Monday, June 20, 2005

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

By Dave Armstrong (6-20-05)

Kristo Miettinen's words are in blue

I, for reasons of personal taste, dislike the internet-inspired "interleaved comment" style of communication. It makes it hard, for me at least, to decide what to respond to and what to let pass uncommented. I do not take it for granted that everything that I disagree with merits a comment or refutation. So, I will extract from your commentary what seem to me to be the most important and response-worthy points, and if I miss one that is important in your estimation, then please re-introduce it as a fresh question. I'll do what I can to answer whatever direct questions you pose.

I dealt with these issues in a separately-posted paper.

I wouldn't agree with you that Lutherans intend Lutheran churches to resemble unspecified early churches. After all, Luther repeatedly emphasized how various innovations were not scriptural but still useful, valuable to piety, etc. The reform movement was directed at removing contemporary (i.e. 16th century) problems, not nostalgia; it was driven by a concern over what was wrong at the time, not by a vision of what was right in an earlier time. To be sure, earlier times were looked to for alternatives to what was unacceptable in the 16th century, but where there was no problem Lutherans did not feel particularly compelled to roll back the clock.

I think this was true in relatively minor issues, but on the major issues, Luther and Lutherans appealed to the Fathers, and claimed to be in a closer affinity with them than Catholics were. The Augsburg Confession often appeals to the Fathers, as well as to Scripture, over against Catholicism:

This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known from its writers. This being the case, they judge harshly who insist that our teachers be regarded as heretics. There is, however, disagreement on certain Abuses, which have crept into the Church without rightful authority.

(Article XXI: Of the Worship of the Saints)

Alternate translation (from The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959, p. 47):

. . . this teaching is grounded clearly in the Holy Scriptures and is not contrary or opposed to that of the universal Christian church, or even of the Roman church (in so far as the latter's teaching is reflected in the writings of the Fathers), we think that our opponents cannot disagree with us in the articles set forth above.

Here is another similar statement:


Inasmuch, then, as our churches dissent in no article of the faith from the Church Catholic, but only omit some abuses which are new, and which have been erroneously accepted by the corruption of the times, contrary to the intent of the Canons, we pray that Your Imperial Majesty would graciously hear both what has been changed, and what were the reasons why the people were not compelled to observe those abuses against their conscience.

And the term "person" they use as the Fathers have used it, to signify, not a part or quality in another, but that which subsists of itself.

(Article I)

The same is also taught by the Fathers. For Ambrose says: It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving remission of sins, without works, by faith alone.

(Article VI)

And lest any one should craftily say that a new interpretation of Paul has been devised by us, this entire matter is supported by the testimonies of the Fathers. For Augustine, in many volumes, defends grace and the righteousness of faith, over against the merits of works. And Ambrose, in his De Vocatione Gentium, and elsewhere, teaches to like effect.

(Article XX)

Now, forasmuch as the Mass is such a giving of the Sacrament, we hold one communion every holy-day, and, if any desire the Sacrament, also on other days,
when it is given to such as ask for it. And this custom is not new in the Church; for the Fathers before Gregory make no mention of any private Mass, but of the common Mass [the Communion] they speak very much. Chrysostom says that the priest stands daily at he altar, inviting some to the Communion and keeping back others.

. . . Forasmuch, therefore, as the Mass with us has the example of the Church, taken from the Scripture and the Fathers, we are confident that it cannot be disapproved, especially since public ceremonies, for the most part like those hitherto in use, are retained; only the number of Masses differs, which, because of very great and manifest abuses doubtless might be profitably reduced. For in olden times, even in churches most frequented, the Mass was not celebrated every day, as the Tripartite History (Book 9, chap. 33) testifies: Again in Alexandria, every Wednesday and Friday the Scriptures are read, and the doctors expound them, and all things are done, except the solemn rite of Communion.

(Article XXIV)

Such liberty in human rites was not unknown to the Fathers. For in the East they kept Easter at another time than at Rome, and when, on account of this diversity, the Romans accused the Eastern Church of schism, they were admonished by others that such usages need not be alike everywhere. And Irenaeus says: Diversity concerning fasting does not destroy the harmony of faith; as also Pope Gregory intimates in Dist. XII, that such diversity does not violate the unity of the Church. And in the Tripartite History, Book 9, many examples of dissimilar rites are gathered, and the following statement is made: It was not the mind of the Apostles to enact rules concerning holy-days, but to preach godliness and a holy life [, to teach faith and love].

(Article XXVI)

The same holds true for the Apology of the Augsburg Confession:

In reference to original sin we therefore hold nothing differing either from Scripture or from the Church catholic, but cleanse from corruptions and restore to light most important declarations of Scripture and of the Fathers, that had been covered over by the sophistical controversies of modern theologians. For it is manifest from the subject itself that modern theologians have not noticed what the Fathers meant when they spake of defect [lack of original righteousness].

. . . For they clearly call concupiscence sin, which, nevertheless, is not imputed to those who are in Christ although by nature it is a matter worthy of death where it is not forgiven. Thus, beyond all controversy, the Fathers believe. For Augustine, in a long discussion refutes the opinion of those who thought that concupiscence in man is not a fault but an adiaphoron, as color of the body or ill health is said to be an adiaphoron [as to have a black or a white body is neither good nor evil].

. . . But if the adversaries will contend that the fomes [or evil inclination] is an adiaphoron, not only many passages of Scripture but simply the entire Church [and all the Fathers] will contradict them.

. . . For this reason our preachers have diligently taught concerning these subjects, and have delivered nothing that is new but have set forth Holy Scripture and the judgments of the holy Fathers.

. . . We have thought it worth while only to recite, in customary and well-known words, the belief of the holy Fathers, which we also follow.

(Part I, Article 2: Of Original Sin)

We have testimonies for this our belief, not only from the Scriptures, but also from the Fathers.

(Part II, Article 4: Of Justification)

Here and there among the Fathers similar testimonies are extant.

(Part V)

But concerning this topic we will collect more testimonies below, although they are everywhere obvious not only in the Scriptures, but also in the holy Fathers.

(Part VI, Article III)

But the subject is well known, and has very many and very clear testimonies in Scripture, and in the Church Fathers, who all with one mouth declare that, even though we have good works yet in these very works we need mercy . . . Nor should we be regarded as teaching anything new in this matter, since the Church Fathers have so clearly handed down the doctrine that even in good works we need mercy.

(Part IX)

For we know that those things which we have said are in harmony with the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, with the holy Fathers, Ambrose, Augustine and very many others, and with the whole Church of Christ, which certainly confesses that Christ is Propitiator and Justifier.

. . . For the Scriptures the holy Fathers, and the judgments of all the godly everywhere make reply.

. . . Hence the judgments of our adversaries will not disturb us, since they defend human opinions contrary to the Gospel, contrary to the authority of the holy Fathers, who have written in the Church, and contrary to the testimonies of godly minds.

(Part X)

. . . that the good are in the Church both in fact and in name. And to this effect there are many passages in the Fathers.

. . . And the writings of the holy Fathers testify . . .

(Part XI: Articles 7 and 8)

Etc., etc., etc. Further evidence of this prominent motif is unnecessary. 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.

Nor, of course, would I agree with you that Catholic churches, either today or in the 16th century, resemble unspecified early churches. Name your reference period of choice (mine is, roughly, Justinian and John of Damascus) and we can compare notes, but this isn't an important contest to win. The reformation was not about the difference between two parties, one of whom revered the ancient fathers, the other of whom revered them just a little bit more. The reformation was about teaching ordinary laypeople how they are justified, what they should and should not fear in this life, and how they must live a Christian life. To the extent that Catholicism has changed over the centuries, the sharpness of the original disagreement on those issues has faded, and rightly so. But to a Catholic who disputes that Catholicism ever changes its teaching (are you one of those?) the reformation will never make sense, because the Catholicism of that era will be dogmatically denied.

I can defend my earlier arguments, that in the four areas I mentioned (and in many, if not all others), the Catholic Church is far more consonant with the teaching of the fathers and the early Church than Lutheranism is. 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.

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.

Now, you claim, curiously to me, of Luther and Melancthon that "they were the ones who substituted the rule of secular princes for the episcopacy which had previously been the norm." What the reformers sought from the German princes was assistance in reforming the church in their territories; there was no revolution in bishop-prince relations implied. Lutheran princes exerted no more power, in general, in their territories than Catholic German ones did in theirs. Changes occurred, of course; else there would be no point to bringing the princes into the process. But the changes were within the ordinary scope of German politics since the emergence of Germany as a recognizeable political entity. If you could sharpen your point it would be appreciated.
Sure; I'd be happy to do so.
With isolated exceptions . . . we find everywhere the opinions which are exactly in harmony with those of the territorial prince of the day, striving their utmost to suppress all differing views. The theory of the absolute Church authority of the secular powers was in itself enough to make a system of tolerance impossible on the Protestant side . . . From the very first religious life among the Protestants was influenced by the hopeless contradiction that on the one hand Luther imposed it as a sacred duty on every individual, in all matters of faith, to set aside every authority, above all that of the Church, and to follow only his own judgment, while on the other hand the reformed theologians gave the secular princes power over the religion of their land and subjects . . . 'Luther never attempted to solve this contradiction. In practice he was content that the princes should have supreme control over religion, doctrine and Church, and that it was their right and their duty to suppress every religious creed which differed from their own.'

(Johannes Janssen, History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages, 16 volumess, translated by A.M. Christie, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910 [orig. 1891]. XIV, 230-231; citing Johann von Dollinger: Kirche und Kirchen, 1861, 52 ff.)

Melanchthon had afterwards abundant reason to regret his appeal to secular power . . . Hence his exclamation: 'If only I could revive the jurisdiction of the bishops! For I see what sort of Church we shall have if the ecclesiastical constitution is destroyed.'

(Hartmann Grisar, Luther, translated by E.M. Lamond, ed. Luigi Cappadelta, 6 volumes, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1917. VI, 270; Bretschneider, editor, Corpus Reformation, Halle, 1846, II, 234; letter to Camerarius)

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.
On state churches, I cannot sort out your position: you acknowledge that they exist in Catholicism, yet claim that Catholicism has preserved what Lutheranism has abandoned by not having state churches. Could you please succinctly clarify your charge?

In Catholicism, the Church is always above the state. The pope is above the secular authority. In Orthodoxy and Lutheranism, this is often reversed. My main point underlying this particular argument was that Lutherans contravened apostolic succession as previously understood. They overthrew bishops with no concern for whether this succession was legitimately passed down. This was against all previous precedent. The Orthodox, though plagued by caesaropapism, still never denied apostolic succession. Luther did:

The apostolic succession of its bishops, which the official church claims for itself, does not necessarily imply the succession of truth and of the genuine apostolic gospel . . .

A theory of church history formulated in terms of the organic development of the church cannot simply explain the decisions and development of the empirical church by assuming that the Holy Spirit has led the church.

(Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther, translated by Robert C. Schultz, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966, 342-343)

"Apostolic succession" has meant different things in different eras, and still means different things in the east than in the west. It is not, so far as I can tell, conclusively addressed by the reform movement; therefore, some Lutheran churches have chosen to continue it, others have not. It's just not essential to orthodoxy, catholicism, or evangelicism (all deliberately spelled lower-case: no proper nouns are intended). It was critically important in the pre-consensus era of sorting out the NT canon, but it has served its purpose.
Where to begin!? Apostolic succession always meant a certain thing up to the time of the so-called "Reformation." Then it was changed. This is the problem I have with the innovations of Protestantism. It had no right or no basis to change what had been held universally before that time. It claims to continue what was before. Yet it will change things like this. That's why I think it's ultimately contradictory and incoherent system. You say it's "just not essential"; yet it certainly was for the Fathers. I choose their witness over yours and Lutheranism's, because you and Luther and Lutheranism arrived late in history and contradict what came before. It requires faith to believe that God will guide His one true Church and preserve it from error, but it is a faith based on what we are taught in the divine revelation, and from Jesus Himself (which is sufficient for me).

You misunderstand my denial of meaning to modern apostolic succession: it's not that it doesn't mean much to me, but that it doesn't mean much pedagogically, doctrinally, or in any other way objectively today. I care deeply what the early church held on apostolic succession: I just believe that they had something that we no longer do, and used it to advance the purposes of the church in the era of establishing orthodox doctrine and the NT canon. They succeeded, and we celebrate their success with, among other things, the principle of "sola scriptura", a principle made possible by the canon established by church fathers working in apostolic succession. I don't believe the Trentine assertion that unspecified oral apostolic tradition is still being passed on from lips to ears among bishops in the Catholic church, and I find the assertion of a special revelation being passed around only among the initiated to be gnostic in spirit.

You have given me no basis or rationale to accept your opinion on this. Your opinion seems to be completely arbitrary. 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 Scripture nor in previous Christian tradition.

On what basis does the principle of authority or norm of faith then switch over to sola Scriptura (a teaching that is absent from Scripture)? All this is, is a tradition of men, and therefore, it has no warrant for Christian belief. Apostolic succession is not esotericism. It has to do with episcopal authority and preservation of doctrine: not hiding this doctrine from the people. What is indeed semi-gnostic is the disembodied, chaotic Protestant system of private judgment and sola Scriptura, which undermines the corporate, incarnational nature of historic Christianity and ecclesiology in particular.

Polycarp is not, for me, a dividing line; rather, Polycarp is at one end and Augustine at the other end of a transition period. Augustine was a scholar in the modern sense, arguing exclusively from copious documented sources. Polycarp also routinely tied his arguments to scripture, yet he clearly didn't need to: nobody doubts that he had received extensive, personal, and often private transmission of apostolic teaching. Ireneus and Tertullian (the first authors that I know of to mention "apostolic tradition") belong to a transition period where orthodox teaching is identified by using oral and written sources in mutual corroboration.

I'm not sure where to go with this. 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.

Regarding sola fide, most of the evidence for sola fide comes, of course, from scripture rather than the fathers, and once you have as much scripture (granted, the bulk of it from one author - Paul) repeating the same simple message, you need not argue from the fathers as well. Nonetheless, didn't Augustine teach (in one of his anti-Pelagian works, probably "Nature and Grace") that grace is unmerited? That is, after all, the key message of sola fide.

Grace is indeed unmerited, but that's sola gratia, not sola fide. The latter (at least in its extreme forms) seeks to separate works entirely from justification and salvation. I don't want to get sidetracked into this complex area. I only want to establish that Protestantism offered radical innovations here.

I disagree with you about which I was describing, sola fide or sola gratia, so let me distinguish the two for you as I understand them: sola fide is about merit, sola gratia about free will. Sola fide teaches that we cannot earn grace, sola gratia that we cannot choose faith. Sola fide is counter-sacerdotal, sola gratia is counter-Pelagian. This is, of course, why Catholicism can accommodate the latter but not the former.

This involves a large discussion and disputes about category; I will simply refer back to the citation I just offered, to prove my point that Lutheranism and Calvinism offered radical innovations and novelties. They didn't follow the Fathers on this aspect of theology.

Luther's teaching (sola scriptura) was only a novelty in context, the context being the papal-conciliar disputes of the 14th and 15th centuries. Luther, assisted by Cajetan and Eck, came to realize that both parties in that dispute were wrong. The whole dispute was misguided, and Luther turned back to the consensus-era response to the question of authority, namely scripture. Now granted, Luther and the assemblers of canon were answering different questions: Luther needed to know where authority lay; the fathers needed to know which writings were authoritative. But the latter question, seen in the context of the doctrinal disputes of the early church, implicitly answers the former one. The fathers were identifying authoritative writings precisely because scripture was the vessel of authority.
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.

You may counter that "yes, but those same fathers were identifying bishops in apostolic succession", and so they were, with a purpose in mind: the corroboration of authoritative teaching and scripture was used to discriminate among writings. Once the canon was confirmed, apostolic succession had served its purpose. It was continued of course, but it was no longer necessary, nor was it authoritative anymore: once the canon was established, any bishop in apostolic succession who contradicted scripture was simply wrong. Sola scriptura is the rediscovery of this principle in face of the problem of competing papal and conciliar absolutisms.

Again, 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" . . . !

I hope this helps you see better that I am not compromising the pillars of the reformation with what you call my "concessions". The pillars are firmly rooted in the apostolic traditions of the consensus era, and seek to carry them forward into modern times. There is much I left unanswered, but I trust you can politely sift the salient questions from the mass of your assertions and present them to me as questions rather than assertions. I suspect, however, that you'd rather ask new questions. [:-)

Sola Scriptura is not rooted in the Fathers; nor is sola fide and imputed justification, nor the denial of apostolic succession, nor the denial of the Sacrifice of the Mass. At all turns the facts of history contradict you. I've presented those (as briefly as is reasonable). Here is one further citations by two Protestant historians of doctrine, about the Fathers' view of Bible and Tradition, with which I shall end:

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.

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.

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 . . .

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

It should be unnecessary to accumulate further evidence. Throughout the whole period Scripture and tradition ranked as complementary authorities, media
different in form but coincident in content. To inquire which counted as superior or more ultimate is to pose the question in misleading terms. If Scripture was abundantly sufficient in principle, tradition was recognized as the surest clue to its interpretation, for in tradition the Church retained, as a legacy from the apostles which was embedded in all the organs of her institutional life, an unerring grasp of the real purport and meaning of the revelation to which Scripture and tradition alike bore witness.

(J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978, 47-48)

No comments: