Monday, July 02, 2007

Throw Out the Good & Keep the Bad?

If (as according to Protestants) the "Roman Catholic Church" now isn't the same one that drafted the Nicaean Creed etc... How is she the same one that embarked on the Crusades? How is she the same authoritative body that executed the Inquisition?

How come only "bad" things (assuming that either of those even were bad) are handed down through succession?


Johnny Vino said...

How come Protestants reject any recourse to the thoughtful, slow-moving process which is sacred Tradition, but so easily accept the canon of scriptures being re-assembled by the whim of one Augustinian monk? That's always puzzled me.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

I've wondered the same thing myself.

Amber said...

I suppose there are many reasons for this... pride, selective understanding, ignorance, refusal to examine Catholicism from it's source... misguided but good intentions. Relativism?

RobK said...

I think that the crusades were definitely a good thing. Without the crusades, Europe would be Muslim.

I also think the inquisition was not nearly what some make it out to be (See Catholic Answers for a discussion)

I think that the reason for the anti-catholicism is traditional prejudice. People are raised with wrong concepts that feed a particular perception, and then find ways to support it.

We all have some of these prejudices, and overcoming them is tough.

Tiber Jumper said...

The greatest gift to all of us would not have been possible if it were not for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit at the Catholic Church Councils that canonized the Scriptures. Was the Church off the rails then too? Well, maybe that explains why they included the deterocanonical books. What is that elusive date when the Church that Jesus started did allow the gates of Hell to prevail? Papist readers want to know!

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Looks like I'm preaching to the schola here.

Kenny said...

Actually, while it is true that Protestants often misrepresent Catholicism, there is a very simple answer to your question: the RCC has a very specific view of Church history that involves certain theological assumptions, and this informs their view of what is and isn't "the same church." Protestants have a different set of assumptions. Protestants view the early Church as just "The Church," but as more and more splits occur, things get more complicated. From a Protestant perspective on Church history, you would say that the Roman Catholic Church takes on its distinct identity somewhere in between the fall of the western empire and the Great Schism. Most of the doctrines we see as defining Roman Catholicism as a distinctive brand of Christianity developed in this period (a few developed later).

Of course, if you think that Roman Catholicism just is Christianity (rather than being one distinctive brand of Christianity), then you will be perfectly reasonable in concluding that the RCC started around AD 33, because Christianity did indeed start then. In other words, the difference is not about the sequence of historical events - we agree on that - but rather about what is meant by "Roman Catholic Church" in the question. In order to give an objective historical analysis of when the Roman Catholic Church started, or whether the organization that performed action x1 at time t1 (e.g. promulgated the canon of Scripture) is the same as the organization that performed action x2 at time t2 (e.g. endorsed the Crusades), you have to agree on definitions, and there is not agreement on definitions among Catholics and Protestants.

The point that I think the Protestants side is correct in making is that the correctness of the canon is not necessarily an argument for, e.g., the correctness of the distinctively Catholic doctrines about the papacy, because the canon isn't a distinctively Catholic doctrine: there are other groups which are at least equal in their degree of historical and doctrinal continuity with the church that promulgated the canon which do not hold these distinctively Catholic doctrines. There is no such thing as "distinctively Catholic" until long after canonization. In the period of canonization, everyone agrees that there was just Christianity; whether a church exists today which just is Christianity the way that Church was is the point of dispute.

Also, in response to Johnny Vino, good Protestant theologians do not promote the wholesale rejection of tradition. The Westminster Confession doesn't promote the wholesale rejection of tradition. This rejection is an unfortunate feature of contemporary popular Protestantism which, if it has roots in the Reformation at all, is an exaggeration of certain Reformation principles. Instead of a total rejection of tradition, Protestantism promotes a different view of the relationship between Scripture, tradition, and the Church than Catholicism does, and it is true that tradition has a lower place than in Catholicism, but it is not entirely rejected.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

I'm sure you've heard it before but I'll have to repeat the famous words from perhaps the most famous convert to the Catholic Church, Cardinal Newman - "To be deep in history is to cease being Protestant".

All your words might be true if your view of history were true. But I (and most other Christians to date) don't believe it is.

It's no coincidence that (especially in the last couple decades) Protestants are flocking to the Church by the thousands and not by clever analysis and not by failure to understand reformation theology but by reading what the early Christians actually wrote. Lay down your assumptions for a minute and read Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr etc... I think you will be surprised.

Of course, Calvin read those and he wasn't convinced. It's not a magic wand. (Calvin thought the Ignatian epistles were forgeries because of the blatant Catholicity spoken of in the first few years of the second century) - he has since been proven wrong as all scholars accept them.

Even if you reject the Catholic Church, you'll still do well to learn the wisdom from those who forged orthodoxy and defended the Church against heresy after heresy (the splits you're talking about - and I'd like to add that the flock's identity doesn't change regardless of how many sheep have gone astray)

Kenny said...

"the flock's identity doesn't change regardless of how many sheep have gone astray"

This is a more controversial statement than you might think. In contemporary metaphysics, there is a vast literature on the identity conditions for "heaps" or "piles" and the question of how many bricks (or whatever) can be replaced before it becomes a different heap, or how many can be taken away before it ceases to be a heap. This is one of the key thought experiments for the literature on vagueness (the other one, which is somewhat more amusing, is how many hairs you must remove from a man's head before he is bald).

Suppose that a pile of bricks is in an earthquake. At the beginning of the earthquake there is one pile of bricks. At the end of the earthquake, the very same bricks are organized into five piles, and none of those piles is on the exact spot that the original pile was. Is there an objective answer (or any answer) to the question, which pile of bricks after the earthquake is the same as the pile that was there before the earthquake?

Now, you might think an organization or something like a flock of sheep was in better shape than a pile of bricks, and you'd be right. There is organizational structure and unity and purpose. However, mere historical continuity won't do it, unless you are willing to give up transitivity of identity (i.e. to say that there is a case where x=y, y=z and x!=z) which would undermine all of logic. (Some philosophers, though, think that classical identity with transitivity applies only in very particular cases.)

Now, in the general case, there probably isn't a metaphysics of group identity. That is, there probably isn't a thing in the world called "the United States government" which is distinct from the people who make up the government. (The same thing is generally said about piles of bricks - strictly speaking, there is no pile, only a bunch of bricks.) This will make group identity a matter of stipulation. The Church may be a special case because of its spiritual unity, but here we get into theology again, and this is really my point: we are giving different theological interpretations of the same event. Our disagreement, therefore, has to do with history only derivatively. We agree on all the historical facts. In particular, we agree that once there was one church hierarchy historically continuous with the apostles and now there are many. You think that one of those is priveleged in some way such that it, exclusively, is identical with the original hierarchy, and I don't. This isn't a disagreement about history, is it?

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

I understand your points and like you said we're not exactly dealing with a pile of bricks. But if we were - a much better analogy would be this : A series of earthquakes (schisms and heresies) happened over time causing some bricks to be scattered. But in our case, the pile is still there and in fact if you added all the other piles and loose bricks together they would still be less than the pile. Furthermore, by objective measurements, the largest pile hasn't moved whereas there's no question that the others have (and some very far away). So which is the original pile?

I think we *do* have some historical disagreements. My belief is that the Catholic Church today is the same one started long ago. I'm not getting into metaphysics here - I'm saying that we believe the same thing that they did then. That's a historical statement. If it turns out that the early Church believed in sola fide or sola scriptura or that they denied the real presence etc... I would be objectively wrong. But ALL the historical evidence to date points to just the opposite. History in other cases is rarely this one-sided on such a broad scale.

I'm not sure where to go from here not knowing which pre-Nicaean fathers have you read. That is my particular area of interest any how - after Nicaea the historical argument gets so one sided in favor of Rome it's beyond my patience to discuss.

But I think we have specific historical disagreements about the early Church and what they believed.

All metaphysics aside, if you found out that the early Church really did believe all the same things that the Roman Catholic Church does - Transubstantiation (we did leave this one unfinished I haven't forgotten about it), Regenerative baptism, Holy Orders, Apostolic Succession, one Church - loyal to the see of Rome etc... wouldn't you be inclined to change your mind? I know you don't believe in those things or at least most of them, but for the arguments sake, if you found them to be true, wouldn't you be at least inclined to say that the Catholic Church really is the same one as the early Church? And if so, then I think our disagreements are largely historical ones.

Kenny said...

Well, I don't think geography is relevant to identity in this case. The fact that there is a big pile of bricks still in the same place, so to speak, doesn't establish that that pile is the original pile. However, continuity of organization and of doctrine are, as you say, important.

If the early Church universally (or nearly universally) believed something and proclaimed it as part of the revelation of God to mankind (I don't care if they all believed it accidentally - after all, they all happened to believe that the earth was the center of the universe, but they didn't proclaim that as part of the revelation of God to mankind), I would almost certainly accept it. However, the most important documents concerning the early Church are the Scriptures themselves, the creeds come next, and only then the writings of the fathers. Furthermore, we have to distinguish between what they record as opinion and what they record as Christian doctrine, and we have to account for issues of genre and be careful not to read our own beliefs into them. As such, it is not just my ignorance (though I freely admit that my knowledge of the fathers is not up to par) but my methodology that leads to my not basing much doctrine on patristic writings - they're a real source of Christian doctrine, but they're pretty far down the food chain. Some of the Catholic doctrines I hold to be in contradiction with Scripture, and no matter who says it, if it's in conradiction with Scripture I won't accept it. Of course, you should be in the same position, since you (siding with official Catholic doctrine) accept inerrancy. Furthermore, I believe in the completeness of the Scripture, so if it isn't a further exposition of something already hinted at in Scripture, I won't accept it as legitimate tradition. You have to start from Scripture.

Furthermore, believing in the doctrines listed would not lead me to join the Roman Catholic Church, because we still don't agree on what the Church is, and this is the most central point. It's one we still haven't dealt with.

By the way, of the doctrines we've discussed, I should not that I have been thinking seriously about the Real Presence, and I think that this is a doctrine that warrants serious consideration. However, I still regard the more specific doctrine of transubstantiation as false, unhistorical, and packed full of unnecessary metaphysical baggage.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

"Well, I don't think geography is relevant to identity in this case."

I'm using geography allegorically. It represents doctrine. It is an objective truth that Protestant-Christianity is a post 1500 invention. The only Churches that represent the first 1500 years of Christianity at all are the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches.

"However, the most important documents concerning the early Church are the Scriptures themselves"

Only the first 30 years of the Church are covered by the Scriptures. Incidentally the Scriptures paint a picture of ONE authoritative Church. When Paul & Barnabas had a disagreement in Antioch, they didn't whip out the Scriptures argue until they came to no conclusion (as men almost always do) and then schism. They went to the ruling authority of the Church - Peter & the apostles and received an infallible (according to Scripture) decision. No Protestant Church even comes close to representing that kind of Church. Neither do the Orthodox Churches for that matter.

Paul speaks of the Church as the pillar and foundation of truth and the type of authoritative body that one could bring a brother in sin before for his judgment. Again, an invisible body of 'true believers' as Calvin fantasized about is absolutely incompatible with Scripture and history. None of these things are possible without a real Church - one - unified in doctrine - a visible authority etc...

There's a reason why Islam has lots of sects - the same reason Protestants do - they have no visible head and no real unity. They have no final authority save their own opinion. Sorry - their own opinion of the Scriptures.

But once you finish the Scriptures, and start reading the Church fathers you find the Catholic Church. You do well for your own position to place such low value on the Church fathers because they are so unambiguously Catholic. Protestants - like the Mormons and Islam - believe that the early Church went astray more or less immediately after the apostles died. It's a necessity for your belief.

The Church that arose immediately after the apostolic generation was thoroughly Catholic.

"Some of the Catholic doctrines I hold to be in contradiction with Scripture"

The key word in that phrase is "I". If there were one source that interpreted the Bible 100% correctly from start to finish, what are the odds that it would come to all the same conclusions that you have on your own?

The Church doesn't answer to the whims of the lay person's interpretation of Scripture. The lay person answers to the Church's interpretation. "He cannot have God as Father who has not Church as mother".

"we still don't agree on what the Church is, and this is the most central point. It's one we still haven't dealt with."

I thought that's what we were talking about. I think that the Church is a - visible - unified - universal Church. You think it is a description of an invisible body of all who will eventually end up in heaven. Right?

It is conceivable that there is no real Church. I mean - that the "Church" only exists in the way Calvin re-invented the word thereby having no real authority - no real unity etc.. etc.. But what is inconceivable to me, is that by far the largest organization of Christians, is

A) the only one with direct, unaltered apostolic succession B) the ONLY one which has not liberalized on ANY moral issue C) the ONLY one who can make sense of Matthew 16:18 D)still unified in doctrine E) Evangelized the world F) celebrates one Eucharist every day , every hour constantly all over the world - there is one mass and you'll be reading the same Scriptures and celebrating the same Mass whether you're in Nepal or Angola or Ukraine G) Continues to produce the best scholars, apologists and saints - and yet all that is a coincidence. The triumph of human work... I can't conceive of that. If the Catholic Church isn't the one true Church, then it is a man-made establishment.

There is absolutely no way that any of those things could be true of a man-made establishment - much less the oldest continuous establishment on the planet.

Now about the Eucharist and Real Presence vs Transubstantiation, I haven't read Trent on that subject yet but I intend to. All Catholics know that the elements still retain their accidents - they still taste like bread & wine. The primary way in which we must understand the Eucharist is (and this word is largely unavailable to Protestant vocabulary) - a mystery. I'll leave it at that for now.

Kenny said...

You've got so many unsupported assertions, and this discussion has become so general, that I think I'm just going to drop this one for today. I'll keep reading this blog, and be ready to respond next time there is a post whose topic is narrow enough for us to support our assertions and not talk past each other. I don't know how to respond to your last comment other than to go through point-by-point and assert the contrary, and that won't get us anywhere. If I tried to argue against each of those points it would require a lot of research and the result would probably be book-length.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

I know how you feel. We seem to always start on a narrow topic but then branch off into other areas. None of this stuff is simple.

Anyway, I appreciate the level headed discussion.

Just Another Beggar said...

Kenny said:

You have to start from Scripture.


Does Scripture tell you this? If so, where?

You embark on this level headed discussion (for the most part), but you also commit the same thing which you condemn Catholics for doing, you hold to assertions passed onto you from your tradition as well.

If you want to open up the Catholic doctrines for scrutiny, that's fine, we'll discuss them. However, the basis for analysis needs to be agreed upon if we are to have a dialogue. Tell me, where does Sola Scriptura, whether by itself, or as the supreme authority in a chain of authority come from? Is this not your a priori?

As Catholics, we don't buy your method of analysis. To us, Sacred Scripture fits within the Deposit of Faith we call the Word of God, which harbors both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

You, if we're to analyze Catholicism according to your methods, must demonstrate why your method of analysis is true from Scripture without "begging the question", or show historically that Jesus changed tradition by showing who was the prophet that instituted the change which were supported by miracles, if such a prophetic change in revelation is to be valid. It would stand to reason that this prophet change must be in keeping, or even greater than the works of Jesus Christ.

I know you said you're sitting this out. However, I can't let you make the conclusion you make. Demonstrate the basis of your analysis. Remember, unless Scripture or a super prophet allowed the change, you're imposing upon us a tradition of men.


Kenny said...

Beggar - I think you misread me. I was talking about what someone would have to do to convince me, and in order to convince me of something like this, someone must either work within my existing framework, or show the flaw in that framework. You are pointing out that if someone is to convince you (or any other Catholic) they must do the same. That's fine, but let's acknowledge that this applies equally to both sides. Now, as you point out, it may be more productive for us to go to the root of the problem, rather than starting from some particular issue and progressing to discussions so general that we can't possibly deal with them all, and the root of the issue is indeed our general approach to or method of theology. Perhaps if I get around to it I'll write a blog post detailing my general approach to theology and why I take that approach, but this is a great deal of work - more than I can do just at the moment.