Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Ok So I Guess They're Still Saying Sola Scriptura

Apparently my arguments weren't good enough to settle the debate once and for all as I had predicted. Kenny Pearce posted a nice response to which I will respond here. (You can read the full post by clicking here and scrolling down to his reply but for now, I will just post the phrases I want to dispute).

I think some Protestants probably believe the very thing you are saying (you can find somebody who believes just about anything), but, firstly, I don't think you are working with the most plausible form of the doctrine.
Now that may be true - that I'm not working with it's most plausible form, but the arguments I'm posting are not from isolated Protestants I've engaged with in the past but from professional Protestant apologists. I actually don't know of any other arguments in favor of sola scriptura (or any that I thought worth mentioning) and I have spent quite some time looking for them -10 years to be exact. This also sounds like Catholic v Reformed arguments on sola fide - the Reformed say 'but wait! thats not what we believe when we say sola fide' - which is true.. but Catholic apologists are attacking the heresy as given by Luther - the same kind condemned in James 2:24. Catholics & Reformed are surprisingly close on this issue - 'by faith not by works'... We agree whole heartedly.

The Protestant understanding that I am working with is the Westminster Confession of Faith. I don't know your background but the WCF teaches that everything else is fallible save the Holy Scriptures. I know we're both hitting on a lot of different points which as you said would be impractical to get into. So lets just keep it to that one point. Protestants believe (in the wording of WCF) "all councils may err and many have".

My points are:

1. There is no Scriptural precedence for the belief that only the Bible is infallible

2. There is no early Church precedence for the belief that only the Bible is infallible (in regards to our last discussion, we may disagree on this point - but I certainly agree as far as saying that there WAS early Church precedence for no other God-breathed Scripture than the Bible)

3. There IS Scriptural precedence for extra biblical God-given authority (and I know you agree with this although we disagree on what that authority is). The Bible never says 'the Church shall be infallible' or 'the successor of Peter shall be infallible' of course. I'm just talking about authority. Catholics (and Orthodox) believe that Christ extended special authority to His apostles "whatever you bind and loose..." and that authority was passed down. Their authority has made certain mysteries clear which the Bible did not- the Trinity, The Canon, Mariology etc... (I know I know we're getting into heavy disagreement territory) But assuming the Church has ANY authority, it must have received it from Christ and therefore had it from the beginning. The concept of an invisible entity having authority is in my mind incomprehensible. Finally, we have a strong hierarchy (centered around the successors of the apostles - and I'll leave it there to keep the pope out of it) develop immediately after the apostles died. This is made super clear by St. Ignatius' writings. The concept of "invisible church" never existed until the Reformation. The Early Christians believed in a visible body governed by the apostles and or their successors. If they were wrong or misguided, they strayed immediately.

Now as for the Church- I know we're not going to agree on much there but the Catholic Church does include the Orthodox Churches in "Church". I.E. we are in communion with one another albeit imperfectly. They are permitted to share the Eucharist with us. So when I say "Church" even with a capital c, I am including the Orthodox Churches as well. This can get into some real shady territory so I wont go too far down this road but as I understand it, the Catholic Church sees herself as the full and true inheritor of the OHCA Church established by Christ and the Orthodox Churches also true inheritors (their holy orders are still valid) although not full (they are not in communion with the successor of Peter).
It is absolutley the case that a lesser authority can (epistemically) establish a greater authority.
That's not what I raised an issue with, I said if a fallible church selected the canon, we'd have no way to know if they were right or not.
So a Protestant can still claim (and I do claim!) that it is by the tradition of the Church that we identify which books belong to the canon
So you believe in the inspiration of the deutero-canonical books then?

And as Luther argued, some of the books of the NT were suspect even from Patristic witness. The earliest writers concerning these books (Hebrews, 2-3 John 2 Peter James etc...) cast doubt on their authenticity. How then can we say any tradition is strong enough by itself (if not ratified by an authoritative council) to justify calling it Scripture with no hesitation? How about Polycarp which is unanimously affirmed by tradition as authentic and is every bit as apostolic as Mark, Luke and possibly Hebrews? How do we know this shouldn't be included in the canon except by either an authoritative council or an authoritative tradition? Both of these sources (if you say they have authority) condemn sola scriptura. How can they have authority to tell us which books belong in the Bible, but not the authority to condemn heresy?

I agree that the Church does not give Scripture it's authority. It is God given to be sure. We just believe that God also gave the Church authority which is equally infallible (but not equal in all regards as I mentioned earlier).
you would have to say that it is more certain that the Scripture is inerrant (and that we have the correct canon)
The second part of that is much more difficult than the first. Without the Church being infallible, I cannot agree to the second and therefore cannot agree to the first. The Church may as easily have erred on this point as she may have erred in the divinity of Christ or of the nature of the Trinity. I think this also boils down to a different approach. It's a failure of the argument to begin with by saying 'the Church is subject to Scripture' or 'the Scripture is subject to Church'. While human involvement is present in both, in both cases - we're talking about entities which are divine in nature. The Church is the body of Christ - thereby receiving her divine nature from Christ. She receives her authority solely from Christ - as do the Scriptures. To talk about the Church and the Scriptures and which one derives authority from which is coherent logically, but we're talking about things spiritual - even divine in nature. They are not dependent on one another but both dependent on a third source - God.

I'll leave that point there although I could say much more about the effects of Scripture being the supreme test.

Re: Point 3 - You asked what I believe the OHCA Church was, I agree with you about the spiritual community - living & dead. We would separate beliefs at me identifying the Roman Catholic Church (don't let the wording throw you off - remember all of these titles "Roman" and even "Catholic" were added to our name as a result of other groups splitting off from us and our need to remind everyone just which church we were) Proof from Scripture ----- thats another long topic...Most of my proof would come from history though and not from explicit Scriptural references.

I read your post on Berkeley. He is certainly very eloquent. To paraphrase another Anglican (N.T. Wright) he writes so well that I'm almost tempted to believe him! But certain things about what he says, I think, clearly demonstrate that he didn't study too hard about the Catholic Church -
If we are sanctified and enlightened by the Holy Ghost & by Christ, this will make up for our defects without the Pope's assistance.

There is an invisible Church whereof Christ is the head, the members of which are linked together by faith, hope, & charity. By faith in Christ, not in the Pope.
This demonstrates a highly skewed understanding of the Catholic Church at best. This false dichotomy between faith in Christ & faith in the Pope is hardly representative of Catholic teaching anyway. We call for the need to be in communion with the Pope in order to be called a full member of the Church (not that you can't go to heaven of course). Many Protestants view the pope as the king of the Catholic Church - the spiritual dictator. Thats not who he is at all. He plays the exact same role as St. Peter would if he were alive today (if Catholicism is correct).

And remember what Jesus said "you know those who are regarded as rulers of the gentiles lord it over them and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be the very last and the slave of all." Catholics view clergy at all levels (as I think all Christians do) as servants. They are not rulers or dictators in a worldly way. In fact, in the above quoted passage, the word for servant in the vulgate is 'minister':
non ita est autem in vobis sed quicumque voluerit fieri maior erit vester minister
Anyway, like I said he seems like a brilliant writer and I'm sure he's got a lot of great stuff in that book. But I think if he wants to do serious apologetic work against the Catholic Church, he needs to first understand the Church as she really is.

Thanks for the discussion points.


Kenny said...

Ok, I think this post is manageable enough that I can hit all the major points you raise. First, thank you for this thoughtful response!

I agree with you in thinking that Luther's orthodoxy is questionable at best. (Well, I guess that's not quite agreeing with you, since you think he is decidedly heterodox, but it's close!) At any rate, you won't find me defending Luther's theology as such. On the other hand, I agree with, I would say, at least 2/3 of the WCF. On issues like the solas, you can expect me to stick pretty close to (though not just exactly on) Westminster. I don't know of a single source (other than the Bible itself) I could point you to that I would agree with more than 2/3 of the time on these issues (I'm a philosopher; I don't just accept things because they're written in books - the one exception being the collection of books I think I have good reason to suppose are divinely inspired).

At any rate, regarding your first point: it's true. This is why I think - as I said - that we would never know the Bible was inspired and inerrant without tradition. By the way, Protestants who say nothing else is inerrant are misspeaking: they mean nothing else is infallible. For instance, most Protestants believe that the Nicene Creed and Apostles' Creed are fallible, but actually inerrant. That is, they might have been wrong but, as it turns out, everything they say is true.

We already discussed your point two, and I don't think I have anything new to say, so I won't stir that one up again. I'm taking a year off school and hoping to read some more Patristics (among other things) so if I come across anything besides Augustine I'll certainly post it.

I agree with the beginning of your point 3, but, as you could have predicted, we disagree on the nuances you go on to develop. The Bible doesn't say that that authority was passed down, and actually it's not clear to me in context that it is given specifically to the Apostles, but it may have been. Since I am not a cessationist, I think that whatever authority there was is still in the Church today, I just don't think of it as a well-defined hierarchy. I do not, however, dispute your history here. The Church certainly did receive its authority from Christ, and a hierarchy developed immediately. Both the Catholic and Orthodox hierarchies of today represent very significant elaboration on that hierarchy - they are much more complicated - and the Catholic even more so than the Orthodox, but there were deacons and elders/overseers even when the later NT books were written, and very shortly thereafter 'elder' (i.e. 'priest') and 'overseer' (i.e. 'bishop') came to be two totally different offices with overseers over elders. It didn't take long for there to be archbishops and so forth either. I don't dispute any of this. However, what I do say is that this was simply the way that Church happened to be manifested in history at that particular point. Some of it we should probably emulate, but we needn't emulate all of it, and we certainly don't need continuity of organization with that structure and hierarchy in order to be the OHCA.

On our certainty of the canon - I think that it is because of tradition, because of the church's witness, that we are looking at this particular collection of books, but the matter is confirmed by the Holy Spirit in each individual believer, and is accepted anew every generation. Contra Luther, an individual believer, or a modern congregation, may not change the canon, but the testimony of the Church alone is not sufficient to establish it, since the Church is fallible (and our knowledge that it is the Church and that it has testified to this canon is also fallible).

On the deutero-canon - Most of the Christian tradition, including the Orthodox tradition to this very day, and the Catholic tradition at some times in the past, has regarded the deutero-canon as being at a lower level than the proto-canon, hence the name. As such, I think I am justified in not accepting it on the same level with the proto-canon. Most of my fellow Protestants are uncomfortable with the idea that there might be different levels of inspiration, but I personally am not. To be perfectly honest, I've never read the deutero-canon. I have every intention of doing so, however. I struggle with the status of the deutero-canon and the Septuagint. I'm really not sure what I think.

Luther (and others) makes the mistake of thinking that Tradition stops around Nicea somewhere. But that's just not true. No truly ecumenical council ever proclaimed the canon of Scripture, but tradition settled on it. When Luther decided to drop James and Revelation, he had no basis for this at all: a concensus had already been reached. There are a few books that are, I grant, objectively a little questionable, but based on my experience and knowledge and where I can see the true Church today, it seems to me that a concensus has been reached, except on the issues of the deutero-canon and the Septuagint.

I agree with the tradition that Polycarp is authentic, but who ever claimed that Polycarp was inspired?

The Church does have authority to condemn heresy. Who said it didn't? It just isn't infallible in any case. Read the Berkeley quote about magistrates and common citizens interpreting the law. I think that sums up the situation nicely.

On Berkeley - yes, I know you don't believe some of the things he is targeting. Berkeley is really a metaphysician, but he happened to be the Anglican Bishop of Cloyne Ireland at the time of writing, and is writing in a more or less pastoral capacity to a friend in Boston. What he is familiar with is not modern Catholicism as taught by the Vatican, but popular Catholicism in Ireland and the American colonies in the early 18th century (some of your comments made me wonder if you read my introduction - the quotations are from a letter, and it was written in 1741). So the views he is attacking are not necessarily your views, nor even the professed views of the people he is actually arguing against. Rather, he takes these to be what's going on in actual practice in the Catholic Church in the British Commonwealth (or rather, those parts of the commonwealth where it was tolerated). You have to pick and choose a little in terms of what is actually applicable.

Gretchen said...

Thanks, guys, for the discussion. Food for thought and mighty civilized, which I appreciate more than you know.

undergroundlogician said...


You are probably one of the most eloquent and charitable Protestants I've seen in discussing this sometimes volatile topic. Thanks for your ecumenical commitment. I think we see eye-to-eye in this.

One thing I need to bring up is the idea that Church authority isn't infallible when it comes to faith and practice. You said:

The Church does have authority to condemn heresy. Who said it didn't? It just isn't infallible in any case.

Infallibility is narrowly defined by the Church, so we must take care to identify what exactly we are talking about. The same for the authority that infallibility declares or implies. In the case of condemning heresy, to say "X is heretical, and anyone who believes X is anathema" also states and/or implies that "Y is the truth; you must believe Y." Church authority in this case is binding the universal Church for all time to these decrees. If Church authority is fallible, it is quite possible that the Church could bind the universal Church to error or prevent the Church from the truth, which is absolutely abhorrent and according to Catholic teaching, impossible.

So in the case of Chalcedon, is it possible that that the dogma of Christ's nature is in fact wrong? Who or what do you appeal to know if in fact Christ has two natures in one person; why not a third nature that is a blend between the two? What Scripture do you turn to that speaks of this? The problem that fomented which required Chalcedon was a debate that raged which involved both sides appealing to scripture and the early fathers.

Therefore, though I am glad that you are not a believer in Solo Scriptura, your Sola is still showing. What you suggest is not plausible in how it actually works and is anti-historical.

undergroundlogician said...


I must say, you may call yourself a wannabee Catholic apologist, but you have an awesome talent. I'm learning from you, which makes me more skilled. Thank you, and thanks be to God for the gifts He's given you. Continue to use them for His glory and in love and benefit for the Church Universal. God Bless, brother!

Kenny said...

Underground: thanks for your response. This is getting very interesting :)

Unfortunately, I'm leaving for a long weekend, so this will probably be my last post until at least Monday, but I'll respond at least to your points right now.

So, when I say the Church has the right to condemn heresy (and, consequently, the right to proclaim dogma), what I really mean is: churches (pl., small c, i.e. particular local congregations) have the right and responsibility to interpret Scripture so as to derive dogma and to condemn as heresy what is contrary to it, and to practice excommunication as appropriate. Generally speaking, other local bodies ought to respect the order of excommunication (but they should probably consider themselves whether the doctrinal conclusions were correct and also whether the disciplinary procedure of Matthew 18 was correctly applied). Governmental structures covering more than one congregation and adding to this simplistic picture, of course, must be at least permissible, if not obligatory, since they are in the NT.

(A brief note: I dealt with the question of the source of dogma in Protestantism here. I recognize that there is a role for tradition to play, but am personally not sure on the details.)

Now, I happen to think that the Church might get this wrong. As Berkeley says:

"I grant it is meet the Law of Christ shou'd like other laws have magistrates to explain and apply it. But then as in the civil State a private man may know the law enough to avoid transgressing it, and also to see whether the magistrates deviate into tyrrany: Even so, in the other case a private Christian may know and ought to know the written law of God and not give himself up blindly to the dictates of the Pope and his assessors."

That is more or less what I mean about the Church having authority to condemn heresy.

I regard the idea that some or all of the truly ecumenical councils (i.e. the seven shared by both east and west) are inerrant, possible infallible, as a pretty reasonable idea, although I disagree. Rome, however, recongizes a huge number of additional councils which are not actually ecumenical by any reasonable meaning of the term, not to mention unilateral statements by the Pope (let us not forget that that was the real issue in, for instance, the filioque controversy of the Schism). This I regard as unreasonable, simply because I don't think any case can be made that these are truly teachings of the Church, whereas the case with the councils is much different (though it is complicated by the lesser schisms surrounding them). If the Church is infallible (and a case can be made for this - the Church is the divinely authorized and enabled proclaimer of God's revelation to mankind in Christ; that in itself might be good reason to think that the Church is an infallible proclaimer of that revelation, or perhaps that "the stones would cry out" if the Church were to be wrong - I take this view very seriously), that still won't establish the infallibility of the Pope, even in the limited sense that the Catholic Church understands it, nor will it establish the infallibility of, for instance, the councils of the counter-Reformation, which represented only a tiny fraction of the total Church.

You refer specifically to Chalcedon, and Chalcedon is the first of the councils to really bother me. If I manage to get my view of tradition ironed out in more detail perhaps I will figure out whether I am obligated to accept it. It's basic premise - that Christ is fully God and fully man, "intermingled without confusion" (I believe that's the wording) - is surely correct, but the way it is stated has a great deal of metaphysical baggage. It's not as bad as Scholasticism and which one was it? The Fourth Lateran Council, I think? When they proclaimed transubstantiation as dogma, they came very close to making Aristotelian metaphysics dogma, since on theories sufficiently different from Aristotle's (including my neo-Berkeleian understanding of metaphysics - I'll be going to graduate school in metaphysics, by the way), transubstantiation is not even coherent (though Real Presence, as a more generic view, has a lot less metaphysical baggage).

The Church doesn't need to agree on every little detail. I'm a proponent of generous orthodoxy. Of course there are limits, but in general we don't need an infallible council (or even a fallible council) every time there is a debate going on. Christians are allowed to disagree, even about theology.

From my comments it is probably apparent that I take Constantinople more seriously than Rome. They hold only the seven councils and have no Papal proclamations and a more generous orthodoxy, and they believe in the mystery of the Real Presence, but don't accept transubstantiation or any other particular explanation of that mystery as dogma. Take that for what it's worth (I'm still a Protestant myself, and extremely unlikely to convert - the most important reason being not the understanding of Tradition in the abstract but, rather, the specific traditions related to saints and icons).

Ok, I'm a little long and rambling here, but I think I've made my position fairly clear, and, if I haven't provided a real argument, hopefully I've at least made the view look a little more plausible.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Underground - thanks for the kind words and thanks for the backup - good arguments!

Kenny - I'm just going to make a few corrections to what you said, we agree on some points and disagree on others but our disagreements have some very deep roots that will be too tedious to get into here but hopefully through continued discussion we can has some of those out. Let me just point out a couple things:

The Catholic hierarchy is not more complicated than the 1 bishop - priest - deacon system - it is identical today. It is a common misconception that there is any other hierarchy - there isn't. Archbishop simply means that he is in charge of an arch diocese instead of a regular diocese (like mine) but there is no hierarchal difference. Same thing with Cardinals. There are specific offices and councils - committees etc.. that weren't extant in the first couple centuries sure - but that's merely a question of necessity and size of the Church. Bishop is still the highest office in the Catholic Church (and the bishop of Rome being the final say so if there are disputes among bishops).

You said the deutero-canonical books have been regarded as lower throughout most of tradition and I have to take sharp disagreement here.

1. The name "deutero-canonical" is not called such because it is secondary in inspiration but that it was declared part of scripture later (Council of Trent). - This was done so as a response to Luther's removal of them. Since they were considered part of the Old Testament, they were not discussed in the councils of Rome, Carthage etc... They were never in question.

2. It is false to say that the majority of tradition has excluded these books. There are a few patristic sources that believed them to be secondary though. Athanasius believed them to be secondary and listed them as such in his canon (the first to be listed in our current order as you know) but he did list Baruch along with those of full inspiration. So his canon had 67 books and 6 secondary books.

Jerome did not want to include them in his vulgate but at the authority of the Church, he did.

There may be another father or two who didn't believe in their inspiration - I dont know of anyone else off the top of my head but regardless - just because one or two fathers believes something doesnt mean it is part of the sacred tradition.

In order for tradition to be infallible - it has to extend to the apostles and has to be ratified by the ordinary magisterium. Only Apostolic tradition is infallible. But since the time of the apostles, the 7 books have been routinely included in Christian canons everywhere and were never even questioned (except by those mentioned above and possibly a couple others) until Martin Luther removed them on his own authority.

There are several scriptural references to the deutero-canonical books as well and several clear messianic prophecies in them (particularly second chapter of Wisdom). I encourage you to read them, you'll find a lot which parallels Christ's teachings. Also, 1 & 2 Maccabees are absolute necessary readings as a backdrop to understand 1st century Judaism.

As for the council of Rome (which you rightly say was not an ecumenical council) 1. again they were only discussing NT canon & 2. This council (along with Carthage & Hippo) was ratified by the pope and therefore binding according to Catholic theology. Only to the Eastern Orthodox Churches does a council have to be ecumenical to be binding (since they have no pope)- and since the schism they have had no councils.

As for Berkeley - I may have missed your opening comments. I was unaware that he was talking about the 1700s. Regardless, there are many (even professional apologists) who say things much more ludicrous than that even today.. (James White, James Swan, Jack Chick come to mind).

If they can be so misguided now, I don't see any reason why I should believe they couldn't have been just as bad or worse before.

And we needn't get into how the majority of Catholics believe/act vs the majority of Protestants believe/act. I dont think either of us want to go down that road. The difference I would say is - Catholicism is by in large moving in the right direction. We are coming out of a liberal slump caused by post Vatican II hippies and whatever the hell was in the water in the 60s ... but lets be honest - mainstream Protestantism is simply going deeper into that hole.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

On transubstantiation - as Chesterton said, Christianity has more paradoxes than the Eastern religions.

It's no easier for bread to become God while retaining its accidents than it is for God to become man while retaining the accidents of human flesh. Here is my post on Ambrose (Augustine's mentor) and his explicit explanation and defense for transubstantiation. Ignatius has explicit references dating to the beginning of the second century as well. Of course, the first explicit reference would be Christ's own words.

undergroundlogician said...

You quoted Berkeley here:

"I grant it is meet the Law of Christ shou'd like other laws have magistrates to explain and apply it. But then as in the civil State a private man may know the law enough to avoid transgressing it, and also to see whether the magistrates deviate into tyrrany: (1)Even so, in the other case a private Christian may know and ought to know the written law of God and not give himself up blindly to the dictates of the Pope and his assessors."

That is more or less what I mean about the Church having authority to condemn heresy.

It looks as though Berkeley is not making an argument here, but explaining how magistrates operate. All well and good. However, this deviates from the subject a bit. In the section I labeled (1), he says that the individual Christian ought to know the written law of God. That is a given. What is assumed that the Christian can know the written law of God without the aid or assistance of the Popes and his successors (This, I might add, is dogmatic statement from human tradition).

So then, what is the role of the Popes or successors? To validate what the Christian already knows? Perhaps. But, according to Protestantism, what if a Pope contradicts what an individual Christian's version of the law of Christ? Which one takes precedence? According to Protestants, the individual Christian's version! What if the Pope is trying to correct a pervading problem? It would have no effect This hardly plays historically. Thank God that we are not all Arians right now, that a minority within the Catholic Church stood up to the majority of the heretics and squashed their errors).

Thank you, Kenny! You have given us an adequate description of how individual Christians can have more authority than Popes. And might I refer to Erasmus, who had his squabbles with the Popes of his day in the 16th century. When asked by Luther to join his cause, he replied by letter saying in essence, "I have trouble enough with one Pope...why should I join a Church with hundreds of them?" (my paraphrase)

Let's face it Kenny. The essence of Protestantism now is the freedom and right for individual Christians to be Popes. It initially was a protest with a view to reform. It degraded, however, into an anti-authority movement that sought to establish it's own authority based on Scripture alone, or pre-eminent, whatever the flavor.

If it was directed by the Scripture as it claims, it would have to deal with Scriptures that deal with the binding authority of Tradition itself, whether written or spoken. It would challenge its fundamental principles as anti-Biblical. However, when shown by us evil Catholics how illogical and fallacious these foundational concepts are, the typical reaction from Protestants is not: "Oh, thank you, Mr. Catholic, for showing me that I'm 'begging the question', or arguing in a circle, I'll look into it." No, since an evil Catholic suggests it, it must be bad.

By and large, it doesn't matter generally that doctrines and dogmas in Protestantism are self-refuting. As long as the doctrines don't look, smell or taste Catholic, or one doesn't become a dreaded Catholic, then you're okay.

This is the essence of the Protestant movement. The issues of reform (abuse of Indulgences, clerical greed, etc.) are no longer an issue. Anti-Papal authority is the driving force that allows private interpretation: to become a private Pope. And this is all in the name of Scripture alone.

Amber said...

Great points. I'm in my own little debate re: sola scriptura...

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Underground - you're absolutely right about private authority to interpret Scriptures. I can't possibly boil down to anything other than that. (Although it would be a doctrinal error, Catholics could even agree to sola scriptura and disagree with Protestants - 'ok fine, Scripture is what we test everything by. But the Church tests it by Scripture, not me as an individual'.)

Protestantism in a nut shell is the glorious lack of ability / willingness to recognize the role one's own private opinion plays in Scripture interpretation. I know - I was there. It was a painful process to drop my own private interpretation (though I would have never agreed that was what was happening).

Even if some modified version of sola scriptura was true - the Catholic Church still trumps the Protestant ones and by no small degree.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Sorry - above that should be - "its no *harder* for bread to become"...

undergroundlogician said...


If one desires for Jesus to be Lord, the freedom to re-interpret him, re-invent him, reconstitute him, re-anything him must cease. This is a death, the first stage in conversion. For me, it was a killer. Thank God!

Kenny said...

Ok, I'm back. Wow, lots of response text! I'm just going to respond to a few points. I haven't had time to proof-read this, since I have to go to work, so you get what you get (hope I didn't make any really huge mistakes)!

GFF: On hierarchy - I think we're playing with words here. The Pope, Cardinals, and Arch-Bishops de facto have far more authority than the average bishop. You even talk about councils becoming binding because the Pope ratifies them. We don't see Peter or anyone else in the first few centuries of the Church claiming this kind of authority over and above the authority given to ordinary bishops.

On the duetero-canon - your remarks show a strong Western bias. In addition to the fathers who regarded the deutero-canon as secondary, that is the dominant position in the Christian East to the present day: "Most Orthodox scholars today, however, follow Athanasius and others in plaing the books of the 'Septuagintal plus' [i.e. those portions of Scripture included in the LXX but not the Hebrew] on a lower level of authority than the 'proto-canonical' writings." - F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, p. 82. Bruce cites the following sources in support of this claim: T. [Kallistos] Ware, The Orthodox Church (Harmondsworth, 1963): 208f.; M. Jugie, Historie du canon l'Ancien Testament dans l'eglise grecque et l'eglise russe (Paris, 1909). I have read the former, but don't have a copy handy. I don't read French. Even according to The Catholic Encyclopedia, the deutero-canonical books are so-called because they were disputed early on in the history of the Church. So they were disputed early on, never officially proclaimed by the Roman Catholic Church as on a level with the rest of the Scripture until the Counter-Reformation, and are still regarded as secondary by most EOC theologians. Thus you can hardly call my claim contrary to tradition without assuming the primacy of Rome over the other ancient churches, which I deny.

On transubstantiation - your quotes from Ignatius defend only the Real Presence, not transubstantiation. Haven't read the Ambrose post yet.

Underground: You are getting a little rhetorical, and perhaps a little sarcastic. Let's rein it in a bit, please, to make sure this so far very civil discussion doesn't degenerate. Regarding authority, a Protestant can say (while still being Protestant) that a church interprets Scripture authoritatively in the same sense that the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution authoritatively: their interpretations are, in principle, binding, but they can't just interpret it every which way they want. The Constitution is written in plain language for anyone to read, so that the Court may not do violence to the plain sense of the text. Similarly the Church may not impose just any interpretation. I had a discussion with an Orthodox Jewish friend to this effect, who said the same thing even about Rabbinical interpretation of the Torah! There are some things a Rabbi simply cannot rule - for instance (my friend's example), he may not rule that homosexuality is acceptable. If your Rabbi does rule this, you follow God and not your Rabbi. What this means, is that the authority of the Church applies primarily to areas where Scripture is unclear (to the individual). Followings this principle honestly does not produce "hundreds of little Popes." (The principle might be used as an excuse for that, but that's another story entirely.)

As for your remarks about anti-Catholic sentiment, I think that this has been a cause of many theological problems (for instance, Protestants being afraid to talk about Mary except at Christmas), and I hope you haven't found me to behave this way.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Kenny - On Church hierarchy - I'll just drop this one - not going to argue about the color of the sky either.

Duetero-Canon - From the Catholic Encyclopedia - "It should be noted that protocanonical and deuterocanonical are modern terms, not having been used before the sixteenth century."

Finally, even some of the books in the protocanon were disputed so it has nothing to do with which ones are / were disputed regardless of what the Catholic Encyclopedia says.

It is true some EOC Churches have a different canon than the west, let's get off that kick for now - no orthodox Christian agrees with the Protestant removal of the deutero canonical books although the East tends to have a couple more than the West.

Transubstantiation - if you think that Augustine believed in Sola Scriptura there's absolutely no text I could produce to show you how mistaken you are on this point, but for the sake of others reading:

Ignatius of Antioch 107AD
They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ,

(Note - not that Jesus was present along with the bread - you literally cannot possibly get any more explicit than that... but lets hear from others)

Justin Martyr 150AD -

For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh


"If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?" (Against Heresies 4:33–32 [A.D. 189]).

"He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life—flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him?" (ibid., 5:2).


"‘And she [Wisdom] has furnished her table’ [Prov. 9:2] . . . refers to his [Christ’s] honored and undefiled body and blood, which day by day are administered and offered sacrificially at the spiritual divine table, as a memorial of that first and ever-memorable table of the spiritual divine supper [i.e.,
the Last Supper]" (Fragment from Commentary on Proverbs [A.D. 217]).

"Formerly there was baptism in an obscure way . . . now, however, in full view, there is regeneration in water and in the Holy Spirit. Formerly, in an obscure way, there was manna for food; now, however, in full view, there is the true food, the flesh of the Word of God, as he himself says: ‘My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink’ [John 6:55]" (Homilies on Numbers 7:2 [A.D. 248]).

"After having spoken thus [at the Last Supper], the Lord rose up from the place where he had made the Passover and had given his body as food and his blood as drink, and he went with his disciples to the place where he was to be arrested. But he ate of his own body and drank of his own blood, while he was pondering on the dead. With his own hands the Lord presented his own body to be eaten, and before he was crucified he gave his blood as drink" (Treatises 12:6 [A.D. 340]).

It's just downhill from here for Protestants:

Cyril of Jerusalem:
"The bread and the wine of the Eucharist before the holy invocation of the adorable Trinity were simple bread and wine, but the invocation having been made, the bread becomes the body of Christ and the wine the blood of Christ" (Catechetical Lectures 19:7 [A.D. 350]).

"Do not, therefore, regard the bread and wine as simply that; for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the body and blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but be fully assured by the faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy of the body and blood of Christ. . . . [Since you are] fully convinced that the apparent bread is not bread, even though it is sensible to the taste, but the body of Christ, and that the apparent wine is not wine, even though the taste would have it so, . . . partake of that bread as something spiritual, and put a cheerful face on your soul" (ibid., 22:6, 9).

Ambrose of Milan:
"Perhaps you may be saying, ‘I see something else; how can you assure me that I am receiving the body of Christ?’ It but remains for us to prove it. And how many are the examples we might use! . . . Christ is in that sacrament, because it is the body of Christ" (The Mysteries 9:50, 58 [A.D. 390]).

Theodore of Mopsuestia:
"When [Christ] gave the bread he did not say, ‘This is the symbol of my body,’ but, ‘This is my body.’ In the same way, when he gave the cup of his blood he did not say, ‘This is the symbol of my blood,’ but, ‘This is my blood’; for he wanted us to look upon the [Eucharistic elements] after their reception of grace and the coming of the Holy Spirit not according to their nature, but receive them as they are, the body and blood of our Lord. We ought . . . not regard [the elements] merely as bread and cup, but as the body and blood of the Lord, into which they were transformed by the descent of the Holy Spirit" (Catechetical Homilies 5:1 [A.D. 405]).

Perhaps you will say, "I see something else, how is it that you assert that I receive the Body of Christ?" And this is the point which remains for us to prove. And what evidence shall we make use of? Let us prove that this is not what nature made, but what the blessing consecrated, and the power of blessing is greater than that of nature, because by blessing nature itself is changed.

Moses was holding a rod, he cast it down and it became a serpent. Again, he took hold of the tail of the serpent and it returned to the nature of a rod. You see that by virtue of the prophetic office there were two changes, of the nature both of the serpent and of the rod. The streams of Egypt were running with a pure flow of water; of a sudden from the veins of the sources blood began to burst forth, and none could drink of the river. Again, at the prophet's prayer the blood ceased, and the nature of water returned. The people of the Hebrews were shut in on every side, hemmed in on the one hand by the Egyptians, on the other by the sea; Moses lifted up his rod, the water divided and hardened like walls, and a way for the feet appeared between the waves. Jordan being turned back, returned, contrary to nature, to the source of its stream. Is it not clear that the nature of the waves of the sea and of the river stream was changed? The people of the fathers thirsted, Moses touched the rock, and water flowed out of the rock. Did not grace work a result contrary to nature, so that the rock poured forth water, which by nature it did not contain? Marah was a most bitter stream, so that the thirsting people could not drink. Moses cast wood into the water, and the water lost its bitterness, which grace of a sudden tempered. In the time of Elisha the prophet one of the sons of the prophets lost the head from his axe, which sank. He who had lost the iron asked Elisha, who cast in a piece of wood and the iron swam. This, too, we clearly recognize as having happened contrary to nature, for iron is of heavier nature than water.

We observe, then, that grace has more power than nature, and yet so far we have only spoken of the grace of a prophet's blessing. But if the blessing of man had such power as to change nature, what are we to say of that divine consecration where the very words of the Lord and Saviour operate? For that sacrament which you receive is made what it is by the word of Christ. But if the word of Elijah had such power as to bring down fire from heaven, shall not the word of Christ have power to change the nature of the elements? You read concerning the making of the whole world: "He spoke and they were made, He commanded and they were created." Shall not the word of Christ, which was able to make out of nothing that which was not, be able to change things which already are into what they were not? For it is not less to give a new nature to things than to change them.

But why make use of arguments? Let us use the examples He gives, and by the example of the Incarnation prove the truth of the mystery. Did the course of nature proceed as usual when the Lord Jesus was born of Mary? If we look to the usual course, a woman ordinarily conceives after connection with a man. And this body which we make is that which was born of the Virgin. Why do you seek the order of nature in the Body of Christ, seeing that the Lord Jesus Himself was born of a Virgin, not according to nature? It is the true Flesh of Christ which crucified and buried, this is then truly the Sacrament of His Body.

The Lord Jesus Himself proclaims: "This is My Body." Before the blessing of the heavenly words another nature is spoken of, after the consecration the Body is signified. He Himself speaks of His Blood. Before the consecration it has another name,after it is called Blood. And you say, Amen, that is, It is true. Let the heart within confess what the mouth utters, let the soul feel what the voice speaks.

Even the Protestant Favorite Augustine:
"Christ was carried in his own hands when, referring to his own body, he said, ‘This is my body’ [Matt. 26:26]. For he carried that body in his hands" (Explanations of the Psalms 33:1:10 [A.D. 405]).

"I promised you [new Christians], who have now been baptized, a sermon in which I would explain the sacrament of the Lord’s Table. . . . That bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ" (Sermons 227 [A.D. 411]).


"What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction" (ibid., 272).

I am not willing to dispute this, so if you disagree then we just have to drop it. If their words dont mean what they say then how can I converse with you since words have no meaning?

Kenny - You're a brilliant guy thats obvious. But the bottom line is, you can make ANY system work. There are brilliant scholars for Mormonism and Islam. Yet their religions are completely ridiculous. Never underestimate the power of the human mind to deceive itself.

Kenny said...

I don't want to beat a dead horse, but I'm not ready to drop this just yet, because I don't think we yet understand what it is we disagree about (actually, on this particular point, we might not turn out to disagree after all), and that is the bare minimum that I would hope to accomplish in any discussion like this one.

Transubstantiation, as defined by the Council of Trent (Session 13, Chapter IV), means that, "by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood." Elsewhere, in defining this doctrine, it is specifically stated that the "accidents" - that is, properties - of the bread and wine remain unchanged. "Substance" and "accident" are technical terms of Aristotelian/Scholastic metaphysics. The doctrine of transubstantiation properly so called is this particular attempt to explain the Real Presence by means of Aristotelian/Scholastic metaphysics. The doctrine of the Real Presence is simply the claim that the bread really is the Body of Christ, and the wine really is the Blood of Christ, and that independent of any particular attempt to explain it. Transubstantiation is almost certainly a Medieval innovation, simply because prior to Anselm very few Christians were Aristotelians, so they wouldn't have even been able to formulate the doctrine. It is highly unlikely that, for instance, Clement of Alexandria or Augustine believed anything like transubstantiation, because it is unclear whether that view would even be coherent from the perspective of the (Neo-)Platonist metaphysics they share with most of the other early Fathers.

So, you see, when I talk about denying transubstantiation while embracing the Real Presence, I don't mean accepting consubstantiation like Luther, but rejecting the metaphysical assumptions that underly the debate. On a Platonist metaphysics like Augustine's or an idealist metaphysics like mine the metaphysical underpinnings of the doctrine of Real Presence will come out entirely different. If I embraced the doctrine of Real Presence (I don't) I would have to give a very different account of what it meant for the bread to be Christ's body and the wine to be Christ's blood. (By the way, I think it is possible for me to give such an account given my metaphysics, but I don't have the details worked out.) You see, the problem isn't that I deny the Real Presence (although I do), so much as that I don't believe in a material substratum distinct from and supporting the properties of an object. That doesn't sound like a theological disagreement to me at all, so why should churches divide or people be excommunicated over it? How did it get to become dogma in Roman Catholicism?

Now, at least some of the quotes you give appear to me to be decisive in showing that the relevant writers accept the doctrine of the Real Presence, and, furthermore, it appears that at least a few of them would say that Luther's consubstantiation is too weak. They don't just want to say that the Body of Christ is in the bread, but that the bread is his Body. But there are problems of context and genre in some of the quotes that lead me to question whether they really must be interpreted literally, and I have not had time to search for any remarks to the contrary, so whether my denial of the Real Presence is entirely outside of the stream of Christian tradition seems to me to remain undecided at this point. I concede that if Zwingli was the first to deny the Real Presence, then he was wrong - and, consequently, I am wrong - provided that the question had been formulated significantly prior to Zwingli's time. The Theodore of Mopsuestia quote, for instance, might demonstrate that it had been formulated, depending on the meaning of words like "look on" and "consider" in the original, and the context. This is a matter on which I certainly intend to do further research.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Kenny, let me first apologize - my tone was not very... ecumenical. I was in a bad mood yesterday. I don't have time to reply (supposed to be somewhere in 15 minutes it will take me at least 20 to get there) but the only person before Zwingli I know of who denied the Real Presence was Wycliffe.