seems to me silly to pretend that they don't exist and to intimate that Protestants are somehow formally inconsistent for believing in the Trinity while not binding themselves to accept all the magisterial teaching of the Catholic Church. There just is no inconsistency there.

It's not necessarily inconsistent, but such a position at least undermines any basis for believing the truth of whatever they believe.

Would a Protestant believe the doctrine of the Trinity because he independently reasoned to such a position? I doubt it. He would believe such a doctrine because it is revealed in Scripture (and through reasoning based upon what is revealed in Scripture).

But this belief in the truth of Scripture requires a belief in the truth of those who put it together, both those who wrote it and those who determined this writing is Scripture, this one isn't. If, as Luther claimed, councils have erred, even in what is or is not Scripture (Maccabbees?), then how can a Protestant have a firm basis for believing in any of it? Or how can a Protestant say that the Book of Mormon (or the Koran, or any other writing) is not "Scripture" - he has already undermined his own basis for claiming what is or is not Scripture.

Bottom line, if it is not necessarily inconsistent to "pick and choose" what the Church is correct about, it certainly undermines any argument you can make that the Church is correct on a particulr issue - you've already agreed it was wrong on X, that opens the door to being wrong on Y. If you are comfortable with that sort of shifting foundation, so be it.

I'm glad both Protestant and Catholic can still dialogue in spite of their dividing principles.


One point that requires clarification is something that I just saw recently in which Lydia stated:

"When you talk about "the living tradition of the Church" let's be honest--you mean, and you should mean, if you're a good Catholic, the teaching of the magisterium, including their teaching _today_ or _tomorrow_. You don't mean merely the doctrine of the Trinity or a canon set up hundreds of years ago. If the RC magisterium decides there's been a "development of doctrine" so that the death penalty may not be given in a developed country for purely retributive reasons when society could be protected from the further evil acts of the murderer by some means other than the death penalty, and if they teach that in an authoritative fashion so that you have to admit it's the teaching of the Church, you have to believe it. A Catholic makes a meta-commitment to abide by the teaching of the Church. A Protestant makes no such meta-commitment, period. If the members of the ETS are "constrained by" the doctrine of the Trinity, that's because they think it _true_ and _important_, not because they are committed on the meta-level to "thinking with the Church" and have determined that the Church teaches the Trinity."


I believe Lydia may have been conflating Catholic Doctrine (e.g., Trinity) with pastoral teaching.

There are doctrines that remain constant and unchanging in the Catholic Faith such as that of the Trinity.

(As regards "Development of Doctrine", need we all be reminded the fact that the Trinity was such a case? It was not until the Ante-nicene period -- centuries after the Apostolic period -- that the Doctrine concerning the Trinity was later formulated to that which we know today.)

However, a pastoral teaching on matters such as the Death Penalty* is not on the same level at all as that of Doctrine.

For example, I hardly think that Lydia would consider Evangelicals having initially embraced and supported Abortion (i.e., the 1971 Southern Baptist Convention) to their present collective Pro-Life stance of today a development in doctrine.

At any rate, in the Catholic Faith, concerning things of a more pastoral nature, there would be room for discussion on such issues. These are merely a sociological judgment based on an estimation of the current world scene and, while Popes are protected in matters of Theology, and can even teach theological premises infallibly if they choose to do so, their understanding of the social realities all over the world and how to apply moral principles to all of those complex situations is not similarly guaranteed.

There are contingent factors around the world sociologically that go beyond the Pope’s teaching sphere and, so, there’s kind of a fuzzy border between the moral principles and how they get applied in concrete individual situations, and its in that area that the limit of the Church’s Teaching Authority is reached in that fuzzy area, because the Church intends to propose basic principles for us but then it’s up to the laity who are on the ground, in concrete circumstances, to try to figure out how to apply those in particular cases.

* Incidentally, on the matter of Catholic pastoral teaching on death penalty, Cardinal Ratzinger (now, Pope Benedict XVI) issued a memorandum in the past in which he pointed out that presumably because of the ambiguities that surround the question, there can be a legitimate diversity of opinion among Catholics regarding when Capital Punishment should be used.

Aristocles, it's my understanding that the Church _could_ teach authoritatively on that question, as she teaches authoritatively that (e.g.) abortion is always gravely immoral. That is, the Church has authority to teach on matters of morals as well as on matters of faith. That doesn't mean that the Church _does_ teach decisively on every moral matter. As you say, it seems that the death penalty may be being left "grey" right now, as are many other matters. But it would be the kind of thing that could happen later, then requiring the assent of all faithful Catholics.

C Matt, no, I entirely disagree with the idea that the Protestant somehow gets all tangled up in radical skepticism, must either take the canon by accepting the _authority_ of the Church or else has no reason to accept it, and so forth. A group or institution need not be infallible to do a good job in some particular case or in some particular area. I do not have to swear undying epistemic allegiance to the Encyclopedia Britannica to take it as a source of information on some topic. Mathematical certainty is not required for rational knowledge. And believe it or not, it actually is possible to make an independent check on the provenance of the canonical books! (Shocka.) This allows one to get an idea of how good a job the original canon-makers did. Quite a good one, actually. The dichotomy between absolute epistemic allegiance to an external authority, on the one hand, and radical skepticism, on the other, is a classic case of a false dichotomy. I'm sorry to say that ever since the 17th century Roman Catholic apologists have been using this strategy as Counterreformation apologetics. That hasn't been good for Catholicism itself.

But perhaps that should be all I say on that topic at this time.

Lydia's right. Ecclesiology is not the same as epistemology.

Theological knowledge is possible outside the Catholic church, even very high, very complex, and very far-reaching levels of theological knowledge. After careful research and debate, one might conclude that on the issue of canon the RCC was mistaken, as indeed Protestants do conclude when they reject the apocryphal books that Rome endorses. Protestants might also conclude that on some other issue Rome is quite correct, as they do regarding, say, the Trinity.

Not only is high-level theological understanding possible outside the Roman magisterium, it is necessary. Without high levels of theological insight, you wouldn't be able to tell which church, if any church, were the right church to listen to in order to get your allegedly reliable theological knowledge unless you had first carefully sorted through the complex historical and theological web of the competing claims of churches that say they are the one true church and the fullness of the faith. For example, should one, so to speak, go to Antioch or to Rome? Or somewhere else? Or nowhere else? If Rome, which Rome -- the Vatican 2 Rome or the sedevacantist Rome?

All these difficult and thorny questions, and many, many others, must be asked and well answered before one can reasonably subscribe to one church's authority or another's, and they must be asked and answered apart from the various churches' competing claims, because those churches' competing claims are the issue, not the resolution of the issue.

The fundamental and logically prior question is "What is true?", not "What does this church or that church affirm on this issue?"

Lydia's right

It'd be fun to run some stats on WWWtW to see how often this is said.

Yeah, Mike d, but I hope it's not just because I'm so mean that everybody is afraid to say anything else. :-) :-)

Call me scared, very scared.

**The fundamental and logically prior question is "What is true?", not "What does this church or that church affirm on this issue?"**

Ecclesiology and epistemology may not be identical, but they cannot be entirely separated. After all, St. Paul did call the Church "the pillar and foundation of the truth." As I said above, evangelicals need to ask not "Is _______ the true church?" but "Is there a true church?" If such a thing cannot be said to exist, attempting to identify it seems rather pointless.

"Without high levels of theological insight, you wouldn't be able to tell which church, if any church, were the right church to listen to in order to get your allegedly reliable theological knowledge unless you had first carefully sorted through the complex historical and theological web of the competing claims of churches that say they are the one true church and the fullness of the faith. For example, should one, so to speak, go to Antioch or to Rome?"

This seems to me to put the cart before the horse, due to the tendency of Evangelicals to examine theology and history separately. Attempting to get all of one's theological ducks in a row and THEN examining the history simply exacerbates this tendency, allowing the Evangelical to keep his theological "lens" on while looking at history.

Lydia is right. She is very very mean and rules through fear.

Jay

RobG,
Who said anything about viewing theology and history separately? I specifically mentioned "the complex historical and theological web." That's one thing, not two, and especially not one thing before the other, as you falsely describe evangelical theology.

As for Paul's comment, no doubt you and I exegete its meaning quite differently. I simply do not see there anything like a historically and grammatically defensible reference the RCC, an interpretation which would seem to me to require an anachronistic reading in the extreme. If you like, we can each post a full exegesis of the text in order to substantiate our views and to see what that verse really says in its grammatical and historical context.

By the way, you have not begun to address my argument in the earlier posting. You distorted it and evaded it.

RobG, I'd be willing to say that *in the sense that I think you mean it*, there is not such a thing as "the true Church." The qualifier is important. But I actually agree with you that this is an important prior question. In fact, I have a theory that people who decide that there is, in that sense, *a* true Church and that it is incumbent upon them to find it are statistically highly likely to end up Roman Catholic. This is based only on anecdotal evidence, however. I've never done a study.

The bottom line regarding any belief, it seems to me, ought always to be "Is it true?" If it is, believe it; if it is false, don't.

Can there really be principled dissent on that point?

Concerning Michael Bauman's statement:

For example, should one, so to speak, go to Antioch or to Rome? Or somewhere else? Or nowhere else? If Rome, which Rome -- the Vatican 2 Rome or the sedevacantist Rome?

Antioch or Rome? The Christian church in Antioch (i.e., Maronites) happen to be united with Rome, so a choice between either of the two would be rather moot.

As for Vatican 2 Rome or the sedevacantist Rome (I believe this was done to contrast with the various Protestant churches) --

The comparison you’re making here is apples and oranges. In the case of Protestant groups that have different denominations, they are not in visible communion with each other. They are not part of one single organization that has a common theology. They are part of many, many different organizations which have *substantially* different theologies.

In the case of Catholicism, even though there are different schools of thought within the Church, there’s still one organization that is capable of articulating the Common Faith of all.

In the case of the sedevacantists, these Catholics still adhere to the same Catholic Faith as those loyal to the Pope in Rome -- the only difference being their school of thought on the matter concerning who they actually recognize as properly residing at the Seat of Peter.

"That's one thing, not two, and especially not one thing before the other, as you falsely describe evangelical theology."

Having been an Evangelical for most of my life, I know the drill. Theology, in the abstract sense, trumps history for the Evangelical. The continuity of doctrine that is a necessary part of Catholic and Orthodox theology is much less of a matter of importance for Evangelicals, generally speaking.

"I simply do not see there anything like a historically and grammatically defensible reference the RCC, an interpretation which would seem to me to require an anachronistic reading in the extreme."

Perhaps, but then the H/G method isn't all there is, is there? And by the way, I'm Orthodox, not Catholic.

"By the way, you have not begun to address my argument in the earlier posting. You distorted it and evaded it."

There was no argument there, Michael. You made a statement that "ecclesiology is not the same as epistemology." I said that while they were not the same, they cannot be separated.

'The bottom line regarding any belief, it seems to me, ought always to be "Is it true?" If it is, believe it; if it is false, don't.'

Of course. But if you think you can come to the truth independent of ecclesiology you're fooling yourself.

But if you think you can come to the truth independent of ecclesiology you're fooling yourself.

I do think so. The two are no more dependent in the area of theology than in...oh...mathematics, health, science, philosophy, or home repair. Theology isn't in an epistemological category unto itself--radically, incommensurably different from all other areas of life, truth, and knowledge. I cannot imagine why one should be asked to think so.

"In the case of the sedevacantists, these Catholics still adhere to the same Catholic Faith as those loyal to the Pope in Rome -- the only difference being their school of thought on the matter concerning who they actually recognize as properly residing at the Seat of Peter."

School of thought? It's called a schism and if they think the Holy Spirit no longer guides the teaching authority of the Church they are not adhering to the same Catholic Faith as those of us who believe in the Apostolic Succession and unity in the Seat of Peter.

For those of us, Catholic and Orthodox, who believe in a True Church, visible down through the ages, theology, epistemology, and ecclesiology are inseparable; indeed any attempt to discriminate strictly between them must be regarded as incoherent. Theology properly so-called is not an academic discipline, possessing a discrete field of investigation, and advancing by means of a set of procedures in principle accessible to anyone who masters the requisite discourses. Rather, theology proper is the knowledge of God, personal, experiential, mystical - communion. The academic discipline of theology, with all of its circumscribed doctrinal headings, the products of which can be printed in journals, tomes, and articles, is a secondary effect, theology about theology, one might say. Theology proper, as the mystical and experiential knowledge of God, may in certain extraordinary circumstances be immediate; ordinarily, however, this knowledge of God is mediate, and concerning as it does the entirety of the person, as opposed to the intellect simply, it requires more than an encounter with a text in the splendid isolation of one's inner fastnesses. That is to say, it requires sacraments, ritual, and liturgy, and for these things, one must have a Church; for if the ritual acts do not essentially and really transmit the core of the mystical experience, then theology proper is foreclosed to the believer, and the economy of salvation is, at best, scrambled.

I don't imagine - for this would be the height of presumption - that many Protestants will accept such a formulation; neither, however, should Protestants expect the rest of us to accept Reformational schematizations of theological and historical categories.

It's interesting you should put it that way, Maximos. It does strike me (and here I'm not trying to set people by the ears but just noticing something) that your way of casting it is rather distinctively Orthodox--that is, Eastern as opposed to Western. I'm thinking here particularly of this sentence: Rather, theology proper is the knowledge of God, personal, experiential, mystical - communion.

I've been told by Orthodox friends that the very tight connection between knowledge of God theologically/intellectually and personal knowledge of God is indeed distinctively Orthodox and that the West has separated these rather too much even (perhaps especially) in its Catholic and scholastic manifestation.

Rob,
I explained in detail how and why ecclesiology and epistemology were different by showing that one must -- by logical necessity -- reach high level and quite sophisticated theological conclusions about competing church claims BEFORE one knows what church, if any, to listen to. Eccelesiology and epistemology must be different for that very reason, and epistemology must come first. Another way to make the same case is to ask, "How would you know if your church were wrong?"

You have not yet begun to address my argument.

Kevin,
I think you are absolutely right about the sedevacantists. Their point is not a mere difference of opinion inside the same faith, and they do not think of themselves as holding to the same faith as do Vatican 2 Catholics. They say that what the Vat2 supporters call Rome is not Rome at all, and that transubstantiation does not occur in the apostate church that falsely calls itself the RCC. They say that this Pope is not the Pope, and therefore that apostolic succession no longer applies to your church. Perhaps they are right; perhaps they are wrong. Before I know which church to call Rome, I cannot follow Rome. I cannot depend upon them to tell me. Someone's teaching on this point must be mistaken, and is therefore not a reliable distributor of knowledge. In order to find out who to trust, if anyone, I must gain great amounts of relevant knowledge apart from the alleged authority of either claimant.

Until we can sort out those competing claims to authentic Rome-ness, we cannot depend upon the Roman church to tell us what is right and true. We won't know to which claimant we ought to adhere until we settle the prior issue. Epistemology precedes ecclesiology, and differs from it.

Aristocles,
My choice of "Antioch" was misleading; you are quite right. I should have chosen a different city. By that name I meant to imply Eastern Orthodoxy in general, rather than merely the Maronites, just as with a reference to Geneva or to Wittenberg I would meant to imply Protestants in general, and not merely the actual Christians now centered in either place. My point, obscured by my misleading choice of cities, was that we can't follow the true church's teaching until we know which church, if any, is the true church. Among the churches claiming to be the one true church are at least two claimants to be Rome, on the one hand, and Eastern Orthodoxy, on the other. The claim of each one to be the one true church and the fullness of the faith might be wrong. (As a Protestant, I say exactly that.) But until I settle that question, I cannot tell which church to follow. I must gain great amounts of theological knowledge before I find a church to listen to, if ever.

Sorry for the confusion.

Max,
I don't think this way because I am a Protestant and therefore have a Protestant way of thinking. The rigors of good thinking are what they are, regardless of our church affiliations. I think there are better and worse ways of thinking -- including thinking about God -- and that is why I am Protestant, not vice versa.

Good thinking comes first, which is why I said that the bottom line ought always to be "Is it true?" not "Which church said so?

We must ask "How can I know if my church is wrong?" We must ask that because the competing claims to authority and truth require it of us. The EOC and the RCC cannot both be right on all the fundamentals. They differ. For example, we cannot say both that Mary was immaculately conceived (RCC) and that she was not (EOC). We cannot both accept (RCC) and deny (EOC) that the Pope is the infallible successor of Peter when he speaks ex cathedra. We cannot emphasize the reality and explanatory power of the Divine energies at the expense of the Divine essences and substances (EOC), while at the same time emphasizing the reality and explanatory power of the Divine essences and substances at the expense of the Divine energies (RCC). We cannot believe in transubstantiation (RCC) and not believe in transubstantiation (EOC) at the same time. (This list of differences is partial.) Someone is wrong. Perhaps both are wrong. We must make a choice.

Maximos, excellent summation. I know Benedict XVI would especially like;"Rather, theology proper is the knowledge of God, personal, experiential, mystical - communion."

Michael, I have friends who belong to the The Society of St. Pius X and have great sympathy for their position. There was much evil done by those who abused Vatican II in hopes of creating a culturally conformist Church. Still the sedevacantists biggest problem is that they cannot accept the Church as Suffering Servant. Instead, they prefer a highly politicized form of faith that is preoccupied with re-fighting everything from the Reformation to the Battle of Algiers and would like the Pope to wield temporal authority. That is not her mission.

I wish you well in investigating the competing claims and hope your search leads you to Rome.
The Eucharist awaits you, should make the journey.


Michael, Maximos has said what I would say far more eloquently than I ever could. And I'd disagree with Lydia that what he wrote was uniquely Eastern. I believe that the RCC would say the same thing, in essence, although they would undoubtedly disagree with some of the details and with how the principles are fleshed out, so to speak.

"I explained in detail how and why ecclesiology and epistemology were different by showing that one must -- by logical necessity -- reach high level and quite sophisticated theological conclusions about competing church claims BEFORE one knows what church, if any, to listen to. Eccelesiology and epistemology must be different for that very reason, and epistemology must come first."

I have no issue with your statement that ecclesiology and epistemology are different; what I disagree with is the implication that the two are unrelated. What you seem to be saying is something along the lines of, "Let's put aside the issue of Rome's and Orthodoxy's claims to be the true Church, and just examine their theology to see if it's true or not." This is what I'm saying cannot be done if one desires to get to a true understanding of Catholic or Orthodox theology. Both Catholics and Orthodox believe that theological truth, dogma and kerygma, is mediated through the Church, not simply through the Scriptures and the individual; if this is correct, then ecclesiology and epistemology are intrinsically related.

Now, as Maximos says above, you may disagree with this formulation. But it is incorrect to assume that you will somehow get a true picture of either Orthodoxy or Catholicism if you don't realize it and take it into consideration.

'We must ask "How can I know if my church is wrong?" We must ask that because the competing claims to authority and truth require it of us.'

No doubt. And for the Catholic and the Orthodox, one need only ask this question once. But you cannot even get to the place where you can ask it if you continue to examine either Church with Protestant presuppositions intact. And the separation of ecclesiology from epistemology is one of those presuppositions.

one must -- by logical necessity -- reach high level and quite sophisticated theological conclusions about competing church claims BEFORE one knows what church, if any, to listen to.

Michael,

It seems that by this statement you are confirming Dr. Koons' criticism of sola scriptura, i.e., that it demands from the faithful a level of theological competence that most can never possess.

However, if sound theology based on Scripture were the sole criterion by which to distinguish between a good church and a bad church, then theological competence would be a "logical necessity" as you say. But it is begging the question to assume this is the case; and everyday experience suggests that it isn't. For example, one does not have to go to medical school for twelve years to distinguish between a good brain surgeon and a bad one, but merely notice whose patients tend to live and whose don't.

I have been reading this dialog over the last 2 or 3 days with fascination. It is a high quality discussion where the partipicants on both side know a lot and neither side is misrepresenting the other's positions and the issues being discussed are quite substantive.

At the risk of lowering this high quality of debate, I will venture to make a comment. This is my first blog com-box comment ever, so please be gentle with me. As will be apparent, I am only a lay person trying to discern these truths. My perspective is from one who is in the process of 'swimming across the Tiber' towards Rome. My wife and I have recently left the Reformed Baptist church we had been attending for 22 years and have begun to attend Mass at a RCC parish. If all goes according to our present plans, we will soon start the process towards being confirmed in the RCC.

My feeling is the Protestants make their conclusions according to presuppositional thinking. For example, this thread has demonstrated at least four presuppositions. As in:

  • Frank, you can't be part ETS because Catholic's cannot be evangelicals. It has always been that way and must continue to be that way. No matter that you are more orthodox that many Protestants we let in ... Catholic's cannot be evangelicals.

    The Scripture (described by the 66 books the Protestants recognize as the correct Canon) is true. And nothing else but Scripture can be a final authority for morals and salvation (or some such)(sola scriptura)(In other words, we reject the Catholic Magesterium.)

  • Just because we (Protestants) reject the Magesterium, doesn't mean we cannot have true knowledge. We (Protestants) can truly know things to be true.

  • There is not a true visible church, continuous down through the ages since the apostles. The chruch therefore is invisible, made up of a collection of local bodies who are preaching the Word of God and administering the sacraments (baptism and communion).

I reject the Protestant presuppositions. You (Protestants) have to do better if you want me to stop swimming towards Rome and start swimming back to you.

Hi John,

Welcome aboard. The four things you mention might be Protestant beliefs but they needn't be presuppositions. A Protestant might have good reasons for thinking that some of the things you mention are true (they might be mistaken about having good reasons but that doesn't make presuppositions). I think Michael and Lydia have been making that point.

Hi, John Lynch. Welcome to WWWtW. I actually don't believe that there's some objective or important sense in which Frank can't be part of ETS or in which Catholics can't be evangelicals. I've said consistently that the word "evangelical" can be used in various senses, and that the most important thing here is simply that ETS be clear about what it means so as not to create future problems.

I definitely don't just "presuppose" that there is not one true church. My own opinion is that the strong proposition that there exists such a true church (teaching magisterium, guided down through the ages by the Holy Spirit, and so forth) itself requires evidence--that its proponents bear the burden of proof. I don't believe that burden has been discharged. I try to avoid saying such things but seem inevitably to get drawn into saying them, particularly when it's claimed that Protestantism is based on a mere presupposition.

As for the claim that Protestants can know things to be true, actually, Catholic teaching agrees with us there. Ask any highly informed Catholic. As I understand it, the claim is that Protestants know some truths, even some theological truths. We just don't, according to them, have the fullness of the truth. So if you go to Rome you'll have to agree with that one anyway. :-)

For example, one does not have to go to medical school for twelve years to distinguish between a good brain surgeon and a bad one, but merely notice whose patients tend to live and whose don't.

Right and I think this analogy works if you're just talking about church attendance (you will know them by their love and all that). But if you're to decide whether this or that church is the true Church (in the sense that visible Church ecclesiology means it) than it still seems that it will require fairly sophisticated theological knowledge. Wouldn't that be more analagous to deciding whether brain surgeon X's theories on unconscious brain activity are true when brain surgeon Y's are not.

John Lynch,
We've got towels ready for you when you make shore! Last week there was a very stimualting talk held at Columbia University in advance of B16's visit to the states. All involved in this fine discussion may find the comments by David Schidler and the closing remarks by Father Lorenzo Albacete worth reading.
http://www.crossroadsnyc.com/files/SomethingInfinite1.pdf

Hats off to all for conducting this conversation in a manner worthy of our Master.

George,

I did not argue in favor of sola scriptura. I argued that epistemology and ecclesiology are different. I agree with Koons that much is required of us. I disagree that by requiring it of us God has required too much, or demanded something beyond our capacities.

Nor did I argue that sola scriptura is a proper epistemology. I deny that it is, or even could be. You can't begin with the Bible. You have to find out first what books, if any, are inspired before you could get knowledge from the Bible. Canonicity precedes sola scriptura. You can't start with sola scriptura any more than you can start with ecclesiology.

Rob G
I never said that ecclesiology and epistemology are unrelated. Epistemology is not unrelated to anything we know or believe. I did say they were different and that epistemology precedes ecclesiology.

Nor did I say that we ought to put aside Rome's and the East's competing claims in order to examine their theology. I said we had to examine those claims first in order to see if those claims were true. You are not responding to what I actually wrote.

As I said in a post to Max, the presuppositions involved in reasonable analysis are not Protestant. They are simply the presuppositions of reasonable analysis. If you call them Protestant, then you are unintentionally making a point you probably do not want to make.

Michael,
You said:
"Canonicity precedes sola scriptura. You can't start with sola scriptura any more than you can start with ecclesiology."

Just how do we come to 'know' which books belong in the Bible? IOW, did the Holy Spirit lead the Church into the knowledge? If so, how and was the guidance fallible or infallible?


I will make one more post to try to clarify ... I really don't want to lower the quality of the discussion.

For point one, I was going from my memory of the way the discussion about ETS kind of ended and moved on to other topics.

In a post Michael Bauman did say:

"That exclusionary historical usage has contemporary consequences, among them the notion that no matter how wide the spectrum of Protestant belief and practice, the word "evangelical" does not include Roman Catholicism.

And that precise notion, the centuries-old notion that "evangelical does not include Roman Catholicism," is partially what stands behind the current movement in the ETS to define things more expansively...

That did sound presuppositional to me ... perhaps it is more accurate to say it is historical, but the logic in continuing to apply that particular history is not based on reason.

I won't comment on sola scriptura as that has not been part of this discussion except to say I came to the conclusion early in my investigations that I should not be bound by this principle.

I did not mean to say that Protestants cannot know anything. It is clear to me they do, much more than I know. But at the very root, how do we know this ... what is the foundation that their knowledge rests? I guess the answer to my own question is that it is given by God, but even still, it does seem presuppositional to me. I should also say, it is not necessarily a bad thing to accept things by presupposition.

As to the true church question, I can only speak for myself. In my investigations, I have read a few things, and still have much more to read on my original book list. But it is very intimidating, because I can see it is just the tip of the iceberg. How can one possibly learn enough to know how to decide between the issues separting the Protestants and the Catholics, at least that was what I was ( and still am) experiencing.

But a couple of things filtered up to the top and allowed me to make some choices. For myself, and speaking only for myself, as to whether or not there is a true church and where it resides, I did not find the answers from Scripture to be determinative one way or another, but what did it for me is my understanding is that the Nicence fathers had a view of the church that it was a visible society based in the Catholic church with apostolic succession. So I made my own choice based on a presuppostion, admittedly. I trust that they were correct. Otherwise, how could they have developed so impressively the doctrine of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ in the midst of all that turmoil? For me, it was as simple as that, but it was very important and decisive for me.

Coupled with that is in my studies I am impressed with the RCC doctrine of justification.

That is why I am where I am at this moment.

What have I wrought with this apparently benign post?

"Nor did I say that we ought to put aside Rome's and the East's competing claims in order to examine their theology. I said we had to examine those claims first in order to see if those claims were true. You are not responding to what I actually wrote."

Michael, this is what you said in your post above: "All these difficult and thorny questions, and many, many others, must be asked and well answered before one can reasonably subscribe to one church's authority or another's, and they must be asked and answered apart from the various churches' competing claims, because those churches' competing claims are the issue, not the resolution of the issue."

Does not your 'asked and answered apart from...' imply my 'putting aside'? What am I missing here?

"the presuppositions involved in reasonable analysis are not Protestant. They are simply the presuppositions of reasonable analysis. If you call them Protestant, then you are unintentionally making a point you probably do not want to make."

I think we are using the word 'presupposition' differently. When I speak of a Protestant presupposition, I mean a position that you have reasoned to as a Protestant, and which position you maintain when examining the theology of Orthodoxy or Catholicism. I'm not meaning it in the sense of a position presupposed in the sense of not being reasoned to.

In order to examine Catholicism or Orthodoxy objectively, the Protestant lenses must come off, if only temporarily. And the reverse is also true, of course.

Protestant modes of thought and analysis are clearer if and only if such methodologies correspond to the nature of the subject of investigation; as this very thing is in dispute, appealing to them possesses the character either of a begged question or a "just because" assertion. Frankly, one of the reasons I am no longer a Protestant - one of the considerations that sent me fleeing from Protestantism, in fact - is just this presupposition that the competing claims of the churches can be resolved in some metatheological exercise, subsequent to which we examine actually-existing churches to determine whether any correspond to our idealized Christianity. The intellectual exercise itself is conducted in accordance with Protestant presuppositions, most particularly that such knowledge is itself not mediated authoritatively; in other words, implicit in the exercise is the notion that any church is the product of human deliberation, an artifact of history, a contingent manifestation of some disincarnate Christian essence. Which is merely to state that we're still debating late scholasticism, or certain tendencies thereof, and the influence of these upon subsequent religious thought. Sigh.

It is true in a formal sense that anyone undertaking to adjudicate the respective claims of the churches, in the course of his spiritual journey, must possess, or develop, the capacity to articulate theological and historical claims at a high level of sophistication and subtlety; what doesn't follow from this is that Protestant approaches to the question - the alleged inescapability of private judgment - are superior - superior because unavoidable, any more than the judgment involved in such investigations entitles us to elide the distinction between private judgment and a humble quest that ends in its renunciation. Moreover, the very possibility of investigating such competing claims raises the question of sources: from what sources will we derive the criteria by which the claims will be evaluated? I perceive no prima facie reason to accept the Protestant claims of sola scriptura, and this rejection enables us to delve into ecclesiastical and doctrinal history. On this latter point, I will state only that I believe Lydia has things backwards: the claim that a True Church, with magisterial authority, Divine guidance, and Apostolic succession, exists is entitled to the benefit of the doubt. This claim should function as the default position, inasmuch as it was the uniform conviction of Christendom, East and West, for nearly three-quarters of the temporal span of the Christian religion. It is not that this claim, being "positive", bears a greater burden of proof; rather, its negation bears that burden, since the negation of this claim is the attempt to argue that virtually everyone was getting it wrong for 1500 years. History does not need to justify itself; it simply is what it is. To the contrary, those desirous of overturning history must justify their undertakings; the accumulated weight and authority of history must be accorded their due. It seems to me that this is the properly (tempermentally) conservative posture.

"Which is merely to state that we're still debating late scholasticism, or certain tendencies thereof, and the influence of these upon subsequent religious thought. Sigh."

The sigh is echoed. Ideas do indeed have consequences.

I now what I said, Rob. I am saying that you misunderstood it. Quoting my words to me doesn't change that. You are musunderstanding, even in the wake of further explanation.

Pat,
Because "Bible" equals "whatever book or books God inspired," and not "whatever book or books one church or another church recognizes as Scripture," no church is above the Bible. Nor is the Bible dependent upon the church, any church, for its existence. No church produced the Bible or brought the Bible to us. What makes the Bible the Word of God (and therefore authoritative) is divine inspiration, not ecclesiastical recognition. The various books of the Bible are divinely inspired and authoritative even if no church ever recognized that fact, or even if all churches recognized that fact. Ecclesiastical recognition is not what makes the Bible the Bible. The Bible is what it is because God inspired it, not because we did or did not recognize His work. In other words, if any books are inspired, they are inspired not because a church affirms it, but because they come from the Holy Spirit Himself. If they come from the Holy Spirit, they are inspired, authoritative, and canonical even if no church ever recognized them as such. Their authenticity and authority come from the Holy Spirit, not from a church. We do not owe divinely inspired books to a church, but to God.
To put a point on it, some of the books recognized by the RCC as canonical are not inspired and are therefore not properly part of the Bible, and here I refer specifically to the Apocrypha. That is, when it comes to recognizing the proper canon, not only is the RCC not necessary, but the RCC got it wrong. Neither the books of the Old nor of the New Testament depend for their existence, for their inspiration, or therefore for their canonicity and authority, upon the RCC.
To be specific, the Old Testament canon does not depend for its existence or its authority upon the RCC. Jesus Himself, and ancient Jews all the way back to well before the time of David, had a recognizable and authoritative Hebrew canon. For example, David loved to meditate on God's word so intensely that he wrote a long and impressive song of praise in honor of the practice in Psalm 119. In that psalm, David clearly has in mind an inspired and authoritative Hebrew canon, which he called the word of God and the law of God. He wrote his psalm many centuries before there ever was a Roman Catholic (or Eastern Orthodox) church in existence to claim credit for it, or to say it had even played a part. Judging from the content of David's psalm, he obviously expected his readers to understand what he meant by his many references to God's word and to God's law, and he expected them to agree with him about it.
Even though the Hebrew canon was still in a state of partial flux in his day, Jesus, in particular, and the ancient Jews, in general, recognized a pre-existing canon, a canon that antedates the RCC by many centuries. That is, Jesus of Nazareth was born into a religion that already had a Bible when He arrived. He Himself recognized and accepted that Hebrew Bible. He lived according to it; He preached from it; He faced down Satan by it; and He refuted his Jewish opponents with it. He also uttered statements that delineate which books He considered canonical (and therefore those that He did not). Indeed, even Satan seems to have recognized that pre-existing canon because he quotes from it as well.
If we consider Jesus a reliable teacher of doctrine -- and I do -- then we ought to accept as ours the Hebrew canon He accepted. In Matthew 23: 35, for example, Jesus refers to the persecution of holy persons, beginning with Abel (Gen 4:8) and ending with Zacharias (2 Chron. 24: 20 ff.), a recounting that follows the ordering and limits of the Hebrew canon, which did not include the Apocrypha. In Luke 24: 44, He again delineates what He considers Scripture: the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms -- or what then was called the Torah, the Neviim, and the Kethubim (namely, the books of Moses, the books of the prophets, and the wisdom literature). By so speaking, Jesus employed a common three-fold delineation of Scripture, one that did not include the Apocryphal books within its three over-arching categories.
Perhaps Jesus and the Jews of his day were wrong about the canon, but I will not argue against Him or them. If they were right, then I do not see how it follows that we need the RCC in order to have a recognizable and authoritative Hebrew canon. Jesus and the Jews had one without it. Apparently we do not need the RCC, or any church, to have or to recognize a divinely inspired Hebrew text. We need a historically active and text-inspiring God, one whose actions and intentions are recognized for us by Christ.
In other words, the Hebrew Bible antedates the church. Even the earliest Christians had a Bible. The Spirit Who moved the prophets gave it to them. To their great credit, they recognized His gift, however imperfectly. Their recognition did not produce God's gift, but acknowledged it.
Put differently, the Hebrew Bible did not come to the world via the RCC or the EOC. It came to the world via the inspiration and guidance of God. Therefore, our task is to identify, always in light of Christ, which books bear the marks of inspiration and which do not. Whether we do a good job of it, or a bad one, the books He inspired are the Bible, the authoritative Word of God. We ought not try to determine which books do or do not bear the marks of inspiration simply by taking recourse to this or that church's conclusions on the matter unless we have something like a message from God that told us we ought to do so. That message would have to come from God Himself, it seems to me, and not from the church in question. If it came from the church in question, then the church in question would have to verify its authority by asserting its authority, which is both circular and unconvincing. I, for one, will not suspect, much less accuse, God of that kind of circular reasoning or irrational pedagogy. We cannot know if God has designated any church to establish the canon unless we have a way of establishing His authoritative pronouncement on the point without begging the question by appealing to that church's self-promoting assertions or to its version of the canon, and thereby assuming its authority -- which is the very thing we were trying to ascertain in the first place.
By arguing in this way, I am not making an argument from my own alleged authority, but an argument from history. Historically, the ancient Jews already had an inspired canon, one that was in place for many centuries before the RCC, the EOC, or any other allegedly canon-making Christian church existed. We have abundant historical documentation by which to determine what books were and were not normally considered Scripture by the Jewish believers of Jesus' day and before, a full description of which lies outside the bounds of this small book, but the general tenor of which militates strongly against the Apocrypha, and therefore against the RCC and its alleged canon-making authority.

Because this post is already very long, I'll leave the New Testament for another time.

That's entirely possible. So again I ask: What is the difference between your "asked and answered apart from" and my "putting aside"?

I appreciate Michael's discussion of the OT canon, though I, of course, do not espouse either the conclusions or the methodology. The methodology presupposes that an examination of a certain phase of history (leaving aside the inevitable questions of interpretation), coupled with an analysis of the Scriptural records of Christ's utterances, will be dispositive.

However, no Catholic or Orthodox would accept such a methodology, as it excludes the evidences that they wish to have admitted. But, will come the reply, that is precisely what is in question. Indeed, and so also are the Protestant counter-claims.

Nor is the Bible dependent upon the church, any church, for its existence. No church produced the Bible or brought the Bible to us.


I beg to differ.

Even Martin Luther in his commentary on St. John (Ch 16) admitted:
“We are obliged to yield many things to the Papists (there, he means Catholics); that they possess the Word of God which we received from them. Otherwise, we should have known nothing at all about it”


Hindsight is often 20/20; however, we must remember that in the Early Church, there were huge disagreements about what books exactly were considered Scripture.

There disagreements between St. Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, for example. Reviewing ecclesiastical history, many rejected Revelations, Jude, 2nd and 3rd John, Hebrews as part of Scripture and said that they were not, in fact, inspired.

Many in the early church actually accepted the Epistle of Clement as Scripture -- it was read in Corinth for over a hundred years as Sacred Scripture after Clement died. There were disagreements as well over the Old Testament Canon. Whether books like Baruch was inspired and others. So there were disagreements.

FF Bruce in "The Canon of the New Testament" described how the bible (particularly, the New Testament) was put together and how it was Catholic Bishops who began to write letters back and forth and encourage the inclusion of certain books and the rejection of other books, culminating in a series of Catholic Councils right around the year 400 AD that put together the New Testament, the 27 books of the New Testament as we know it.

Thus, let us not overlook the fact that it was the Church, which all Christians were once united under, that defined the Canon.

Perhaps one day, we will be united once again.

But, for now, we have the present reality that continues to divide us.

Michael,
Thanks for your detailed response. Before you answer to the NT canon and how the Church came to know which books were inspired and which not; maybe I could ask a similar question about a different issue. How did the Church we see operating in the Bible decide issues and come to 'know' the truth on essentials such as salvation?

An informative statement, maximos.

I suspect that the amechania that sent you flying from Protestantism will show up everywhere else. We are epistemologically deficient, whether we choose our criteria from here or there, to raise our concept of truth to be Truth. History is not to be doubted, before or after the 16th century. More: history has not come to an end. Gilson pointed out the problem, a metaphysical one: the unguarded use of a principle of unity present in the human mind.

I think people are under an impression that the assembly of the canon of the NT was a far dicier business than in fact it was. For example, there was never any question of including something like the gnostic gospels. If anything, there might have been an inclination _not_ to include some things that presently _are_ included. Sometimes one gets the feeling that some are under the impression that it was all just totally up in the air and that we have to accept an Authority with a capital A in order to "have" the Bible, including the NT. In point of actual fact, what the fathers are good on is being historical sources on the _provenance_ of particular books. Any responsible historian should admit this. But this is itself an historical inquiry, not a matter of taking the patristic sources to represent "the Church" and then accepting the canon because we antecedantly accept the authority of the Church. Bishop Lightfoot (God rest his scholarly soul), for example, was Anglican, not Roman Catholic. :-) His great contribution to answering the higher critics was verifying the authenticity of the patristic sources, which in turn tells us a great deal about the provenance and dating of the Gospels.

'But this is itself an historical inquiry, not a matter of taking the patristic sources to represent "the Church" and then accepting the canon because we antecedantly accept the authority of the Church.'

This brings us to the canon's being "a fallible collection of infallible books," which makes no sense. If the collection is fallible, that can only mean that there's a possibility that something's in there that shouldn't be, or that something that should be in there is missing.
Both options seem to me to be ridiculous.

Of course, the Patristic sources do not represent "the Church, speaking infallibly". On the Catholic and Orthodox conception, that would be the Church, in Council, at a minimum; this is the means by which the Spirit guides Her into all truth.

"[T]here's a possibility that something's in there that shouldn't be, or that something that should be in there is missing."

Anything is, technically speaking, possible. At least in empirical areas. It's strictly speaking possible that I'll be kidnapped tonight by aliens. Or even that I was kidnapped a couple of years ago and have had the memory erased. You can't make things impossible that you would like to have be impossible just by willing it to be so, nor even by choosing the right church. Possibility and impossibility are what they are. But I don't lose any sleep about alien kidnapings, nor do I lose any sleep about the canon. This is partly because I've done just a _minimal_ amount of looking into it for myself (and others I know have done an awful lot more) rather than treating it as a mysterious black box wherein the Holy Spirit revealed the truly canonical books in some process that I can't possibly fathom. Actually, it wasn't like that at all. And mind you, I'm no scholar on this. But even a little investigation with a hard-headed empirical spirit does a lot to clear the artificial fog of mystery surrounding the matter, which frankly I think would have embarrassed the church fathers themselves. It also helps to stiffen one's spine so that one doesn't feel a necessity of throwing up one's hands and assuming that there _must_ be some infallible source out there to pick out just the right books.

"...assuming that there _must_ be some infallible source out there to pick out just the right books."

I believe, of course, that there is such a source. It's called the Holy Spirit, and just as he worked through the inspired authors to compose the books, he worked through the Church to select them.

Lydia,
I am a Roman Catholic. I have many questions about all of this as do many of us, I suppose. For me, the issue isn't accepting authority before we "have" the Bible. The Church exists in its fullness even without any Scriptures. The issue is authority. Protestants are content, by their own opinion by the way, with mere humanly constituted authority. As a Catholic this does not make sense to me at all. The Church as the Body of Christ is Divinly constituted for all time by Christ. The Church is not fashioned together like a trade union or some other humanly agreed upon premise. Since Christ is the Head of His Church then it necessarily follows that any authority in this Church is Divinly constituted, thus the guarantee of the objective possibility of knowing the Truth without error. In fact, this is exactly the kind of Church we see operating in Scripture. There is, after all, only One Ecclesiology represented in Scripture. There is no justification for there ever being any more than One. I suppose this is part of where Michael feels that he has questions regarding, "Is it the RCC? or the Sedevacantist's or the EOC? The differences between these are of a different kind than the differences between Protestants and RC/EOC. The formal Ecclesial practices of Protestantism began in the 16th century. There is no history to support them prior to this. IOW, there were no Baptist's, Confessional Lutherans or Reformed Presbyterians at the Council of Nicea in AD325.

RobG, my point is just that I don't see why it should be so worrisome to admit that it is _possible_ that an error was made in the making of the canon. And you can't make it impossible anyway. It _is_ possible. But there are lots of bare possibilities that are sufficiently improbable that we needn't worry about them. I think part of the difficulty is an exaggeration of the difficulty in ascertaining the provenance of the NT books.

Perhaps it would be clarifying for me to say that I think the Gospels contain a dickens of a lot of theology in themselves, so the doctrine of the Trinity doesn't rest on (e.g.) the Pauline epistles alone, even within Scripture. I'm not really as tightly wound about the Bible as some Protestants are. _If_ it turned out that James did not have an apostolic provenance, my faith would not fall. Not that I consider this at all likely. It's just an example. But I have to admit that there are indeed some Protestants who cling to every word of the Bible as though everything stands or falls based on their having it all just right. They would be _very_ bothered by the fact that the long ending of Mark appears to be inauthentic, for example. Textual criticism gets really crazy, and for most of it I have no time, but there are a very small number of passages that probably should not be admitted to be canonical. This does not shake me up. I think such Protestants themselves need to get a more tough-minded faith founded on fact. I suppose that if one took that attitude, so that one accepted the Bible itself "on faith" without historical grounding, then it would be just another step, and might make some of such Protestants feel more secure, to accept the Church "on faith" as also infallible.

"But even a little investigation with a hard-headed empirical spirit does a lot to clear the artificial fog of mystery surrounding the matter, which frankly I think would have embarrassed the church fathers themselves."

Lydia, I think there is much that would embarrass the Church Fathers, but arguments over "choosing the right church" would likely rank highest. There is only one institution left in the West that can trace her roots to antiquity. Longevity is not the final arbiter, but it should suggest a staying power that finds it's source beyond mere human agency. If she hasn't yet faced the Gates of Hell, she has prevailed against a lot of forces of considerable strength.

Possibility and impossibility are what they are.
...a mysterious black box wherein the Holy Spirit revealed the truly canonical books in some process that I can't possibly fathom. Actually, it wasn't like that at all.

I don't perceive this process, which was indeed fraught, contested, and contentious, as being antithetical to the notion of a True Church with teaching authority, any more than I perceive the messy process of the development of life to be antithetical to the notion of divine creation. Indeed, the working of the Spirit in and through the messy contingencies of empirical history is precisely what I would expect: after the Apostolic council in Jerusalem, the decision is announced with the words, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..." There was no mysterious black box or thundering from on high, merely a working through human, all too human processes - much like the inspiration of Scripture itself (though there are limits to the analogy).

'I suppose that if one took that attitude, so that one accepted the Bible itself "on faith" without historical grounding, then it would be just another step, and might make some of such Protestants feel more secure, to accept the Church "on faith" as also infallible.'

Any lack of security which may cause a Protestant to come to see the Church as infallible probably comes not from lack of a 'tough-minded faith founded on fact,' but from the realization of one's own individual limitations. As a Protestant, once I started studying Scripture and church history in earnest, I found no 'security' in ceaselessly attempting to trust my own lights and in being, in effect, my own pope, theologian and professor of ethics. In fact, I began to see it as rather hubristic, and any security that comes from hubris is questionable at best.


Rob G:

A Protestant friend of mine once asked me if I were afraid that I was giving up my "autonomy" by becoming Catholic. I answered: I've tried my autonomy for 46 years; I think it's time to give someone else a try. :-)

Once I gave up Cartesian envy, I was able to see past my insecure little self. "Credo ergo sum," baby!

Frank

Actually, "credo ergo sum" works quite well as an argument. Philosophy trivia. I mean, it does follow from the fact that you believe something that you exist, just as it follows from the fact that you think that you exist. And you can also tell by introspection that you believe something, so you even get the immediate grasp of the initial premise for "credo" as well.

So you're a good Cartesian after all, Frank. :-)

Frank,
"I've tried my autonomy for 46 years; I think it's time to give someone else a try."

Amen. I think you've hit upon the great divide here. As a cradle Catholics born into the American culture of individualism I need this reminder on a daily basis.

"We believe, wherefore we speak." St. Paul

Lydia writes: Actually, "credo ergo sum" works quite well as an argument... I mean, it does follow from the fact that you believe something that you exist...

What about those who don't believe (e.g., atheists) -- does that mean these folks don't exist? >;^)

Lydia,
It also seems that the possibility/probability line of thinking when applied to actual material doctrine like sola fide leaves the Protestant standing on sand. Historical exegesis,studying all the different traditions along with Scripture etc... would leave a Roman Catholic/ Eastern Orthodox Christian with the probability that what they believe is indeed true.

Nope, Aristocles. That would be a fallacy anyway. (About the atheists.) But they believe trivial stuff--that the sun is shining, for example. They can argue to their own existence that way. We'll let 'em. :-)

Pat, I don't really follow. The Protestant _certainly_ has the resources to argue that what he believes in doctrinal areas is probably true. Of course, sometimes he (like the Catholic) has to say, "I don't know." Sometimes the evidence is inconclusive. But this hardly means that one can never have a probabilistic argument that is strong for some particular doctrinal belief. I cannot understand why you would think otherwise. You cannot be under the impression that there is no way to investigate these things and gather good evidence about them aside from gathering evidence about which Church is infallible, can you? Well, maybe you can be under that impression. But if so, I could not disagree more strongly.

Lydia,
Thanks for responding. You are kind to do so. It does not matter that both Protestants and Catholics have the resources to argue that what they believe is probably true. To me this is exactly the limitation of the Probability arguement. It leaves the simple christian like myself (and any and every christian for that matter) asking the unanswerable question of, "Who is to say?" I certainly do not believe that Divine Faith itself is "probably" true. It is as real as it gets. It is indeed supernatural. It certainly isn't probably supernatural. Also, what could a christian say to a Hindu, Buddhist, Moslem etc... IOW, the Apostles did not present the Truth of the Gospel as a probability. They spoke it as absolute Truth. A Minister of the Gospel would never get away with standing up before his congregation and saying, "Thus sayeth the Lord... probably."

My point about pre Reformation Christianity is that it is decidedly in favor (by probabilities)of Roman Catholic doctrine, ie, Sola Fide is a false manmade doctrine- probably.

What could a Christian say to a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim?(!!!!)

Lots and lots and lots. It would be a grave mistake to believe that ecclesiological arguments are our only response to other religions. Indeed, neither HIndus nor Buddhists nor Muslims have anything remotely approaching the evidential resources available to Christians. Nor do they claim to, for that matter.

It concerns me greatly that any Christian, Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox, should be under the impression that Christians are without independent, rational resources in such an area. Nor does Catholicism require such a view.

"My point about pre Reformation Christianity is that it is decidedly in favor (by probabilities)of Roman Catholic doctrine, ie, Sola Fide is a false manmade doctrine- probably"

You talk as if pre-Reformation Christianity were monolithic, and as if Eastern Orthodoxy (among other things) could be easily dismissed, neither of which is true. Just as the Bible is the home of multiple theologies, even so the history of the various churches' beliefs before the Reformation is variegated. The major chasm in theology before the Reformation is the difference between what the apostles taught and what the late medieval church taught, especially regarding Mary, the papacy, the church, apostolic succession, transubstantiation, salvation, etc, none of which the apostles actually taught. The Reformation outflanks the late Medieval Catholic church from the right, that is, by maintaining or restoring theological insights from the apostolic age long ago set aside in the centuries before the Reformation.

No doubt you will dispute my assertions. I fully expect it. For my point here, I welcome it. This disputation has been going for centuries, sometimes between the Eastern Orthodox churches and Catholicism, and sometimes between the Protestants and Catholics in the West. Many who evaluate the evidence of pre-Reformation history and theology reach that same anti-Roman conclusion I do -- and many do not. That is my point. What I'm saying, Pat, is that the historical data upon which you rest your all-too-confident assertion are far more ambiguous than you either admit or realize. Your assessment of the probabilities is highly tendentious. The real Christian past is far more complex and indistinct than you say.

And if any of those from the East or West who dispute your tendentious conclusions about church history and Scripture are correct, then the man-made doctrines you disparage arise on your side of the fence, not on some other.

No sentient soul active within the Catholic Church these days could possibly fall prey to triumphantalism. Instead, this quote from the 19th Century Protestant historian, Macaulay (courtesy of a Lew Rockwell posting today)is offered as an inducement to ponder the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church's continuing existence.

"There is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that Church joins together the two great ages of human civilisation. No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphitheatre. The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series, from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable. The republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigour. The Catholic Church is still sending forth to the farthest ends of the world missionaries as zealous as those who landed in Kent with Augustin, and still confronting hostile kings with the same spirit with which she confronted Attila. The number of her children is greater than in any former age. Her acquisitions in the New World have more than compensated for what she has lost in the Old. Her spiritual ascendency extends over the vast countries which lie between the plains of the Missouri and Cape Horn, countries which a century hence, may not improbably contain a population as large as that which now inhabits Europe. The members of her communion are certainly not fewer than a hundred and fifty millions; and it will be difficult to show that all other Christian sects united amount to a hundred and twenty millions. Nor do we see any sign which indicates that the term of her long dominion is approaching. She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's."
Thomas Babington Macaulay

Kevin,
Given the quotation you've posted by Macaulay, and the tendentious way you introduced it, why do you suppose he rejected Catholicism?

Or, put differently, perhaps you are making something of his words far different from what he meant by them. He was, after all, a broad-minded evangelical Protestant all his life.

Michael,
I'm not interested so much in Macaulay's thoughts, as I am in yours. Doesn't the very history of the Church, which he capsulizes so well, indicate a supernatural reason for her endurance? Ceasars come and go, and one can ask where are the Arians, but the Church remains. Do you suppose the Church's continuance is in fulfillment of Scriptures?

Michael,
Thanks for responding. I welcome your comments. In fact, I agree wholeheartedly. My response and comments are not what I actually believe. I was attempting to use Lydia's Possibilities/Probabilities line of thinking to show that this line of thinking is most insufficient for coming to the sure knowledge of Christian Truth. In that regard you are of great assistance. However, your comments to me actually apply to Lydia's line of reasoning not my own. I am a Roman Catholic and through God's grace seek to humbly submit to the teachings of what I have come to know and believe is Christ's Church. Michael, I know myself to be a sheep of Christ's fold not a Shepherd( John 21). I am to be led and fed more than lead and feed.

Lydia, Thanks again for responding. What about my arguments concerning the Gospel "probably" being true?

"You talk as if pre-Reformation Christianity were monolithic..."

While Pat may or may not believe this, I do not. However, the things that pre-Reformation Christianity IS in agreement on make Protestantism quite problematic, IMO. If you leave aside those issues where the E and W disagree, and examine those areas where they agree (which are, in fact, the huge majority), in that sense pre-Reformation Christianity is monolithically non-Protestant.

Protestant Christianity is simply not Patristic Christianity. The three ways that Protestants avoid this fact are: A) bypass the Patristic age altogether, by leaping from the Apostles directly to the Reformation, with perhaps a deferential nod to St. Augustine, since the Reformers seemed to like him. This is the fundamentalist approach. B) view the Fathers as orthodox, and helpful in a sort of advisory capacity, but with the caveat that the Reformation represents progress as an improvement over Patristic thought, by its ability, through modern scholarship, to get closer to Apostolic Christianity then the Fathers ever could, or C) attempt to locate Reformation Christianity in the Fathers themselves, by selective quotes which ignore the overall harmony of Patristic thought.

As far as I can tell, all three approaches require a great deal of fudging, both historical and theological, and none of them involves an objective analysis of Patristic thought. As a Protestant, I myself started off with a variation of A, then moved to B, but eventually came to believe that both were pretty much instances of whistling past the graveyard.

Pat, you misunderstand the nature and pervasiveness of probability. As Bishop Butler observed long ago, probability is indeed the very guide of life. You seem to think that "it is probable rather than certain" means, "I have to feel shaky about it." That's not the case. Moreover, you cannot make things either more probable than they are or absolutely certain just by wishing them to be so, nor by granting an undeserved probability value of 1 to the infallibility of some source and then following it. What you have provided (forgive me, but you asked me to address your "argument") is not an argument but really a statement of emotional preference: "I don't like the idea of having probable knowledge in the area of religion, so I will state that by committing myself to the Catholic Church, I can avoid this outcome. Then I will criticize your Protestant evidentialist approach for not granting you something better than probability." Actually, it doesn't work that way. You have, at best, probable knowledge of religious truths, too. You just think you have something other than that. But probable knowledge can be just great. That's no insult to religious knowledge. But you cannot get anywhere special in terms of genuinely greater support by positing that the Catholic Church is the one true Church. If you think you have evidence that it is, that's your best evaluation. But you're still reasoning probabilistically then, and that will carry over to your conclusions regarding particular doctrines. You can't get away from it, nor should you try. But in that case you have no possibility of claiming some special epistemic advantage over the Protestant. Things are what they are. They have the support they have.

Kevin,
You're engaging in the sort of historicism debunked by CS Lewis in his essay on that topic. I simply refer you to it to examine whenever it's convenient.

RobG
1. You are making patristic theology monolithic when it is not.

2. You are suppresing the differences between the fathers and the apostles.

3. You beg the question by assuming that the fathers are right, and by assuming that the RCC's disputable interpretation of the fathers is correct

4. In your words, you "leave aside those issues where the E and W disagree," issues that demonstrate that what you consider to be true about the fathers' views and those of the apostles is highly debatable -- even by those who are not Protestants. Dissent from Rome's view of the apostles and the fathers is not based on Protestant fudging but on the apostles and fathers themselves.

Pat,
I admire and I value your humility. Because we all are trying to understand a fallen world with fallen minds, that stance seems the most appropriate response to our actual condition.

The noetic effects of sin are exactly why I oppose the triumphalist claims that some wish to advance. I am enormously happy when Christians, like my friend Frank Beckwith and his wife, are led by God to Rome as their church home. I pray that, and fully expect that, God will bless them both richly in the wake of that decision. And Frank has sensible reasons for choosing what he chose.

But what is hard to endure is not someone's move to or from Rome, but the triumphalist stance that some take regarding other churches. One can be a truly pious, well-informed, theologically astute Roman Catholic without publicly denigrating other churches, as if they are not real churches and have no real sacraments, etc. Because of the ambiguous nature of the data, that stance is not appropriate. Every reason upon which those arrogant claims is based can be reasonably answered.

In other words, its better to take an appreciative rather than dismissive stance toward other churches. I am not saying theology is unimportant. I am saying humility is the order of the day. I will not argue against humble Catholicism, even when I disagree with it. But I would argue against triumphalist Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, or whatever. It's just too easy to be wrong to strike that pretentious stance. The difference is between dialogue and declaration. If they think that the debate is over and that they can simply declare the verdict, then they conclude far beyond the disputable evidence. Against them I mean to be a theological counter-puncher. To what they assert, I will respond.

The time spent in denigrating other churches is better spent in trying to find ways we can strengthen and demonstrate the unity all Christians already have in Christ. We are one in Him.

Michael,
I love Lewis so please direct me to it. And respond in your own words when so inclined.

Just saw B16 land in back of my building on Water in NYC. Real, real impressive. Let me express my thanks for the kind hospitality our nation has shown him. The turnout in security, at least in terms of police boats on the river exceeded that of the President's. Must be Irish cops trying to get up close.

Remember, nothing in this dailogue should jeopardize the genuine ecumencism that has grown-up the last several decades, I think from the pro-life movement.

Michael,

(Your last post) What an awesomely uplifting thing to say!

For the most part, my (longtime) friends from my old church have stopped speaking to us and are certain we have apostized ourselves ... it is all very depressing, as I am just trying my best to discern what the truth is.

RobG
1. You are making patristic theology monolithic when it is not.

It is not monolithic in any universal sense (I specifically said that) but it is "monolithic" -- maybe harmonious is a better word? -- in the sense that it is non-Protestant.

2. You are suppresing the differences between the fathers and the apostles.

That's a different, although not unrelated, question; but it does assume that the differences constitute a discontinuity, which I don't grant.

3. You beg the question by assuming that the fathers are right, and by assuming that the RCC's disputable interpretation of the fathers is correct.

By what standard does Protestantism determine whether the fathers are right or wrong? For the sake of this argument, neither the RCC's nor the EOC's interpretation of the fathers matters. I am referring to those matters where both the RCC and the EOC accept that the Fathers are correct.

4. In your words, you "leave aside those issues where the E and W disagree," issues that demonstrate that what you consider to be true about the fathers' views and those of the apostles is highly debatable -- even by those who are not Protestants. Dissent from Rome's view of the apostles and the fathers is not based on Protestant fudging but on the apostles and fathers themselves.

I don't understand this statement. Perhaps you mistakenly think I'm Roman Catholic? O/W, I can't make heads or tails out of it.

Michael,

Here's the problem:

Either the Catholic Church is the true Church or it isn't. If it isn't, then Catholicism is rubbish. If it is, then anything that denies its claim to be the true Church is rubbish.

Therefore, true Catholics must reject as rubbish all heretical sects, which deny the Church's claim to be the true Church.

This is logically inescapable.

Nothing personal.

Either the Catholic Church is the true Church or it isn't. If it isn't, then Catholicism is rubbish. If it is, then anything that denies its claim to be the true Church is rubbish.

Therefore, true Catholics must reject as rubbish all heretical sects, which deny the Church's claim to be the true Church.

This is logically inescapable.

Nothing personal.

Is that Vatican II compliant :-)

Michael,
Since no one here has engaged in; "publicly denigrating other churches", we should stick to the points each of us is making with substance.

Instead of dismissive comments like "debunked historicsm", elaborate. Or, expand on; "You are suppresing the differences between the fathers and the apostles." Please give examples.

A question yet to be answered regards doctrinal development. You assent to some aspects of our Chrsitian faith has formulated by the Catholic Church, but dissent from others. Fine, but who in your opinion has the authority to guide the process? Surely, no one wants to "simply declare the verdict".

"I've tried my autonomy for 46 years; I think it's time to give someone else a try."

Ain't that the truth. While you went W and I went E, Frank, the sentiment is the same. As Peter Gillquist put it, there's no bigger burden than being your own pope!

Mike D said,

"If it is, then anything that denies its claim to be the true Church is rubbish."

A claims 1, 2 and 3
B claims 2 and 3 but denies 1

But A is correct about 1,2,3

Therefore B is "rubbish" on all claims.

I don't think this is logical ...

Vatican II would affirm that A and B are in agreement about 2 and 3 but B is in error about 1 (because of the historical sin of A and B).

Didn't know where to post this, but anyone living in, or traveling to the NYC area should be interested in this event next Tuesday;

"On Tuesday, April 22, 2008, the G.K. Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture will be sponsoring a lecture by David Mills, entitled “Two Ways to the Same End: Comparing G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy and C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. David Mills is the editor of the ecumenical journal Touchstone: A Magazine of Mere Christianity." http://www.shu.edu/news/article/70049

As always, the wine will flow after the talk.

MarkC,

It's logical because all the truths of the Church are absolutely guaranteed to be true -- if, indeed, she is the true Church. Therefore, assuming she is the true Church, to deny this would be to call into doubt, ipso facto, all the truths guaranteed by her.

Thanks for the link, Kevin.

The combox is one possible locus for a grass-roots reformation of solum ex cathedra annoucements.

The major chasm in theology before the Reformation is the difference between what the apostles taught and what the late medieval church taught, especially regarding Mary, the papacy, the church, apostolic succession, transubstantiation, salvation, etc, none of which the apostles actually taught. The Reformation outflanks the late Medieval Catholic church from the right, that is, by maintaining or restoring theological insights from the apostolic age long ago set aside in the centuries before the Reformation.

I fail to see how Mary, the papacy, the church, apostolic succession, transubstantiation, salvation were all inventions of the late medieval church when, on the contrary, the historical (patristic as well as scriptural) evidence would prove the contrary.

The oddest thing about all this is that prior to the Reformation, these existed from generation to generation in the Church as fundamental tenets of the once unified Christian Faith and it wasn't until the time of the Reformation that such tenets were actually questioned, debated, and nullified by the Reformers.

To be fair, one thing I should add though that in spite of the latter, the one Reformer that was principle to the movement, Martin Luther, remained ever faithful to some Catholic aspects of these elements in that he maintained a Sacramental viewpoint.

In that regard, the Protestants of today are essentially nothing like their progenitors.

George,

I just wondered what you meant by "rubish". Seriously flawed, separated brethren, ecclesial communities in which the Holy Spirit is active (all of the above)...

It's logical because all the truths of the Church are absolutely guaranteed to be true -- if, indeed, she is the true Church. Therefore, assuming she is the true Church, to deny this would be to call into doubt, ipso facto, all the truths guaranteed by her.

Sounds like you're saying we (Protestants) are forced to reject you (RC'ers) outright if we reject you at all. But judging from the Catholic descriptions of Protestants (see above) you guys get to be more nuanced.

The major chasm in theology before the Reformation is the difference between what the apostles taught and what the late medieval church taught, especially regarding Mary, the papacy, the church, apostolic succession, transubstantiation, salvation, etc, none of which the apostles actually taught.

Conversance with Catholic and Orthodox literature would not, I think, permit one to make such a claim, as these literatures abound with interpretations of Scriptural texts, passages, and precedents supportive of the aforesaid doctrines. The question is thus one of the proper interpretation of a matrix of text and history. Protestants are not entitled to presuppose their reading of the Scriptural text on disputed points as normative, on the basis of which Catholics and Orthodox will be critiqued as having "added" to the Apostolic deposit of faith, or a difficulty posited for them of needing to explain the "discontinuities" and "chasms". The Protestant interpretation holds that such breaks in the history of the Faith have occurred, that ecclesiastical history is even more nonlinear that Catholics and Orthodox admit; as such, they need to explain, not merely how this transpired, but how it could do so without leaving a polemical trace indicative of declension from an Apostolic purity consonant with Protestant differences from Catholics and Orthodox - this, in an age rife with theological controversy. Again, Protestantism needs to explain how Christendom could have gotten it so wrong for 1500 years, without even a hint of cognizance.

Maximos writes: Again, Protestantism needs to explain how Christendom could have gotten it so wrong for 1500 years, without even a hint of cognizance.

This is a good articulation of what remains to be the crux of the entire matter.

All I can say is I remain ever hopeful that one day, we will re-unite.

(Obviously, given our present circumstances, this is highly improbable during our lifetime.)

"Again, Protestantism needs to explain how Christendom could have gotten it so wrong for 1500 years, without even a hint of cognizance."

And following this, it needs to explain why we should believe it vs. the pre-Reformation consensus fidelium when the two are not in harmony.

I'm holding myself back as much as possible, but I want to point something out: I think I understand correctly that you guys who are all agreeing with one another here about what "Protestantism needs to explain" are in agreement that the burden of proof regarding, for example, the extremely strong claim that the Holy Spirit guides the Roman Catholic Church and makes it infallible (or perhaps some sort of combo of the RC church and the EO church), or the claim that the Virgin Mary prays for us and her intercession should be invoked by us, or that the pope is the vicar of Christ on earth, is _discharged_ pretty much entirely and simply by pointing out that large numbers of Christians, perhaps the majority of Christians, including the institutional leadership of the largest Christian groups on earth, believed these propositions for many hundreds of years. From there on, it's "up to" anyone who doesn't believe those things to prove to you that the contrary of those things itself deserves support.

That's...interesting.

My phraseology has been much, much more deliberately chosen than that.

Rob,
If the church has gotten something wrong for so many centuries before the Reformation, then that church, not Protestantism has to answer.

You make it sound as if a church being in error for centuries is somehow unthinkable, or that God would not permit longstanding error when,in fact, we all know that He has done so, for many centuries at a time, even with his own people in the Old Testament and beyond.

Consensus is not determinative. The 
people of God have been stunningly wrong on a wide and 
embarrassingly diverse array of issues, occasionally
 for centuries. That uncomfortable fact about us (and all the rest of God's people) goes all the way back to the ancient Jews, who
 sometimes wallowed in error for centuries at a time. When
 someone argues that God would not let his people dwell
 in persistent and important error, the plain answer is that, in fact, He has
 actually done so. I recall, for example, that when Erasmus published a
 corrected version of the Vulgate on the facing pages 
of his Greek New Testament in 1516, he was able to 
correct errors that had stood for centuries, all the
 way back to Jerome. When, in John 1, Jerome 
translated "logos" as "verbum," he made a significant 
translational (and theological) error, which Erasmus 
corrected with the word "sermo" -- a far better and more 
accurate translation. "Verbum" is a particle of 
speech, a word in a sentence. "Sermo," by contrast, is an eloquent 
utterance, or discourse. Christ is God's redemptive 
utterance to a fallen race, not a word in a sentence. A mere moment's reflection reveals how profound is the difference between the two. Those Roman Catholic scholars who opposed Erasmus asked him if God
 would have left his church in error for centuries on 
this point, all the while just waiting for Erasmus to come along and 
bring the light -- as if that ad hominem question proved that 
"logos" ought to be translated "verbum" in John 1. I am not saying that this error is the most significant error possible, only that it was a persistent one, and that God permitted it. There have been many others.
In other words, even under the providence of God, error is sometimes 
persistent and enduring among God's people. Protestant and EO Christians assert, rightly or wrongly, that such enduring error is indeed the case with the RCC, the declarations of its triumphalist defenders notwithstanding. God's people 
sometimes live in error for centuries. The fact that
 they held a view for centuries cannot be invoked to
 prove that they were right. Pointing to 
the persistence of a view does nothing to prove
 the truth or falsehood of that view. The issue is
 not what people believed or did not believe for centuries. The issue 
is whether or not what they believed is true.
The issue is how Jesus' and Paul's words are most accurately interpreted in their own historical, theological, and cultural context, which we are better able to do now than scholars were in centuries past. The centuries of research and reflection that have occurred since days of the ancient church fathers were not an utter waste of time. We actually have learned many important things since then. We actually have made significant progress in our understanding of the ancient Jews and of Jesus. We now know some things better than we did in the past. Take David Instone-Brewer's excellent work on divorce and remarriage in ancient Palestine, for example, which helps us better understand Jesus' teachings on the issue in their proper context. The same is true of the Biblical theology movement, and especially the work of scholars like Oscar Cullmann, who identified many of the ways the scholastic reading of Scripture was ill-informed and therefore misleading. That's the case not because I say so, but because their work is truly first rate in its own right. To refute it you must do better and more accurate work, not simply appeal to your own church's views. If your church's views are correct, that correctness will be borne out by careful research, not ecclesiastical claims or by that church's interpretation of Scripture. After all, that church's interpretation is itself the issue, not the resolution of the issue.
Truth is not determined by consensus or by 
universality. Truth is determined by agreement with 
reality. Some of what the church believed before the Reformation did not agree with reality.

I can think of much more horrifying things than a Christian majority agreement in theological error (even some of the errors I think rather serious in non-Protestant denominations) that God manifestly _does_ allow--tortures of the innocent and what-not.

Max said:
Conversance with Catholic and Orthodox literature would not, I think, permit one to make such a claim, as these literatures abound with interpretations of Scriptural texts, passages, and precedents supportive of the aforesaid doctrines.

Yes, Max, I know. I have a PhD in Historical Theology from a Catholic university. I know full well that among the fathers interpretations and and Bible references abound. I'm saying that on some issues these abounding interpretations are mistaken. I'm saying that, on the issues I mentioned, what the fathers taught is not what the apostles taught. I'm saying that the fathers were mistaken and were sometimes unintentional innovators. I'm saying that the Protestants recovered some of what was lost in the centuries between the apostles and the Reformation. I'm saying that the fathers and the apostles sometimes disagree, and that when they do the apostles are right. I'm saying that we can determine both what the apostles taught and what the fathers taught. Reading and understanding ancient theological texts is indeed possible. We can read, understand, and compare their respective views. We can see if they differ. My point is that they do differ, and that on the issues cited above the fathers are wrong --- not because I say so, but because the texts themselves show they do.

"I'm saying that the fathers and the apostles sometimes disagree, and that when they do the apostles are right."

Which of course no RC would disagree with. Aquinas:

Nevertheless, sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable. For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors. Hence Augustine says (Epis. ad Hieron. xix, 1): "Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them. But other authors I so read as not to deem everything in their works to be true, merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever may have been their holiness and learning."

This is the part that, it seems to me, the RC is bound to disagree with:

"I'm saying that we can determine both what the apostles taught and what the fathers taught."

The methodology of the RC says that you can't know what the apostles taught (in its fullest) without the Roman Catholic Church (which would include the Fathers as crucial do its data set).

Which fathers, anyway? I'm willing to admit ignorance up front. I know St. Ignatius taught that the sacrament is invalid "without the bishop" (whatever, precisely, "without the bishop" means). Did he also teach the bodily assumption of the BVM? Invocation of the prayers of the saints? The primacy of the Bishop of Rome as vicar of Christ on earth? The infallibility of a visible Church's teaching magisterium for all time? How about Clement of Rome and Polycarp? My _guess_, which I'm willing to have shown wrong by those with more scholarly knowledge, is that when we get down to brass tacks and start talking about highly specific controversial doctrines rather than a mere vague feeling of "Gee, these guys don't look like my local Baptist church," you have to go rather later in time even than those early to mid second century fathers to find definite teaching of those most controversial of doctrines.

I understand quite well where you are coming from, as I have not only investigated the matters for myself, in the course of my own religious peregrinations, but entertained lengthy and unedifying throwdowns with those who felt that I had to justify to them my conversion to Orthodoxy. What I am saying, therefore, is that the notion that historical researches, refinements of hermeneutics, advances in critical methodology, and so forth, decisively explode the Catholic/Orthodox claims of Patristic continuity with the Apostolic age, vindicate Protestant claims of a recovery, and problematize Pre-Reformational theology presupposes that what Catholics and Orthodox claim concerning the nature of the Church and her relationship to that past cannot be true. Catholics and Orthodox assert that theological texts cannot rightly be comprehended save in relationship to the living, liturgical life of the Church - that they are not disincarnate, abstract texts, arguments, and propositions against which practice can be tested, as if under laboratory conditions. To us, this notion appears as fully absurd as the idea that one will understand Plato's Laws without reference to societal conditions in Plato's time; Plato wrote for the Polis, even if an ideal one at times, and, on our conception, the Scriptures were written for the life of the Church, and not as discrete texts. The Protestant must isolate Scripture, and thus, the Apostolic era, from the Church and the Patristic era, whereas Catholics and Orthodox assert that this is impossible. Either the text is to be understood in relation to the Church - and not some amorphous notion of Christian praxis, as certain postmodernist pseuds have it - or it is not. This suggests that we have here one of those conflicts of incommensurables, though I have also suggested that there should exist evidences of certain things, if indeed what the different parties claim is true.

This is not to imply any disrespect for anyone's work. It is only to state that if investigation of texts and their historical, grammatical, and social properties and contexts excludes the Church from the contexts, Catholics and Orthodox will never sign on. Ever.

Michael, I think you're mistaking what I (and Maximos) are saying. It's not that the EOC may be wrong on an issue throughout its history, or that the RCC may be likewise wrong on a given issue. I'm talking about the universal, undivided Church, the same one that the Creed calls "holy, catholic, and apostolic." If, for instance, virtually everyone in the entire pre-schism Church believed in the sacramental efficacy of baptism, or in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and the RCC and EOC both continue to believe those things, but Protestants do not, then as Max said, the burden of proof would seem to have to fall on the Protestant to demonstrate why the entire Church up to that point was wrong on such vital issues. (And please note I said "virtually everyone." I realize that there were always minority views, fringe groups, and other sorts of stragglers who rejected the consensus fidelium.)

On what basis, for instance, was Luther able to say that all of the Fathers erred on Paul? Did he really think that for 1500 years every patristic commentator who dealt with justification and Pauline theology got it wrong? Is not the burden of proof on Luther to demonstrate this, rather than on the RCC or EOC to prove why the Fathers were right and an obscure German monk's ipse dixit was wrong?

"It is only to state that if investigation of texts and their historical, grammatical, and social properties and contexts excludes the Church from the contexts, Catholics and Orthodox will never sign on. Ever."

Amen. For more on this, read the recently reprinted (by Eighth Day Press) book by Andrew Louth, "Discerning the Mystery."

My _guess_....

While Catholics and Orthodox will differ in certain respects, sometimes over the notion of doctrinal development, I'm confident in stating that we find such observations utterly untroubling. Our conception of doctrinal definition is that things are typically stated expressly only when necessary - to guard against error, or against the machinations of outliers and the obstreperous. Protestants, understandably, dislike this sort of thing; but it is what it is. We're not going to nod in agreement when Protestants presuppose methodologically that we're wrong, and then go looking for the evidence.

"To us, this notion appears as fully absurd as the idea that one will understand Plato's Laws without reference to societal conditions in Plato's time;"

Well, no, Maximos, that can't really be a good analogy. Because finding out societal conditions in Plato's time would itself be a matter of neutral historical investigation that could be carried out, in principle, just as well by non-Platonists as by Platonists. But I understand your claims to have to do with the impossibility of understanding theology aright if one is not in sacramental communion with the church and so forth--in other words, it certainly is _not_ just a claim about the need to investigate the historical audience and context of various apostolic or patristic writings.

RobG, you confirm my point about the shifting of the burden of proof. Just pointing out that "virtually everyone during such-and-such a period believed X" is considered by you to shift the burden of proof. That's astonishing. That's all it takes? Who knew? I notice, by the way, that you focus on the Real Presence (without mention of transubstantiation as a more specific version) and on baptism, leaving out more specific and even more controversial teachings such as the perpetual virginity of Mary, which was (IIRC) affirmed by one of the first seven ecumenical councils, though not by the earliest. But presumably you'd consider the burden of proof to be shlepped over to the Protestants on that one as well: "How _could_ the seventh ecumenical council and so many Christians thereafter have been wrong that the Virgin Mary was perpetually Virgin?! Your turn, Protestants! We're done. You should believe it if you can't present _overwhelmingly decisive_ evidence to the contrary."

Moreover, you really can't evade the East-West division forever. After all, ultimately Roman Catholics believe that people should accept the primacy of the Pope and the _ongoing teaching magisterium_, including presumably the filioque clause and specific teachings, in the 20th century and beyond, of the RC magisterium on matters of morals. You can hardly claim that all of these were affirmed by "virtually everyone" before Luther!

Yes, I was aware that the analogy was not all that spectacular; narrow point in even using it was that the Church is, for us non-Protestants, part of the context, the data-set: one isn't investigating historical dogmatics unless one is looking at Scripture-in-the-Church. Protestants cannot accept this, and it is non-negotiable for us, but there it is.

"when we get down to brass tacks and start talking about highly specific controversial doctrines"

I thought that's what Michael Bauman was doing that when he stated the Church was in error on 6 specific doctrines;
1)Mary,
2)the papacy,
3)the church,
4)apostolic succession,
5)transubstantiation,
6)salvation
"the late medieval church taught,...none of which the apostles actually taught" Don't you think he should elaborate, so we would have a better idea of what his views are regarding the development of doctrine. So far the implication is we should just take his declaration at face -value, or we're all able to make our own selections at some religious cafeteria with no need for explanation. I think it more fruitful that the "theological counter-puncher" back up the punches he threw first.

Perhaps, my lack of a degree in Philosophy leaves me at a disadvantage, but has a layman I am unimpressed by an apologetics that depends on terms such as "historicism" to dismiss the belief that 2000 years of history might give us an understanding of an institution's mission and viability. Or, invokes confusing terms from the squalid realm of political ideology to address questions of faith; "the Reformation outflanks the late Medieval Catholic church from the right,"

I for one would like the supporting evidence for the above indictment and if I could suggest it; lets' start with transubstantiation, as the Eucharist is "the source and summit" of the Catholic life and would love to engage at that level, if possible.

While Catholics and Orthodox will differ in certain respects, sometimes over the notion of doctrinal development, I'm confident in stating that we find such observations utterly untroubling. Our conception of doctrinal definition is that things are typically stated expressly only when necessary - to guard against error, or against the machinations of outliers and the obstreperous. Protestants, understandably, dislike this sort of thing; but it is what it is. We're not going to nod in agreement when Protestants presuppose methodologically that we're wrong, and then go looking for the evidence.

But in that case, Maximos, you can't claim, at least not with evidence to back it up, that these things *really were believed* by the whole church much earlier than, what, the third century? I mean, Nicea took place in 325 but we can find _plenty_ of Trinitarian statements earlier than that, though without all the specificity. But I don't think you can really have it both ways, telling the Protestants that they're up against "the whole Church from patristic times"--the implication being we're talking not about _late_ patristics only--while shrugging off the point that actually we don't find a whisper of some of the most controversial points in early patristic times. Maybe we _aren't_ up against the whole church even from post-apostolic times, in that case.

Mind you, I could be wrong about the historical claim there. Maybe there are loud whispers about, e.g., praying to the Virgin in Ignatius. I might easily not know. But I don't think you can claim on the one hand that we have all of church history against us and on the other hand that historical investigation into what was taught in the immediate post-apostolic period is irrelevant.

'Just pointing out that "virtually everyone during such-and-such a period believed X" is considered by you to shift the burden of proof. That's astonishing. That's all it takes? Who knew?'

Lydia, we're talking about the consensus fidelium, not some loose amalgamation of folks who happened to believe the same thing. And we're talking about a unity of belief over a period of 1500 years. Do you not believe that the Holy Ghost guides the Church?

"I notice, by the way, that you focus on the Real Presence (without mention of transubstantiation as a more specific version) and on baptism, leaving out more specific and even more controversial teachings such as the perpetual virginity of Mary, which was (IIRC) affirmed by one of the first seven ecumenical councils, though not by the earliest."

This is because those two doctrines are A) very obvious examples of the unity, and B) beliefs that many Protestants have jettisoned. These are big things, and if one can't trust the Church to get the big things right, how can it be trusted on the smaller things? As for transubstantiation, that's an issue of philosophical terminology, not theology. As far as I know there is no real theological difference between the RCC and EOC on the nature of the
Eucharist.

"Moreover, you really can't evade the East-West division forever."

Of course not. But those questions can be addressed after the issues of consensus are dealt with.

Lydia:

First off, I'd like to thank you for your courtesy in engaging these matters with not only an open mind but one of an open heart. I know there are many other ways in which you could have said things, but have nevertheless remained charitable in these discussions.


At any rate, to the matter put forth below:
Which fathers, anyway? I'm willing to admit ignorance up front.

I’ll put it this way: if you look at the writings of the Early Church Fathers, there are basic tenets of the Christian Faith that nobody disagreed about (until, of course, the time of the Reformation).

Let's take, for example, the Eucharist. Everyone believed in the Eucharist. You have a case of St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century, when he uses the Eucharist against the Gnostics. Irenaeus basically says in Against Heresies to the Gnostics, “You don’t make sense – you’re ordaining priests and you’re saying Masses and you’re reciting the words our priests say, ‘This is My Body’, but you don’t believe Jesus had a body and so you don’t make sense!”

It’s very interesting, at least, with some of the heretics in some sense, their trying to celebrate Masses and such -– not that the Gnostics all believed in the Eucharist -- but, at least, some of them had some sort of quasi-understanding of the Eucharist. My point is you don’t have folks disagreeing about the Eucharist and that all Christians everywhere believed in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist.

I can further elaborate on many of the things you've inquired about, but to do so here would take much, much space, which I dare not do so at this point out of respect for my betters.

Maximos writes: While Catholics and Orthodox will differ in certain respects, sometimes over the notion of doctrinal development, I'm confident in stating that we find such observations utterly untroubling. Our conception of doctrinal definition is that things are typically stated expressly only when necessary - to guard against error, or against the machinations of outliers and the obstreperous.

After what a great man once said, the "Two Lungs" of the Church are, after all, the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox.

But I don't think you can claim on the one hand that we have all of church history against us and on the other hand that historical investigation into what was taught in the immediate post-apostolic period is irrelevant.

But, of course, this is not what I'm doing. What I'm suggesting is that, when Catholics and Orthodox argue that, say, prayers to the saints are of great antiquity in devotional and liturgical practice, and Protestants argue in response that there is no extant textual evidence of this before XXX, we will reply that there is no evidence that this was controversial at the time Protestants suggest it might have been innovated. Why, innovations were being dropped on the Church left and right, and yet no one ever bestirred himself to object to them as such. What one finds, instead, are terminological vagaries surrounding certain doctrines, though manifestly not a majority, let alone all, of those Protestants reject. Hence, no Father looked at the Eucharist as a Zwinglian memorial, a symbol in the modern nominalist sense, though there was not always agreement on the precise sense in which it was the Body and Blood.

As an aside, my deceased father in law was Greek Orthodox, and as much as we would have liked too, we couldn't find anything to argue about. His revulsion at the liturgical abuses within the Catholic Church and the indifferent manner in which too many approach the Precious Body and Blood were fraternal corrections coming from a soul in love.

An early fetus can't do mathematics. Does that mean that it is not identical to the adult self it becomes that can do mathematics? It is not an argument against the continuity of the Church and its development to say that one cannot find the philosophical theory of transubstantiation in A.D. 340. It is enough to show that the belief in the Real Presence was fully embraced for which transubstantiation was offered as an account in the Middle Ages. Lydia, for example, is correct to say that one finds Trinitarian language prior to Nicea. But one does not find in A. D. 120 a full-blown one substance-three-persons-co-equal articulation. No, one does not. But does that mean then that the apostles did not teach the Trinity? No, just as it is wrong to say that the early fetus is not the adult. Remember, it is the BODY of Christ, an organism. It is not the machine of Christ, or the monument of Christ, or the systematic theology textbook of Christ.

"Infused justification" is novel; the Real Presence isn't. "The Communion of Saints," the basis of indulgences, saintly intercession, is found early on. Mariology takes off big time after Chalcedon. But that makes sense, since the whole idea of the "Mother of God" is a hedge around the divinity and humanity of Christ. If you're committed to Mary's as theotokus, then it becomes difficult to abandon Chalcedonian Christology.

If you find in the first four centuries one symbolic baptism, non-bishopric, non Real Presence, sola scriptura, inputed justification Christian congregation that declared intercession for and from the dead absolutely heretical, you're either Dan Brown or the possessor of the most important discovery in ecclesiastical history in quite some time.

Consider what I posted yesterday on the Stand to Reason blog:

Melinda Penner wrote: "Yesterday at our staff meeting, one of our staff members read some interesting quotations from early church fathers about justification by faith alone, the cornerstone of the Reformation a millennium later."

You should ask your staff member to investigate the liturgical, penitential, and ecclesiastic practices that were found in the Church during the time that these quotations were penned. Another key point to investigate is whether grace was thought of as infused or merely imputed. The Council of Orange is helpful here, since it is held up by Reformed thinkers as the death knell of Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism, even though it affirms infused, and not merely imputed, grace.

I think you will discover that the reading of these texts (such as the ones cited by Thomas Oden) in isolation from these other concerns--with the lenses of Reformation theology--leads to an anachronistic interpretation of these Church Fathers.

Take, for example, St. John Chrysostom, the same one cited by Oden above. Here are comments of his that embrace an understanding consistent with the Catholic doctrine of purgatory (and indulgences), hardly a Reformation doctrine:

"Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice [Job 1:5], why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them" (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians 41:5 [A.D. 392]).

"Weep for those who die in their wealth and who with all their wealth prepared no consolation for their own souls, who had the power to wash away their sins and did not will to do it. Let us weep for them, let us assist them to the extant of our ability, let us think of some assistance for them, small as it may be, yet let us somehow assist them. But how, and in what way? By praying for them and by entreating others to pray for them, by constantly giving alms to the poor on their behalf. Not in vain was it decreed by the apostles that in the awesome mysteries remembrance should be made of the departed. They knew that here there was much gain for them, much benefit. when the entire people stands with hands uplifted, a priestly assembly, and that awesome sacrificial Victim is laid out, how, when we are calling upon God, should we not succeed in their defense? But this is done for those who have departed in the faith, while even the catechumens are not reckoned as worthy of this consolation, but are deprived of every means of assistance except one. And what is that? We may give alms to the poor on their behalf" (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Philippians 3:9-10 [A.D. 402]).

Oden makes the same mistake that virtually every Evangelical Protestant historical theologian makes: he or she reads the Fathers as if they were writing systematic theology rather writing sermons for pastoral care in a church that had had in place for generations practices and beliefs that we would all identify as Catholic (or Eastern Orthodox). Remember that the Church's theology and reading of Scripture arose with and from its practices, its liturgy. To quote the Church Fathers without taking this into consideration leads to anachronistic interpretations of the Fathers.


Maximos, I can see saying that by the time these things were affirmed in council, they appear not to have been out-of-the-blue innovations at that time. I would think (again, I'm open to correction here) that the affirmation in council is itself a sign of _some_ degree of controversy, but not of "innovation" right at that time. (AFter all, the Nicene affirmations are themselves signs of controversy--that's why they got down to it and made the affirmations, because there was controversy.) But even supposing one grants that by the time a given thing was affirmed in a council it wasn't a total innovation then but had already attained a wide degree of acceptance. I don't think this tells much about apostolic teaching and subsequent innovation, particularly if we're talking about something on the order of a couple hundred years after the time of the apostles. _Thirty_ years, sure, or even perhaps as much as fifty, you could get a bit of traction with that. But not over a hundred. A lot can happen in that time, including the ever-widening acceptance of doctrines that, in fact, were not taught by the apostles.

Aristocles, FWIW, I believe in the Real Presence, though only in a version thereof that's about half a rung up from receptionism, if that. :-) You'll notice I pointed out the Ignatian teaching on the bishop, which, as an interesting historical matter, seems to presuppose a _yet earlier_ widespread idea of a non-memorialist eucharist. So even if Ignatius was innovating to some extent in strengthening the role of the bishops in order to combat heresy, he assumed that his audience had some notion of a eucharist's "validity," which is incompatible with strict memorialism. That's evidentially relevant that early, though not in itself decisive. I think some type of Real Presence is taught in Scripture. (Really.)

But I'm still a Protestant, and very much so. In fact, that's one of the reasons I said that about "it doesn't look like your local Baptist church." I want to say this carefully--I think there's too much atmospheric reasoning that goes on sometimes when people are considering becoming Roman Catholic. One can openly and unhesitatingly admit that the atmosphere in the second century was not that of a present-day evangelical church, that it had a more "sacramental feel," a more authoritarian "feel" and "approach," not to mention quite a lot of liturgical usage, while still believing that the very, very strong claims made for the infallibility of the Church, its being guided by the Holy Ghost, and a host of other doctrines that separate Protestants and Catholics, are simply vastly undersupported. If someone (as at least one of our commentators here) is considering the Roman question, I would urge him not to accept this reasoning as decisive. Remember how much more you are getting into than just "the ideal church isn't just like a Baptist church." Perhaps the ideal church, for that matter, cannot be found.

I do think that some thought should be given to a possible tension between the theory of the development of doctrine, on the one hand, and the theory that Protestants are defying all of church history, on the other. If you want to claim, "Hey, X is a development of doctrine in the 4th century," that's not self-contradictory, of course. But if you also want to claim, "Protestants who deny X are defying the entire church from the earliest post-apostolic patristic times onward," _then_ it seems to me you have a problem. Either it's a development of doctrine or it isn't. If it is, then it isn't *at all clear that* Protestants are defying the entire church--quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus (excuse my poor Latin). Yes, I understand that the claim in cases of development is that this is a development of an earlier "deposit," but that itself requires substantiation and will not be granted by Protestants when a claimed earlier version is obscure or highly, highly inexplicit, at the best, or invisible, at the worst. That the later teaching is a true development of the deposit of faith cannot be assumed without begging the question against the Protestant.

I can see saying that by the time these things were affirmed in council...

However, what I'm arguing is that there is no evidence of these ostensibly controversial doctrines having been controversial in the way they would presumably have been on the assumption of Protestantism. No otherwise small-o orthodox theologian or personage argued, for example, that prayers to the saints are illicit, for theological reason A. There is no extant evidence of any such controversies. They only controversies for which there exists evidence are those in which heretics rejected orthodox doctrine for heretical reasons: ie., objecting to references to Mary as the Theotokos on the basis of fraudulent Christology, and so forth. It is true that innovations often gradually win acceptance in a given community; observations of present-day controversies lead one to conclude that this process is always attended by disagreement (it may well be that emergent church doctrines will become more prevalent among evangelicals, as have the purpose-driven, seeker-sensitive methodologies, but this is not occurring without a great deal of controversy) - and this is what one does not find in the cases of those doctrines Protestants find objectionable in Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

"What have I wrought with this apparently benign post?"

...said Benedict after Regensburg.

Announcement:

Folks, I'm going to shut down this combox. People have been remarkably civil given the way the original topic has morphed into a redebating of the Reformation. But because the discussion has drifted so far from my original post, I'm ending it.