Sunday, November 13, 2005

Counter-Reply to Dr. Edwin Tait's "For Dave Armstrong: on development and ecclesiology"

See Edwin's original post (I will reproduce all of it in my reply, per my usual custom). This continues my series of discussions on these and related matters with Edwin Tait (who recently received a doctorate in Church history). Here are the previous two:

On Whether God Could, Would, or Should Protect His Church From Doctrinal Error

God, the Infallible Bible, and Doctrinal Error of Churches: Round Two

Edwin's words will be in green. First, I make some preliminary remarks and then reply to "thoughtspot" (words in purple), who responded in the comments under the post I currently reply to.

*****

All the essentials of Newmanian development are found in St. Vincent of Lerins' Commonitorium, from the 5th century. As I've pointed out again and again (sometimes I feel like I'm "spinning my wheels"), this was the same exact writing which contained his famous dictum: "That which has always been believed everywhere by all" or however it goes. Yet the same work provided the most explicit statement of development of doctrine in the Fathers that I am aware of.

All Newman did was add some further particulars (such as his "seven notes") - precisely as we would expect all developments of an earlier, more primitive explanation, to provide. Thus, Newman merely developed the work of St. Vincent, 14 centuries earlier. :-)

Very few people want to truly debate the ins and outs of Newmanian development (believe me, I know, because I've written about or debated the issue dozens of times).

There is clearly an essential difference between Darwiism and development of doctrine. Neo-Darwinism, the modern development of Darwin (pun intended), holds that (setting aside the materialism vs. theism sub-debate) every living thing came from the primeval soup. Everything developed from earlier precursors or more primitive forms.

There are, strictly speaking, no "corruptions" in such a grand process (unless one says that mutations serve as that). There are only well-adapted organisms and less well-adapted organisms. There is no "norm" for what is "right and wrong." There are only the flourishing of some species and the dying off of others.

A man is not an amphibian; an amphibian is not a reptile; neither is a mammal. They are fundamentally different from each other in many ways. Macroevolution has the largest categories of living things evolving from other of the largest categories. Something can evolve into something else. So amphibians evolved into reptiles and reptiles into mammals, according to that theory.

Development (of doctrine) is completely different. It is much more analogous to microevolution, where the type evolves, but consistent with itself, and consistent with it remaining fundamentally what it is. The purported evolution of the horse would be an example. We're talking about horses all along. They may be large and small, but they are horses. The famous examples of the fruitflies or the moths changing color or of insects evolving resistance to pesticides would be others. In each case, no fundamental change occurs, because they remains moths, fruitflies, and whatever particular insect had further resistance capabilities.

A trilobite or an amoeba evolving over millions of years into you and I (i.e., macroevolution, which is the heart of Neo-Darwinist evolutionary theory) is quite another thing altogether. Newman and others make clear that development is not evolution. Therefore, for folks to continue to assert that it is, no matter what is clarified about it, is simply uninformed or highly confused as to category, or both.

When one confuses evolution and development, this is a serious category error that must be corrected, if there is to be any constructive discussion on the overall topic at all. We all learn all the time. I don't blame someone who has never pondered either evolution or development, if they confuse the two, as there are some very broad similarities.

*****

Hi thoughtspot,

What God has allowed is a church that has divisions, moral flaws, and doctrinal flaws. In every age, in every tradition, those divisions, moral flaws, and doctrinal flaws have been different, but they've been there from 1st-century Corinth to any group you would name today. Certainly it is "reasonable" to suppose that God would either keep this from happening, or be on the verge of giving up on his Church entirely.

We Catholics argue that God has indeed preserved doctrine free from error in the infallible doctrines of the Catholic Church. If you don't deny a priori that this is a possibility, then you are left with having to argue all the historical and theological particulars, which involves a hundred different discussions.

If you claim that you have no a priori objection, I believe you; however, you still seem to think it is almost self-evident that the claims of infallibility of the Catholic Church are absurd and unworthy of the belief of any thinking person, as if it isn't even arguable.

The Catholic trying to defend such things (in your schema) becomes a Don Quixote-like figure. I find this, frankly, condescending and patronizing. Atheists observing all of Christianity make the same kinds of judgments which we all disagree with. I think it is equally wrong to have such a low low view of Catholic claims, even if one disagrees with them. It's one thing to have a principled disagreement; another to reduce the thing disagreed with to supposedly self-evident ludicrosity and irrationality.

Technically, you may be advancing an a posteriori objection, but it is still so strong that - in terms of sheer bias - it has virtually the same effect as an a priori objection which would rule out such a thing as impossible even for an omnipotent God to bring about.

Well, if it is so prima facie absurd, then I wonder: how did infallibility become such a prominent "plank" of the belief-system of the largest Christian body: the Catholic Church? Disbelieve it if you like, but why do you think it came to be? Because Catholics are a bunch of reality-denying, insecure types who can't accept anything short of perfect certainty (as Edwin has implied)?

You guys can critique all you like (I love challenges), but I don't think it is ridiculous to believe in an infallible Church, or unworthy of belief, or "impossible in light of the facts of history," and all the rest, that I used to believe myself.

I don't believe that things have to be so perpetually uncertain or that God set it up that way or that He is unable to overcome that obstacle. I continue to maintain that accepting such a "counsel of despair" (doctrinally-speaking) is simply a form of special pleading which has to rationalize existing innumerable Protestant divisions and contradictions.

I agree wholeheartedly with G.K. Chesterton:

So far as a man may be proud of a religion rooted in humility, I am very proud of my religion; I am especially proud of those parts of it that are most commonly called superstition. I am proud of being fettered by antiquated dogmas and enslaved by dead creeds (as my journalistic friends repeat with so much pertinacity), for I know very well that it is the heretical creeds that are dead, and that it is only the reasonable dogma that lives long enough to be called antiquated.

-- From his Autobiography (1936) --
*****

Here at last is my piece defending the development of Protestant ecclesiology, which I've been promising you for several years now.

Thanks!

I've been sitting on it for nearly two years now--finishing it turned out to be easier and quicker than I'd anticipated.

Why would that be? Perhaps I may cynically suggest that it is because your thought is shifting more towards Protestant presuppositions these days? I'm sure you can state them well; whether they stand up to scrutiny is another matter.

Perhaps I really will get a lot of things done now the dissertation ordeal is drawing to a close . . . .
Internet discourse will be blessed in great measure if you can devote more time to participating.
I hope you don't climb completely into the ivory tower and leave us laymen behind. I'm thankful for the few academics who actually continue to actively dialogue on issues with non-academics online and offline.

This may not be exactly the kind of dialogue you want to have. That's OK. Writing this has helped me clarify my own views on many points.

I understand that well. Writing is wonderful in that respect. I like direct interaction with opposing viewpoints, as you well know. I will read, consider, and reply comprehensively to your thoughts. I hope you will return the same courtesy.

Newman’s Essay on Development has given Catholic apologists perhaps their favorite argument.

In terms of "grand" arguments, maybe so. I view it as the Catholic answer to what I call "the Protestant myth": this idea (which I used to vigorously defend) that the early Church was closer in spirit and doctrine to Protestantism than to Catholicism, and that the so-called "Reformation" (as implied by its very title) hearkened back to this earlier, more pristine era, whereas Catholicism had forsaken it to such an extent that the very Gospel was supposedly lost or so corrupted that it no longer was worthy of the name. That's all poppycock, of course (to make my opinions very plain!).

Traditionally, the primary strategy of Protestant polemicists was to fend off the claim of “innovation” and revolt by pointing out the clear differences between Catholic teaching of their day and the teachings of the Fathers.

Exactly; so you confirm my characterization.

The same tactic is employed by some conservative Protestants today—witness William Webster’s The Church of Rome at the Bar of History.

An exceedingly ignorant, misinformed work . . . I have refuted Webster's claims twice (I think, decisively: first paper / second paper). Typically of anti-Catholics, he has issued no reply of any sort, not even the slightest answer. He doesn't have the foggiest notion of what development is; least of which regarding the papacy. Someone disagrees? That's fine; please, then, urge Mr. Webster to reply to my critiques.

Such Protestant polemicists are generally unwilling to question their own views in the light of the Fathers, but employ the argument of historical change negatively, to show that everyone believes differently from the Fathers and therefore that the argument from tradition has no weight against Protestantism.

I agree pretty much; though the classic Protestant stance has been a claim of continuity with the Fathers, not universal discontinuity.

Against this attack, the doctrine of development is the most effective response. Catholics usually have little difficulty showing that modern Catholic doctrine has important points of continuity with that of the early Church, and that patristic teaching contains many ideas that foreshadow later developments and can plausibly be argued to contain the principles of those later teachings.
Good.

So for instance Irenaeus’s claim that Mary is the new Eve points toward the Immaculate Conception and other Martian doctrines, and Ignatius’s simple affirmation that Christians eat and drink Christ’s Body and Blood points toward transubstantiation.

In the same sense that far less-developed biblical indications of the Holy Trinity or the Two Natures of Christ "point to" later, far more complex conciliar developments . . .

Furthermore, Catholics can show that Trinitarian Protestants also hold doctrines that have developed historically, and that the negative argument as employed by Webster and his predecessors can equally be used against orthodox Protestantism (and indeed antitrinitarians do use such arguments). So when used purely defensively, the argument from development is effective.

You made exactly the point I made (I am answering as I read). Trinitarianism is always a good example of a development that all Nicene Christians accept.

If the claim is being made that the Immaculate Conception cannot be true because it is not taught in the early Church, then it is legitimate to point out that the kernel of the idea is found from very early on, and to appeal to a theory of development to account for the later doctrine. If Protestants claim that the Catholic claim of infallibility and authority is made void by the changes in its doctrine, then again, development is a valid and relevant concept to invoke.

Indeed.

But this is only part of the Protestant argument, and not the strongest or most important part. The main use of the “innovation” argument for Protestants is to level the playing field. It is a response to Catholic claims of Protestant innovation.

But it fails miserably, as I will show . . .

And all too often Catholic apologists appear to be using a double standard—holding Protestants to a close, literal reading of patristic texts to support their position, while invoking “development” when similar arguments are turned against them.

Perhaps less sophisticated attempts at Catholic apologists are guilty of this fault. It wouldn't surprise me. I challenge you or anyone else to prove that I have ever done this. If it can be shown, I will gladly retract any argument that involved a glaring double standard like this.

Because conservative Protestants have a tendency to think in fairly literal terms and to have a proof-texting approach to Scripture, this is both maddening and effective in an argument with them. Also, the more radical forms of Protestantism clearly are unjustifiable on the basis of Scripture.

No particular comment . . .

And finally, development can easily work in tandem with a claim to authority. The argument can be made that we should trust the historic, institutional Church to interpret Scripture rightly, and that the doctrine of development refutes claims that the Church has manifestly failed to do so. I myself would entirely agree with this argument. (Exactly where and how authority is to be located within the historic Church is another issue, about which my opinions waver and which I’d like to try to keep out of this discussion.)

I don't see how you can do the latter, totally, but we'll see.

I believe, however, that development is of limited usefulness as an argument against Protestantism, if abstracted from an appeal to authority.

I agree. It works mostly as a result of comparative appeal to the Fathers on "secular" historiographical grounds. My method is always to find common ground with my opponent and work from agreed assumptions out to disagreements, and which of the latter are more harmonious with the former.

On a number of points, a good argument can be made for moderate, traditional Protestant teachings as developments of early Christian doctrine—the same kind of argument on which Catholics rely to justify their own developments.

To an extent this is true. I deny that it can be carried through with total consistency or effectively against Catholic counter-arguments.

I am not arguing that Protestant doctrines are as clearly or explicitly found in the Fathers as their Catholic counterparts. In some cases that may be true, but that’s not what my argument rests on.

Nor could it, so this is a wise methodological decision . . .

Nor am I arguing here that the Protestant teachings are true. I am simply arguing that an appeal to antiquity, bolstered by a theory of development, does not conclusively refute all versions of Protestant teaching on several key points: ecclesiology, the authority of Scripture vs. tradition, and sacramental theology.

I agree; they are conclusively refuted when the evidence of Scripture is added to the evidence of the consensus of patristic beliefs.

I argue that no concept of development can be found that justifies Catholic developments without also justifying Protestant developments, unless one simply appeals to the decision-making power of the Church.

This is simply untrue, as I believe can be rather easily shown, if you make arguments particular enough to factually dispute. Newman's conception of development certainly doesn't rely on Church authority in this way, but rather, on widespread doctrinal precedent and what one may regard as consistent and inconsistent developments of same.

For now, I’m going to make this argument with respect to ecclesiology, particularly the doctrine of extra ecclesiam nulla salus and the various definitions of the limits of the Church on which that doctrine depends for its practical meaning.

I find the topic boring myself, unfortunately (a bit like the endless calvinism vs. Arminianism debates). It's been gone over so many times, and is a perpetual favorite on discussion boards. I've written my papers on the subject, and will simply appeal to them rather than devote more time to reiterating earlier arguments.

The Protestant ecclesiology I’m going to defend is one held by many orthodox, ecumenical members of mainline Protestant denominations today. Many of my colleagues and professors at Duke Divinity School, for instance, would hold some form of this view. The more traditionally-minded and intellectually sophisticated evangelicals (many of whom are in fact members of mainline denominations) would also hold something similar.

Best wishes if you try to find significant common ground in Protestant ecclesiology. I wouldn't want to be a lawyer trying to make your case.

In this view, there is a visible universal Church made up of all local churches that hold to the Christian faith as divinely revealed. This faith is understood to consist in certain essential teachings, best summarized in the Creeds; in acceptance of Scripture as the divinely inspired source of Christian truth and life; the practice of the two sacraments of the Gospel, baptism and the Lord’s Supper; and the moral teachings of Scripture as summarized in the Ten Commandments.

That's not a visible, concrete, institutional, historically-continuous Church. It is, rather, the abstract of Lewisian "mere Christianity" - which amounts to simply assuming Protestant distinctives and discounting Orthodox and Catholic ones (a circular argument which "decides" the question before it is even debated). This is hardly even fair, let alone complelling as a methodology, let alone as a model of "the Church." My friend Al Kresta made a really good critique of "mere Christianity" in a talk which I have transcribed.

I’m aware that Catholics have many questions about how this list of essentials is arrived at, but I’m not concerned to defend this particular list here.

Well, you wouldn't be, if you are begging the question from the get-go . . .

I’m giving it only to provide some indication of what the Protestants I’m speaking of would think are the doctrinal limits of the visible Church. Any religious body that denies the divine inspiration of Scripture (as opposed to a particular theory thereof such as inerrancy), or doesn’t practice the two evangelical sacraments (again, as opposed to holding faulty theories about it); or denies a central creedal doctrine such as the Trinity, is not part of the Church and is not, theologically speaking, Christian.

But this is flawed because the ancient Church (or even the early Protestants) would never separate the belief concerning sacraments from the practice of them, as you have arbitrarily done (basically because you have to, given Protestant division and a laudable desire to include folks like Baptists in the Christian ranks). Nice sleight-of-hand there. Martin Luther would have said that the "sacramentarians" (those who denied the real presence in the Eucharist) were out of the Church. That's how he regarded, e.g., Zwingli. He was far more opposed to them on this score than to Catholics who believed in transubstantiation (as you are well aware). Anabaptists "dissed" him as well.

So the theory works fine on paper, but I have to say that it smacks of a minimalistic, "World Council of Churches" liberal variety of ecumenism, and neither traditional Protestantism nor patristic Christianity, however construed. "Mere Christianity" is essentially, I think, a post facto rationalization due to the inability of Protestants to resolve their own differences (I say, an impossibility because of their foundational premises), as well as an attempt to include Protestants in the "big ecclesiological tent" of the Catholics and the Orthodox. I don't think it succeeds at all. I agree that Protestants are Christians, but they are only indirectly connected with the historical Church.

(I myself have found this hard to apply in certain places, such as Quakers or Oneness Pentecostals; but again some of my friends at Duke would be quite willing to apply it strictly and say that such people are not Christians.)

Well, yes. Quakers and Salvation Army do not baptize at all, so they would have to be outside of Christianity by your (itself flawed) criterion of at least "practicing" sacraments in some fashion. One might also quibble that Baptists would deny being sacramentarian at all, to the point where one anti-Catholic Baptist apologist, "Dr." James White, asserts that sacramentarianism itself is essentially contrary and opposed to grace. Oneness pentecostals deny the Trinity, so they're out by either of our "standards" of what a Christian is. You would actually say that one who holds to a Sabellian Christology is a Christian? That surprises me. I didn't think they were when I was a Protestant cult researcher back in the early 80s, and I don't now.

People outside the Church may be saved, by being judged according to their light, or by baptism of desire, or by some way known only to God alone. But normatively speaking there is no salvation outside the Church.

Agreed.

Division within the Church is seen as tragic but inevitable as long as we live in a fallen world.

There will always be some people who will in fact choose to separate from the Church; I agree. It doesn't follow that there is no institutional Church to separate from, and that we redefine what "Church" historically meant.

The full visible unity of the Church will probably only occur at the coming of Christ, just as its members will only be completely holy then.

In terms of everyone actually being in the same Church in the literal sense, I sadly concur.

We can however work toward that goal and get much closer to it than we are now.

Certainly. That's why I have always been as passionately committed to ecumenism and any sensible ecumenical effort as I have been to apologetics.

Division among Christians who hold to the essentials of the Faith, however, is seen as division within and not away from the Church, although the parties responsible for such division (in most historic splits this is held to be both parties, at least to some degree) are guilty of a serious sin against charity.

But I think that is merely playing word games. The "Church" is redefined arbitrarily and based on existing divisions (as discussed above) but it is not done by any compelling recourse to either Scripture or the Fathers.

I argue that this way of understanding the Church, whether or not it is true, is defensible as a development from patristic ecclesiology in the same way as (even if not to the same degree as) the ecclesiology of Vatican II.

Now that, I would absolutely love to see you try to prove.

Both ecclesiologies have major points of continuity with the teaching of the Fathers; both attempt to apply patristic principles to a very different set of circumstances; and both find themselves obliged to depart from some things accepted as true during the classic period of patristic theological activity.

This remains to be proven, and I deny it.

I should probably summarize what I think Vatican II’s ecclesiology is, since we may differ on this point.

It's always good to define what one is talking about, both as a point of logic, and also to show whether one has a proper definition and understanding himself, of that which he wants to critique.

As I understand it, Vatican II taught that the Catholic Church of the Creeds subsists uniquely in those churches in communion with the Pope, and that full participation in the Church is possible only for members of that visible body. Other Christians are still members of the Church, but in a more or less imperfect way. They are united to the Church by baptism, by much orthodox doctrine, by the Holy Scriptures (even if in truncated or interpolated form), and most of all by the grace of the Holy Spirit present among all who truly believe in Christ and endeavor to live a Christian life as best they know. The extent to which non-“Catholics” are united to the Church varies greatly, ranging from the separated Eastern Churches, who are “almost there,” over to non-sacramental or non-trinitarian forms of Protestantism.

Correct. I think you have summarized well.

The common roots of these two ecclesiologies lie (after the NT) in the second and third centuries of Christianity--the period in which certain people who believed in Christ were coming to see themselves as members of the “Catholic” Church, in opposition to other groups claiming to be Christian. These other groups fell initially into two main categories—on the one hand, those who denied basic elements of the deposit of faith (Marcionites, Valentinians, Sabellians, and later Arians), and on the other, those who separated from the “Catholic Church” on the grounds that it was insufficiently rigorous in its treatment of sinners or otherwise corrupt (Montanists, Novatianists, and eventually Donatists).

I agree (except for the "common roots" claim). I deny that any Protestant version of ecclesiology can be supported by either the Bible or early Christianity.

As Newman has shown (this has been supported by later scholarship with very different ideological biases), early Christianity did not present the unified front of later legend, but was a bewildering chaos of sects not entirely unlike the Christian world today.

There is bound to be more confusion-in-practice at an earlier stage of development. This poses no difficulty for Newman's theory. But that is not the same thing as saying that no institutional Church existed because there was relativey more confusion than in, say, the 5th century. It still exists and can be traced back; it is simply not acknowledged by as many as would later acknowledge it because of the expected further development of ecclesiology, which greatly clarified matters. But it was not all that similar to "the Christian world today," because you didn't have false Protestant principles in play.

Then, as now, one particular body of Christians claimed to be the true Church over against all the others (unlike the current situation, it appears that in the early Church all the other groups also made exclusive claims).

That's right, because they correctly understood that trhere was only one true Church, so that every competing claimant had to necessarily claim to be that one Church, to justify its very existence. This was also the case with the early Protestants. It is only post-Enlightenment and post-liberalism that the rationalizing "invisible church" let's-forget-about-all-our-'secondary'-differences-and-unite-as-one-big-'happy'-family" game started to be seriously played.

The picture was not always clear-cut, of course. Some heretics remained within the body of the Church and their status was the subject of some debate (I’m thinking particularly of the Pelagians, a little later than the period I’m discussing). In other cases, such as St. Hippolytus, someone could form his own schismatic group, denounce the reigning Pope as a heretic, and nonetheless go down in history as a saint and martyr (it does appear that Hippolytus and the Pope were reconciled while in exile together).

There will always be difficulties-in-application of any conception to work out. This is not arguable, and it is not a problem for development at all.

But by about the third century the teaching of “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” was clearly formulated by Cyprian. Here, if anywhere, one can find a solid Catholic affirmation of the unity of the visible Church and the complete illegitimacy of all schismatic bodies.

If one is "institutional," this particular issue has to be worked through. It's inevitable. And so it was, and continued to be, on through to Vatican II. But nothing fundamental changed, along the way.

The problem, of course, is that Cyprian’s position was no sooner formulated than it was rejected by Rome. Rome insisted that Cyprian was wrong to deny the validity of heretical or schismatic baptism. By saying this, the Pope was taking the first step toward the ecclesiology formulated at Vatican II, which allows for varying degrees of membership in the one true Church. (Diane Kamer informs me that Fr. Stanley Jaki has made this argument.)

As usual, the Catholic Church took a nuanced "middle position" between rigorists and outright heretics or liberals who stay and attempt to redefine and corrupt. Today we have to go through the same nonsense with many of the Catholic so-called "traditionalists" in our own ranks, who endlessly debate "salvation outside the Church" because they are unable to shake their rigid, dichotomous modes of thinking (oftentimes imported from fundamentalism or at least a rigid evangelicalism: hence Gerrry Matatics has gone full circle and denied that there is a valid pope). The liberals go to the other extreme and deny historical doctrines that all Christians have traditionally accepted.

But the Roman position appears, on the face of it, to be nonsense.

Oh, it is? Why?

If baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the Church, then how can a body separate from the Church possess valid baptism?

Because the sacrament possesses its own inherent power, apart from even the institutional Church, just as a valid marriage also does (which is why we accept the validity of always-Protestant marriages as sacramental. This became, then, the second sacrament I received prior to my conversion. I was baptized Methodist in 1958 (valid) and married as a Protestant in 1984 (valid sacrament, though my wife had a defect in form in that she had been raised Catholic, and we married in a Proteatant ceremony). But baptism outside the Catholic Church is only allowing entrance into the Church in the "imperfect" sense you alluded to above. Full membership is a formal affair involving acceptance of all Catholic beliefs and the appropriate educational and ceremonial "rites," so to speak.

Since the early Church did not want to affirm any kind of “branch theory”—or even the position of Vatican II—this presented a serious difficulty in Catholic ecclesiology for centuries.

But you have not sufficiently argued your case as to why. You have merely asserted that it is nonsense, with a one-sentence backup which is not all that difficult to counter.

Augustine’s treatise on baptism against the Donatists is one of the most thorough attempts to deal with this difficulty. Augustine formulates an ingenious theory whereby baptism administered by Donatists initiates the convert into the true Church, only to be immediately nullified by the fact that the convert has (in that same act) joined a schismatic sect. The grace of baptism thus remains latent until the Donatist reconciles with the Catholic Church. This theory allows Augustine to separate the grace of baptism from the act of baptism itself, keeping the former the exclusive property of the Catholic Church.

That is not the position of the Church, as far as I know. It's an interesting question to further study (assuming you have accurately described Augustine's view).

Augustine’s position is, as far as I can tell, the standard position of Western Christendom until the Reformation. It allowed little if any hope for the salvation of schismatics and heretics, while nonetheless preserving the objectivity of the sacraments.

This claim that the earlier Church was absolutely rigid on these matters while the post-Vatican II Church was so "un-rigid" that it supposedly contradicted earlier understandings, is thoroughly wrongheaded. I have shown, e.g., that St. Thomas Aquinas in particular, was fully cognizant of Vatican II-like "loopholes" in an overly-rigid understanding of "no salvation outside the Church". See my papers:

Dialogue on "Salvation Outside the Church" and Alleged Catholic Magisterial Contradictions (Particularly in the Middle Ages; With Emphasis on St. Thomas Aquinas's Views)

(originally written in response to an Anglican named George who was vociferously attacking Catholic beliefs in a Catholic forum; he is now active, I believe, on the Pontifications blog. He fared so poorly in defending his attacks against critique that he requested that his name be taken off the paper).

Dialogue: Should the Pope Kiss The Koran?: Ecumenism as an Effort to Acknowledge Partial Truth Wherever it is Found

The Catholic Understanding of the Anathemas of Trent and Excommunication

While we're at it, here also are three related papers by others that I have posted on my website:
A Defense of the Ecumenical Gathering at Assisi (Ecumenism in St. Thomas Aquinas) (Fr. Alfredo M. Morselli)

The Catholic Church's View of Non-Catholic Christians (Karl Adam)

On Salvation Outside the Catholic Church (John A. Hardon, S.J.)

For more related articles by myself and others, see my Ecumenism and Salvation "Outside" the Church page.

During the Middle Ages, the major challenge to this ecclesiology was the reality of the East-West split. The fact that East and West were two separate churches seems to have dawned only gradually on both sides.

The East had been dissenting from the papacy for many centuries. It had a faulty ecclesiology, too. This was nothing new. But there is a right and a wonrg side in all of these disputes. It is a historical fact, e.g., that the East split off from communion with Rome in five different schisms in the patristic period, where they were wrong in every case: not just by Rome's standards, by by the standards of Orthodoxy later on. I brought this up to an Orthodox priest who gave a guest talk in my living room and received only a stunned silence. For further details of this sort (and particularly, also a summary of the scandalous, remarkably prevalent heretical leanings of so many early easter Patriarchs), see my paper: A Response to Orthodox Critiques of Catholic Apostolicity.

But by the 13th century there are plenty of treatises “against the Greeks,” which seem to hold (from the little I know of them) that the “Greeks” are schismatics in the full Augustinian sense. (I’m open to correction on this point.) Whether this was the official teaching of the Church I’m not sure.

As far as I understand, the Church would have viewed them, then as now, as schismatic in some sense, though not without valid sacraments. The view of many Orthodox jurisdictions today is far more hostile to Catholicism (often denying that we have any valid sacraments or grace at all) than vice versa. And of course there were the two grand attempts at the Councils of Lyons (1274) and Florence (1438-1445) to reunite, only to be shipwrecked by (it must be said) Eastern intransigence and anti-Latin prejudice. In the second instance, the accord was actually achieved, but the Orthodox representatives to the Council caved when they got back home and met the irrational mobs.

So you can talk about an anti-Orthodoxy or anti-Greek sentiment in the Catholic Church if you like, and I'm sure many instances of that can be found (though sub-dogmatic). But also include our attempts at reunion whch were sunk by our Orthodox brothers. And don't neglect the fact of Orthodox atrocities against Latins (since we only seem to hear of those committed by the Catholics as the historical cause of East-West antipathy). See my paper: Reflections on the Sack of Constantinople in 1204 and Lesser-Known Byzantine Atrocities.

Some learned Catholic writers such as Louis Bouyer maintain that the two Churches were not necessarily seen as fully separate until the 19th century—and he maintains that they are in fact one Church. There does appear to be a good deal of ambiguity about the Catholic position toward the Orthodox—and I’d argue that this was precisely because the Augustinian model didn’t fit the reality of the East-West split, and that something like the “Protestant ecclesiology” I’m defending was needed. (Bouyer’s position is in effect the “Protestant ecclesiology” except that it applies only to Catholics and Orthodox, not to Protestants.)

I'd have to look at what he wrote on that score to comment further. But I am a great fan of his. Where did you find this information?

Eugenius V at the Council of Florence sums up the medieval Catholic tradition in a particularly uncompromising way. Florence’s Decree on the Jacobites (actually referring to the Copts) is worth studying because the situation of the “Jacobites” is in many respects similar to that of contemporary Protestants. That is to say, in the Copts the Catholic Church confronted a church that had been in schism for centuries—a church whose members in the 15th century bore no direct responsibility for the schism of their ancestors. Yet Florence declares unequivocally that all members of such a church are damned if they do not unite with Rome before they die. (The one thing that gives me some pause here is that Eugenius speaks warmly of the zeal and piety of the Coptic Patriarch, and of the other eastern Patriarchs, and refers to Mother Church rejoicing that her “sons” were united. But I don’t think this implies that the Easterners in any way belonged to the Church, or were destined for salvation, before the reunion. Rather, they showed their genuine piety by the fact that they worked for reunion.)

The problem with this sort of thing is that the Church has offered two strains of thought on this question: more rigid and exclusivistic vs. less rigid and inclusivistic. I don't believe that they are ultimately contradictory. They can be shown to be complemetary. I believe it was Fr. William Most who attempted to demonstrate this. I cited him at great length in my own paper on the topic, mentioned above. it's fascinating material. Vatican II showed more explicitly how the inclusivist approach can be harmonized with the traditional "rigid" one. It's a difficult quiestion, any way you look at it, like many theological doctrines.

Anti-Protestant polemic during and after the Reformation is forthrightly Augustinian—or even Cyprianic. Protestants are seen as in no way part of the Church, having completely separated themselves from it. Given the fact that many Protestants rejected the Catholic doctrine of baptism,

Not, however, either Luther or Calvin . . .

Catholics in fact regarded Protestant baptism as dubious at best until the 20th century.

I don't know why you conclude that. It's a mystery, because all you had to do was take a peek at Trent's canons on baptism, specifically Canon IV, to be disabused of this false notion:

If anyone saith that the baptism which is even given by heretics in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, with the intention of doing what the Church doth, is not true baptism; let him be anathema.
Far from denying that Protestant baptism is valid; the Church (yes, way back in 1563 at the height of the Catholic Reformation) anathematizes those who claim it isn't! Yet it is your claim that Catholics regarded Protestant baptism as "dubious" until the 20th century???!!! Good grief . . .

By the 19th century, the Catholic Church was willing to grant that those Protestants who were “invincibly ignorant” could be saved, but I’m not aware of any expression of this view on the Catholic side during the 16th and 17th centuries.

St. Thomas Aquinas had already laid down the principles of "invincible ignorance" which could easily be applied to Protestants (since they were even Christians by virtue of baptism, by Tridentine standards).

Indeed, in the late 17th century one work of Protestant apologetics (a fictional dialogue between a “Papist” and a Protestant) presents the “Papist” as arguing that Catholicism is the safer choice because Catholics regard Protestants as necessarily damned, while Protestants do not reciprocate.

This is ignorant on both counts 9on the writer's part). Protestants were every bit as intolerant as Catholics, if not more so, as I have documented in many papers. To quickly give two historical examples: when Maryland was founded by Catholics in 1634, it granted, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica ("Maryland," 1985 ed. Micropedia) "a strict policy of religious freedom for their colony, though only within the bounds of trinitarian Christianity. The colony became a haven for persecuted English Catholics and dissidents from sectarian rigidity in other colonies." When the Puritans took over some time later, however, the freedom of Catholics to worship according to their consciences was quickly abolished.

This was altogether similar to the pattern established early on in the so-called "Reformation." As another example of that, at the Council of Augsburg in 1530, which was a sincere, serious attempt at reunion, the Catholic Emperor asked the Protestants if they would return all the property they had stolen from the Church (which had occurred on a huge scale, and would even much more so in England later on), since this was contrary to all law, whether civil or ecclesiastical, and even natural law. The Protestants refused. They also flatly refused to allow freedom for Catholics to celebrate Mass in their territories, whereas Catholics generally (not always) tolerated Protestant worship. The move to abolish the Mass was far more prevalent than any Catholic equivalent. For more on early Protestant "ecumenism," see my papers:

The Real Diet of Augsburg (Protestant Intolerance in 1530)

(written in response to the ridiculously slanted, grossly caricatured and selective - though entirely predictable - portrayal of the diet in the movie Luther)

Diet of Regensburg (1541) and Colloquy of Poissy (1561): Protestant "Ecumenical" Efforts at Christian Unity?

The Early Protestants Were Ecumenical? NOT! (+ Part II) (vs. Dr. Paul Owen)

The historical truth seems to me to be very nearly the opposite of the way you are presenting it, though I would be the first to admit that many outrages and false polemics occurred on both sides. All I have ever sought in such papers of mine was for both sides to be presented, not just one. How many Protestants in a thousand know about any of these things? I certainly didn't when I was an evangelical Protestant, because I wasn't ever taught to fairly examine Catholic replies to all these charges that somehow Catholics were uniquely intolerant while Protestants were mostly pure as the driven snow and extraordinarily tolerant. What a joke!

The Protestant has to argue that while theoretically members of the Catholic Church can be saved, in fact the errors of Rome make this practically impossible. (I regret that I don’t have the reference to this—I came across it at Duke and did not write down the specific information. I believe it was by Richard Baxter but I could be mistaken on this point.)

I have found and presented many similar sentiments in Luther and Calvin.

I think this is a reliable source (or would be if I could find the reference again) because the Protestant writer seems to regard the somewhat more inclusive Protestant view as a liability, and the alleged Catholic claim to be a dangerous argument the Papist would be likely to use.

The incipient anti-Catholicism in many Protestant creeds remains to this day in most instances, such as in your own Anglican creeds, while Vatican II is so known for its ecumenism that it has even been "dissed" by misguided "traditionalist" Catholics for going too far in the other direction. But it produced nothing that was not present in essentials in St. Thomas Aquinas.

Thus, it’s unlikely that this is a misrepresentation of the contemporaneous Catholic position. But I’m sure there is better evidence one way or another.

Certainly; like Trent's clear declaration that Protestant ("heretic") baptism is valid.

I’m just citing something that I happen to remember (without of course any illusion that this would pass muster in an academic context).

I suggest going to Trent next time.

Meanwhile, Protestants themselves initially tended to adopt a more or less Augustinian ecclesiology themselves. As late as the end of the 17th century, even a relatively irenic Lutheran like Philipp Jakob Spener could refer to Lutheranism as “the true Church out of which there is no salvation.” However, the divisions and confusions of Protestantism made this sort of position untenable for most Protestants fairly early.

Exactly. This supports my contention that Protestant ecclesiology has changed because it had to: because it wasn't possible to keep making mutual anathemas. Some common front had to be presented, lest Protestantism appear totally ridiculous and untenable. And so "mere Christianity" and the "invisible church" and the "secondary vs. primary doctrine" canard were all suggested as rationalizations to overcome this unsurmountable difficulty in Protestantism.

Contrary to what is commonly believed, the Protestants did not substitute an “invisible Church” for traditional claims concerning the visible Church.

I know. That came later (except for some radical Anabaptists). That's because the early Protestants were much more self-consistent, if not nearly as ecumenical!

If we take Calvin as representative (he isn’t, exactly, but he is extremely influential) of classical Protestant thought on this point, we find that he affirms the visible Church to be our mother out of whom there is no salvation. Calvin, however, doesn’t identify the universal visible Church with an institution but with the sum of local churches where the Word is preached and the Sacraments are administered.

Of course he had to do so. What choice did he have? He wanted to present a pseudo-traditional ecclesiology without the institutional Church to give it concrete reality. This is still but a few steps away from an invisible church, as subsequent endless Calvinist splits have shown. But the initial presentation is still hampered by an utter inability to support it from patristic ecclesiology, excepting Calvin's sophistical special pleading, whch is almost his specialty.

This gave Protestants a good deal of flexibility—when it suited them, they could open the arms of brotherhood to Christians with whom they differed, while at other times taking a narrower view.

"Flexibility" quickly becomes "relativism" and/or "ecclesiological anarchy" (at least in some respects - lest I be accused of overgeneralization).

Modern ecumenism, then, was born from the practical realities of Christian division. The ecclesiology of Vatican II is a thoughtful and reasonable response to the reality of Christian piety among Protestants and to the development of Protestant ecumenism. But it is not, on the face of it, obviously continuous with patristic or medieval ecclesiology (with regard to EENS at least) in a way that Protestant ecclesiology (as I’ve defined it) is not.

It is not on its face. But it is when the issue is properly studied.

On the contrary, as my Duke colleague Roger Owens once pointed out to me, Protestants can maintain EENS more straightforwardly than Catholics.

That's pretty tough since their conception of "Church" is endlessly problematic.

Neither orthodox Catholics nor (most) Protestants maintain the strict Cyprianic view. Nor does Vatican II lend itself to Augustine’s view as originally expounded, although it builds on that position. We agree against Cyprian that validly baptized people exist in more than one Christian communion. And we agree against Augustine that such people may (while still being separated) receive grace from their baptisms and lead lives of Christian holiness. This is a major break from pre-Reformation ecclesiology.

I don't think it is as "major" as you make out. I would describe it as the "exclusivist" strain being prevalent by and large in the earlier period, and then the "inclusivist" thought becomeing more dominant in the modern period, but with both present all the way through, in a sort of paradox, typical of many aspects of Christian doctrine and thought when it comes to complex issues.

Yes, ecumenical Protestants go further than Catholics inasmuch as we deny that the Church subsists fully and uniquely in any one communion. But we are more traditional than Catholics inasmuch as we hold that the Word and the Sacraments have no saving efficacy outside the bounds of the visible Church.

What visible Church? Again, we have the problem of definition, not to mention the issue of valid ordination. Only baptism and marriage are truly being administered outside of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, according to our view.

You modify the traditional view by allowing that communities separated from the Church can receive grace from Word and Sacraments;

That goes at least as far back as Augustine's writings on the Donatists. So that is nothing new.

we modify it by defining the visible Church as existing wherever the Word and Sacraments are present.

Which makes no sense, according to either biblical or patristic conceptions of same . . .

Granted, Vatican II tries to avoid a break with the tradition by saying that separated communities have some degree of union with the Church. And some doctrine of degrees of communion is necessary for both ecclesiologies. Again, I’m not trying to compare which ecclesiology is more traditional as a whole. Rather, I’m saying that if we contradict the Tradition, then so do you.

You haven't proven this at all, but it is an ingenious, characteristically Protestant attempt at the fallacy of "your dad's just as ugly as mine." You don't deny that you have a serious problem in defending many of your distinctives, but rather, try to show that Catholicism has equally serious problems (as a sort of "difficulty equivalence" amounting to a wash). But you haven't succeeded, in my humble opinion. And that's not even considering not only the endless doctrinal difficulties, but also the moral theological difficulties and caving to modernity, such as the almost-universal adoption of contraception, to the proud ordaining of openly practicing homosexual bishops, to the acceptance of legal abortion amongst virtually all (if not all) mainline Protestant bodies, more and more justification of divorce, etc.

And all of your critique hangs upon your contention that our developments are not developments. But if you haven't studied the issue deeply enough to see that the supposed "innovations" of Vatican II can easily be shown in many Fathers and in Thomas Aquinas, then you really haven't proven anything.

The only way (to borrow a metaphor from The Pilgrim’s Regress) that you can cross the drawbridge while keeping us from crossing it is to invoke authority to define just how much change constitutes a genuine break with Tradition.

That's simply not true. I refer readers to the many papers I referenced above so that they can decide for themselves if there were not many precedents to Vatican II emphases in the early and medieval Church. But Protestant supposed "developments" can usually easily be proven to be reversals or outright corruptions of what came before. I have argued the case with regard to many individual Protestant doctrines, and will, no doubt, do so many more times before I depart this earth. I've always found it quite easy to do, because history is so much on our side (and, to give up a little-known "secret," so is the Bible).

I apologize for the length of this argumentmost of which dates from nearly two years ago. If I were starting from scratch now I’d keep it briefer. But here it is. Reply to it when and how you wish.

Actually, I think it should have been much longer, so that you could have provided adequate substantiating arguments and data to back up your claims. :-) Perhaps you will flesh this out in the future. I would be delighted to take you up on any such challenge.

It was a pleasure, as always, to respond to your writing. Thanks for the food for thought and continued best wishes in your search for suitable academic employment.

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