Thursday, June 23, 2005

Dialogue With a Lutheran on Whether Lutheranism is Closer to Patristic and Early Church Beliefs (Part Three)

By Dave Armstrong (6-23-05)

Kristo's words will be in blue. My former words will be in green. Former citations of mine (other writers) will be in smaller font and black print.

* * * * * 

First, here is my response to a comment by "BWL" (in red):

I think the problem is that Lutherans and Catholics simply disagree not just about Scripture, but about what the ECFs taught as well.

Of course. Heaven forbid that Christians could ever agree on anything! :-)

You say, for example, that the Lutheran confessions are factually incorrect on Augustine. The problem is that there is simply a disagreement over what the "facts" are in the first place. Not just on Augustine, but on Jerome, whom the Lutherans cite as evidence that priests and bishops are the same. Now, I'm not advocating some sort of relativism here; clearly someone is right and someone is wrong. I'm just not sure what way there is out of this impasse. We could cite the ECFs and Scripture back and forth all day, but what would be gained? Is there a better way?

No. I think each instance has to be discussed individually, with both sides presenting their historical and biblical evidences. I believe that it can be determined what a particular Church Father believed (about most things, anyway). These things have answers if enough research is done. It's not like they are some tremendous mystery. The historical truth is there to find. I think that is easier than working through exegetical disagreements, because those are invariably interpreted through theological grids, which have to be examined in turn. It's very time-consuming! I wish there was a shortcut, but there isn't. Most people on both sides couldn't care less about such a discussion, but I think it is an important one.

As a preliminary comment, though, while you conceded all of my points about Luther being a political figure as well as a reformer, and that Luther-bashing is not refutation of Lutheranism, yet you seem to be bashing the political Luther rather than refuting the spiritual reform agenda.

I'm not "bashing" anyone; I'm simply making my historical case as a Catholic, against Lutheran innovation. The "Reformation" was all of a piece. One can divide it into spiritual and political components, I suppose, but in the end it's all intertwined. The theology and view of culture was bound to affect politics, and politics would affect theology also (since much of the period consisted of power struggles in various territories).

Already on the first reply we have, to my taste at least, a soup sandwich. But I'll dutifully try to add to it. Ugh!

Just agree with me and it is a lot less work for you! :-)

I'll use asterisks to identify my new content inserted into the deluge from your keyboard, so that it can be found with the "find" command.

As stated, I reply with enough information to refute my opponent's contention. If I didn't have a good case, then I wouldn't have much to write. But I will try to keep it as short as I can this time, because I don't think we can go much further with this, anyway, without discussing individual Fathers and single doctrines.

You quote miles of Lutherans, where you could have (and in your place I would have) simply asked "Hey Kristo, you say Lutherans didn't want their churches necessarily to resemble early churches. If so, why are they constantly citing fathers in the confessions and elsewhere?" Just as effective, and much easier to read.

Frankly, I don't think this point is arguable. I was surprised that you denied it. But I can understand a reluctance to connect with patristic consensus, since it so often goes against Lutheran teachings and favors Catholic teaching. So I think it (the view of the Fathers) is a mixed bag in contemporary and even historic post-Reformation Lutheranism. But originally, as far as I can tell, Lutheran self-understanding was that they were going back to patristic Christianity and purging themselves of what they saw as Catholic corruption. Otherwise, it was a revolution, not a self-described "reform."

My point was not that Lutherans aren't prepared to defend their practices from historical fathers, nor even that they don't value fathers. My point was that Lutherans in general, and Luther himself in particular, are motivated by contemporary problems, especially pastoral problems, particularly justification and reassurance of justification. Luther was much more obsessed with sin, guilt, and doubt than with the fathers or anything else scholarly, historical, or remote from laypeople's grinding reality. None of this is contradicted by your quoting miles of Lutherans citing fathers.

I agree. But your latter point does not rule out the earlier one (your first sentence). This discussion is about whether Lutherans think they are closer to the Fathers than Catholics are (not the overall emphasis or foremost concern of the "Reformation," which is a separate issue). Clearly, Lutherans did think they more closely resembled patristic Christianity, in the confessions, and in Luther's and Melanchthon's polemical rhetoric. But I deny the factuality of this claim.

So why do they cite fathers? First, heaven knows, they don't push the fathers when teaching their flocks. This is something they do in dialogue with Catholics, and especially Catholic officialdom at that. Compare the large and small catechisms to the confessions to see what I mean. This focus on the fathers is not a Lutheran obsession, it is a Catholic obsession that Lutherans are willing to indulge in dialogue and disputation. But, like I said before, the Lutheran reform was not driven by nostalgia, it was driven by the contemporary state of affairs.

I think this remains to be proven. Can you give me citations from Luther, Melanchthon, the confessions, or Chemnitz which state outright that use of the Fathers was only a polemical tactic in discussion with Catholics, and that Lutherans cared less about what the Fathers taught than Catholics did? Otherwise, it is only your bald opinion. You need to back it up from leading Lutheran figures for me to accept it. Certainly today Lutherans care less about these hist6orical issues, but I am going by the official confessions and founders of the movement (which is what one must do when critiquing a Christian group).

Lets add:

"They [fathers] were human beings who could err and be deceived." Apology XXVI:95

No one disagrees with this, so it is not at issue.

"Other writings of ancient and modern teachers, whatever their names, shall not be regarded as equal to holy scripture, … and not be accepted in any other way, or with any further authority, than as witnesses of how and where the teaching of the prophets and apostles was preserved after the time of the apostles." Epitome Summary:2

We agree with this, too. Fathers are not infallible; not even when they reach a consensus. But they provide a key witness to the legitimate apostolic Tradition, and its development through history. The Church ultimately determines orthodoxy, and in so doing, it will often disagree with individual Fathers. But we think that patristic consensus in fact agrees with Scripture.

Also, I once looked up every single reference to St. Augustine in my copy of the Book of Concord (the doctrinal standard for Lutheranism: for our non-Lutheran readers). Without exception it claims that St. Augustine is in full agreement with Lutheran doctrine. Furthermore, it makes outright false factual claims, such as that Augustine denied ex opere operato (the notion that the sacraments have inherent power apart from the dispenser or recipient), purgatory, and (though not completely clear), baptismal regeneration.

Isn't Augustine way too early to be denying purgatory? Gary Wills, in his wonderful "Why I am a Catholic", mentions in his discussion of indulgences that "It wasn't until the 1170s that purgatory became a noun…" (p.135) Anyway, you give no reference, but I assume that you mean article 12 of the Apology, which references The City of God XXI:26. And there we find a crucial difference between what the Apology actually says and what you accuse it of: the Apology does not claim that Augustine denies purgatory, it claims that he does not teach it. That, it seems to me, is correct, and even if you disagree, it should seem plausible. Augustine's passage makes plenty of reference to fire, but none specific to what a modern Catholic would call purgatory.

I don't know offhand when the word purgatory was first used. But the concept was present early on. Of that I am sure. For my support of this contention, see my paper, "The Witness of the Church Fathers With Regard to Catholic Distinctives"; sectionVII: Purgatory. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (2nd edition, edited by F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, Oxford University Press, 1983, 1144-1145), a prominent non-Catholic reference work, confirms my position:

St. Clement of Alexandria already asserts that those who, having repented on their deathbed, had no time to perform works of penance in this life, will be sanctified in the next by purifying fire (Stromateis, 7.6), a conception developed by Origen (Numbers, Hom. 15; J.P. Migne, PG, xii, 169 f.).

. . . A more developed doctrine is taught by St. Ambrose, who asserts that the souls of the departed await the end of time in different habitations, their fate varrying acc. to their works, though some are already with Christ. The foundation of the medieval doctrine is found in St. Augustine, who holds that the fate of the individual soul is decided immediately after death, and teaches the absolute certainty of purifying pains in the next life (De Civ. Dei, xxi. 13, and ib., 24), whereas St. Caesarius of Arles already distinguishes between capital sins, which lead to Hell, and minor ones, which may be expurgated either by good works on earth or in Purgatory. This doctrine was sanctioned also by St. Gregory the Great, who taught that the privation of the vision of God was one of purgatorial pains, and Gregory's position was accepted by many Latin theologians, e.g., the Venerable Bede.

John Henry Cardinal Newman, a patristics scholar, wrote that evidence for some form of purgatorial concept in the Fathers, was more prevalent than that for original sin. Here are some statements by St. Augustine:

The man who perhaps has not cultivated the land and has allowed it to be overrun with brambles has in this life the curse of his land on all his works, and after this life he will have either purgatorial fire or eternal punishment.

[Genesis Defended Against the Manicheans, 2,20,30]

Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment.

[The City of God, 21,13]

That there should be some such fire even after this life is not incredible, and it can be inquired into and either be discovered or left hidden whether some of the faithful may be saved, some more slowly and some more quickly in the greater or lesser degree in which they loved the good things that perish, - through a certain purgatorial fire.

[Enchiridion of Faith, Hope & Love, 18,69]

The time which interposes between the death of a man and the final resurrection holds souls in hidden retreats, accordingly as each is deserving of rest or hardship, in view of what it merited when it was living in the flesh. Nor can it be denied that the souls of the dead find relief through the piety of their friends and relatives who are still alive, when the Sacrifice of the Mediator is offered for them, or when alms are given in the church.

[Enchiridion of Faith, Hope & Love, 29,109-110]

The present argument has to do not with the nature of the "Reformation" per se (another great discussion for another time), but rather, with whether it is a closer adherent to patristic doctrine than Catholic teaching was and is.

Well, this current discussion is about whatever we interactively discuss. It takes two to dialogue. By interacting we'll find topics of interest to both of us. The topic of the fathers is not without interest to me, it's just not that essential to Lutherans. But inasmuch as it is important to you, I'll try to engage your views where I can. I'll have to do some reading to reply in greater detail.

The original topic was the Fathers, vis-a-vis Lutherans and Catholics. I don't just go wherever the conversation leads: not if it strays from the topic (because that accomplishes little). If you want to discuss something else, then name a subject, and we can start anew if you wish. Again: not to be cynical, but if you keep asserting that the Fathers don't matter that much to Lutherans, I submit that this is because they find themselves massively contradicted there, and we tend not to be interested in things that are contrary to our chosen positions. This merely supports my overall opinion.

But, if you intend to defend the likeness of late medieval Catholicism to some "early church", which early church do you have in mind, and how does the supreme papacy compare to the collegial episcopacy of the consensus era?

The universal Catholic Church, headed by the popes of Rome. The papacy is not antithetical to collegiality. Councils are supremely important, too. Historically, popes could overturn rulings of such councils, and confirmed or denied their teachings (e.g., the Robber Synod of 449 was an example of the latter).

I think that Catholic dogmatic doctrine (not secondary applications or disciplinary measures like the nature of fasts or feast days, etc., or priestly celibacy) "changes" insofar as it consistently develops. It is consistent with itself. It "changes" in the way an acorn changes into an oak tree, all the while retaining the same identity.

Where can you draw the line? A butterfly emerges from a fantastic transformation while "retaining the same identity". What, if any, limit have you placed on changing primary dogma/doctrine? And would CDF agree with you in conceding any change?

That is a complicated discussion, beyond our present purview. See the many papers on my Development of Doctrine topical index page. Development is my favorite theological topic.

Also, of course, isn't priestly celibacy at least debatably primary? I seem to recall that it has been affirmed in modern times using the Vatican 1 recipe for infallibility.

It's a discipline, not a dogma. But it is very firmly entrenched in Catholic tradition, and thus, exceedingly unlikely to change as the norm. Eastern Rite Catholics ordain married priests, and we allow some Anglican priests to come over and remain married.

The essential question, however, is whether the distinction between "secondary applications" and dogma/doctrine is consistent throughout the centuries. The Catholic claim is not only that doctrine and dogma don't change and aren't innovated, but also that teachings aren't promoted into or demoted out of dogmatic status (else they can change first, then be locked down; or be released to a lower status for the purpose of changing them). Also, then, of course, teaching can't be in limbo, with the church not knowing whether it is primary or secondary, waiting to see if it changes before declaring its status. A good discussion point, relevant to the reformation, is the medieval teaching on burning anathematized heretics (affirmed in, among other places, Exurge Domine), and more generally the whole concept of anathema in contrast to excommunication. Did Exurge Domine teach doctrine, or only secondary matters? I would argue the former. Has Catholic teaching on heretics, anathema, and "acts of faith" changed? I think so. Was it once primary? I think so.

Again, off the present topic . . . Besides, I can't give short answers to stuff like this, and we're trying to shorten our replies, not lengthen them. :-)

I see that you may misunderstand how it is that ecclesiastical order was disturbed in the first place. It was not part of the reform agenda, and didn't happen everywhere (e.g. not in Finland, where I was confirmed). We could debate the relative degree of intolerance of princes, but the important point is what Lutheranism and Catholicism teach, today and in the past, not how events unfolded in a time of conflict, crisis, and warfare. You also, of course, seem to be citing a rather partisan source. I might direct you to Hans Kung as an alternative Catholic writer on church history (and other matters), unless you think he's a Lutheran partisan.

Hans Kung is rather ignorant when it comes to historical matters, as abundantly shown in his book on infallibility. Also, given his heterodox views, I wouldn't trust him as a source on the history of any doctrine. My point here is that many Lutherans no longer have bishops, and they deny apostolic succession as historically understood by the Church. Even where they have bishops, it may not be a legitimate succession, from a Catholic perspective.

You continue to assert, incorrectly, that there are no bishops in Lutheran countries.

I didn't assert that (I understand this). I asserted, rather, that apostolic succession was denied or redefined. If episcopacy were so important, then why do any major groups of Lutherans fail to have bishops?

I've lived there, I've seen them. Granted, you add the vague caveat "in the technical sense". Still, I don't get the core of your complaint: do you think that Lutherans have failed to implement the "two kingdoms" model, or that the "two kingdoms" model itself is un-Christian? This is one of those places where your writing would really benefit from succinctness.

Luther and the confessions either deny or redefine apostolic succession. This is a departure from historic Christian teaching. That's all I am arguing here. It's real simple.

The situation which produced this was an emergency situation. There were no bishops, no authorities, any more; but the Church needed administration and government. And so emergency bishops were created, and nobody else could be this except the electors and princes.

[cited from an article; not my own words]

Yes. Now, how did the emergency come about? Is it inherent in the reform agenda, an accidental (from the church's perspective) consequence of princely malfeasance, or a tactical move on the part of the Catholics? In various places, individual bishops were removed for political reasons (being nobility from a family competing for power with the prince), in some they left their post because they objected to the reformation, in some they were ordered to leave by their Catholic superiors as a tactical move, in many cases they just left because they weren't from the area anyway and had more comfortable homes in less turbulent places. If you could tie your complaint to Lutheranism itself then I could see why this amalgam of complaints is relevant to our discussion, otherwise I don't see your point.

I've already repeated it twice above.

I disagree that the church needs a political backbone (and I wonder whether Benedict 16 agrees at least in some respects). If the state, in some places, subverts the visible church, so be it. I would rather have that than the visible church subverting the state. Some of the noblest chapters in the history of Christianity are those when the visible church had the least political power, but the invisible church had the greatest intensity.

The history of caesaropapism in the East was not a happy one.

I'm unfamiliar with the "picture of Luther as freedom-fighter". Luther, of course, has been interpreted and reinterpreted ad nauseam, so the idea that someone portrays him this way isn't surprising. Still, it isn't in any way essential to Lutheranism. Now the reform agenda in "to the Christain nobility", expressed in 28 points, is relevant, but it's also quite reasonable. Luther appealed to the princes to help with the reform because the reform was important, and the visible church hierarchy was opposed. To a comfortable middle-class modern western Catholic, for whom resistance to ecclesiastical hierarchy is heresy per se, nothing more needs to be said. But to the people living under that particular hierarchy at that particular time, the call for reform was compelling.

This was a revolution, not a reform. See my paper: Luther Was Not a Revolutionary?! Huh?!

Wow. My Marxist college teachers (mostly perpetual graduate students teaching freshman seminars) would have loved this stuff. You'd have gotten easy A's. But what, exactly, should I take away from this, or answer?

It was just a relevant article I cited. No need to digress further. We're basically spinning our wheels on the original topic by now.

Also, one can do a word search ("Ctrl f") of "bishops" in my paper, Martin Luther's Violent, Inflammatory Rhetoric and its Relationship to the German Peasants' Revolt (1524-1525) , to see Luther's intense hostility towards Catholic bishops and their office.

Ad hominem. Lutheranism isn't Lutherolatry.

You're confusing things. You kept asking over and over why I thought Lutherans had overthrown apostolic succession. So I had to go into the background of how they originally got rid of bishops (at least in some places). This would be merely a sort of footnote. It has nothing to do with "Lutherolatry" or some other silly thing. Why is it that almost every time I cite Luther (or one of his actions) to a Lutheran, I get accused of confusing Luther with confessional Lutheranism? I understand the distinction, but it's not wrong to briefly examine the historical background. There is this guy named Luther, to whom your system can be traced in many ways. It's relevant, therefore, to mention him when discussing major changes from Catholicism to Lutheranism. Apostolic succession is one of these. Luther redefined it (basically in the three great treatises of 1521). So one will often find reason to discuss him if one is doing history of Lutheran doctrine.

How is the pope above secular auhority today? How was Miltiades above Constantine? How was Silverius or Vigilius above Justinian?

The pope,can speak truth to power even if he doesn't have temporal power. Clearly he doesn't today. But we regard him as the supreme ruler of the Church, which is ultimately above every state. So in that sense he is supreme.

From Wills, pp. 62-63: "Apostolic succession: This has become, in some modern versions, a linear descent of all bishops from the bishop of Rome. That was far from the sense given to the concept in the second century (when there was still no bishop in Rome). It referred to the joint testimony of the six outstanding communities of the early church…"

Papal succession is one particular form of apostolic succession. I am referring to the succession of bishops. Wills is no authority on Catholicism, by the way. He is a dissident, who doesn't believe many things that the Church teaches. I suggest you find other sources than Wills and Kung if you wish to learn more about what we actually believe.

On what authority or epistemological or theological or revelational basis do you come up with the idea that the early Church needed apostolic succession, while today's Church, or the 16th century Church does not need it anymore? That is taught neither in Scriture nor in previous Christian tradition.

You mean it's not self-evident? Think of how oral history works (the Muslim example is great to study, because Christians can look at the workings dispassionately and learn how things develop). Even if it's not self-evident to you, you complain too much if you deny that it is at least plausible. So tell me what you believe: give me a target to throw darts at, as I have done for you. What, exactly, do bishops in apostolic succession pass from one to the next that bishops outside that succession (which, in the early church, was most of them) don't have? And which version of apostolic succession do you hold?

Orthodoxy and legitimate ordination. This is a separate discussion. But see papers of mine on ecclesiology, on my Church page.

The starting point is the collection and establishment of a scriptural canon, also a thing not taught in scripture. Surely you don't deny the value of that innovation, the canon? Once you accept the canon, and why it was assembled (to distinguish authoritative teaching), "sola scriptura" becomes nothing more than an acknowledgement that the canonists succeeded.

No it doesn't, because it isn't taught in that same Scripture. It's still a false principle, whether there is a canon or not.

I was confused: when I spoke of priestly celibacy as doctrine/dogma I was mistaking Ordinatio Sacerdotalis for Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, sorry. It is the all-male priesthood which has been defined at a level that meets Vatican 1 standards for infallibility.

The all-male priesthood will never change in Catholicism, because we don't bow to faddism and whatever the fashionable, trendy zeitgeist happens to be. Priests were always male in the Christian Church, and so they will remain in the Catholic Church.

I believe as a Catholic that the Fathers (considered broadly) develop theology in a consistent fashion, not a herky-jerky or contradictory fashion. I also believe that the consensus which developed among them was orthodox Christianity; not to be contravened later on by revolutionaries like Calvin and Luther, but to be consistently developed in perpetuity.

The question, of course, is first about the content of that orthodox consensus, then about what changes, if any, are evolutionary and acceptable, what changes are revolutionary and unacceptable. Part of that orthodox consensus, prior to establishment of the scripture canon, was the joint witness of the most prominent sees in Christendom and those writings which taught the same doctrine from recorded apostolic witness. In Ellen Flessman-van Leer's words,

"For Tertullian, scripture is the only means for refuting or validating a doctrine as regards its content… For Irenaeus, the church doctrine is certainly never purely traditional; on the contrary, the thought that there could be some truth, transmitted exclusively viva voce (orally), is a gnostic line of thought… If Irenaeus wants to prove the truth of a doctrine materially, he turns to scripture, because therein the teaching of the apostles is objectively accessible. Proof from tradition and scripture serve one and the same end: to identify the teaching of the Church as the original apostolic teaching. The first establishes that the teaching of the church is this apostolic teaching, and the second, what this apostolic teaching is."

(Tradition and Scripture in the Early Church, pp. 184, 133, 144)

I agree. This is Catholic teaching. We believe in the material sufficiency of Scripture, and the necessity of an authoritative Church and the standard of Tradition, within which Scripture must be properly interpreted.

The last sentence is the takeaway, describing how tradition and scripture worked hand in glove in the era before the canon. Tradition distinguished the true apostolic teachings from the false teachings at the level of up-or-down, but only scripture gave the trusted content of the teaching. Once the canon was established, the first function (that of using tradition to distinguish which writings to treat authoritatively from those not to trust) was obsolete.

Not at all, because theological grids (both orthodox and heterodox) profoundly influence biblical exegesis, so that simply reading the Bible does not necessarily bring about true interpretation of it (and has not, historically). You assume that Scripture is self-interpreting. If there is anything that has been proven to be false during the course of the Protestant experiment, it is that.

The original Lutheran teaching was not, really, sola gratia and sola fide, but rather their undifferentiated composite, which we might irreverently call "sola gride". Both parts deny the salvific value of human action, but sola fide denies the value of (disputably meritorious) works (like indulgences and sacraments) while sola gratia denies the value of freely-willed human choices. Before I get accused of dropping the sacraments let me point out that we still practice them, but they are acts compelled by faith, not acts to augment faith.

Thanks for the interesting information, but this discussion is about what the Fathers believed, and whether Lutherans departed from them in these areas.

Reformed Protestantism's historic distinction between the passive or imputed righteousness of Christ given in justification, and the active or infused righteousness given in sanctification, has its genesis in Luther's thought. Prior to Luther justification had been tied to regeneration, so that the forgiveness of sins was viewed not merely as a forensic declaration of the believer's status as righteous before God, but as a process whereby the believer is actually made righteous. In this way, as Alister McGrath has pointed out, Luther introduced a theological novum into the Western church tradition 'which marks a complete break with the tradition up to this point.' [1]

This is neither sola fide nor sola gratia, but it is worth discussion. Is this really a theological novelty, or only a terminological novelty? Is it really a new teaching, or only new pedagogy? I'll defend the latter.

It's a theological novelty and a new teaching, just as McGrath (no Catholic) wrote.

[Footnote 1: Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification. Two volumes. Cambridge University Press, 1986. See Volume I pages 182ff. and Volume II pages 2f. The quotation is from II:]
The Reformers did not deny the reality of infused righteousness. Indeed, they insisted that justifying (passive) righteousness never exists apart from sanctifying (active) righteousness. [2] At the same time, however, they made a 'notional distinction' between justification and sanctification where none had previously existed. [3]

This seems to confirm that the novelty is pedagogical rather than theological, i.e. in how you explain the two aspects of regeneration, the yes-no and the more-less, the event and the process. Luther was big on pedagogy, and specifically innovative in pedagogy. But the underlying theology is orthodox. Or do you disagree?

I think it is heterodox to make an arbitrary (abstract) separation between justification and sanctification, where none existed (either biblically or historically) ; and this was a novelty, as explained above. In "concrete" practice, however, Lutheranism stresses an organic connection between justification and good works; salvation and sanctification. So there is much commonality, as seen in the recent Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue on Justification. It's the radical expression of faith alone that makes all stress on works some sort of Pelagianism, which is wrong. The Lutheran confessions wrongly make this comparison or connection, thus showing that they greatly misunderstood Catholic teaching on this.

. . . Whatever may have occasioned Luther's shift in thinking between 1521 and 1535, it is a matter of historical record that after about 1530 the Protestant Reformers defined justification almost solely in forensic terms as the forgiveness of sins.

The Catholic/protestant distinction is sometimes explained as an ontic/epistemic distinction (am I righteous, or am I regarded as righteous by God?). But is there any ontic/epistemic distinction when the mind in question is that of God? Arguably this is nothing more than a new way to explain an old problem, how the justified can still have a wounded nature inclined to evil, why Christ can declare "it is done" on the cross, yet we the redeemed still have more regenerating to do.

If justification and sanctification are not radically separated in Scripture (and they are not), then in some sense, justification is a process, not a one-time event. It's the separation of the two, and the denial of process which was new. What was done on the cross was the opening of redemption and salvation to all men: to all who would repent and receive it. That doesn't mean that a sinning man is "really" righteous. That's just a word game. We believe that righteousness, where present -- to whatever degree present -- is actual and literal, not merely declaratory or extrinsic. We are saved by Grace Alone through Christ Alone, but that doesn't make good evil and evil good just by playing with words. So there is a distinction, I would say, even in the Mind of God. Holiness is a requirement in actuality, not just in the abstract. That's why we believe in purgatory, because few of us reach a level of holiness which makes us fit enough to enter into the presence of God. We don't allow God's grace to bring about that result in us. So the remaining sin has to be purged, as no sin can enter heaven.

Where you see "radical innovations and novelties" I see new pedagogy but old theology.

I don't see how . . . the historians who have studied these things agree that they were innovations and novelties, and that the Fathers didn't teach them. You may be in favor of novelty, here and there, but that doesn't negate the fact that they were novelties (and you have to show why you think novelty is permissible in Christian theology).

The Fathers always appealed to Tradition, apostolic succession, and the teaching of the universal Church, in refuting heretics. The heretics, on the other hand (particularly the Arians), usually came at questions from a "Scripture Alone" perspective. Knowing that they were departing from orthodoxy, they had to latch onto Scripture (i.e., their heterodox, peculiar interpretations of it) to have some semblance of legitimacy. But Scripture has to be interpreted within a framework of orthodoxy. And that leads us right back to the Church and Tradition.

Yes and no. The Arians definitely used scripture to their advantage, as did their orthodox opponents. The tradition that this argument gets you doesn't lead to "it is absolutely necessary for every human being to submit to the Roman Pontiff". The kind of traditional understanding of scripture that you are referring to here is not the exclusive property of the pontifical church, and can be pursued just as well outside of communion with Rome. The kind of "tradition" that is controversial is some esoteric special revelation only posessed by Catholic bishops.

At this point of the argument (contra sola Scriptura) I would only be maintaining that some authoritative Church and Tradition is necessary. Identifying the truest or fullest one would be a separate endeavor. As to your last sentence, you would have to give an example. The only bishop we grant special charisms is the pope, and that is not correctly called "special revelation," but rather, infallibility.

I have no reason to believe that apostolic succession ceases, with the canon of Scripture (anymore than I should believe that spiritual gifts cease, which is another similar argument made), since it is taught in that same Scripture. As for who contradicts Scripture, folks in Protestantism disagree on a host of matters, so Scripture Alone cannot settle those disputes. Some form of Tradition or binding Church authority must do so. Talk about "competing absolutisms" . . . !

And again, I am not claiming that apostolic succession ceases, only that it becomes obsolete, its purpose fulfilled in the canon.

What's the difference? If it is no longer needed, and no longer applies, it is obsolete. Why not call a spade a spade? The Bible needs to be interpreted. That's why the bald fact of a canon doesn't render null and void apostolic succession or an infallible Church.

To your point about protestant disagreements, what of it? Catholicism has at least as much diversity of scriptural interpretation under its one umbrella as the major original protestant movements have among them.

No; dogmatically it has no such radical disagreement as Protestantism does. Our teachings are clear. We do have renegade liberals who dissent from Church teaching. That's the whole point: they are "dissenting." In order to do that, one must know what it is that they are dissenting against. And that is orthodoxy and the true Church teaching. Protestants, on the other hand, actually degenerate as denominations and become heterodox. They change their teaching. Anglicans today are the most obvious example of this. But the Unitarians 200 years ago would be another.

That sola scriptura is from the fathers is obvious, once you look for it. I'll not flood you with quotes off the internet, but one quote seems worth sharing given the origins of our encounter in your exchanges over Cyril of Jerusalem. Cyril taught that "This seal have thou ever on thy mind; which now by way of summary has been touched on in its heads, and if the Lord grant, shall hereafter be set forth according to our power, with Scripture proofs. For concerning the divine and sacred Mysteries of the Faith, we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures: nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument. Do not then believe me because I tell thee these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures." (The Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril, Lecture 4.17)

It's not at all obvious. This citation proves nothing, because opposing sola Scriptura does not mean opposing Scriptural proofs or use of Scripture in opposing falsehoods. Sola Scriptura is a (new) rule of faith which goes against an authoritative, binding Church. I've debated this at great length with a Protestant apologist (Jason Engwer). He couldn't prove a thing, and departed the discussion after dealing with only 4 of the 10 Fathers I wrote about. So to determine whether St. Cyril (or any other Father) believed in sola Scriptura, or the Catholic three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Church, one has to also look at what he wrote about Tradition and the Church, in order to interpret his statements about Scripture in context, with that fuller understanding of his view on the rule of faith. We might also take a look at this very work of his which you cite (Catechetical Lectures), to find evidence of one view or the other. What do we find there? In the immediately preceding section (4:16), on the same topic (the Holy Spirit), Cyril writes:

Believe thou also in the Holy Ghost, and hold the same opinion concerning Him, which thou hast received to hold concerning the Father and the Son, and follow not those who teach blasphemous things of Him.


In the very next lecture (Five), Cyril exhibits a profoundly Catholic understanding of the "Bible and Tradition" issue (emphasis added):

12. But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to thee by the Church, and which has been
built up strongly out of all the Scriptures.
For since all cannot read the Scriptures, some being hindered as to the knowledge of them by want of learning, and others by a want of leisure, in order that the soul may not perish from ignorance, we comprise the whole doctrine of the Faith in a few lines. This summary I wish you both to commit to memory when I recite it, and to rehearse it with all diligence among yourselves, not writing it out on paper, but engraving it by the memory upon your heart, taking care while you rehearse it that no Catechumen chance to overhear the things which have been delivered to you. I wish you also to keep this as a provision through the whole course of your life, and beside this to receive no other, neither if we ourselves should change and contradict our present teaching, nor if an adverse angel, transformed into an angel of light should wish to lead you astray. For though we or an angel from heaven preach to you any other gospel than that ye have received, let him be to you anathema. So for the present listen while I simply say the Creed, and commit it to memory; but at the proper season expect the confirmation out of Holy Scripture of each part of the contents. For the articles of the Faith were not composed as seemed good to men; but the most important points collected out of all the Scripture make up one complete teaching of the Faith. And just as the mustard seed in one small grain contains many branches, so also this Faith has embraced in few words all the knowledge of godliness in the Old and New Testaments. Take heed then, brethren, and hold fast the traditions which ye now receive, and write them an the table of your heart.

13. Guard them with reverence, lest per chance the enemy despoil any who have grown slack; or lest some heretic pervert any of the truths delivered to you. For faith is like putting money into the bank, even as we have now done; but from you God requires the accounts of the deposit. I charge you, as the Apostle saith, before God, who quickeneth all things, and Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed the good confession, that ye keep this faith which is committed to you, without spot, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.


John Henry Cardinal Newman, in his 1872 preface to this work, makes some very insightful comments about this matter:

Without, however, entering into a question which our Church seems to have determined for us, a few words shall be devoted to the explanation of a verbal difficulty by which it is often perplexed. An objection is made, which, when analyzed, resolves itself into the following form. {xiii} "Either Antiquity does or does not teach something over and above Scripture: if it does, it adds to the inspired word;—if it does not, it is useless.—Does it then or does it not add to Scripture?" And, as if showing that the question is a perplexed one, of various writers who advocate the use of Antiquity, one may be found to speak of the writings of the Fathers as enabling us to ascertain and revive truths which have fallen into desuetude, while another may strenuously maintain, that they impart the knowledge of no new truths over and above what Scripture sets before us. Now, not to touch upon other points suggested by this question, it may be asked by way of explanation, whether the exposition of the true sense of any legal document, any statute or deed, which has been contested, is an addition to it or not? It is in point of words certainly; for if the words were the same, it would be no explanation; but it is no addition to the sense, for it professes to be neither more nor less than the very sense, which is expressed in one set of words in the original document, in another in the comment. In like manner, when our Saviour says, "I and My Father are One," and Antiquity interprets "One" to mean one in substance," this is an addition to the wording, but no addition to the sense. Of many possible means of interpreting a word, it cuts away all but one, or if it recognizes others, it reduces them to harmony and subordination to
that one. Unless the Evangelist wished his readers to be allowed to put any
conceivable sense upon the word, the power of doing so is no privilege; rather
it is a privilege to know that very meaning, which to the exclusion of all others is the true meaning. Catholic Tradition professes to do for Scripture just which is desirable, whether it is possible or not, to relieve us from the chance of taking one or other of the many senses which are wrong or insufficient, instead of the one sense which is true and complete.

But again, every diligent reader of the Bible has a certain {xiv} idea in his own mind of what its teaching is, an idea which he cannot say is gained from this or that particular passage, but which he has gained from it as a whole, and which if he attempted to prove argumentatively, he might perplex himself or fall into inconsistencies, because he has never trained his mind in such logical processes; yet nevertheless he has in matter of fact a view of Scripture doctrine, and that gained from Scripture, and which, if he states it, he does not necessarily state in words of Scripture, and which, whether after all correct or not, is not incorrect merely because he does not express it in Scripture words, or because he cannot tell whence he got it, or logically refer it to, or prove it from, particular passages. One man is a Calvinist, another an Arminian, another a Latitudinarian; not logically merely, but from the impression gained from Scripture. Is the Latitudinarian necessarily adding to Scripture because he maintains the proposition, "religious opinions matter not, so that a man is sincere," a proposition not in terminis in Scripture? Surely he is unscriptural, not because he uses words not in Scripture, but because he thereby expresses ideas which are not expressed in Scripture. In answer then to the question, whether the Catholic system is an addition to Scripture, we reply, in one sense it is, in another it is not. It is not, inasmuch as it is not an addition to the range of independent ideas which Almighty God intended should be expressed and conveyed on the whole by the inspired text: it is an addition, inasmuch as it is in addition to their arrangement, and to the words containing them,—inasmuch as it stands as a conclusion contrasted with its premisses, inasmuch as it does that which every reader of the Scriptures does for himself, express and convey the ideas more explicitly and determinately than he finds them, and inasmuch as there may be difficulty in duly referring every part of the explicit doctrine to the various parts of Scripture which contain it. {xv}

Nothing here is intended beyond setting right an ambiguity of speech which both perplexes persons, and leads them to think that they differ from others, from whom they do not differ. No member of the English Church ever thought that the Church's creed was an addition to Scripture in any other sense than that in which an individual's own impression concerning the sense of Scripture is an addition to it; or ever referred to a supposed deposit of faith distinct from Scripture existing in the writings of the Fathers, in any other sense than in that in which asking a friend's opinion about the sense of Scripture, might be called imputing to him unscriptural opinions. The question of words then may easily be cleared up, though it often becomes a difficulty; the real subject in dispute, which is not here to be discussed, being this, how this one true sense of Scripture is to be learned, whether by philological criticism upon definite texts,—or by a promised superintendence of the Holy Ghost teaching the mind the true doctrines from Scripture, (whether by a general impression upon the mind, or by leading it, text by text piecemeal into doctrine by doctrine;)—or, on the other hand, by a blessing of the Spirit upon studying it in the right way, that is, in the way actually provided, in other words, according to the Church's interpretations. In all cases the text of Scripture and an exposition of it are supposed; in the one the exposition comes first and is brought to Scripture, in the other it is brought out after examination into Scripture; but you cannot help assigning some exposition or other, if you value the Bible at all. Those alone will be content to ascribe no sense to Scripture, who think it matters not whether it has any sense or not. As to the case of a difference eventually occurring in any instance of importance, between what an individual considers to be the sense of Scripture and that which he finds Antiquity to put upon it, the previous question must be asked, whether such difference is likely to arise. It will not arise in the case of the majority, nor in the case of serious, sensible, and humble minds; {xvi} and where men are not such, it will be but one out of many difficulties. A person however, thus circumstanced, whether from his own fault or not, is in a difficulty; difficulties are often our lot, and we must bear them, as we think God would have us. We can cut the knot by throwing off the authority of the Fathers; and we can remain under the burden of the difficulty by allowing that authority; but, however we act, we have no licence to please our taste or humour, but we act under a responsibility.
It's interesting also that you claim that the completion of the biblical canon makes sola Scriptura the new norm and rule of faith, then cite Cyril of Jerusalem as a supposed proponent of this view. Yet his canon is different than yours. He did not include Revelation, and includes Baruch. This information comes from the same work (4:35-36).

As regards the pre-Augustinian Church, there is in our time a striking convergence of scholarly opinion that Scripture and Tradition are for the early Church in no sense mutually exclusive: kerygma, Scripture and Tradition coincide entirely. The Church preaches the kerygma which is to be found in toto in written form in the canonical books.

Sounds good to me. I particularly like the "found in toto in written form in the canonical books".

Then we have little disagreement here, except that you seem to define sola Scriptura differently than I do. The Lutheran system threw out the infallibility of the Church. This is unarguable. and it was one of my four original points.

The Tradition is not understood as an addition to the kerygma contained in Scripture but as the handing down of that same kerygma in living form: in other words everything is to be found in Scripture and at the same time everything is in the living Tradition.

Yes. So, for instance, we must not be bibliolatrous hermits, locking ourselves away from the community of believers, with only our scriptures to engage us. We must hear the Word preached, have it explained, apply it to our lives and to those of our bretheren, and have them apply it to ours. We are expected to do all of this as Lutherans. Yet none of this violates "sola scriptura", none of this elevates popes or councils to the level of scripture.

Again, you mischaracterize the Catholic rule of faith (a very common failing of Protestants, but still irksome). Authoritative interpretation of infallible, inspired Scripture is not the same as being inspired (or, in short, infallibility is not inspiration). Why that is, was explained above by Cardinal Newman.

It is in the living, visible Body of Christ, inspired and vivified by the operation of the Holy Spirit, that Scripture and Tradition coinhere . . . Both Scripture and Tradition issue from the same source: the Word of God, Revelation . . . Only within the Church can this kerygma be handed down undefiled . . .

Yes, unless you mean only in your church. The invisible church will, in the fullness of time, reveal itself to be in many unexpected places.

There is only one Church, both biblically speaking, and historically speaking (before Protestantism came onto the scene). This was how the Fathers spoke; this was how the Apostle Paul wrote, and so we accept it. Your "invisible church" does not take the place of the historical, institutional Church. This is yet another radical ecclesiological novelty from Luther.

(Heiko Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, rev. 1967, 366-367)

Clearly it is an anachronism to superimpose upon the discussions of the second and third centuries categories derived from the controversies over the relation of Scripture and tradition in the 16th century, for 'in the ante-Nicene Church . . . there was no notion of sola Scriptura, but neither was there a doctrine of traditio sola.'. . . (1)

Yes. But whereas we mustn't retroject 16th century controversies onto discussions of the 2nd century, it is reasonable to project 2nd century controversies (such as over which writings are authoritative) onto discussions of the 16th century.

I agree.

The apostolic tradition was a public tradition . . . So palpable was this apostolic tradition that even if the apostles had not left behind the Scriptures to serve as normative evidence of their doctrine, the church would still be in a position to follow 'the structure of the tradition which they handed on to those to whom they committed the churches (2).' This was, in fact, what the church was doing in those barbarian territories where believers did not have access to the written deposit, but still carefully guarded the ancient tradition of the apostles, summarized in the creed . . .

These are, of course, the very same territories which were overwhelmingly Arian.

. . . which goes to prove that one cannot safely survive with only Scripture or only Tradition, or without the Church. All theree are necessary for the firm maintenance of orthodoxy and the apostolic deposit.

The term 'rule of faith' or 'rule of truth' . . . seems sometimes to have meant the 'tradition,' sometimes the Scriptures, sometimes the message of the gospel . . .

In the . . . Reformation . . . the supporters of the sole authority of Scripture . . . overlooked the function of tradition in securing what they regarded as the correct exegesis of Scripture against heretical alternatives.

Maybe, maybe not. I've certainly always been taught (in my Lutheran congregations) the hazards of individual interpretation, of substituting personal scholarship for interactive, communal, and applied interpretation within the living church. But in any case, "sola scriptura" is not about how you interpret scripture; to assert that one method (based on tradition) is better than another (unspecified) does not contradict the proposition that it is scripture, rather than, e.g., councils or popes, that is authoritative. By moving from authority to interpretation you have left the topic of "sola scriptura".

I think the information I have provided above adequately deals with these concerns.

(Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine: Vol.1 of 5: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, 115-117, 119; citations: 1. In Cushman, Robert E. & Egil Grislis, eds., The Heritage of Christian Thought: Essays in Honor of Robert Lowry Calhoun, New York: 1965, quote from Albert Outler, "The Sense of Tradition in the Ante-Nicene Church," 29. 2. St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:4:1)

You asked me at one point for a quote from one of the original Lutheran theologians to affirm that "use of the fathers was only a polemical tactic in discussion with Catholics". You ask too much; I doubt that any discussion of polemic tactics of any kind can be found in their writings, or that of their adversaries for that matter.

Then you have admitted that you made a claim without the substantiation to back it up.

I would briefly offer, instead, two points of evidence that conformance to the teaching of the fathers is not part of Lutheran self-understanding (contrary to your explicit claim).

The first evidence is the catechisms. While the confessions are addressed to the world, but especially to Catholicism, the catechisms are addressed to Lutherans. I pointed out before that they are very different from the confessions in not quoting or citing the fathers. The contrast with the confessions (and, for that matter, with the Catholic catechism) in this respect is quite strong. Even where you would expect some reference to those patristic authors/traditions which don't divide Lutherans and Catholics, there is nothing. The hounds of Baskerville are silent. Check out, for example, the elliptical treatment of the authorship of the Apostle's Creed in LC:Preface:19 and LC:II:5, or the father's analyses of oaths in LC:I:65. When Luther doesn't pass over the fathers in silence he deliberately writes in circles to avoid introducing them.

That's easily answered: catechisms by nature are simple, declaratory treatments of what a Christian communion believes, for instruction of the faithful. They are neither theological treatises nor apologetical tracts. So the absence of the Fathers here shouldn't surprise anyone. Rather, it is highly noteworthy that the Fathers are all over the Lutheran confessions. You say that was just a polemical nod to the concerns of Catholics, but when asked to prove that claim, you can't give me anything.

The second evidence is my personal testimony. My Lutheran self-understanding, formed in three very different Lutheran bodies, never involved going back to patristic Christianity. This was never taught in confirmation classes, sunday/wednesday school, or sermons. On the contrary, delving too deeply into these issues (which comes too naturally for me) has always been politely discouraged, as leading to scholarly individualism and loss of focus on the congregation, fellowship, witness, ministry, and reality of Christ in our lives today. Not that studying the fathers was a bad thing per se, only that it was correlated with unhealthy obsession over esoterica.

This is irrelevant to the discussion also, since I never denied that modern-day Lutheranism-in-practice was woefully deficient in historical teaching and patristics. I am discussing confessional, historical, original Lutheranism. One can only go by the creedal statements of those whom one opposes in something or other. And when I look at the Lutheran creeds and confessions, the Fathers are mentioned quite often, and "claimed" as proto-Lutherans, not proto-Catholics. When these claims as to historical fact are examined and given proper scrutiny, they collapse.

Hence, we can only conclude that Catholicism is far closer in theology to the early Church and the Fathers than Lutheranism is (precisely my original claim which I have been defending).

No comments: