Friday, June 13, 2008

Newman on The Infallibility of the Apostles

Cardinal Newman has mentioned that the apostles were infallible as if this were universally recognized among Christians. I had to pause and think about this for a moment. I know that the Protestants would never articulate this, but they believed it.

We know that a Protestant would accept the teachings of an apostle with the same submission that a Catholic accepts the teachings of the Church. The Protestant could not object that "only the Bible is infallible" since with his next breath he would be forced to concede that we only know the Bible because of it's apostolic authority! The Protestant cannot admit that we know the Bible by Church authority for two reasons. 1. It admits of the reality of Catholic Church authority and 2. The Church has canonized books which the Protestant rejects. So the Protestant says that we know the canon because they testify of themselves and that they were written by an apostle or close companion of an apostle. The apostolic authorship is the only objective measure of distinction here. But on what basis can they admit the infallibility of the apostle?

Now I know what's coming up. "We don't think that apostles are infallible" etc... "Only the bible is infallible" (never mind the fact that the apostles were the ones who wrote it and never mind the "fact" that we can't know the Bible except by what they wrote). So in the first century, if we had been alive and had a dispute with Paul we couldn't say "you're wrong" on the basis that only the bible is infallible since, well it wasn't finished yet. You'd have to tell Paul to hurry up and write the rest of his letters so you could dispute him on that basis!

Now I'm getting a little carried away there. But whether we admit the infallibility of the apostles or not (this doesn't mean perfection, it just means that God would not allow them to teach doctrinal error or become a means of destruction for his Word) we still admit an infallible authority in the early Church based on Acts 15. Even Protestants have to admit this. I like what Newman says here:

We have no reason to suppose that there is so great a distinction of dispensation between ourselves and the first generation of Christians, as that they had a living infallible guidance, and we have not.
He had already demonstrated the absurdity of a Church without a living infallible government:
what can be more absurd than a probable infallibility, or a certainty resting on doubt?—I believe, because I am sure; and I am sure, because I suppose.
The advocates of Rome, it has been urged, "insist on the necessity of an infallible guide in religious matters, as an argument that such a guide has really been accorded.
And I'll leave the rest for the reader to seek out him/herself.


Kim said...

Neener neener! You've been tagged, Timothy!

mdestes said...

Question (if you watch the Office, you might think that is funny): What do we do then with the suggestion that some of the things that the apostles wrote have been lost? It is fairly widely accepted that Paul wrote four letters to the Corinthians. So, what does it mean to lose something that an infallible person wrote? Maybe many Protestants are right to focus on the infallibility of the text, not the writers of the text. Just a thought.

Tim A. Troutman said...

This question deserves more time than I have at the moment to devote to it. But briefly I want to reiterate that I do not mean to call the apostles "infallible" as if they were "inerrant" or "impecable". I mean in it the Catholic sense of the word: they were divinely protected from promulgating a false Christianity or any doctrinal corruption of the gospel.

In simpler terms - if anyone was right about Christianity - the apostles were. They had the "apostolic Tradition" by its very definition.

So this doesn't mean that every time their pen touched a scroll of papyrus that the words which resulted were by necessarily "God-Breathed" inerrant Scriptures. It just means that as the living magisterium of the Catholic Church in the first century, the Holy Spirit would not allow them to destroy the gospel by teaching heresy.

Now to actually get to your thought: this problem is much easier for Catholics I think. The canon is closed for us. We cannot add or take away any books of the canon. Whereas, notable Protestant scholar R.C. Sproul admits that for a Protestant, the canon is a "fallible collection of infallible books". So there may be additional books found sure. Suppose there were additional Pauline books found. On what authority does the Protestant canon stand? On the Westminster Confession of Faith? On some other council of fallible men? What one group of men acting fallibly may decide, another group acting fallibly may revoke.

However, if the Scriptures were canonized by an infallible authority, (such as we Catholics believe of the councils of Rome, Carthage and Trent which affirmed our 73 books) then no one and no council may revoke that. Scripture is finished according to the Catholic Church. We will not find any more books of the NT. So we might well find a long lost copy of some Pauline letter and the Church may say "thats a great letter" (and to be sure she would say that) but she would also say "but it's not Scripture"). We may reasonably assume that there would be a considerabl amount of debate in Protestant academia were that to happen but for Catholics, there wouldn't be any debate on the canonicity of said book.

The last verses of the 16th chapter of Mark are almost universally rejected by Protestant scholars as spurious additions. So the Protestant has to ask himself, are these verses God breathed Scripture? The Catholic has no problem with this because they were part of the gospel of Mark when an infallible source declared them to be Scripture. This means for us, it is irrelevant whether Mark wrote it or not. To paraphrase St. Augustine: "Rome has spoken, the case is closed".

Hope this was relevant.