Sunday, July 25, 2004

The Canon of Scripture: Did the Catholic Church Create It or Merely Authoritatively Acknowledge It? (with Kevin Johnson)

By Dave Armstrong (7-25-04)

[From a thread below, originally unrelated to this particular topic; Kevin's words will be in blue; Jason's (Catholic) will be in red. I agreed with Reformed Protestant Kevin in this instance, and disagreed with Jason]

We don't have a problem admitting the Church's role of recognizing the canon of Scripture. To say otherwise is to misrepresent our position. Certain fundamentalists may have a problem, but Reformed Catholics or classical Protestants never have.

What we do have a problem saying is that somehow the Church determined the canon and Scripture is what it is because the Church has determined it to be so. Most Roman Catholics I know wouldn't agree with that particular understanding of the canon either.

God's Word is Scripture because He has made it such. The Church, by the providential hand of God, has recognized this through canonizing the relevant books, but that determination by the Church only served to make plain what was already true. That is the Protestant position and I would venture to guess that Dave and others wouldn't disagree with it.
How could the inspiration of the biblical books be plainly true? They don't even claim inspiration, let alone inerrancy. That is an absolutely non-biblical doctrine.
No one (here) is disputing the Church's role from the Protestant side. Of course the Church had a role in writing and faithfully transmitting the text over the centuries and the canon is an important development in the history of the Church by the Church. What needs to remain clear though is that God's Word is what it is because by nature God made it to be so. I don't really think we disagree here.

The error that I think can creep in is to think that because the Church had a hand in producing Scripture as well as canonizing it that those facts somehow make it clear that the Church is a more ultimate authority than Scripture. I don't see Catholics here necessarily making that argument but I have seen Catholics do it elsewhere. It's an obvious non sequitur. Hopefully your arguments for an ultimate authority in the Magisterium lay elsewhere.
. . . Many of the books do claim inspiration—but that aside, not all biblical arguments require explicit warrant from the text. You know this if you are Catholic because you are trinitarian. The doctrine of the trinity is inherently biblical but it is not necessarily as plain say as the humanity of Christ in the Scriptures.

It is only the Baptist that requires explicit biblical warrant and it actually puzzles me how similar Baptist thinking is compared to standard Catholic fundamentalist thinking. We have no need in Protestantism to see things explicitly stated in the text…God gave us brains and the ability to use reason and the idea that somehow we must find directions for the canon in the appendix of our Bible is just absurd.

In other words, you are not attacking classic Protestantism when you attack the idea of a closed canon not being found in the text of Scripture. That may work with fundamentalist Baptists but it won't work with those who have a better handle on the authority of the Church and the Scriptures as Reformed Catholics do.

Sorry to disappoint. :)

You [Kevin] are absolutely correct. You want common ground; this is one. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) from Vatican II, makes this clear:
For Holy Mother Church relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that they were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn. 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:19-21; 3:15-16), they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.
Was this something "new" in Vatican II? Hardly. It merely echoes an earlier statement from Vatican I (1870) — which in turn was not far from similar expressions in Trent —: Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, chapter II:

These the Church holds to be sacred and canonical; not because . . . they were afterward approved by her authority . . . but because, having been written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author, and have been delivered as such to the Church herself.
Seems to me, Kevin, that this is quite sufficient to establish that we agree on this point. Any Catholic or Protestant who states otherwise simply doesn't understand Catholic dogmatic teaching on the nature of the canon of Holy Scripture.

Thus, in my opinion, the real discussion here lies in the area of defining "Church" and figuring out the peculiar Protestant relationship to it, taking into account sola Scriptura and private judgment, etc., not the nature of the canon itself, or the relationship of the Bible to the authority of the Church, which was necessary to have a once-and-for-all canon, setting the parameters of said Holy Scripture (because eminent Fathers disagreed on various particulars of canonicity).
In general, I agree, Dave. Thank you for the clarification. The issue in regards to differences between our position from our side of the fence is one of ultimate authorities— sola scriptura obviously taking center stage here.
The doctrine of inspiration/inerrancy is neither implicit nor explicit in the biblical texts. The only reason a person would believe it were if they accepted non-biblical doctrines as part of Divine Revelation.

While I will agree that modern fundamentalist attempts to pigeon-hole these concepts in the light of Enlightenment based modernity is not a part of the record of Scripture, I do think the Scriptures clearly teach inspiration and that the text is without error. A simple read of 2 Timothy 3:16 makes it obvious that inspiration is a part of the biblical doctrine:
2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
Likewise, there are many passages in the Bible that speak to the fact that the Bible is without error—Psalm 119 comes to mind as one clear place to find such statements. Not only that but the perfection of God's Word can be inferred from the fact that it is God's Word—something which I don't think you may have taken into account.

So, I'm not sure where you are getting the idea that the inspiration and inerrancy of the text are somehow outside the text of Scripture. Nor do I understand how it has anything to do with discussions back and forth between Protestants and Catholics on these issues. But perhaps you can explain it to me.

I agree with Kevin's comments directly above this post. Scripture does teach that Scripture is inspired and infallible and inerrant, in many places, both explicitly and implicitly. What it doesn't teach is its own canon, or sola Scriptura.


You cite 2Timothy as proof that Scripture teaches its own inspiration and inerrancy. But to cite 1Timothy, you first have to accept it as inspired and inerrant Scripture, something it does not claim to be. To claim it is requires belief in a non-biblical doctrine.

My point in all this is that, obviously, I believe the Bible is inspired and inerrant. But this belief is a non-biblical doctrine. I must first accept the validity of non-biblical doctrines before I can accept biblical inspiration.


I don't follow your logic here. Scripture is what it is. 1 Timothy and other passages clearly teach inerrancy and inspiration. Therefore, they are biblical doctrines, because they are books in the Bible. Period. The canon is a separate issue. I think you are unnecessarily confusing the two areas.

The Catholic Church simply acknowledges what is intrinsically Scripture; it doesn't make it so (as my citations from VI and VII proved). At best you can only demonstrate a certain epistemological disconnect at some point in Protestantism vis-a-vis the Bible and Tradition and sola Scriptura (I've made that argument a hundred times myself), but you haven't shown that Scripture itself doesn't teach that Scripture is inspired and infallible and inerrant.

If you followed your logic consistently, you would end up with the absurdity of saying that no doctrine taught in the Bible is a biblical doctrine, because we can't know for sure that any biblical book is in fact part of the Bible without non-biblical Tradition. Thus, by a reductio ad absurdum, this particular argument of yours collapses. It "proves too much."
* * * * * 

Friday, July 16, 2004

The "Armstrong Ontological Argument" for God's Existence: "A concept greater than which first meets the eye"

by Dave Armstrong (10 March 2003)

The ontological argument, originally formulated by the 11th-century Christian philosopher St. Anselm, is fascinating and ingenious, has a long and illustrious history, and involves more than might be apparent at first sight. It's very subtle and requires one to think in ways which are not the usual, everyday modes of thinking and analyzing. But it is not impossible to grasp.

I give it the (tentative) old college try in my own formulation of it.

The atheist asks why anyone should accept the possibility of the maximally great being, and even that only in a possible world, not the actual one. This doesn't strike me as an extraordinary or unreasonable concession or admission at all. In other words, it is simply admitting, "God might exist in another possible world."

We imagine that any number of things may exist (especially in other worlds) that we don't believe exist in our world. The premise, one must always keep in mind, is only about a possibility. We posit the existence, of, e.g., extraterrestrial life, even though there has been no proof of it whatsoever. We reason that there are (demonstrably, I believe) thousands, millions of galaxies, and that it is rational to believe that life may have developed in another one besides ours. Many educated people believe this (and -- to note in passing -- it is not incompatible with Christianity, according to so prominent a Christian apologist as C.S. Lewis), but there is no hard evidence for it.

To accept the mere possibility of a God in some other possible world does not, it seems to me, involve much more "faith" than belief in extraterrestrial life. Every book of science fiction imagines another world that doesn't exist in fact. A book which was sheer nonsense and had no plausibility as another world whatever, would not succeed. Thus, it is arguable that most readers grant some possibility of this imagined world, even for the book to succeed as a piece of entertainment.

One could think of several reasons why it is reasonable to accept the premise of a possible God-Being: anthropological study, showing that human beings are overwhelmingly religious, and that they usually believe in one or more deities, or the fact that the existence of God has been a prominent aspect of philosophy from the beginning, and that many of the greatest thinkers throughout history have been theists or Christians (thus it would seem unreasonable to rule out the very barest theoretical possibility), or similarities in moral codes and individual consciences across various cultures (not to mention minds and consciousness themselves), which lead many to believe that there is a unifying Mind and Benevolent "Force" which lies behind all that.

To deny the premise, on the other hand, involves one in considerable difficulty, I think, because it is far too "certain" to remain plausible: it claims far too much for its own knowledge. Let's examine such a scenario a bit:
(anti-A) There is no possible world in which maximal greatness is instantiated.
How can a person know this? By what criterion is anti-A more plausible or worthy of belief than A? For to believe this would be (it seems to me) to believe the proposition:
(anti-A2) No such thing as God exists, and no such thing can possibly exist in any possible, imaginable, conceivable universe.
Now, if that is true, then why is the topic of God and theism so prominent in philosophy? If indeed theism were as silly and foolish as belief in fairy tales, leprechauns, unicorns, mermaids, centaurs, or other fanciful, absurd mythologies, why does the question continue to occupy great minds (both in favor of theism, and opposed to it?). One doesn't devote any time to sheer nonsense: Alice-in-Wonderland worlds or linguistic gibberish.

No one (with three brain cells) seriously considers as any possibility that the earth is flat, or that the moon is made of green cheese. If the notion of God is in that kind of immediately dismissible category, then it is quite strange that rational, thoughtful, intelligent people devote so much time and energy to it. Therefore, the rational person must (given all these considerations) grant the bare possibility of God in another possible world, and this is all that premise A of the argument requires.
I don't see that it is all that big of a deal to simply admit the possibility of such a God. It would seem to follow from a healthy intellectual humility or self-questioning. 

We are not infallible beings. We are fallible; therefore we can't place so much confidence in our own beliefs and mental processes that we can start ruling out possibilities of scenarios in possible worlds. If there is no possibility at all, why do Internet lists (and philosophy clubs and associations) devoted to the question of God's existence, exist, and draw very sharp people to them, willing to spend time on the question? How many lists and clubs and associations devote themselves to flat earths and moons made of green cheese? There may be such lists, but who are the members?!

The atheist might reply that they are trying to persuade the theist of the error of his ways, but does any round-earther spend time trying to dissuade flat-earthers? Do the greatest minds spend time trying to reason with the worst cases in a mental hospital? No, of course not. The very existence of the discussion proves that reasonable minds worth being reached and interacted with, believe in theism; therefore its bare possibility (and only in other possible worlds at this point) must be granted, and in effect, is granted, by the evidence of the very way that atheists (at least the more respectable and thoughtful ones) act and think, vis-a-vis theists and Christian thinkers. Actions speak louder than words (or thoughts). So let's revisit again what denial of A involves, and develop it a little further:
(anti-A2a) No such thing as God exists, and no such thing can possibly exist in any possible, imaginable, conceivable universe.
(anti-A2b) Such an inconceivable, unimaginable, impossible thing cannot have any conceivable, imaginable, possible rationales or defenses in its favor.
(anti-A2c) Things which have no conceivable, imaginable, possible rationales or defenses are not worth talking about; indeed, cannot be rationally and meaningfully discussed at all.
Conclusion: Internet lists and clubs and philosophical associations devoted to the question of God's existence are worthless, meaningless enterprises, if we accept premises anti-A and anti-A2 (a,b,c). That being the case, we should shut such endeavors down immediately and talk only about agreed-upon concrete realities. Or atheists can admit [prominent Christian philosopher] Alvin Plantinga's Premise A, in which case his argument can be allowed to proceed with (by his own appraisal), the largest hurdle removed.

The atheist might reply that a being could still be maximally great within its own world but not in all other worlds. But truly "maximal" greatness is greatness in all possible worlds. It is a matter of simple definition. "Maximal greatness" is not confined to one world alone. It transcends that limitation, because it is the greatest greatness imaginable.

Or the atheist might argue that it is not possible for moral perfection to exist in a morally imperfect world. But this would be a smuggling in of the notion of morally imperfect world, too early in the game. At this point, we are discussing all possible worlds, and remain in the realm of the hypothetical (but following unarguable logical principles). 

Secondly, such a criticism fails to distinguish between such a hypothetical being and the world in which it is found. The argument is far from creation, which then introduces difficulties like the problem of evil, and so forth. Moral perfection is simply one of the aspects of being maximally excellent. 

Thirdly, even if creatures of said Being were imperfect, that doesn't necessarily reflect badly upon the Being-Creator (which gets back to the thorny issue of free will of created creatures to contravene the will of their creator). These are all reasonable and important considerations, but far ahead of the actual argument as stated.

The characteristic of maximal greatness is not confined to one world. Even the laws of logic and mathematics are not confined to the actual world but (quite arguably) apply to all possible worlds. How could, for example, possible world #47 exist and not exist simultaneously, or have the property of relativity ubiquitously and also not have it, or be expanding and contracting simultaneously?

One atheist I interacted with readily admitted that "the conclusion does actually follow logically from (A)." He went on to deny (A), of course. But by his own words, if one can establish the rational credibility and plausibility of A (itself a mere hypothetical), then the argument succeeds -- if the goal is to show that theism is at least as rational as atheism (as Plantinga himself states). That's all I ever claim even for the cosmological and teleological arguments, which I consider the best ones in favor of theism.

Given what Plantinga already granted, of course the theist can also grant atheism as a logical possibility (even one which could be rationally established by modifying this very argument). The theist has no problem conceptualizing a possible world without God (the opposite of Plantinga's Premise A in one sense). That is a humdrum, unremarkable admission. What I find extraordinary is the denial of the very possibility of A: that God could possibly exist in a possible world. If the denial of A (or, anti-A) is easier to believe than A, then the atheist would have a point, but how does one argue that it is an easier thing to believe? Much of the point of the argument is to show that theism is every bit as plausible as atheism. Until I am shown why anti-A is more plausible than A, then I will continue to assert that this version of the ontological argument succeeds in its stated purpose.
It's hardly possible to either prove or disprove A':
(A') There is a possible world in which maximal greatness is not instantiated.
or another notion opposed to A; what I called "anti-A-2":
(anti-A2) No such thing as God exists, and no such thing can possibly exist in any possible, imaginable, conceivable universe.
But then it is also impossible to disprove A or hold that it is impossible in all possible worlds. So that places (it seems to me) theism and atheism on, at very least, equal rational ground, insofar as this argument is concerned.

One possible hypothetical doesn't preclude another possible hypothetical. Possibility is not actuality. Only the instantiation of one or the other precludes the contrary state of affairs. But Premise A (as I keep reiterating) was only about possibility. The theist says, "sure, it is conceivable that the universe might have existed, might have been eternal, without a God to create or oversee it." Anything is conceivable, if it isn't inherently nonsensical or self-defeating.

Why, then, does the atheist find it so hard to conceive of a possible world (and an actual world) with God? Most atheists I know claim that they would be willing to believe in God, given what they deem as a proper, compelling amount of evidence. How can one even be willing to theoretically believe in something they claim is inconceivable? They must already have the (sensible / non-nonsensical) concept in their head to even conceive that they might conceivably believe it, given enough verification and proof and philosophical plausibility.

The way I view the argument (which is apparently Plantinga's opinion, also) is that it shows both atheism and theism equally plausible and rational options, before anything else is considered. Of course, for me, the theist, the "anything else" is a massive amount of cumulative evidences which enter into the acceptance of Premise A. Neither side should be too confident about what philosophy or logic alone can accomplish. One also has to take into account plausibility and the mysterious process by which one arrives at axioms and premises in the first place. It is true of virtually any argument, that the premises (almost always) have to be supported elsewhere, and can be disputed. So this is no problem unique to the ontological argument. It's a worthy goal to show the equal rationality of theism with atheism, as this is routinely denied (and often assumed without argument).

Of course the theist believes that theism is more rational and plausible, and that atheism is ultimately irrational and implausible, but in terms of individual arguments, a rational equivalence is a good outcome. For an atheist to even admit such a thing is already a huge victory, because so much of atheist predisposition is based on the notion that Christianity is inherently intellectually inferior, "primitive" or "antiquated," based on mythology and wish-fulfillment, etc. ad nauseam.

I acknowledge that a world without God is conceivable, if one (theoretically only) starts from scratch, with no prior axioms of God's existence (on any grounds whatsoever). In other words, it is the provisional stance of a (non-theist, non-anything) skeptic, for the sake of argument only. Once one gets into the intricacies of the logic involved in the ontological argument and theism generally, there is a sense in which, indeed, a theist cannot admit this, because it would involve self-contradiction.

For my part, I was (above, in certain places) thinking in terms of conceptualizing possible, conceivable worlds which are other than what theists believe them to be in reality. If it is impossible for us to envision any possible realities other than the one we accept, then it follows that our view is well-nigh unfalsifiable, and amounts to an irrational fideism. As I have always opposed that, I must accept that I could be wrong and that other worlds are conceptually and actually possible. I do not believe this myself; only that things might have been other than what they are. There is a sense in which anything not logically impossible, is possible.

If we ask the atheist to do such a thing in reverse (i.e., conceive of a possible world with God, which is the requirement of Plantinga's first premise), it seems to me that we must do the same ourselves, in the opposite direction, strictly for the sake of argument, and an acknowledgement of what "possible worlds" means, in the broadest possible sense. I think my statements were and are permissible, in the sense just explained.

When I state such things, I am momentarily stepping outside an espousal of the ontological argument or any other argument for theism, even theism itself, for the sake of argument and pure conceivability of other worlds. In fact, the ontological argument itself allows this (as I understand it) because it seems to offer the choice of God as necessary or impossible. If that is the choice that the logic of the ontological argument (viewed as a reductio ad absurdum) entails, then certainly I can conceive of the atheist state of affairs, while not accepting it myself.

Arguing for the basis or non-basis of any premise of any argument is a distinct endeavor from the argument proper itself. Therefore, in arguing for premise A of the ontological argument (however presented), one is not necessarily bound to the logic of the ontological argument itself. One is not yet "in" the conceptual and logical framework of the ontological argument (ontology and modal logic).
What one can conceive as possible is not the equivalent of one's own belief. One can certainly conceive of a world in which a necessary being did not, in fact, exist. I can conceive of a world in which the Godhead subsisted in four persons rather than three, or one where Jesus died by drinking hemlock, like Socrates, rather than by being crucified. Therefore (if one grants this), one can also conceive other worlds and argue within those theoretical frameworks, in order to look for inconsistencies in opposing arguments.

I hasten to add that this is thought within an exclusively philosophical framework. The Christian, however, believes in attainable knowledge beyond mere philosophy (revelation, experience, legal-historical knowledge, etc.). Theologically, as an orthodox Christian, I don't believe that God's existence is contingent or optional at all (nor does St. Thomas Aquinas or any Thomist). The Christian believes that God is the self-existent being and could not not exist. That is (orthodox Christian) framework in which Anselm begins, because he believes in the impossibility of absolute separation of faith and reason (according to the usual medieval synthesis of faith and reason). Faith and reason exist in harmony and do not contradict each other at all.

I wholeheartedly agree, but methodologically, I think it is possible to temporarily separate the two true forms of knowledge, in making particular arguments. This doesn't entail a suspension of one's beliefs; it is only a methodological matter. One can play the game of philosophy as if atheism or skepticism were true, in order to examine arguments. In response to the argument against the espousal of the proposition, "God might conceivably exist in other possible worlds," I reply that His non-existence was conceivable in some possible world.

It is not yet arguing in either the paradigm of the ontological argument or the larger Christian one, to discuss with an atheist the plausibility or non-plausibility of a premise of the ontological argument, which he himself is considering adopting or rejecting. For premises are necessarily (it seems to me) accepted on grounds other than those established by the arguments of which they are but the beginning-point. Otherwise, circularity would obtain.

I think we must distinguish between the following two sets of propositions:
1a. Necessary beings must exist. God is such a being (by definition --the very meaning of the word); therefore He exists.
1b. There is such a thing (in possible worlds) as a necessary being, but whether such a being exists or not is a separate issue to be determined. Even if God is defined as such a being (even uniquely so), this does not yet prove (by reason or logic alone) that this God exists. This may be a world such that a given necessary being is not necessarily existent.
Philosopher Graham Oppy, in his paper, On "The Ontological Argument": A Response To Makin (1991); originally published as "Makin On The Ontological Argument", Philosophy, 66, 255, January 1991, pp. 106-114 (, makes the same point as my 1b above:
. . . the discussion of ontological arguments needs to be carried out in the context of a modal logic which allows that accessibility relations between worlds are not--e.g.--symmetric (so that one can say that it is possible for a state of affairs to be necessary and yet for it not to be the case that that state of affairs actually occurs).
2a. God is a contingent being Who happens to exist (just as my four children do, but wouldn't have if I had never met and married my wife).
2b. The God Who is a contingent being does not, in fact, exist (in the same way that unicorns might, but don't exist).
The ontological argument excludes 2a and 2b as matters of definition (God by definition cannot be a contingent being). Christianity does the same. Atheists, of course, may define even the theoretical God Whom they disbelieve in such terms. If they claim to be arguing against the God of Christianity, they cannot, of course, do so , because that would entail a fundamental confusion as to the nature of the God with Whom they claim to be dealing in their argument.

I think some of the confusion regarding the ontological argument lies in the distinction between 1a and 1b. Christians believe both that God exists, and that He cannot not exist. He is pure Being or Existence (unlike ourselves, who are His creatures, and entirely contingent upon His decision to create us). Thus, all Christians accept 1a as a matter of course. But Christianity is not philosophy. It may be consistent with true philosophy, and not irrational or incoherent at all (I certainly believe so), but it is something different from philosophy per se. Philosophy simply does not constitute the sum of all knowledge.

Thus, in a philosophical world, apart from the prior beliefs of Christians (which presuppose 1a and therefore exclude in actuality 1b -- including St. Anselm, based on Christian theology and belief), one might (wrongly) deny that the being Who is by definition maximally great and self-existent, exists (on various other grounds). In other words, the atheist is not bound by Christian or theistic assumptions (that may be arrived at either philosophically or non-philosophically).

God is a perfect, necessary being, by definition, but atheists need only deny this definition of God or deny that such a God exists at all in order to escape your statement: "God necessarily exists because contingent existence . . . cannot be a property of a perfect being." The atheist will try to deny that a maximally great being Who possesses these characteristics in the first place, exists in the first place.
I think they are dead wrong, of course, and that they cannot establish this rationally or conclusively, but they are within their "logical rights" to do so, because conceivability does not exclude even a necessary being from existing in the first place. Even the ontological argument (as stated by its advocates) establishes either that God is a necessary being or that His existence is impossible.

It is precisely for this reason that the premise of Plantinga's ontological argument is so controversial, and why even he admits that the argument does not prove God's existence, but only that theism is rational. The atheist's difficulty, on the other hand, is to prove that such a being is inconceivable in actuality or in any possible world (Plantinga's first premise). I don't think this can be done, and -- that being the case -- Plantinga's argument succeeds in demonstrating the rationality of theism, even though it is not a flat-out proof of theism or disproof of atheism.

I firmly believe that God exists, but on many other grounds. I would agree with Plantinga that belief in God is "properly basic," and epistemologically equivalent to belief in other minds. On that basis it is entirely warranted and not opposed to reason at all. And that is how every person (of whatever intellectual capacity) can believe in God, without having to master elaborate reasoning like the ontological argument or even the more-easily understood teleological and cosmological arguments.
One can distinguish belief, logic, and conceivability. I believe in one sort of world; I can conceive of many possible worlds, including one without God (I could also conceive of many and accept none; taking an agnostic position). 

I don't see how anyone can deny this. It is presupposed every time one sits and watches a science fiction or fantasy movie or reads a novel along those lines. It is assumed (consciously or not) every time one truly understands another point of view that they are critiquing. For how could someone argue against theism if they don't have the slightest clue what it is they are arguing against (since they can't comprehend or "conceive" it)? That makes no sense. But one can obviously conceive situations that would be contradictory if they both existed, as long as one doesn't assert that they exist simultaneously.

I'm not yet convinced that merely conceptualizing something and calling it by a certain defined word reaches to the level of logical necessity and existence. That's where my evidentialist and empiricist nature stumbles. But that's what makes consideration of the ontological argument fun, too, because it is so different from the way I (and many other Christian apologists and philosophers) usually think and analyze things.

Philosophy and faith/religion are two different things. Philosophy can only go so far. The atheist has no supernatural faith, so he is confined to the world of strict philosophical speculation (and scientific knowledge, which is also a branch philosophy, so it all reduces to philosophy). In faith, all Christians think God's nonexistence is unthinkable, of course. The very concept of God demands this. But I don't think that can be established by philosophy apart from faith. 

I believe that St. Anselm would agree with me because his thought on the ontological argument is strictly within the context of religious faith. He is very explicit about that in his writings. St. Thomas Aquinas, on the other hand, is relatively more concerned about writing to folks who don't share the same faith (especially in his Summa contra Gentiles). Thus, he tries to find a different epistemological starting-ground. Empiricism makes more sense in that situation, since it is something "other" which can be verified apart from a precommitment of some particular worldview or faith.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Calvin's and Luther's Irrational Antipathy Towards Clerical Celibacy

[Excerpts from my book, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants, published by Sophia Institute Press in 2004]

Matthew 19:12 (RSV): For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.

John Calvin comments:

[W]hat is their species of vows? They offer God a promise of perpetual virginity, as if they had previously made a compact with him to free them from the necessity of marriage. They cannot allege that they make this vow trusting entirely to the grace of God; for, seeing he declares this to be a special gift not given to all (Mt. 19:11[-12]), no man has a right to assume that the gift will be his. Let those who have it use it; and if at any time they feel the infirmity of the flesh, let them have recourse to the aid of him by whose power alone they can resist.

(Institutes, IV, 13, 17)

This is rather odd reasoning. Would anyone think this is a clear grappling with the biblical text? First, Calvin assumes that monks couldn’t follow God’s call by “trusting entirely” His grace. How he knows this, we are not told. But in any event it is obviously no argument; rather, merely a subtle form of personal attack against an entire class of people.

Then he denies that the calling to celibacy can be known with certainty because the gift is not for everyone. This is a highly interesting assertion indeed: that no one can be sure of his gift or calling from God. Whence does Calvin derive such knowledge (certainly not from the Bible)? How does he then (assuming his desire to be logically consistent) possess certainty of his own calling? He has no problem, on the other hand, attributing inner certainty of a divine call for (Protestant) pastors. He casually assumes this, referring to:

. . . that secret call of which every minister is conscious before God, but has not the Church as a witness of it; I mean, the good testimony of our heart . . . This, as I have said, is indeed necessary for every one of us, if we would approve our ministry to God.

(Institutes, IV, 3, 11)

Yet when it comes to celibacy, all of a sudden Calvin arbitrarily changes his tune and concludes that “no man has a right to assume that the gift will be his.” Jesus teaches us that it is possible; why does Calvin (and why do so many Protestants today) doubt it? Then he switches back again and says, “Let those who have it use it.” We may be thankful, I suppose, that Calvin graciously allows them (despite his personal derision for the concept) to follow their consciences and the clear biblical warrant for such an estate (“each has his own special gift from God” – 1 Corinthians 7:7, below).

In context it is clear that Calvin’s objection is not biblically or rationally based, but stems from his hostility to the Catholic Church, expressed in strident disapproval of its distinctives (such as clerical celibacy). (This seems to be a common tendency of the harshest critics of the Church.) He refers, for example, to monks who have forsaken their solemn vows for an “honest kind of livelihood,” contrasted with those who “remained entangled in ignorance and error,” and bound by “extraneous chains, which are nothing but the wily nets of Satan” and “superstition” (Institutes, IV, 13, 21).

Elsewhere, Calvin follows the pathetic example of Luther’s many absurd and outrageous statements about the Catholic clergy:

. . . The sum of it all is that pope, devil, and his church hate the estate of matrimony, as Daniel says [17:37]; therefore he wants to bring it into such disgrace that a married man cannot fill a priest's office. That is as much as to say that marriage is harlotry, sin, impure, and rejected by God; and although they say, at the same time, that it is holy and a sacrament, that is a lie of their false hearts, for if they seriously considered it holy, and a sacrament, they would not forbid the priests to marry. Because they do forbid them, they must consider it unclean, and a sin, as they plainly say . . .

. . . the noises made by monks and nuns and priests are not prayers or praises to God. They do not understand it and learn nothing from it; they do it like hard labor, for the belly's sake, and seek thereby no improvement of life, no progress in holiness, no doing of God's will.

(On the Councils and the Churches, 1539; in Jacobs, V, 284, 286)

Calvin, in other places, seems to admit the possibility of a divine calling to celibacy, but on a temporary basis only: “Virginity, I agree, is a virtue not to be despised. However, it is denied to some and granted to others only for a time” (in McNeill, Institutes, II, 8, 42). He gives no biblical rationale for this opinion; rather, he keeps prattling on in this section (he so often appears as if he is lecturing Catholics like small children in his Institutes) about the perfectly obvious: that celibacy is a gift from God and that no one can do it without his power.

Calvin, then, has offered us nothing in the Bible to overthrow the Catholic position on clerical celibacy. His criticisms have left our view completely unaffected (and Luther’s opinion has even strengthened it).

1 Corinthians 7:7-9: I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.

1 Corinthians 7:32-38: I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. If any one thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry-it is no sin. But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.

St. Paul reiterates Jesus’ teaching that it is good to be single, with the greater possibility for undistracted devotion to the Lord, if a person is called to it. “Each has his own special gift from God,” says Paul. If one is “aflame with passion” (one might take this as a synonym for pronounced sexual desire), then they are clearly called to marry. Marriage is good; singleness and celibacy is better (if one is called to it). Marriage brings different responsibilities and “problems.” Paul is not anti-marriage; he is simply offering some fairly evident practical wisdom.

John Calvin keeps up his tirade against celibacy in his Commentaries (for 1 Corinthians 7). He assumes that many Catholic clergy and religious have vowed celibacy without having the gift, assumes that many who do so despised marriage, that the very requirement produces all sorts of hideous and clandestine sexual sins, and that it is virtually impossible to live in a state of celibacy for very long:

What, in the meantime, has been done? Every one, without having any regard to his power, has, according to his liking, vowed perpetual continency . . . Virginity, I acknowledge, is an excellent gift; but keep it in view, that it is a gift . . . As for those who, despising marriage, rashly vowed perpetual continency, God punished their presumption, first, by the secret flames of lust; and then afterwards, by horrible acts of filthiness . . . no house was safe from the impurities of the priests. Even that was reckoned a small matter; for there sprung up monstrous enormities,

. . . We must also notice carefully the word continue; for it is possible for a person to live chastely in a state of celibacy for a time, but there must be in this matter no determination made for tomorrow.

Granted, Calvin wasn’t writing during the most spiritually upright time in Church history, and it was right to respond to the scandals of sexual corruption in the priesthood, but that doesn’t give him a warrant to disparage the biblical teaching and act as if celibacy is the root of all kinds of evil.

That’s not what St. Paul teaches; that isn’t how the disciples lived their lives. Calvin would have it that Jesus require his closest companions and associates to live in a state that was almost certain to produce “the secret flames of lust” and “monstrous enormities,” etc. This is clearly absurd.

As with so many doctrines, here again is the early Protestant propensity for throwing out the baby with the bathwater. If there was corruption or human failings, the Protestant solution was -- too often -- to throw out the institution rather than reform it. They claimed to be following the Bible in a special way that the “papists” were not; yet on this issue they couldn’t produce any compelling proof that celibacy of priests ought to be abandoned.

They simply didn’t like the celibacy requirement, and so they got rid of it. But Christian tradition doesn’t work that way. The Church is not at liberty to pick and choose or to discard received traditions at whim. Celibacy was not dogma but it was a very entrenched and successful practice in the Church. It is a disciplinary requirement, which can change, and has changed in Church history. We believe that it allows Catholic priests and religious to be closer to St. Paul’s ideal for “undistracted devotion to the Lord.”

The general thrust of Calvin’s long comment on 1 Corinthians 7 is to downplay every instance of St. Paul praising celibacy and to emphasize (to the greatest degree) lust and the supposed universal requirement for marriage. He is, therefore, eisegeting, because his concern is precisely the opposite of St. Paul’s: to disparage celibacy or virginity in practice as impossible and too easily overcome by the lusts of the flesh.

In conclusion, I would like to cite the wise words of G.K. Chesterton, written fourteen years before he became a Catholic. The paradox he notes is a marvelously ironic one: the Catholic Church is simultaneously attacked for being too “pro-family” and too “pro-children” but also for supposedly being against marriage and sexuality (see the last two chapters, as the Church, we are told, stifles marital and sexual happiness in its puritanical views on divorce and contraception), due to its high regard for the celibate life devoted to the Lord in a total giving of self. Chesterton’s point is that one need not choose; it’s a false dilemma from the start:

It is true that the historic Church has at once emphasized celibacy and emphasized the family; has at once (if one may put it so) been fiercely for having children and fiercely for not having children. It has kept them side by side like two strong colors, red and white, . . . the whole theory of the Church on virginity might be symbolized in the statement that white is a color: not merely the absence of a color. All that I am urging here can be expressed by saying that Christianity sought in most of these cases to keep two colors coexistent but pure. It is not a mixture like russet or purple; it is rather like a shot silk, for a shot silk is always at right angles, and is in the pattern of the cross.

(Chesterton, 97)


Calvin, John, Calvin's Commentaries, 22 volumes, translated and edited by John Owen; originally printed for the Calvin Translation Society, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1853; reprinted by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI: 1979. Available online.

Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by Henry Beveridge for the Calvin Translation Society, 1845 from the 1559 edition in Latin; reprinted by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI), 1995. Available online.

Chesterton, G.K., Orthodoxy, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1959; originally 1908. Available online.

Jacobs, C.M., translator, Works of Martin Luther, Philadelphia: A.J. Holman Co. and the Castle Press, 1930; reprinted by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1982 , six volumes.

McNeill, John T., editor and Ford Lewis Battles, translator, John Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960 (from 1559 edition).

Friday, July 09, 2004

Early Protestant Hostility Towards Science (Revised and Expanded)

By Dave Armstrong (7-9-04)

[I have incorporated some remarks I originally made in the comments, and removed a supposed remark by Calvin which could not be verified.]

Accustomed as we are to hearing about the Catholic Church and Galileo, it isn't often realized or recognized that classical "Reformational" Protestantism, generally speaking, was out and out hostile to the burgeoning scientific discoveries and endeavors of its time. No thoughtful and honest Catholic denies that the Catholic Church, too, had a less than perfect record of positive regard for modern science in its infancy in the 16th and 17th centuries (most notably with the Galileo case - which Pope John Paul II has recently acknowledged). The point of this essay, however, is to show that Protestantism has often, if not always, been guilty of the same shortcomings for which the Catholic Church is constantly harangued. In other words, one should not notice the speck in another's eye while neglecting the "log" in one's own eye! It's high time to balance the "historical scales" a bit on this topic. With that intention, and no malice, the following historical information is offered for reflection:

Will Durant, the noted (non-Catholic) historian, summarized: "Luther rejected the Copernican astronomy . . . Calvin had little use for science; Knox none." (1)

Luther vs. Copernicus

Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543), a devout Catholic (one of his degrees was in Church canon law), originated the heliocentric theory in astronomy, in which the earth revolves around the sun rather than vice versa. This new theory in particular provides fascinating insight into Protestantism's view of science, since it arrived roughly simultaneously with the Protestant Revolution. Thomas Kuhn, in his important book, The Copernican Revolution, notes Luther's reaction to Copernicus:

People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon . . . This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy, but sacred Scripture tells us (Joshua 10:13) that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.(2)

Luther's Cohort Philip Melanchthon Rejects Copernicus, Accepts Astrology

Some think it a distinguished achievement to construct such a crazy thing as that Prussian astronomer who moves the earth and fixes the sun. Verily, wise rulers should tame the unrestraint of men's minds. (3)

Certain men, either from the love of novelty, or to make a display of ingenuity, have concluded that the earth moves . . . Now, it is a want of honesty and decency to assert such notions publicly and the example is pernicious. It is the part of a good mind to accept the truth as revealed by God and to acquiesce in it . . . The earth can be nowhere if not in the centre of the universe. (4)

Meanwhile, Melanchthon (considered the father of German liberal arts education and one of the more "humanist" and rational-minded Reformers) thought superstition and astrology more worthwhile:

One of the most curious features of Melanchthon's character . . . was his morbid tendency to superstition. For example, at the time of the Diet of Augsburg he wrote that several prodigious portents seemed to favour the success of Lutheranism: the bursting of the Tiber's banks, the prolonged labour of a mule, the birth of a two-headed calf were all signs which suggested Rome's ruin. By contrast, when his daughter fell ill, Melanchthon was filled with terror by the unfavourable aspect of Mars. He never did anything without consulting astrologers. (5)

Melanchthon changed the date of Luther's birth to give him a more propitious horoscope, and begged him not to travel under a new moon. (6)

Calvin's Hostility to Copernicus and Science

There is not a single indication that the reformer was at all interested in the scientific discoveries . . . for example, the findings of Copernicus in 1530 . . . of which Calvin was still ignorant in 1560. (7)

Calvin's Academy of Geneva, which he founded in 1559, provided:

. . . a most thorough education . . . but not the natural sciences, "diabolica scientia," whose study Calvin regarded with fear as "imprudent curiosity and rashness." (8)

Calvin answered Copernicus with a line from Psalm 93:1: "The world also is stabilized, that it cannot be moved." (9)

Examples of Catholic Acceptance & Protestant Dismissal, of Science

Protestant leaders like Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon led in citing Scripture against Copernicus and in urging the repression of Copernicans . . . Protestants . . . provided the first effective institutionalized opposition . . . For sixty years after Copernicus' death there was little Catholic counterpart for the Protestant opposition to Copernicanism . . . The Church itself was silent . . . Copernicus himself had been a cleric and a reputable one . . . His book was dedicated to the Pope (10), and among the friends who urged him to publish it were a Catholic bishop and a Cardinal. During the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries the Church had not imposed cosmological conformity on its members . . .

Before the De Revolutionibus the Church had spawned even more revolutionary cosmological concepts without theological convulsions. In the fifteenth century the eminent cardinal and papal legate Nicholas of Cusa had propounded a radical Neoplatonic cosmology . . . Though he portrayed the earth as a moving star, like the sun and the other stars, and though his works were widely read and had great influence, he was not condemned or even criticized by his Church. (11)

A young Lutheran scholar, Rheticus, left his chair of mathematics at Wittenberg . . . to work with Copernicus . . . A summary of Copernicus' findings was released and it met with tremendous hostility from Protestant theologians; there was no such general hostility from Catholics. Rheticus was barred from returning to his post at Wittenberg. At the insistence of Clement VII (12), the material was expanded into the great work of Copernicus' career, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres . . . . Copernicus' work on the heliocentric theory would not have been completed had not Churchmen urged him on. (13)

Johann Kepler (1571-1630), a German Protestant astronomer, was, in 1607, prevented from printing an article on comets by the Saxon theologians (14). Perhaps this type of antipathy to science was one reason why Kepler, two years earlier, "praised 'the wisdom and prudence of the Roman Church' for its public encouragement of scientific research." (15)

The Encyclopedia Britannnica reiterates the above:

Lectures on the principles [of the Heliocentric theory] . . . were given [by Copernicus] in Rome in 1533 before Pope Clement VII, who approved, and a formal request to publish was made to Copernicus in 1536 . . . His pupil and disciple Georg Joachim Rhaticus . . . was permitted [in 1540] to take the completed manuscript to Nurnberg, Germany, for printing. Because of opposition from Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, and other reformers, Rhaticus left Nurnberg and went to Leipzig . . . (16)

Andrew D. White, in a massively-researched two-volume work on the relationship of science and Christianity (17), makes several shocking observations with regard to the outlook of Protestantism in this respect:

Eminent authorities . . . like Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dante, and Vincent of Beauvais, felt obliged to accept the doctrine of the earth's sphericity, and as we approach the modern period we find its truth acknowledged by the vast majority of thinking men. The Reformation did not at first yield fully to this better theory . . . Even Zwingli . . . held to the opinion . . . that a great firmament, or floor, separated the heavens from the earth; that above it were the waters and angels, and below it the earth and man . . .

[the author also states that Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon rejected the sphericity of the earth]

All branches of the Protestant Church - Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican - vied with each other in denouncing the Copernican doctrine as contrary to Scripture; and, at a later period, the Puritans showed the same tendency . . . Turretin, Calvin's famous successor, even after Kepler and Newton had virtually completed the theory of Copernicus and Galileo, put forth his compendium of theology, in which he proved, from a multitude of scriptural texts, that the heavens, sun, and moon move about the earth, which stands still in the centre. In England we see similar theological efforts, even after they had become evidently futile . . . Dr. John Owen [1616-83], so famous in the annals of Puritanism, declared the Copernican system a "delusive and arbitrary hypothesis, contrary to Scripture"; and even John Wesley [who also - like Melanchthon - indulged in superstition] declared the new ideas to "tend toward infidelity" . . . The people of Nuremburg, a Protestant stronghold, caused a medal to be struck with inscriptions ridiculing the philosopher with his theory . . .

John Owen declared that Newton's discoveries were "built on fallible phenomena and advanced by many arbitrary presumptions against evident testimonies of Scripture" . . . John Wesley . . . while giving up the Ptolemaic theory and accepting in a general way the Copernican, . . . suspect[ed] the demonstrations of Newton . . . In Germany even Leibnitz [Lutheran philosopher, 1646-1716] attacked the Newtonian theory of gravitation on theological grounds . . . In Germany, especially in the Protestant part of it, the war was even more bitter, and it lasted through the first half of the eighteenth century. Eminent Lutheran doctors of divinity flooded the country with treatises to prove that the Copernican theory could not be reconciled with Scripture. In the theological seminaries and in many of the universities where clerical influence was strong they seemed to sweep all before them . . .

Luther . . . in one of his Advent sermons . . . said, "The heathen write that the comet may arise from natural causes, but God creates not one that does not foretoken a sure calamity." Again he said, "Whatever moves in the heaven in an unusual way is certainly a sign of God's wrath." And sometimes, . . . he declared them works of the devil, and declaimed against them as "harlot stars." Melanchthon, too, in various letters refers to comets as heralds of Heaven's wrath, classing them, with evil conjunctions of the planets and abortive births, amongst the "signs" referred to in Scripture. Zwingli, boldest of the greater Reformers in shaking off traditional beliefs, could not shake off this, and insisted that the comet of 1531 betokened calamity . . .

In 1873 was published in St. Louis, at the publishing house of the Lutheran Synod of Missouri, a work entitled Astronomische Unterredung, the author being well known as a late president of a Lutheran Teachers' Seminary. No attack on the whole system of astronomy could be more bitter . . .: "The entire Holy Scripture settles the question that the earth is the principal body of the universe, that it stands fixed" . . . The author then goes on to show from Scripture the folly, not only of Copernicus and Newton, but of a long line of great astronomers in more recent times . . .

Nothing is more unjust than to cast especial blame for all this resistance to science upon the Roman Church. The Protestant Church . . . has been more blameworthy . . . The direct influence of the Reformation was at first unfavourable to scientific progress . . . There is much reason to believe that the fetters upon scientific thought were closer under the strict interpretation of Scripture by the early Protestants than they had been under the older Church.

Non-Catholics Whitehead and Harnack Praise Catholic Scientific Thought

Professor Whitehead . . . insists that the Middle Ages "formed one long training of the intellect of Europe in the sense of order." It was the medieval theologians, he tells us, who were responsible for "the faith in the possibility of science." . . . Harnack (18), the Liberal Protestant, was no friend of Catholicism, and yet Harnack writes:

Scholasticism is simply nothing else but scientific thought . . . The science of the Middle Ages gives practical proof of eagerness in thinking and exhibits an energy in subjecting all that is real and valuable to thought to which we can perhaps find no parallel in any other age. (19)

Additional Material

Steve Jackson, a Lutheran (LCMS) wrote:

I don't think most experts consider Will Durant to be a particularly serious historian & many have questioned his use of sources. Also, A.D. White was anti-Christian and his book was used by, among others, [Bertrand] Russell in his inaccurate history of philosophy . . . Here is a more balanced discussion of the Luther, Calvin & Copernicus issue.

Interesting article. Thanks, Steve. Here is a portion:

. . . 1971, when a French scholar noticed that in a sermon on 1 Corinthians 10 and 11, Calvin denounced those "who will say that the sun does not move and that it is the earth that shifts and turns." Here, however, Calvin neither mentioned Copernicus by name, nor did he invoke any Scripture against heliocentrism itself.

I see; so Calvin denounces heliocentrism and the rotation and movement of the earth and speaks out of ignorance, but he gets off the hook to some extent, according to this guy and Christianity Today, because he didn't use Scripture to support his ignorance and failed to mention Copernicus.

But the latter might be explained by Copernican scholar Edward Rosen, who — so the article informs us —, "concluded that Calvin had never heard of Copernicus, let alone critiqued him."

This is highly impressive, too. Calvin had never heard of Copernicus? Doesn't that establish almost beyond doubt that he had a less-than-adequate knowledge of science (and might correctly be deemed to be opposed to science?)? Yet he deigns (in his usual self-appointed dogmatism) to denounce those who do . . . I find all this highly instructive and more evidence of my overall thesis, so I heartily thank Steve for the additional information.

One must see Calvin's wider remarks about heliocentrists, to get the full effect (the CT article conveniently clipped out much of this). Calvin maintained that those who assert that "the earth moves and turns" . . . [are] motivated by "a spirit of bitterness, contradiction, and faultfinding;" possessed by the devil, they aimed "to pervert the order of nature."

(See: Sermon no. 8 on 1st Corinthians, 677, cited in John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait by William J. Bouwsma; Oxford Univ. Press, 1988; A. 72)

Fortunately, this major (Protestant) biography of Calvin didn't try to hide (or inadvertently overlook) any of these highly embarrassing facts. Calvin, typically, cannot stop with mere disagreement; he has to pontificate on the motivations of such wicked people (heliocentrists) and imply that the devil is behind all such idle speculation. Of course, it is not unusual at all for the "Reformers" to dogmatize about that which they know little or nothing about.

In his Dedicatory to his commentary on Genesis, Calvin writes:

We indeed are not ignorant, that the circuit of the heavens is finite, and that the earth, like a little globe, is placed in the center.

The translator's footnote 30 for this passage informs us:

The erroneous system of natural philosophy which had prevailed for ages was but just giving way to sounder views, at the time when Calvin wrote. Copernicus, in the close of the preceding century, had begun to suspect the current opinions on the subject; but the fear of being misunderstood and ridiculed caused him to withhold for some time the discoveries he was making; and it was not till 1543, a few hours before his death, that he himself saw a copy of his own published work. Up to that period, the earth had been regarded as the center of the system, and the whole heavens were supposed to revolve around it.

Calvin wrote his commentary here in 1554.

In his commentary on Genesis 8:22, he states:

. . . Peter speaks of the old world as having perished in the deluge, [2 Peter 3:6.] Moreover, the deluge had been an interruption of the order of nature. For the revolutions of the sun and moon had ceased . . .

Calvin is even more explicit elsewhere:

The heavens revolve daily, and, immense as is their fabric, and inconceivable the rapidity of their revolutions, we experience no concussion — no disturbance in the harmony of their motion. The sun, though varying its course every diurnal revolution, returns annually to the same point. The planets, in all their wandering, maintain their respective positions. How could the earth hang suspended in the air were it not upheld by God's hand? By what means could it [i.e., the earth] maintain itself unmoved, while the heavens above are in constant rapid motion, did not its Divine Maker fix and establish it? Accordingly the particle, aph, denoting emphasis, is introduced — YEA, he hath established it.

(Commentary on the Book of Psalms, Psalm 93, verse 1, translated by James Anderson; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949, Vol. 4, p. 7)

The case of Martin Luther is (also as usual) more fun and humorous than that of Calvin. In the Internet article, "Luther and Science," by Donald H. Kobe, a professor of physics (See: http://www.phys.u…), the author utilizing astonishing obscurantism, in trying to minimize the embarrassment by Luther's remarks about Copernicus and astronomy. First he provides background to one of the notorious Luther statements:

The famous (or infamous) remark of Luther was made in 1539. In the spring of that year, Georg Joachim Rheticus, a professor of mathematics at the University of Wittenberg, was granted a leave to visit Nicolaus Copernicus in Frauenberg, Poland to learn more about his new theory that the earth and planets revolve about the sun. At that time not very much was known about the new theory, except from hearsay. The purpose of Rheticus’s trip must have prompted discussion among the faculty and students of Wittenberg, especially in Luther's home.

Anthony Lauterbach, who dined with the Luthers, quotes the conversation pertaining to Copernicus as follows:

There was mention of a certain astrologer who wanted to prove that the earth moves and not the sky, the sun, and the moon. This would be as if somebody were riding on a cart or in a ship and imagined that he was standing still while the earth and the trees were moving. [Luther remarked] "So it goes now. Whoever wants to be clever must agree with nothing that others esteem. He must do something of his own. This is what that fellow does who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down. Even in these things that are thrown into disorder I believe the Holy Scriptures, for Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth [Jos. 10:12]."

To put this remark in perspective, it was made four years before the publication of Copernicus's book On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.

Thus, if Luther is to be excused because of the earliness of the date of his silly remark, what of Calvin, who spoke his nonsense in 1554, eleven years after the publication of Copernicus' work?

Kobe then attempts to minimize Luther's name-calling:

Even if Luther had called Copernicus, who was not mentioned by name, a fool, that would have been a rather mild epithet coming from Luther.

One can only smile at that! He also contradicts himself, giving two disparate accounts of how Luther views on astrology relative to astronomy. First:

Luther accepted astronomy as a science, but rejected astrology as a superstition because it cannot be confirmed by demonstration. Astrology, according to Luther, is idolatry and violates the first commandment. He was both amused and distressed by Melanchthon's interest in astrology, a belief system that was widely accepted at the time.

But then in his interpretation of the Luther utterance above, he writes:

The use of the word "astrologer" in the introductory remarks should not necessarily be interpreted as disparaging, since at that time the terms "astrologer" and "astronomer" were often used more or less synonymously.

So Luther thinks astrology is idolatry, superstition, and a violation of the first commandment, yet when he applies it to heliocentrists (particularly, by strong implication, Copernicus), it is likely merely a synonym for astronomy. I submit that this is an incoherent and implausible explanation.

This is classic Protestant polemical sophistry (I dealt with a lot of that in the area of biblical commentary and exegesis, in my latest book, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants, to be released later this month by Sophia Institute Press). Protestants too often do the same with regard to unfortunate events in their own history. But despite the obfuscation and spin present, the author commendably admits outright:

Luther saw that Copernicus's view was indeed a revolutionary one. He could not accept it because it was contrary to his common sense and his interpretation of the Bible.

Philip Melanchthon, Luther's associate and successor, was equally hostile to Copernicus:

It is true that in the first edition of his Elements of Physics published in 1549, Melanchthon wrote [43]

But some dare say, either because of the love of novelties or in order to appear ingenious, that the earth moves, and contend that neither the eighth sphere nor the sun moves while they assign other movement to the celestial spheres and place the earth among the stars. The joke is not new. There is a book by Archimedes … in which he reports that Aristarchus of Samos defended this paradox, that the sun remains fixed and the earth turns around the sun. And although clever workers investigate many questions to give expression to their ingenuity, the young should know it is not decent to defend such absurd opinions publicly, nor is it honest or a good example.

This passage was most likely first written in 1545. After the publication of his book, Melanchthon had ameliorated his views on Copernicus. Thus in the 1550 edition, he omitted such phrases as "the love of novelties" and "the joke is not new," and showed a more favorable attitude towards heliocentrism as a mathematical hypothesis [44].

Notes for Kobe article:

43] Quoted by Moran, loc. cit.[Bruce T. Moran, "The Universe of Philip Melanchthon: Criticism and Use of the Copernican Theory," Comitatus 4 (1973): 1-23], pp. 13-14.
[44] Moran, loc. cit., p. 14.

So Melanchthon must be understood and we must have compassion on his fathomless imbecility on this issue because, well, he removed his gratuitous phrases of "love of novelties" and "joke" in later editions. This coming from a man enthralled with astrology!: something even Luther could readily see the folly and wickedness of; and from one considered one of the more enlightened and humanistic of the "Reformers."


1. Durant, Will, The Reformation, (vol.6 of 10-vol. The Story of Civilization, 1967), New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957, 849.
2. Kuhn, Thomas, The Copernican Revolution, New York: Vintage Books, 1959, l91 / Luther quote from Table Talk (ed. William Hazlitt, London, 1884), 69 (June 4, 1539).
3. In Kesten, Hermann, Copernicus and His World, New York: 1945, 309 / Letter of October 16, 1541. From Durant, ibid., 859.
4. Kuhn, ibid., l91 / Melanchthon quote from Initia Doctrinae Physicae, (Elements of Physics), 1549.
5. Daniel-Rops, Henri, The Protestant Reformation, vol. 2, tr. Audrey Butler, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1961, 315.
6. Durant, ibid., 851.
7. Daniel-Rops, ibid., 163.
8. Ibid., 199.
9. Durant, ibid., 858.
10. Pope Paul III (1534-49), who urged him to publish his new findings, and accepted the dedication.
11. Kuhn, ibid., l96-197.
12. Pope Clement VII reigned from 1523 to 1534.
13. Wheeler, Mark, "Nicolaus Copernicus," This Rock, January, 1991, 20-21.
14. Janssen, Johannes, History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages, 16 vols., tr. A.M. Christie, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910 (orig. 1891), vol. 14, 506-507.
15. Conway, Bertrand L., The Question Box, New York: All Saints Press, rev. ed., 1962, 223.
16. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1985 ed., vol. 16, 815.
17. White, Andrew D., A History of the Warfare of Science With Theology, New York: George Brazilier, 1955 (orig. 1895), vol. I: 97, 126-128, 148-149, 155, 182, 150-151, 168, 212.
18. Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) was a philosopher and Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930) a theologian and Church historian.
19. Lunn, Arnold, Now I See, London: Sheed & Ward, 1944, 127.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Response to an Orthodox Critic Concerning My Supposed Ignorance of Orthodoxy and Illegitimate Apologetic Methodology

By Dave Armstrong (7-7-04)

[Orthodox] Perry Robinson's words will be in blue; the words of Christopher Jones (a former Orthodox who is now a Lutheran) will be in red.

Note: I had to slightly modify some remarks since both Perry and I thought Christopher was Orthodox at first.

* * * * *

Hi Perry,

Note that I apologized for the word “fudge.” There is such a thing as graciously accepting an apology. Secondly, you interpreted that as me calling you a liar, but that was neither my intention nor the necessary definition of the term. In my dictionary, the first definition is “empty, foolish talk; nonsense.” Another given is “to make or put together dishonestly or carelessly; fake.” Even part of that one is not necessarily an accusation of dishonesty or “lying.” A third definition given is “to refuse to commit oneself or give a direct answer; hedge.” This was what I had in mind. You can either believe that or not, but it was my intention. And I have apologized for it (not that I think much of the comment you made which brought out my observation).

I noted that the way you seem to treat Orthodox theology and Orthodox people speaks of something else other than admiration.

I carefully noted what it is I dislike. If that is not enough for you, I can’t do anything else. Your attitude towards Catholicism is far more hostile than mine “against” Orthodoxy (as I will demonstrate below with your own words), so this is a bit silly coming from you.

Sure you may be sincere, but just not consistent.

Good. Likewise with you.

My point was that you had encountered popular views expressed by Orthodox but it doesn’t follow that those views are Orthodox views.

Of course not. But on the other hand, if a certain attitude is widespread (at least on the Internet, which – granted – does not represent the whole at all), then at some point it seems to me that one is entitled to draw some causal inferences from that. Many Calvinists, e.g., are anti-Catholic, whereas the majority of Protestants are not. So it is fair to ask why this is; to delve into Calvinist thought, theology, and history to determine why the anti-Catholic motif has become so prominent. Likewise with Orthodox. And indeed we find that many converts to Orthodoxy from anti-Catholic Protestantism bring this prejudice right along with them.

Hence you are wrong to impute them to Orthodoxy.

In the sense I have just described above, it is perfectly proper, I think, but I agree that generalization is always a tricky business.

Just like someone going off of what the nonsense that most Catholics spew.

We all have our liberals, don’t we (and our “traditionalists")? I oppose both poles, and am interested in orthodoxy within each tradition, not distortions of and dissent from same.

I generally have a good grasp of Roman theology and most Catholics I know, though there are plenty who do, wouldn’t know it if it bit them in the rear.

I agree. Don’t you think I am well aware of that, as a Catholic apologist?

If its not legit for prots to generalize about Catholics from hearsay, why is it legit for you to do so about Orthodox?

It isn’t; I agree, but I vigorously deny that this is what I have been doing. More on this below, as I reply to Christopher.

I didn’t accuse you of ethno-racism. I noted that that is what you had come into contact with and that if you spent some time and effort you would see that there is a lot more to Orthodoxy than that nonsense.

Fair enough. Thank you. I’m still looking. To be fair to the Orthodox, I should state that I am disgusted with the state of Internet discussion generally-speaking. I tried for some seven years looking for a decent forum and finally gave up. I have become just as disgusted with Catholic forums (both the liberals and “traditionalists") as with Protestant ones, or the Orthodox correspondents I have met. So I think a lot of it has to do with the medium itself. I have found, to my delight, that the blog community offers a substantially higher level of discourse and thought (this very blog is a prime example).

That said, I still have had plenty of negative encounters with Orthodox. I could name several who are not ignoramuses: they are quite well-educated and versed in Orthodoxy and Orthodox folks here would likely recognize their names. But I won’t do that because it would only cause more controversy. In any event, it is not the case that I have talked to ignorant fringe wackos and draw my conclusions from that. Unless those who are in ROCOR are placed in that undesirable category.

Now onto Christoper Jones’ remarks:

It’s not “defensive” to respond to an ad-hominem attack.

I deny that it was. As far as I am concerned, I was sticking to the ideas that Perry expressed. But I could see how it might be considered borderline.

To be “defensive” is to respond as if one had been attacked when there has been no attack; to defend oneself from actual attack is not defensive.

Again, one has to look at my actual argument. I would characterize it as an intellectual disdain, not a personal one.

Your original attack on Perry - not just the word “fudge,” but the whole thing, with its elaborate and eloquent attribution of views which Perry did not express, and its guilt-by-association with all the other Orthodox on the internet with whom you have disagreed “a million times before” - was inexcusable. And you continue to write as if the issue were the attitude, rather than the ideas, of the Orthodox.

I don’t think the prevalence of such attitudes can be quite so easily dismissed. Several commenters here (including Pontificator in his initial post, which cited an Orthodox person) have noted the same general tendency of anti-westernism among the Orthodox. There is something to this. I may have expressed myself in a dumb and/or offensive way. That is my own fault and responsibility. But it doesn’t follow from that, that the general problem here noted by several does not exist.

I recommend that you participate in these discussions when you are prepared to engage the ideas of Orthodoxy with respect, when you have read and understood some of the works of serious Orthodox theologians like Lossky, Ware, Farrell, Meyendorff, Zizioulas, and Khomiakhov.

Okay; now here is where you speak out of ignorance, because you don’t know what I have read or studied, or who I have talked to in my now eight years of almost-constant Internet dialogue. Perry asked the same thing on my blog. I answered, but it wasn’t good enough for him. Perhaps it is for you. Here is that exchange:
Since you are writing a book on Orthodoxy, what works from Orthodox writers have you consulted or plan to consult?

The book will be like most of mine: strictly laymen’s apologetics: trying to help people work through the issues of comparing and contrasting the two communions. In this case, it will often be based on many many dialogues I had with Orthodox. As for citing folks, I used Kallistos Ware’s book, The Orthodox Church, a lot; also I have read and/or cited / compiled information from books such as, e.g.:

Peter E. Gillquist, Becoming Orthodox
Stanley S. Harakas, The Orthodox Church: 455 Questions and Answers
Alexander Schmemann, The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy
John Meyendorff, editor, The Primacy of Peter

I also utilize material from Fr. Seraphim Rose (several books in my library, and Frank Schaeffer’s The Christian Activist magazine.

I have heard Fr. Thomas Hopko, Franky Schaeffer, and Fr. Gillquist speak, and have had an Orthodox priest in my house for one of my ecumenical discussion groups. I also cite many Eastern fathers.
Now, you see that I read and utilize at least two of the books by people you recommended: Ware and Meyendorff.
Well I don’t take those works to be much use, except for Meyendorff and Schmemman’s and those are of somewhat limited value.
So Perry thinks Kallistos Ware is not “much use” and Meyendorff and Schmemann “somewhat limited.” Thus even you and he (in criticizing my knowledge of Orthodoxy) cannot agree as to what sources I should read in my studies. You call them “serious Orthodox theologians” but Perry thinks they are of little use and he described these elsewhere as merely “popular” works. So how can I decide even who to read in order to get a good grasp of Orthodoxy? And of course, this has long been a frustration in my dealings with Orthodox themselves.

Daniel Jones then asked Perry: “When do you believe Rome lost her orders, and for what doctrinal basis did she lose them?” Perry replied: “Basically false doctrine and cutting herself off from the Church.”

Gee whiz. That really sounds like Perry admires Catholicism more than I admire Orthodoxy, doesn’t it? I would never in a million years say such a thing about the Orthodox. Perry continued, having rejected my list of books about Orthodoxy:
I think the approach you are taking is as reliable as taking what your average Catholic thinks of Catholicism as representative of Catholicism. Hardly profitable or representative of Catholicism. This is why it is better to consult standard works, representative texts and authoritative declarations. To the extent that you rely on the God-knows-what opinions and views expressed by God-knows-who and on God-knows-what basis on the Internet the book strikes me as worthless to furthering dialog or actually engaging Orthodoxy. You won’t be engaging Orthodoxy.

If you take your book to be a corrective of false views that certain Orthodox people popularly express, the best way to do that is to get at what Orthodoxy actually teaches and not looking at what is popularly expressed by whatever loud mouth happens to cross your path.
Again, now we are back to determining what one should read to understand Orthodoxy. Christopher Jones (though a former Orthodox, so his opinion may not count for much in their eyes) likes Ware and Meyendorff. Perry Robinson does not. Now how does an outsider Catholic like myself choose between the two, and on what basis? But whatever Perry thinks of these various Orthodox (or reputed Orthodox) writers, it is not the case that my information and opinion on Orthodoxy is based solely on dealing with loose cannons on the Internet who know little about that which they speak.

Both of you are dead wrong about that, and quite presumptuous to make these charges when you clearly do not know what you are talking about in my case.

Later Perry condescended:
It might help to first figure out what other people actually believe before constructing arguments against their positions. I suppose though just limiting yourself to popular works will lend itself to those kinds of mistakes.
And so on and so forth . . .

Monday, July 05, 2004

Discussion With a Reformed Protestant (Catholic) on Art, Early Protestantism, and Catholic Corruption (w/ Kevin Johnson)

By Dave Armstrong (7-5-04)

Kevin's words will be in blue.

* * * * *

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for an (as always) amiable and well-stated expression of your perspective. Your reply gets into broad, general areas that require long discussions in and of themselves, but I will respond to the things that are a bit more specific.

Before I counter-reply, let me note for readers (since you are so keen on context), that the main (immediate) reason I did my last post chronicling Reformed iconoclasm was because it seemed to me that you wanted to shuffle the responsibility for most of that off onto the "Anabaptist" or "radical reformers," rather than (as you call it) the "classical Reformation." Thus, you wrote:
Many times this was the work of the radical wing of the Reformation—the Anabaptists and not classical Protestants.
I think we can safely say now (in light of all the documentation I produced -- if indeed it was even necessary) that this is a significant oversimplification. It is quite clear that iconoclasm was mainstream Reformed thought. I didn't even mention Beza or Bucer, who were both overtly iconoclastic and perhaps (judging by some tidbits of information I gleaned while doing my research) directly involved in riots of that sort.

As far as my present knowledge goes, I view Calvin's role in this as highly analogous to Luther's with regard to the Peasants' Revolt of 1525. He (i.e., Luther) didn't directly call for violence or condone it; yet much of his inflammatory teaching and rhetoric against Rome made such actions arguably inevitable among the less-sophisticated masses. We are responsible for what we say, which is why the apostle James warned, "let not many teach."

I argued this at length in a paper devoted to that topic. So if I were to delve into it in even more depth, studying Calvin himself concerning this matter, I suspect that would be my position as to his responsibility (it is now, as much as I know about it). One need only look at the subsequent development of art, imagery, symbolism, architecture, in Reformed circles to see what effect Calvin's teaching had (as the primary figure in the movement).

Just look at the Puritans, for heaven's sake, who would have banned Shakespeare if they had had their way. Calvin had no use even for organs (again, I thank God -- as a serious amateur musician and classical music devotee -- that Bach was born in Lutheran Germany). So this need not even be argued, or any more time taken up to belabor the obvious.

The main thing I was trying to get across (the idiocy and wrongness of iconoclasm) you agree with, so we need not beat that dead horse. I objected to your argument that this was mostly "radical reformers" doing this stuff, and that a lion's share of the blame must be laid on the Catholic Church's doorstep. That was our disagreement, as I saw it.

I continue to strongly disagree with your contention in that regard, simply because the artistic, visual, and iconic element of spirituality was something the Catholic Church "got right" -- even from a current Protestant perspective. Not one Protestant in a hundred today (I dare say) would try to disparage or tear down Chartres Cathedral. Its beauty, profundity, and sublimity is patently obvious. But Calvin and many of his followers quite likely would have (and in fact, did do this to many beautiful places of worship) take an axe to its altar, statuary, and stained glass. And this was my point.

If Protestants expect Catholics to look honestly at the "skeletons" in their closet, then they need to look at their own. That is, in fact, almost always my reason for presenting this sort of historical material. I want all Christians to be aware of ALL Christian history, whether good or bad, and to honestly face and accept it. The so-called "Protestant Reformation" was not a bunch of super-pious, goody-two-shoes holy men going around restoring the gospel which had been lost. Many Protestant historians, in fact, readily admit that the motivations were even primarily political, not spiritual.

Stealing hundreds of churches and convents and abolishing the worship which had been going on continuously for 1500 years is
not just some harmless, pious "reform." As I said, we all have our skeletons, and it is high time that Protestants better understand the full dynamics of what occurred in the 16th century, and why Catholics were compelled to fight for their most treasured beliefs, practices, and possessions (all of which -- where they differed from Protestants -- would have been annihilated, had Luther, Calvin and more radical "reformers" had their way).

----- sermon mode off. Thank you for listening. :-) -----

The reason my comments are important is because you have lifted the comments of Reformers and scholars of their activities and writings out of the original historical context and did not really address the full reasons behind them doing what they did.

One can only do so much in any given paper. This seems to be the Reformed Catholic mantra lately: always complaining about lack of "historical context." But I think it is an ultimately unrealistic demand. Papers (even most books) are devoted to limited subject matter. I was writing about iconoclasm. In such a treatment, I can't possibly get into every jot and tittle of Catholic corruption, as that is a different subject. Most people today understand (and I assume this) that iconoclasm is both wrong and wrongheaded. That is apparent and self-evident. So I don't really see the need to attach blame for these activities on the Catholic Church, when they were not the ones encouraging iconoclasm at all.

I suppose you could argue that "idolatry had become so bad that who can blame the 'reformers' for getting extreme and smashing all images whatsoever?", etc., etc., but that is, of course, yet another entirely distinct topic to be dealt with. My view would not be nearly as "cynical" or "critical" as yours. Protestants who (like Calvin) are inclined to view the Mass as an abomination and blasphemy, etc., will see things one way and we will differ fundamentally with them. For Calvin, the Mass is an abomination, blasphemy, idolatry, and sacrilege, that robs the very cross of Christ of its power, and makes a mockery of it. For us, it is the most sublime, moving, powerful, life-giving worship possible, short of being in heaven with Jesus, or having met and worshiped Him while He walked the earth. We view it as being present at Calvary; quite the opposite of any kind of idolatry.

In other words, if we want to talk "corruption," Calvin locates it right smack dab in our central act of worship. Thus, the discussion on corruption inevitably becomes one of theology (and historical theology, and development), by the nature of the case. This is precisely why I have been challenging reformed Catholics as of late to face up to the implications of historical views concerning the Holy Eucharist (since you want to claim historical continuity with what came before), which (if you want historical -- or liturgical -- context), also includes adoration, the sacrifice of the Mass, and some notion of conversion of the elements into the literal Body and Blood of Christ. There is no middle ground. But reformed Catholics are notably, markedly non-committal or of ambiguous mind concerning the sacrifice of the Mass. I asked one such person if he thought it was idolatry and he said "I don't know." What do you think, Kevin? Are you courageous enough to address that crucial question head on? :-)

It's not that what you are saying is illogical or that you've offered an argument that can't be made. It's simply that there is more to interpreting history than placing blame on the initial group of people committing the acts that you have been criticizing.

Again, one can always play the game of multiple causation. Who caused what? As far as I am concerned, iconoclasm offers a classic example of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." That particular extreme, might, I suppose, be blamed (on some logical plane) on those on the opposing side, but essential blame lies with the one who does it. For example, when more liberal and secular elements of American society succeeded in establishing a strict (blatantly unconstitutional) separation of church and state, including removal of prayer and the Ten Commandments from public schools, was that their fault for being historically-ignorant and dim-witted about the history of church-state interaction for the previous 300 years? Or was it more so or equally the fault of the Christians who perhaps committed some excesses when these things were permitted, alienating Jews or atheists or the occasional Muslim or Hindu?

Clearly the former. This is another baby/bathwater scenario. The fact remains that Calvin's theology (and much of Protestant theology, generally) lends itself to an iconoclasm, or at least a radical minimizing of symbolism and imagery, by its very nature -- being "Word"-based. Protestant altars oftentimes consist of a stand with an open Bible on it, or not even that: just a place for a pastor to place his sermon notes. The Word predominates. It's like the first part of the Catholic Mass without the second. This is why many Reformed Churches didn't even offer communion every Sunday. Obviously, it wasn't considered central to worship if it didn't occur but once a month. The sermon was the overwhelming emphasis.

In my opinion, you have over-simplified the matter especially because even now you still refuse to admit that the corruptions of Rome and her hierarchy had anything at all to do with the later actions of the Reformers and others who did endorse a sort of iconoclasm.

You are the one who has oversimplified, as I think I am demonstrating. I never denied all responsibility of Rome altogether. But in the present case, I am saying that iconoclasm cannot be laid at our door because we never espoused it. It was always a corruption of the East and of Protestantism. Rome never fell into that stupidity. At best, you can claim that we were guilty of rampant idolatry:
1. Catholics worshiped statues.

2. This dishonors Christ and is idolatry.

3. Therefore, it is perfectly right and proper to tear the statues down for the sake of souls and Christian truth.
The fallacy here is obvious. Even you agree that statues are not inevitably and necessarily idolatrous. But this was the reasoning of the Calvinist iconoclasts. Stained glass was wrong. Organs were improper in worship. Altars were idolatrous because the blasphemous sacrifice of the Mass took place on them, and the only altar now (post-Calvary) is in heaven, etc. Even crucifixes and crosses are evil (in many examples I gave yesterday, the mobs went after them, too). So again, the discussion necessarily descends into a discussion of things like:
1) what exactly is idolatry?,

2) Are all images necessarily idolatrous and graven images -- even those of our Lord Jesus, crosses, and crucifixes?,

3) Are the Sacrifice of the Mass and transubstantiation and adoration of the consecrated host all idolatrous by the nature of the case?,

4) Does stained glass and iconography aid or hinder worship?,

5) Is a clapboard, plain white church more conducive to reverence and worship than Chartres Cathedral?
It's all ultimately theological in nature. That's why I say the discussion must deal with all those sorts of issues, because this is what Calvin himself would argue: Catholic worship is by nature and essence blasphemous and idolatrous; therefore it is not wrong to abolish it or destroy the churches which foster and perpetuate it (by the sanctioned governmental authorities, of course, but still destroy them if at all possible).

In other words, you are providing all of us with an anachronistic and overly simplistic look at historical events without really explaining the why of the matter--or at least providing us with any sort of view that is something other than a full presentation of how one Roman Catholic might look at the matter.

I believe I am doing so now, in far more depth than you have dealt with it (I dare say -- look at all the historical material I produced in my last post -- whereas you provide nothing but your own bald opinions), and at much greater length. I'll discuss this stuff with you till we're both blue in the face, but I need you and your reformed catholic comrades to give straight answers to very important questions. I've been waiting over a week now for replies from both you and Josh, that you promised to give me, concerning Calvin's eucharistic theology (actually, weeks or months in some cases, where discussions end quite prematurely, just as they were possibly getting somewhere). Now we're off on another tangent.

I'm not sure you're willing to deal with all the facts.

Readers can judge that. They see what I write (and ask) and what you write. They see me answering all your questions in depth and you often passing over many of mine. Since you want to insinuate that I am the one unwilling to deal with facts, I must say this.

For example, you quote Kuyper briefly but you miss him crediting Christianity being of "invaluable significance to the development of art" as well as questioning the validity of blaming Calvin or his followers for devaluing art. You can quote Kuyper but you didn't really deal with the full force of what he said.

This gets old. No one deals with every jot and tittle of context of all that they cite. As I have said before, Internet link technology allows readers to go read all the context they wish. I provided that link. That's a lot different from citing books that most readers do not have available. So this is an empty complaint. Furthermore, I included several remarks that let Calvin off the hook (you overlook that entirely). I suspected that I would have to point this out, since the same charges would be made. Here are some of those:
Calvin himself did not support iconoclastic violence, but many of his associates and followers did (further reading: C.M.N. Eire, War Against the Idols [Cambridge, 1986]).

(Paul Corby Finney -- who looks to be a non-Catholic historian)

. . . For all of Calvin’s influence on the Protestant movement, however, he was not its sole opinion-leader, nor can its early history be written exclusively from Genevan sources, no matter how strong a pull they exercise because of their exceptional richness and accessibility. The fact that Calvin and the Genevan-trained ministers denounced or sought to remove pastors whose preaching encouraged unsanctioned iconoclasm demonstrates that some French ministers endorsed removing the ‘idols’ without tarrying for the magistrate.

(Philip Benedict, also, I believe, a non-Catholic)
You want more context? There it is: it was already there. But you overlook it and go on to make the same tired charge. I was being as fair as I could be to Calvin, just as I am with Luther in my papers dealing with him. I give him every benefit of the doubt and judgment of charity that I can. But some historical facts are undesirable and cannot be glossed over, no matter how charitable and unassuming we wish to be. You are quick to admit that early Protestants were not perfect men. Yet whenever one of us Catholics agrees with that and gets specific, then all of a sudden we haven't provided enough "context" and don't want to deal with all the facts.

C'mon. You can do better than that, and I think you know me better than that by now. You are familiar with folks who ignore facts, and they are on your own Protestant side (though not reformed catholics). You know who I am talking about. I need not mention them. The difference between their attitude to history and discussion compared to my own could not be any different than it is.

. . . to the extent that art was devalued during the Reformation or even after those who unjustly devalued it should be blamed.

Good for you. But then why are we having this discussion? Why am I spending 3-4 hours of my time on a would-be holiday to belabor the obvious? I submit that it is because you wished to (or seemed to wish to) place more blame on the Catholic Church than the early Protestants in your first response, and you sought to shift blame away from Calvin and the mainstream Reformed movement onto the radical Protestants. This is not historically-accurate; sorry. I am the one who brought a ton of historical documentation to the table. All you have given thus far are a bunch of claims. But you are not (as far as I know) an historian. I cited folks who are.

But, the historical context is bigger than that and the stakes are higher than merely leveling criticism at those who are immediately responsible.

I need not keep answering this. The discussion of corruption in the Church is one which needs to take place on its own. I have no problem with acknowledging any corruption. As an old pastor of mine used to say: "original sin is, of all Christian doctrines, the most obvious, just by observing human beings." But for the "reformers," much of what they thought was a "corruption" was simply Catholic doctrines that they no longer held.

And to be fair, Dave, I think you are glossing over some of the terribly corrupt behavior of the Church prior to the Reformation by merely labeling it "mostly sexual and power-play stuff". In point of fact the Church was so corrupt that even when popes, such as Adrian VI, tried to reform the Church they miserably failed. In Pope Adrian's case for example the indulgences offered by previous popes were done through payment plans that lasted several years and it was impossible for Adrian to alter such obviously absurd agreements without huge consequences to the Church.

Case in point: indulgences is another huge discussion that is multifaceted itself. I can tell you, as a Catholic apologist, that not one Protestant in 200 has ever correctly explained back to me what the Catholic Church thinks an indulgence is. I highly doubt that you would be the exception (with all due respect). The first responsibility in any critique is at least accurately understanding and describing the viewpoint we are disagreeing with. That is Argument 0101.

To minimize this sort of corruption is not really dealing with the history of the matter and while it is convenient to criticize Protestants where criticism is due it certainly rings hollow when on the flip side you as a Roman Catholic are seemingly unwilling to face the stark reality and severity of the ecclesiastical corruption of the time.

On what basis do you conclude this? You are obviously unfamiliar with my writing regarding this topic. I have always freely admitted the widespread nature of Catholic corruption prior to Luther. I don't know any Catholic who would not do so. I agree with Karl Adam's view about medieval Catholic corruption. The following is from the first draft of my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, written in 1991 (um, that is 13 years ago):
Catholics today (more so than formerly) freely admit that the Church in Luther's time sorely needed reforming. The eminent German Catholic theologian Karl Adam, in his book The Roots of the Reformation (translated by Cecily Hastings, New York: Sheed & Ward, 1951 [portion of One and Holy, 1948] ), devotes nearly a third of its space to "weakness in the Church." He states that "the Renaissance Popes seem to have carried out in their own lives that cult of idolatrous humanism, demonic ambition and unrestrained sensuality" (p. 14). He quotes the words of Pope Adrian VI (1522-23), who in turn cited St. Bernard: "Vice has grown so much a matter of course that those who are stained with it are no longer aware of the stink of sin" (p. 20). He is quite frank and descriptive of other abuses:
The majority of this clerical proletariat had neither the intellectual nor the moral capacity to so much as guess the profundity of the questions raised by Luther . . . In this waste of clerical corruption it was impossible for the Spirit of our Lord to penetrate into the people . . .

There was no sacramental impulse towards an interiorizing and deepening of religion. So the attention of the faithful was directed towards externals . . . This hideous simoniacal abuse of indulgences corrupted true piety . . . indulgences were perverted to a blasphemous haggling with God. Night fell on the German Church . . . (pp. 22-26)
The whole of Europe could not have been turned upside down by the Reformation if there wasn't any real significant corruption.

I agree, but this proves no more than saying that Lenin's revolution in Russia improved what came before (and all agree that Czarist Russia was quite corrupt), or that the French Revolution improved the previous state of affairs (and all agree that the French monarchy and aristocracy were corrupt). I agree with Louis Bouyer: he holds that there were many positive, Catholic elements in "Reformation" thought which were praiseworthy and entirely good. But these were already present in catholic tradition (albeit poorly understood in many cases). In other words, the best of what the "Reformers" offered was already Catholic and had to merely be regained or re-emphasized, but the negative elements in Protestantism have been troublesome internally ever since (doctrinal relativism, sectarianism, anti-sacramentalism, anti-sacerdotalism, etc.).

Some day I'd like to see an entry by you and others that details out much of that corruption so that we can get to both sides of the story.

I have no problem with that, but my custom is to cite historians. They do, however, have a bias on both sides, to the extent that they have theological views which color their analysis.

But, back to art. The corruption of the Church is relevant to the Protestants' devaluing of art for several reasons: 1) If we grant your case concerning the nature of the Roman Catholic Church being the Church, then the ones who bear the larger responsibility for what happened during the Reformation are the very leaders in power at the time,

This is fallacious as well. That would be like saying that Arianism is the fault of Nicene Trinitarianism, or that Monophysitism was the fault of Chalcedonian Christology, or that Donatism and Montanism were the fault of those (including Calvin) who taught that the wheat and the tares were both in the Church. There is a sense of secondary cause, but when people do stupid stuff they are ultimately to blame themselves. This is true of all of us individually. We'll all stand before God one day and give account, and God won't settle for any of the customary human blameshifting.

2) You will forgive me for pointing this out I hope but it is no accident that the most corrupt periods of the Church also saw some of the greatest accomplishments in art. We should be asking ourselves why that is the case,

For the same reason that Richard Wagner was a scoundrel, liar, and cheat, but wrote, in my opinion, some of the most magnificent music of all time. This is the nature of the beast. Beauty (like truth) stands on its own, apart from the righteousness of those who create or financially support it.

and 3) Historically speaking, if there had been no corruption (morally or doctrinally), there would have been no Reformation. I don't see how you can deny this.

The Church always needs to be reformed. My argument here is: "what precisely is reform, and what is revolution? At what point is the line crossed?"

This does not deny the culpability of those who unjustly devalued art during the Reformation but it instead points to the fact that something, perhaps many things were wrong in the Church just prior to the Reformation and because the Church failed to correct what was ailing her, the Reformation took shape.

Okay, Kevin, I'll call your "bluff" (since you want to press this): what exactly do you think the Church should have done in order to prevent the excessive and extreme Protestant reaction of iconoclasm? You tell me. Not hire Michelangelo and Raphael? After all, Michelangelo's David is clearly an idol, right? The Pieta is even more so, since it depicts (GASP!) Mary as a goddess-figure. Right?

I do know one thing, Dave. The Church, whether Protestant or Catholic, is full of men. And men are not always doing the right things. And usually from what I see these days (and historically) often they are not interested in doing what is right for whatever reason. I do think that the Protestants, like their Roman brothers, have many things to 'fess up about and change. I do think we need to work harder to remove the shackles of our own almost ethnic prejudices from how we view the Reformation to how we view our Roman Catholic brothers--and certainly in terms of how we view art.

Amen! Thank you for this.

And, I wouldn't be interacting with you if I didn't feel there was some value in what you are saying.

Good, and likewise. I wouldn't spend all this time, either, if I didn't feel that way about your opinions.

The Protestant Church needs the flesh-and-blood reality of the Christian faith that it lost when she separated from her Catholic brothers during the Reformation. We could use a few statues to actually remind us that the Virgin Mary, Joseph, and even the Christ child himself were real.

Not to worry. You still have your statues of Luther and Calvin and John Knox here and there. :-)

We could use more churches that reflect the beauty and glory of the Sistine Chapel or the Cathedral at Chartres--a beauty and glory that as far as I am concerned is simply undeniable. We could use painters and other artists who are able to magnificently tell the stories of the Christian faith in a way that doctrine can't. These are things that, understood properly, could strengthen the Church and specifically strengthen who we are as Protestants.

Magnificently stated. I would, of course, have said exactly the same when I was Protestant. I loved all those things then as you do now. Francis Schaeffer was one person who helped me admire that artistic Christian heritage.

But on the flip side and one point the Reformers made--it is no good to think that these things are useful at all if there is no change of life based on the all-powerful work of the Holy Spirit through Christ our Lord, no purity in doctrine and in living (in fact, quite the opposite), and a reliance on the mere trappings of religion that marked the Church prior to the Reformation.

I agree wholeheartedly. I merely hasten to add that I would say this was the widespread practice; not necessarily the doctrine that the Church held. We were never dogmatically Pelagian or even semi-Pelagian. But in practice, many people certainly were, including even several of the prominent nominalist theologians, who had lost the classic Augustinian, Thomist doctrine of grace, and sola gratia. And as the iconoclasts went too far with regard to imagery, so Luther went too far in his soteriology, in reaction (so we would say), though we certainly understand the dynamics and sincerity of his passion for the doctrine of grace, given all that was going on at the time. Louis Bouyer and Karl Adam both freely and joyfully admit this.

The connection is simple. There needs to be a connection between the outworking of our faith in art and the actual reality of repentance and faith in Christ.

Absolutely! Amen! Preach it, brother!

To the degree that many Reformers eschewed the art of the high middle ages is directly due to the fact that there was the outward appearance of great faith in the Church through her works of art and other external trappings, but all along there was this hypocritical corruption, moral failure, and an overt reliance on what men accomplished for their salvation rather than what Christ accomplished.

To the extent that that was occurring in individuals or being falsely taught by teachers, I agree. But then the proper response is to restore the true doctrine, not invent new ones that were never held (not even by Augustine), and to teach a proper interpretation and use of images (teach about what idolatry is and isn't); not smash the images. In other words, you and I can agree on a lot of the corruption, but disagree somewhat as to the cure, and whether Protestant doctrine was indeed a reform which hearkened back to earlier purity, or a revolution in many respects, which overthrew precedent in an unacceptable way.

In some sense, the men of the Reformation linked those works of art quite rightly with the bedrock hypocrisy of those priests and bishops of the time and rightly so. It is no wonder, from this point of view, why they emphasized a faith quite apart from things such as art. Taking the next logical step and devaluing art was a mistake, in my opinion and certainly some during the Reformation made this mistake more severely than others (the Anabaptists come to mind).

Human beings, unfortunately, tend to go to extremes, in reaction. I've often noted this, in many areas of life, not just theology.

I am thankful we live in a day when such things can be examined again, when art can be valued and used in the Church in a way that pleases Christ and recognizes the gifts and talents He gives his Church through art, and where we can discuss these issues a bit apart from the heated rhetoric of past ages.

Yes; good point. Me, too. I think this is a most helpful discussion for both sides to engage in.

Here is what you will get from me, Dave. Men are men. Christ is God and He is working through His Church to call men to Him. I pray that all would answer His call even if some don't, be they Protestant or Catholic. Yes, Protestants have made mistakes and have sinned and have been hypocritical over the centuries and we lament that on our side as much as we lament the fact that it happens or has happened in Roman Catholicism. It has been given to us today to stand as others historically have stood--before our God and repent when we err as well as obey His commandments through Christ and by His Spirit. We can do no less if we are to be called Christian.

Yes. Again, I agree 100%, and eloquently stated.

. . . The Reformers were men, not gods. They had foibles, they made mistakes, they didn't always do the right things. We have no problems admitting this . . .

Well, sorry; it sure looks like you did in this case, by your unsuccessful attempt to distance Calvin and "classical Protestantism" from the bulk of the iconoclasm which occurred. Let's face it: the Anabaptists never had enough power, pure and simple, to do much more than local damage (and most of them were peaceful and anti-institutional and culturally-withdrawn, anyway). The Protestant power was held by Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anglicans. The Lutherans eschewed iconoclasm. Calvinists accepted it, and so they acted upon their convictions.

The Anglicans and later Puritans also did, in England, and we see the results: all images were banned in churches (in 1550, by law); plays were forbidden, etc. Note that in both cases, it was a resort to force: stealing and plundering and smashing, or gaining political power and quickly making such things unlawful. But so what? This doesn't make it right just because it becomes legal, any more than legal slavery or legal abortion are right.

and to the extent you point out these things, more power to you as long as they are historically accurate.

Hey, that's MUCH more than I have heard from many many of your friends! Good for you. History is what it is . . . an elementary truth. And we can learn from history. I hope we can all agree on that.

But, I hope you will note (and maybe someday you can blog about it) the positive contributions of the Reformers because if anything you must admit that they transformed European and Western society in ways that even they didn't conceive of when they worked to change the Church for the better.

In some ways, yes, absolutely. God works with anyone who sincerely seeks to serve Him. But of course, as a Catholic, you'll understand that I don't think any positive change comes from what I believe to be false doctrine. Whatever good Protestantism does has to come from truth. If it is true, then we already believe it (so I hold in faith, as a good Catholic).

What I have always said about Protestantism is that you guys (and I was one of you for 13 years as a committed evangelical missionary and apologist and pro-life activist) often excel Catholics in practice and in purity of life and morals. The obvious examples are Bible study, and probably prayer as well. I've noted this many many times. Protestants have done tons of good work, whether it be more basic apologetics or cultural transformation (the Schaeffer / Colson wing of "Christ as Lord of all of life") or pro-life activities, or a host of other things. What is true and good is that, whoever does it. I can acknowledge all this wonderful stuff, while maintaining a Catholic critique of doctrines which I feel diverge from Catholicism and historic Christianity.

And though I suppose you may disagree with me here, they did change the Church (and society at large) for the better.

I will simply appeal to the above paragraph. I think individual Protestants (e.g., Wesley, Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, various missionaries, etc.) have and continue to do lots and lots of great things for the Kingdom. Institutionally, however, the record is not so glowing or praiseworthy.

Just think about it...without the Reformation, the Council of Trent would never have happened. :)

That's correct. And without Arianism and Monophysitism, the Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon would never have happened. It is always the corruptions which produce better developments. :-) Do you wish to pursue this analogy? LOL

You do see the Council of Trent as a positive development in Catholicism, don't you? :)

Yep, just as I see ecumenical Protestants like you thankfully reacting against the empty-headed anti-Catholicism of many of your Protestant brethren, and (here's the controversy again) that of Luther and Calvin themselves.

Thanks for the discussion!

In Him,