Tuesday, February 22, 2005

2nd Reply to Dave H. on Catholic "Epologists" and the Biblical Canon

For background, see: Reply to Dave H. on the Biblical Canon and the Alleged Irresponsibility of Internet "Catholic Apologists". Dave's words will be in blue:

Hi Dave H:

1) I am sorry if you feel that only professional apologists can be criticised.

When did I ever say that? In fact, I stated the exact opposite at one point. My point was, rather, that if you're going to criticize an entire class ("Internet Catholic apologists") you ought to go to the members of that class (at least part of the time) who are the most prepared to discuss the issue. It is the deliberate exclusion of those folks which I found odd (you stated -- I believe it was you -- that it was irrelevant to bring up well-known apologists). I happen to be the one who knows about this and is responding, so I merely referenced myself as an example of an "epologist" (something you seem to repeatedly not understand, in comments below).

I stand by what I wrote. The entire point was to address something that I and others have read many times over. I am not going to go searching for posts at forums or digging through blogs for something that was said two years ago or two weeks ago nor should I need to. As it is I mentioned Catholic Answers which is the largest Catholic forum on the internet and I have seen this issue many times there and I have never seen professional apologists correct it.

That's fine. I don't deny your report; I only thought that if the charge was made, examples should be given. Chris did give examples, and I have examined them and found them wanting. I think there are misunderstandings here as to what Catholics usually mean when they speak this sort of language. In a nutshell, it is a matter of epistemology in our emphasis, and "ontology" in yours (Scripture is what it is). We agree with the latter (I cited Vatican I and Vatican II to prove that), but it is not contradictory to point out the former.

You and Chris and Josh seem, however, to think that discussing the epistemology of knowing precisely what is Scripture and what isn't (by means of Church authority) somehow contradicts the inherent inspiration and revelational status of Scripture. It does not. It's a practical aid, to settle the matter, so there is no more dispute. So I believe a lot of this is needless clashing over apples and oranges. Catholics tend to overemphasize the Church in the canonization process and Protestants tend to minimize same and stress the self-authenticating nature of biblical books. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle, and that we CAN achieve significant common ground on this, if we could only more accurately understand each other, and the differing ecclesiologies, rules of faith, and epistemologies.

2) I am glad you are addressing these things. I stand corrected and appreciate your efforts.
Thank you; I appreciate it.

But you will forgive us who have not seen these addressed at places like CA. Not everyone is aware of your site or frequents it. If something is said somewhere and we see no Catholic response there is nothing illegitimate about saying there is a lack of “Catholic Answers” for errant catholics on certain forums and blog. Again, I am glad you challenge them but I have not seen you do so elsewhere - which is fine. You cannot be every where at once.

Possibly, there has been some laxity there. If so, I would be with you on this: that it should be corrected. On the other hand, this may involve (at least partially) matters of epistemology. Since Catholics would better understand where other Catholics are coming from on this, the professional apologists over there (Keating, Akin, etc.) may not have felt that it was necessary to correct anything. Once a Protestant makes a critique, then there are issues that have to be resolved because of the different worldview and different ways of interpreting the same kind of statement.

I never asked to believe what I say. But there was no bald assertion. Shari’s blog was an instance cited by Chris.
Again, I deny that she believes what you are attributing to her. I think context shows clearly what she believes. She made a sloppy statement. If others have spoken in this way and really meant it (in context and all) that's one thing, but she shouldn't be made the scapegoat for others. I think it is very unseemly.

And since we were blogging not writing official apologetic position papers we have every right to note or observations without citing every source. If you said Baptists often say ignorant things about the real presence I would not demand you cite sources. I would take your word for it since it rings true with most Christians experience who believe in the real presence. You set up a standard that you live by as a professional apologists. We are not bound by these standards unless we are being unreasonable. But i suspect you know the assertion is true.

I agree with most of this. I think it depends on the seriousness of the charge. You were starting to make this an ethical and honesty issue, by writing things like: "As long as Catholic and Orthodox apologists let what they know to be false slide . . . " That implies an outright wrong. I've never operated in that way, myself. I correct any error that I see, according to my understanding of what Catholicism and Christianity in general teaches. And I don't think other apologists like me are any different. It's what we do. We're sort of "doctrinal watchdogs." So it was a very serious charge because it hit upon something central to our vocation. This also implies that the more credentialed and professional apologists had this duty to correct. It makes no sense to say that some green "apologist" should "correct what they know to be false" or suchlike.

3) You complain of strong language but I find nothing in your post that makes you sound more charitable than me. I could quote several condescending words in your the same post I am responding to that goes being words like lazy. I did not attack anyone personally yet you seem to feel you were being attacked. I am sorry but I did not have you in mind at any point.

People always make this charge. It's meaningless unless individual examples are given in context. Usually when I use "strong language" it is in response to some charge I believe to be false and unwarranted, and I ALWAYS try to stick to ideas and opinions in my critiques, as opposed to engaging in ad hominem attacks.

4) Back to the first point. Why do you insist we go to a select few apologists to address things others have said?

I didn't say "select few." I said that if you insist on attacking the entire class, then at least let some of the more trained of that class reply (or prove that THEY are guilty of this shortcoming). 

If you said it then we should address you if we take issue with it. Since it was not you why should I address you if you were not involved?

I just explained it.

Are you going to come to me if you read something you disagree with on some Lutheran or Anglicans blog who I don’t even know?

Are you a published Lutheran apologist? If so, then if I am critiquing "Lutheran epologists" for something, and you show up (as I have in this debate), then I will challenge you, as a representative of the class. It's just common sense. You and Chris were the ones who insisted on making this a "class thing," not an individual critique thing. You insisted on making the negative statements about the class of Catholic apologists. As one of that number, I tire of this, because it is common on the Internet (apologist-bashing seems quite fashionable these days in many venues), and I find most of the charges (not all) to be unjust and oftentimes, outrageously so.

If I want to debate Catholic theology I will come to you or Jimmy Akin or Mark Shea or whoever.

But you don't understand that you have made a charge against my "group" (Catholic apologists) -- one that I think is mostly unfair. As one of that group, I respond. But I have also shown that as one of that group, I have done the exact opposite of what you and Chris have charged. I also suggested that I don't think any other published, professional apologists have made the mistake you object to. You can find lots of people doing apologetics (real or imagined) and find something to shoot down. Generally speaking, I think it is proper to seek out the best representatives of a viewpoint, not the least skilled.

But that was not what was take place here. Why do you insist it all must come back to you.

See the above. This is not an accurate description of what I have been trying to do.

5) I was using apologist more loosely than you. I never said professional apologist.

What you did was exclude the professionals from consideration. I maintain that they are the ones most relevant to your critique.

And anyone who contends to defend the faith is an apologist in some sense. If they do a poor job they should be corrected.

Yes; I have no problem with that.

Frankly, I was not addressing apologists in general so you read far more into what I wrote than what I actually wrote.

If you weren't, then the following language is pretty odd:

"If the internet were not full, and I mean full, of Catholic and Orthodox converts from other communions, who attribute their conversion to the sudden realization that the Church wrote the scriptures in the manner that Clueless Christian seems to think then their would not be a need to respond this most obvious error as CPA did."

6) You turned this entire discussion into an completely different issue.

I responded as I saw fit.

One about you and the fact that you are an apologist and therefore we must address you and not the ignorant masses.

I made the argument as to why you should include people like me. It's not about ME; it's about an illogical premise on your part. I just happen to be the one around.

If I have the time to read something of yours I disagree with I will be sure to take it up with you. Until then if I am not addressing something you wrote I am not obliged to check with you first before I comment on what someone else has said.

Of course not, But that's a red herring, as I never demanded this in the first place.

7) It should be clear from what I wrote that I was not addressing Shari’s words specifically. I was discussing the larger issue of people who do say or imply that the church gave us the Bible in 400AD. I mean isn’t it pretty clear that I was not talking about any one person but a misconception by some converts? How many times do I have to say that?

That has no effect on my critique. I assumed you were talking about the class. That's why I have been answering!

8) You may have addressed Chris point by point. But in this thread and in the post it is in response to, many of the things Chris said in his two entries were ignored or dismissed. They were not specifically engaged. I am glad that you did, but again it was not you who I was referring to.

Silly comments were made by you at Here I Stand about supposed fear of "facts" and of replying to Chris and the ignoring of Chris's argument as "amazing." So I have replied at length, only to hear this red herring of "it's not about you, anyway." Well, it IS (indirectly), because I am in the class of "Catholic epologists"! LOL I don't think this is rocket science.

9) This is not me picking on Catholics. You will be hard pressed to find anything written by me that is particularly harsh on Catholics. I have my criticisms of course. But I have much bigger problems will Baptists and pop-Evangelicalism than with orthodox Catholicism. In fact go back over to Here We Stand and see who I am the toughest on. I think you will find my harshest criticisms are aimed at Lutherans. My mom is a lovely Catholic and I think she is a fine Christian.

Glad to hear it. Others over there are not quite so irenic, but the more the merrier.

10) Just being pre-emptive here - yes I believe the Roman Catholic and the other 21 Catholic Churches are Christian churches. Until you deny the Creeds I am in no position to deny that other communions are Christian.

Excellent. I'm delighted to hear this. God bless you.

Monday, February 21, 2005

2nd Reply to "CPA" on Catholic Apologists & the Biblical Canon

For background, see the previous post:
Reply to Dave H. on the Biblical Canon and the Alleged Irresponsibility of Internet "Catholic Apologists"
CPA's words will be in blue. Fellow blogger Dave H.'s words will be in green. Words of Catholics (and/or Catholic apologists - real or alleged) that CPA or I cite, will be in red.

* * * * *

Choosing to pass over virtually all of my critique in the first paper above, CPA has decided to argue that he is correct in his cynical assumptions about the profound ignorance of "Internet Catholic apologists" concerning the matter of the Church and the canon of Scripture, by citing several reputed examples of same (I and others did press him to do this, so to that extent, it can be regarded as a "reply" to me). His latest paper is called Response to Critics of My Post Below.

As a humorous aside, I wanted to bring to readers' attention the fact that there are already rather silly shots being taken about how folks don't want to reply to Chris's arguments, on the Here I Stand blog; comments for this new paper:

Judging from past experience, you know your critics are going to ignore several parts of your post, right?

Keith A. Email 02.21.05 - 12:09 pm #

Stop confusing people with facts, Chris. That's so annoying.

Dave H Email 02.21.05 - 12:11 pm #

Apparently your arguments have been dismissed, Chris. As you will see [link given]: . . . I am wondering if people are even reading what you wrote. Truly amazing.

Dave H Email 02.21.05 - 2:03 pm #

And so I proceed, obviously a "truly amazing" case of "not reading" what CPA wrote. Meanwhile he ignores what I wrote in direct response to his paper, and I now make a second reply, spending a few hours of my time.

CPA writes:

A number of commentators also feel I am slandering the Catholic church by responding to this attack as if it represented Catholic teaching. I think I made it clear that I was referring to popular, but widespread, Catholic apologetic arguments.

I agree that he is not doing the former, but I deny that the latter is true vis-a-vis actual "Catholic apologists" (as opposed to any Catholic Tom, Dick, or Harry who may "do apologetics" on some discussion board or blog somewhere).

If some one wants more examples of what I am talking about, read on. The following are some typical quotations all of which imply that there was such a fog of hundreds of books contending for scriptural authority up to the fourth century that Christians before then could not be sure that any book was Scripture:

Note well the extraordinary claims being made here. Assuming that we can take Chris's language at face value and that he has some semblance of control over the relation of his written words to his thoughts and opinions, the following propositions flow indubitably from the above:

x) The citations he then proceeds to provide offer evidence of his previous assertions in his previous paper.

y) They are "typical" examples (somehow determined to be such in his "half-hour or so search" on the Internet), and thus his conclusions about them can be generalized to the larger category of "Catholic apologetics" (in this case, regarding the biblical

A) Each one ("all of which") is said to "imply" that there were "hundreds of books contending for scriptural authority."

B) Based on A, each citation is said to "imply" that Christians before the 4th century "could not be sure that any book was Scripture."

These are Chris's claims (the last two henceforth referred to as propositions A and B, as I go through each citation). He thinks (again, if we can take his words at face value; literally) that Catholic apologists en masse believe that hundreds of books were contenders as biblical books up to 400 A.D. and that no one could be sure that any single book was Scripture till then. We will examine each citation he provides to see if indeed they provide any solid evidence for these contentions or not. If they don't, his argument fails (even if a minority of them prove his point, his argument fails, since he claimed this for "all" of them, and as proof of a widespread lamentable tendency). I will show that he hangs himself by his own words and the falsity of his argument and its false premises and non-factuality.

He provides seven citations, undocumented (apparently thinking that links technology suffices for his "documentation" -- I say he is using this as an excuse to avoid having to type out or cut-and-paste the relevant documentary information; but that's the least of his problems). I will provide the documentation, and examine the context in each case, and then decide whether each meets the criteria of A and B.

Example Number One comes from a Fr. Arnold Damen S.J. (1815-1890): his tract: THE CHURCH OR THE BIBLE: The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, reprinted for the Internet by Our Lady of the Rosary Library, in Prospect, KY. I grant that a Jesuit priest writing such a tract can be regarded as an "apologist."

Not only sixty-five years did Christ leave the Church He had established without a Bible, but over three hundred years. The Church of God was established and went on spreading itself over the whole globe without a Bible for more than three hundred years. In all that time the people did not know what constituted the Bible.

I wouldn't argue in the manner that this priest does at all (it leaves much to be desired, in my humble opinion), but does his tract prove Chris's contentions A and B? No. His language of "did not know" the Bible can easily be interpreted as the equivalent of "not having the certainty of knowing the entire canon of the Bible." He's talking about the canon, not inspiration of individual books.

In fact, in another example, his reasoning suggests that his "did not know" means (in context) "didn't know the Bible that was actually there," because he also makes this statement:

Not only for three hundred years was the world left without the Bible, but for one thousand four hundred years the Christian world was left without the Sacred Book. Before the art of printing was invented, Bibles were rare things; Bibles were costly things. Now, you must all be aware, if you have read history at all, that the art of printing was invented only a little more than four hundred years ago . . .

Some of his statements, however, arguably confirm Chris's B; particularly the following:

All of these gospels were spread among the people, and the people did not know which of these were inspired and which were false and spurious. Even the learned themselves were disputing whether preference should be given to the Gospel of Simon or that of Matthew . . .

I still think he was talking in generalities. First of all, he is referring primarily to the masses ("the people"). He contrasts them with the "learned" -- who were engaging disputes (thus itself proving that he thinks that they had a notion that some books could be identified as biblical and inspired, and others could not). It doesn't necessarily follow that he thought that no one could be sure of any book. One might reasonably interpret his words in that way, but it is not absolutely proven, because he doesn't give us enough information.

As for A, Fr. Damen mentions "many false gospels" and five by name. He refers to "Many spurious epistles," not naming any individually. Can "many" (including five named heretical books) be construed as "hundreds"? Possibly (if not very plausibly), but again, we don't have enough information. So I have to conclude that this source confirms neither A nor B, though it comes close to confirming B. Let's see if Chris does even remotely as well with his other sources in his effort to prove his point.

Example Number Two is the blog DeoOmnisGloria.com, which can be regarded as apologetic, at least in part. Whether the individuals who write for it can properly be classed as "apologists" I would have to study further (and I have already devoted far too much time to this project as it is). Chris cites the article, "The Sola Scriptura Error: The Carnival of the Reformation."

The Catholic Church didn’t compile the Bible until almost 400 A.D. and until that point various churches (all Catholic) had various pieces of the Bible. How did these Christians function without the entirety of Scripture?

First of all, this is also clearly talking about canonization. It's a fact that the canon was established (i.e., made a matter of indisputable dogma) in councils of 393 and 397, and later approved by popes. This is undeniable. It is also agreed by all Church historians that the first person who listed exactly the 27 NT books as we know them, was St. Athanasius in 367, in his Festal Epistle. why it is objectionable to point this out is beyond me.

Secondly, "had various pieces of the Bible" perhaps implies that they correctly knew that those books were biblical books, and inspired. The writer, Jay, asks:

How do you know the Bible is true? Without recognizing the authority of the Church, you can't be sure. The answer I continually hear these days is that we have a “fallible collection of infallible books.” This is just silly. First, how do you know the individual books are infallible? Don’t give me a history lesson, I can find other books that would be rated infallible under that scheme. Don’t suggest “the Apostles wrote it” – there are books by the Apostles that aren’t infallible as well as Biblical books by non-Apostles. Second, if your collection is infallible you must be suggesting that there could be other Divinely Inspired books available.

With his Lutheran sola Scriptura glasses on, Chris no doubt thinks this is a terrible denigration of the Bible. But it is not at all, because it is based on historical fact. One has to realize, too, that in the early Church many would have believed that inspired biblical books were self-attesting, just as they do today. Indeed, many books are. I can say that as a Catholic, and not contradict any teaching of my Church. But the problem was that people disagreed on particulars. Church Father x thinks biblical book a is not part of the Bible, and that unbiblical book b is. Church Father y believes exactly the opposite, etc. They both believed that you could determine whether a book was biblical or not by reading it (internal evidence). St. Augustine thought that the Deuterocanon was part of the Bible. St. Jerome did not. Etc., etc.

This is obviously a flawed epistemology, if it is based purely on private judgment, rather than binding Church authority, because it did not in fact lead to a total consensus. Only a Church proclamation could do that. So one can accept in principle that notion that a biblical book gives internal evidence of its inspired, revelational status, yet recognize that fallible human beings in fact; in history, came to different conclusions about different books. It is (this is a crucial distinction) this latter sense that Catholics usually are talking about in discussions of the canon. Technically speaking, it's an epistemological and practical argument, as opposed to a theological or spiritual one. The former is not contradictory to the latter (where one could state that inspiration of certain books is internally apparent, etc.). It's not an "either/or" scenario.

Granted, there was a large core consensus, as Chris noted. We know that, but being "85%" sure of the Bible does not solve the problem. A 15% uncertainty still leaves the door wide open for heresies and heretical books to be smuggled into the Church, failing an authoritative pronouncement on the canon.

That said, does this blog confirm Chris's propositions A and B? No, not at all. Nothing is said about "hundreds" of competing books (the biggest claim is "other books"). So A is not bolstered. As for B, the writer doesn't ever deny that no one could know any individual book is inspired. It can't be stressed enough that discussions on canonicity and the entire canon are not discussions about individual inspiration.

The argument could have been better expressed. it's noit the way I would argue it. But that is the case with almost any argument (including Chris's; I myself have found many big holes in it), and people are at different levels of ability. These are very complex topics, as many are in theology. In any event, this is no evidence to support Chris's A and B.

Example Number Three is from Dwight Longenecker, who is indeed a published Catholic apologist, and active on the Internet (though not as much as many others), and a friend of mine (he helped promote my first book in England). His article, "What is Truth?"An Examination of Sola Scriptura, was published in The Coming Home Journal. This is definitely mainstream Catholic Internet apologetics. But does it prove what Chris contends? Well, let's see!

This, therefore, draws our attention to another deep problem with sola scriptura. Not only is the Bible itself impotent to prove its own inspiration or ensure its own interpretation, it could not specify exactly which of the hundreds of books were to be considered inspired Scripture.

The latter clause is a truism. The Bible does not provide a list of its own books. He does mention "hundreds of books," so that is in favor of A. But it is obvious (self-evident) that the Bible can't name its own books. "The Bible" is a human document, insofar as it was compiled. It's a divine revelation in its writing but it didn't drop down out of heaven with its canon and parameters already determined. Men did that.

The Bible is also not entirely self-interpreting. The easiest proof of that is to look at the history of Protestantism. At best, they can only say that sin and ignorance counts for the divergence of doctrine, but that (though it contains some truth and insight) is far too simplistic. I have challenged Protestants to tell me how many denominations would be necessary to cause them to question their first premises. 2 million? 2 billion? 2 trillion? At what point is the system in which such sectarianism occurs ever questioned? The high numbers are merely a reductio ad absurdum. As far as I am concerned, any number of churches or Christian sects beyond one is radically unbiblical and scandalous.

As for the claim of "hundreds" of competing books thought to be canonical by some, I don't know if that's true or not. It may be. Is this sinmply a claim made by Catholics? No. At least one Protestant website I found seems to agree: Answers to Tough Questions: The Bible: Canon of Scripture. The author, Dan Vander Lugt, has earned degrees from Grand Valley State University and Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary. He wrote (emphasis added):

First-century Christians circulated documents -- either written or approved by the apostles -- which contained an authoritative explanation of the accounts concerning Jesus' life and teaching. These documents often quoted from each other and presented the same gospel message from different perspectives and in different styles. Hundreds of other documents were written and circulated, but the church quickly rejected spurious documents and established the authority of those that were genuine.

Indeed, Protestant apologist Norman Geisler, in his book on the canon, From God to Us: How we Got Our Bible (co-author William E. Nix, Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), writes concerning the New Testament pseudepigrapha:

The exact number of these books is difficult to determine. By the ninth century, Photius listed some 280 of them. Since then more have been brought to light.

(p. 114; emphasis added)

He proceeds to list by name no less than 43 of these (pp. 114-116): 21 Gospels, 8 variants of Acts, 4 epistles, 7 Apocalypses, and three additional works.

This being the case, Chris's proposition A as some terrible deficiency (supposedly confined to Catholic apologists) is greatly brought into question. If in fact there were this many competing claimants, then why is it wrong for Catholics to simply point it out? It's a matter of historical fact to be determined. The argument would, rather, seem to then become one of relative strength, and how much doubt there actually was. That is a much more complex discussion, and one (I suspect) best left to historians and other scholars.

But back to Dwight Longenecker: what about Chris's proposition B: that Dwight is supposedly saying that no one could know that any book was inspired. This is contradicted in the following words (which presuppose that folks knew what Scripture was before it was finally canonized):

The Scriptures were written by the people of God, for the people of God. They were read by the people of God, used to teach the people of God, and used for the worship of the people of God. Maybe the best way to describe the Bible is to say that it is the story of the relationship between God and His people—the Church—both the Old Testament Church and the New Testament Church. The Bible was never just a list of things—a theological textbook—about God telling His people what they must believe. Neither was it merely a set of rules to be obeyed. Instead the Bible was first and foremost the story of God’s loving relationship with humanity.
Furthermore, the same people who wrote the Scriptures—used the Scriptures, prayed the Scriptures and learned from the Scriptures—chose which holy writings should be included as Scripture.

So far, then, we have one agreement with Chris's claim and one possible agreement out of six instances, and even the former is of dubious significance, since I've produced two reputable Protestant apologists or scholars who agree that hundreds of other claimants as biblical books were floating around.

Example Number Four is from a website called Defending the Faith, and is written by a Troy Martz (with whom I am unfamiliar).

Without an INFALLIBLE authority, we cannot even know what books are the Word of God and which are works of Satan!!! Here is the gist of the question: How do you know that the Gospel attributed to Matthew is true and the Gospel attributed to Thomas is false?"

I think this is excessive and overstated language. But without the rest of the statement, in context, a misleading impression is given, and the exact nature of the argument is not perceived. He continues:

And don't tell me that it is because Scripture says it is inspired -- so does the Book of Mormon and the Koran! That also rules out the "I believe/feel it is so it must be" argument based on feelings. Remember that Mohammad and Joseph Smith both thought that they were inspired by God. If you use this as the basis for your canon of Scripture, then you must include the Book of Mormon and the Koran to your Bible.

In other words, it is an argument about epistemology (precisely as I clarified above, with regard to these arguments when made by Catholics), not about inspiration or even canonicity per se. It's a legitimate question of logical circularity and the impossibility of rationally proving something about a document based on its own claims alone, without independent confirmation.

I would argue that the Bible has offered confirmation of itself through fulfilled prophecy and so forth, but that would not determine every individual book as inspired (and much of it would have to do with Old Testament books, anyway). But a simple claim of inspiration is not proof, because that would apply to Mormons and Muslims also.

So the argument is that the Church gives a certainty (and its authority is established on other non-circular grounds also) that cannot be had through the Bible alone. One must distinguish between an individual believing a book to be inspired, and being certain that it is, by additional means (the Church). Much of this discussion turns on that distinction. But it is apparently lost on Chris, because he doesn't show any awareness of it, and so assumes things about what these people wrote that do not necessarily follow. Nevertheless, I'll give Chris this one as a "possibly" for proposition B. As the writer says nothing about completing books, let alone "hundreds," he offers no proof for that claim.

Example Number Five is from George Sim Johnston, a well-known Catholic writer, on catholic.net.

Who, then, decided that [the book of Philemon] was Scripture? The Catholic Church. And it took several centuries to do so.

This is self-evident, if it is discussing canonization, as it obviously is. It's a good short article on the subject. Johnston writes:

It was not until the Council of Carthage (397) and a subsequent decree by Pope Innocent I that Christendom had a fixed New Testament canon.

That's correct, as a matter of historical fact. As I noted, no one even listed the 27 NT books in one place till St. Athanasius had done so a mere 30 years earlier.

Prior to that date, scores of spurious gospels and "apostolic" writings were floating around the Mediterranean basin: the Gospel of Thomas, the "Shepherd" of Hermas, St. Paul's Letter to the Laodiceans, and so forth.

"Scores" is not "hundreds," so this offers no proof for A, once again. But since Photius thought there were 280, this is small change.

But, according to Protestants, the Catholic Church was corrupt and idolatrous by the fourth century and so had lost whatever authority it originally had. On what basis, then, do they accept the canon of the New Testament? Luther and Calvin were both fuzzy on the subject. Luther dropped seven books from the Old Testament, the so-called Apocrypha in the Protestant Bible; his pretext for doing so was that orthodox Jews had done it at the synod of Jamnia around 100 A. D.; but that synod was explicitly anti-Christian, and so its decisions about Scripture make an odd benchmark for Christians.

Indeed; these are excellent questions for Protestants. Johnston, like the others, is making an epistemological argument, having to do with the objective grounds for certainty, over against merely subjective grounds and individual feelings (which can easily be led astray, as we all well know):

Scripture, our Evangelical friends tell us, is the inerrant Word of God. Quite right, the Catholic replies; but how do you know this to be true? It's not an easy question for Protestants, because, having jettisoned Tradition and the Church, they have no objective authority for the claims they make for Scripture. There is no list of canonical books anywhere in the Bible, nor does any book (with the exception of St. John's Apocalypse) claim to be inspired. So, how does a "Bible Christian" know the Bible is the Word of God?

This gets to the heart of the Catholic objection to Protestant arguments on the canon. Maybe Chris and others will realize this in due course. Johnston says nothing about not knowing that "any" book is inspired, so is no evidence for that assertion (proposition B). So out of five examples, with two propositions examined for each, we have one instance of A and two possible instances of B. Even if we grant that those two constitute agreement, it is only a 30% ratio, whereas Chris claimed that all the sources agreed on both counts. Personally, I deny both "possible" cases and deny that the "hundreds" charge has any relevance, in light of Geisler and the other Protestant I cited.

Example Number Six comes from Catholic Enquiry Centre, an outreach of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference.

The Catholic Church existed before any of the books of the New Testament were written. The Catholic Church is the mother of the New Testament. It was written in its entirety by Catholics. If she had not scrutinized carefully the writings of her children, rejecting some and approving others as worthy of inclusion in the canon of the New Testament, there would be no New Testament today. If she had not declared the books composing the New Testament to be the inspired word of God, we would not know it.

This is obviously again an epistemological argument: we "know" because the Church has made this a certain proposition in its particulars, whereas in the early centuries there was (too) much dispute and confusion (though there was also significant consensus). This piece is more an argument against sola Scriptura than about the canon. There are no particular statements relevant to either A or B, so no proof of those contentions is offered.

Example Number Seven is from a web page called What Think You of Christ?: SOME THINGS CATHOLIC. I've never heard of it, either (but then, no doubt, I haven't heard of lots of things).

By the year 390 A.D. many spiritual books were in circulation among the various local churches, so the Church convoked the Council of Hippo in 393 A.D. to determine which books were the inspired ones. After diligent study the council accepted some as inspired, rejected others, and finally issued an official list of books which today comprise the New Testament. This official list was later confirmed by the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D. This declaration of the Catholic Church is the sole authority for all Christians for their belief in the inspired character of the Bible.

"Many" books is not "hundreds" (if that question is even relevant anymore). Nor is it asserted that an individual could not know a book was inspired without the Church telling him so (thus, no proof for either A or B is present here). An authoritative pronouncement is a different thing from a subjective spiritual discernment. All these articles, as far as I can tell, are discussing the former, and not discussing the latter (except indirectly). Because this distinction is lost on Chris, he comes to wrong conclusions.

Thus, the grand total of seven examples with regard to Chris's two claims are as follows:

Proposition A: one out of seven (Example Number Three), and it is highly questionable whether this is even objectionable at all.

Proposition B: two possibilities out of seven (Examples One and Four), with none offering positive, absolute proof.

Total: 3 out of 14 at best (1 out of 14 at worst), whereas Chris claimed that they all affirmed both things.

This is pathetic, and of course it means that he has not proven at all what he set out to prove. He keeps digging himself in deeper and deeper. Furthermore, let's not forget that his original, even more extravagant claims (that Catholic apologists supposedly assert en masse that the Church "created" or "wrote" Scripture in the 4th century) have not been affirmed or proven in the least.

Thus, I conclude that Chris's argument (foolishly cheered on by Josh and Dave H. and other misinformed commenters) remains an abysmal failure on all counts. The only things he has gotten right on this are those things where we Catholics already agree with him; hence they constitute no argument against either Catholicism itself or its apologists: flawed though they may be (as we all are). At best, all he can say is that some arguments were guilty of imprecision of language and a certain sloppiness in dealing with complex historical facts. And even those factors are well in evidence in his own present arguments, I think.

I believe there are far more important matters that CPA can devote himself to (and that applies to me, too, come to think of it, but I can never resist a challenge: especially one dogmatically asserted).

Reply to Dave H. on the Biblical Canon and the Alleged Irresponsibility of Internet "Catholic Apologists"

[unless this "Dave H." is a different person (I hate Internet nicknames), he appears to be one of the regular contributors to the Lutheran blog Here I Stand. But he says he attends an Anglican church]. I am responding to comments he made on the Pontifications blog. For background, see my response to his colleague "CPA" on Catholic apologists and the biblical canon. Dave H.'s words will be in blue. Older citations of mine will be in green.]

* * * * *

It's all pretty simple. If the internet were not full, and I mean full, of Catholic and Orthodox converts from other communions, who attribute their conversion to the sudden realization that the Church wrote the scriptures in the manner that Clueless Christian seems to think then their would not be a need to respond this most obvious error as CPA did.

If the Internet is so full of these people, then how come CPA could cite only one (recent) convert, and Pontificator (who is not a convert) and one Catholic apologist who said nothing like what he is criticizing? You repeat the same charge. The Internet is "full" of this, but no documentation. It may be, for all I know (I don't do discussion boards or lists anymore), but I don't believe things simply based on bald assertion.

Perhaps he was too harsh in tone - but not content. The truth remains. You can only see falsehood repeated so many times before you address it and to be honest it is really frustrating to see thoughful Protestants constantly berated and while this type of stuff is left floating around the internet without causing any type of internal conflict.

I'm an "equal opportunity" apologist. On my website you will see pages devoted to correcting errors of liberal Catholics and "traditionalist" Catholics. I recently did a piece concerning a liberal Catholic on my blog. I correct error when I see it. I corrected "Clueless" on one inaccurate remark she made (so did Pontificator).

As long as Catholic and Orthodox apologists let what they know to be false slide . . .

Why is it that you folks at Here We Stand have to be so extreme in language? Now the charge is upped from laxity and sleepy patrolling of internal errors, to flat-out hypocrisy and ethically dubious irresponsibility. Do you try to be as uncharitable as possible, or does it just come naturally? It's not just you; I've seen this also in CPA and Josh when it comes to Catholics. Not that it is surprising anymore, but there is this thing called Christian charity that we can all agree on, if nothing else.

then criticizing those who actually address is kind of silly.

I agreed with the criticism of the wrong statement and belief. What I disagreed with was the exaggerations of making out that this is commonplace among "apologists." I also thought that Clueless's words were taken out of context. She made one mistake in terminology. Big wow. Even that was clarified in context.

In other words until Catholics and anyone else police their own when they know that falsehoods are being spread in their name, they should stop criticizing those who point it out and start critizing their own.

I'm totally in favor of that, which is why I do it (more on that below).

Better yet, make sure your own people are properly catechized and educated.

Why do you think I am an apologist in the first place? Apologists are despised by so many (I was the subject of two huge threads on a big discussion board recently: it was almost all ad hominem nonsense), yet we often hear this motif: that Catholics are so ignorant. So, which is it?: Apologists are big bad boogeymen, or useful to help educate an undercatechized laity, and to challenge a liberalized clergy (where that malady is present)?

Just to clarify that was a general statement not addressed to anyone in particular. But to the internet apologetics movement, particularly Catholics e-pologists, who do not police their own on issues that make them look bad. It was merely constructive criticism.

See, now this is what I object to. You guys insist on making general statements about "apologists" or "e-pologists." I don't object to the criticism itself (if it is true, it's entirely fair game; even possibly a duty to point out). What I don't like is the loose, nebulous definition of "apologist," the double standards, and the inability or unwillingness to document claims.

How do you define a "Catholic apologist"? Any Catholic who has a website or blog? I agree that apologetics has a wide purview, and that many can and should do it (I would argue that every Christian is called to do it to some extent, based on 1 Peter 3:15), but it stands to reason that if you are to make a claim like this, you should at least find one or two professional full-time apologists like myself, from whom you can derive a damning statement or two. We have folks like Hahn, Keating, Shea, Akin, Madrid, Ray out there (and yours truly), writing tons of stuff. Y'all can't produce a single example of this gross laxity that has you so upset? Instead, you concentrate on a new convert who doesn't even claim to be an apologist? And vague mentions of tons of such remarks on a Catholic forum?

You could reasonably contend that the non-professional, relatively "green" Catholic apologists (perhaps overzealous due to a recent conversion) do this, but when you make the claim general, you also include us professionals (who would have more of a responsibility to "police," anyway). So that includes me. But as I have shown, I am not guilty of this at all (it's the exact opposite of the truth); nor do I think any other known, published Catholic apologist is, either.

Pontificator was exactly right, when he wrote:

"First, CPA chose to attack someone whose only sin was imprecision of language. If CPA wanted to take on the "big lie," then he should have taken on one or more of the major internet apologists out there - Dave Armstrong, Mark Shea, and Jimmy Akin immediately come to mind - . . . These are the folks that folks read and who are exercising some influence. The point is, if the "big lie," viz., that the Church "created" Scripture, thereby conferring upon it divine authority, is really being disseminated, then it should be fairly easy to document it among these influential writers. But so far I haven't seen any such documentation. In other words, if there is a big lie, it is the lie that CPA and his supporters is spreading."

I am sure that she (Clueless) is an otherwise thoughtful Christian, but in this instance she repeated, in a very lamentable manner a popular falsehood. Not that she herself was being dishonest. But it is clear that she, like so many others, has bought into this particular historical inaccuracy.

I don't think she has, because I read her words in context, and exercised charity in interpreting them, unlike you and CPA and Josh.

There are many compelling arguments for Catholicism and Orthodoxy (I have considered both seriously) but the "Church wrote the Bible in 400AD" argument is not one of them. To be blunt it is a really stupid claim that obviously smart people should shun. I am certain it is a combination of trust and laziness that leads people to believe it. But a brief study of church history is sufficient to prove otherwise.

Her words in context proved that she doesn't think the Bible was literally written in 400 AD. If you doubt this, why don't you ask her outright? Or would that put you out; it being a too-courteous act towards a fellow Christian? This is absolutely asinine. She used some imprecise language. Period. Great balls of fire! Look at the silly things CPA has written in his recent post and in his recent dialogue with me! He has made outrageous claims about Catholicism that were demonstrably false. And he really believes this stuff. You don't have to twist his words and take them out of context to "force" him to believe something that he doesn't accept. Nor does one have to generalize to a whole class of people ("apologists," "Lutherans," "LCMS," etc.) to refute his spurious claims and illogical assertions.

Dave H. is now addressing Pontificator:

With all due respect you have simply ignored almost all of CPA's arguments as if he never made them and ignored my entire point as well.

I haven't seen that. Pontificator has written at length. I have, too. You didn't even mention me, but I wrote a very lengthy, detailed, comprehensive reply (as is my wont: I even get mocked quite often for my verbosity). I looked over CPA's counter-reply, and he scarcely dealt at all with the many arguments I made. Yet here you are complaining that your side is being ignored? What a joke!

CPA also made clear in his initial post and his follow up that he was addressing "popular" beliefs by Catholics not the official Catholic teaching.

That's fine; nevertheless, he (and you, and Josh) have insisted on generalizing to the class of "Catholic apologists" who supposedly are lax in correcting these errors. It amounts to saying that we either don't know what our Church teaches, or we do and refuse to correct folks who are distorting it. The class of apologists includes full-time ones like myself. Or do you wish to exempt apologists who show that they know their stuff from the charge?

Such things are fair game. If you wish to deny that there are Catholics all over the internet, as well as Orthodox, who make this particular argument you simply have your head in the sand (respectfully). Go over to Catholic Answers and count how many times this argument is made on their forums by Catholic apologists.

That gets back to what one means by "Catholic apologist" - one of my points above. You can always find people who are imprecise or mistaken about things. At what point does any writer on a board or blog become an "apologist", though? You can say lots of folks "do apologetics," but to describe them as an "apologist" implies to me a much higher level of education and ability and skill. If you say, "Protestant apologist," for example (and I was one for ten years), I think of people like Josh McDowell, C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, John Warwick Montgomery; even William Lane Craig or Gary Habermas. I wouldn't dream of calling anyone at all who defended some form of Protestantism on the Internet a "Protestant apologist." So I find this imprecision of language an odd curiosity.

It does no good for you to hand select a few high profile apologists.

Why? After all, we are part of that class of "Catholic e-pologists" on the Internet, too, are we not? Most of the best-known Catholic apologists have an active presence on the Internet (Scott Hahn would be one exception). It's almost like you want to restrict the use of the term "Catholic apologist" to the relatively less-educated, less experienced, and less effective people who do apologetics on the Internet. This quickly becomes a double standard. You want to attack people who have some shortcoming, then illogically generalize to the entire class, and then complain when we reply that you have not noted any well-known apologists, or produced anything from them that shows this "widespread error" you are all up in arms about. It's ludicrous.

My entire point is that these same apologists do not correct this error among Catholic, likes CC, but have no problem attacking Protestants for addressing what they refuse too.

Case in point. This includes people like me. But I have already shown that I have done exactly this (I do it all the time). I even had an article published in This Rock which chastized Catholics), called, "Catholics Need to Read Their Bibles". I was praised by anti-Catholics in the CARM forum when I reproduced it in that venue. They loved it. I showed how I have addressed this very error, in my paper, "The Canon of Scripture: Did the Catholic Church Create It Or Merely Authoritatively Acknowledge It?" You obviously didn't read that paper, because if you had, you would see that I did precisely what you are calling for: I disagreed with a Catholic friend of mine on my own blog, and agreed with the Reformed Protestant Kevin Johnson. I wrote, in my conclusion, responding to the Catholic:

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

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

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

I also cited Vatican I and Vatican II, to give the true Catholic teaching:

You [Kevin] are absolutely correct. You want common ground; this is one. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) from Vatican II, makes this clear:

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

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

But, of course, you don't want to include me in your criticisms. You just want to make sweeping claims about "Catholic apologists" without consulting the ones who work hardest at that endeavor, and devote their lives to it. That's really fair, isn't it?: you want to exclude the ones who most reasonably can be expected to speak for the class of which they are a part, but reserve the right to bash the entire class (which includes those that you exclude from analysis). Very compelling methodology there . . .

CPA's arguments were fair and have not yet be addressed.

I addressed them point by point. Perhaps you weren't aware of that. Now you are. As far as I am concerned, several of his points were pulverized. I think it is embarrassing for him, and that he should remove the paper, before he loses even more credibility than he already has.

You are simply being dismissive.

And you and CPA and Josh are not doing that, of course . . . You want to say you aren't doing it, too? Okay, then reply to my previous paper point-by-point, and/or this one. After all, I am the first professional Catholic apologist who has responded at length to your criticisms. What stops you?

Two separate things are going on here: 1 - you don’t like CPA's choice of blogs to engage - Clueless Christian's. 2 -An argument has been made against a popular misunderstanding of the origins of the New Testament. An argument I might add that could have been made by a thoughtful Catholic or Orthodox person.

Yeah, exactly. That's why I have made it myself on more than one occasion. But then that puts the lie to your sweeping claims about Catholic apologists. It's in your interest, then, to make out that said class is exceedingly ignorant, and to ignore or quickly dismiss people like me, who have done their homework, because apparently you want to deal only with shoddy Catholic apologetics. I take exactly the opposite approach: I seek out the most able exponents of opposing positions: not the least (which "enables" one to make fun of those positions and mock them). I did this even with the anti-Catholics (a position I consider intellectual suicide). Thus I have taken on James White, Eric Svendsen, David T. King, Jason Engwer, and William Webster: the best and most "armed" proponents of a ludicrous position.

Instead of engaging it you are setting up strawmen (I hate that term, but it's true) and then knocking them down.

Wow. Talk about "pot - kettle - black" time . . .

This is simply out of character for you. You may not be moved by Protestant arguments, frankly neither am I depending on the argument, but you have not addressed CPA directly.

I think Pontificator has; I certainly have . . . I await counter-replies. Something tells me I may be waiting a long time. But you never know . . . occasionally people are willing to actually defend their positions with some reasonable arguments.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Challenges For Self-Described "Progressive / Liberal Catholic" Joe ("jcecil3")

[Joe's words -- the first portion below from my own BlogBack comments area -- will be in green]

* * * * *

Catholics are not believers in sola scriptura. We believe that the Word is revealed through Sacred Scripture AND Sacred Tradition.

. . . At given points in history, a formulation of a thought becomes so clear and apparent to the body of Christ that an infallible definition is made. The infallible dogma then rests on its own authority even if at a later point it is discovered that the text that lead to that conclusion at that point in time probably meant something else.

. . . On the other hand, if we allow that our exegesis can lead today to a conclusion that was different than those scholars of yesteryear who formulated a dogma, this does not mean that we are rejecting the dogma.

. . . Biblical interpretation may have lead to formulation of a dogma, but once we know the dogma infallibly, we can hold fast to the dogma without a need to believe the original author intended the dogma anymore - even if the framers of the dogma believed that.

Don't get me wrong. There will be times when dogma and the current consensus of the scholarly community will be in complete agreement. However, it is not necessary for this occur.

It does not deny dogma to examine the arguments of a modern scholar and find those arguments a compelling argument for the probable meaning of the original human author.

Indeed, the Vatican encourages this, so long as we hold fast to infallibly defined dogma.

Hi Joe,

Let's cut to the quick on this. You invited discussion on your blog, by writing, "Let me know what you think." So here I go! :-) You want to have your cake and eat it too, it looks like to me. You want to talk the language of Tradition, infallibility and dogma, yet you want to be a so-called "progressive" or "liberal" (thanks for your upfront honesty on the use of that term, which is refreshing), and to retain the right to question the Church in areas where it has already decided things, and doesn't allow any further questioning. The proof of this is abundant on your blog, In Today's News.

1) You attack Natural Family Planning (NFP) as sinful:

". . . it would seem that NFP is morally illicit."

"Conclusion: Therefore, it follows that Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a [sic] morally illicit."

"If NFP is morally licit, it naturally raises the issue whether artificial contraception and even certain acts of gay sex might be morally licit on the same grounds."

(Is NFP the Slippery Slope to Gay Unions?)

". . . artificial contraception in marriage is morally equivalent to natural family planning . . . "
("My Introduction" on the sidebar of your blog)

This amounts to equating a mortal sin with a practice which the Church has sanctioned. That's really a lot of moral authority, isn't it? The Church supposedly sanctions something which is equally as sinful as an act which is a serious sin, and contrary to natural law.

2) You are soft on sodomy and seem to favor so-called "gay marriage" (or at the very least, do not oppose it):

"If deliberately separating sexuality from procreation is always wrong, why can married heterosexuals knowingly and deliberately engage in conjugal relations during a period of a women's cycle that is infertile? There was an ancient Christian non-sacramental rite of adelphopoiesis uniting people of the same gender in an indissoluble bond as spiritual siblings. Could this rite be restored as a recognition of committed same gender love, whether such a couple is having sex or not? If the rite of adelphopoiesis were restored, could it be bestowed with benefits under civil law that mirror those enjoyed by married heterosexuals, such as inheritance rights, tax benefits, the ability to adopt, power of attorney and so forth?" [emphasis added]

". . . How is a gay civil union a greater threat to heterosexual marriage than an infertile couple or a couple practicing natural family planning?"

". . . What harm is caused to others by permitting gay unions?"

". . . Why did the organization called "Catholic Answers" include gay marriage with four right to life issues as one of only five "non-negotiable" political issues in the 2004 voter's guide?"

". . . Was it homophobia that inspired support for Bush - an anxiety provoked by people who experience homosexual attractions?"

". . . Are the arguments against gay unions any different than the arguments against inter-racial marriage?"

(Questions About Church Teaching on Gay Civil Unions)

"For example, could a gay couple be considered somewhat like an infertile couple? Might their own sexual expression be an expression of unitive love that is morally legitimate if contained within the bond of a permanent loving commitment?"

"How can one conclude that a gay couple, neither partner choosing to be homosexually inclined, is not the moral equivalent of the infertile couple? If the gay couple were open to children and willing to adopt, could their sexual expression be seen as an expression of unitive love equivalent in nature to the married heterosexual couple expressing unitive love during a period of known infertility?"

(What is "Advancing Progressive Views"?)

3) You act as if the Church isn't sufficient enough to not need "progressives" who hanker for "change" in infallible doctrines:

". . . I have turned to "blogging" where I can become a voice in the wilderness crying out as the loyal opposition from within Catholicism for progressive change in the Church, while defending her from outer attack from the atheists, fundamentalists and whoever else has an axe to grind."

Like you don't have an axe to grind"? :-) . . .

"Let me say up front, that if I depart from the "official line" of the Vatican here, I will say so. I will try to explain why I withhold assent from a teaching and point to the Catechism or other authoritive texts where you can read the Church's official answers and judge for yourself whether my questions are valid. I make no claim of personal infallibility, and I very well can be in error. That said, I see no reason why the questions of progressive Catholics should not be given serious attention."

This is classic dissenting modernism and liberalism, couched -- in your writings elsewhere -- in the usual rationale of "conscience," or "progressivism" or "tolerance" or "open-mindedness" . . .

"Nevertheless, in often taking stances that seem opposed by the Vatican, many of my fellow Roman Catholics will question my right to call myself Catholic."

Oh, you're a Catholic, but in cases where you dissent from Church teachings, you are a disobedient Catholic. It's part of my job to point out when people are claiming that the Church teaches or allows something that it doesn't teach or allow. You take it upon yourself to correct what you call "conservative" Catholics or positions. Likewise, I correct what I call "liberal" positions.

"I accept . . . the infallibility of the Pope when speaking ex cathedra, . . . "

The pope is also infallible in the ordinary magisterium, when reiterating teachings that are firmly established in Catholic tradition. Instances of this would include Humanae Vitae and Pope John Paul II's denial that women can be ordained. Ex cathedra is only the highest of the many levels of infallibility.

"Yet, I believe that doctrine develops according to Dei Verbum 8, and that such development can justify beliefs considered "controversial" by many Catholics."

(From the sidebar on your blog: "My Introduction")

Here you engage in the familiar, tired liberal tactic of co-opting development of doctrine for reversal or evolution of doctrine. Along with the abuse of the true Catholic notion of "conscience," this is probably the most-used liberal tactic. Hence, Cardinal Newman is often wrongly (if I were cynical, I would say also, cynically) utilized on both grounds, since he wrote with great insight on both topics.

4) You think God is properly referred to as "Mother":

"The more controversial beliefs I hold are as follows: I believe that God can be called Mother as well as Father, . . ."

("My Introduction")

5) You advocate inclusive language (which usually indicates several false feminist assumptions about gender and the use of the English language):

". . . inclusive language in reference to the people of God should be used in liturgy, . . . "

("My Introduction")

6) You advocate women "priests":

". . . women could be ordained ministerial priest, and perhaps should be ordained (The Pope has clearly said no to this one) . . ."

("My Introduction")

Yes, he has, and (most importantly for this discussion) he has done so in the context of universal, unbroken Catholic tradition; therefore he speaks infallibly. Why, then, do you keep dissenting?

7) You go on and on about a married priesthood (throughout your blog[s]):

". . . married men should be ordained . . ."

("My Introduction")

They already are, in the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church , so if you yourself wanted to be a married priest, why didn't you go there and become one? And if you don't care for the Western, Latin rites' understanding on this matter, why do you remain? If, on the other hand, you choose to remain (as you obviously have), you should cease and desist. But then you wouldn't be a "progressive" if you did that, now would you?

8) You are soft on divorce and remarriage:

". . . divorced and remarried Catholics can participate in the life of the Church, . . ."

("My Introduction")

"I believe that divorce is wrong, and even sinful in most situations. Nevertheless, I have questions about the Church's teaching regarding divorce and remarriage and the subsequent reception of communion."

". . . Conservatives will argue that the answer is simple: dissolve the second marriage and stop living in adultery, or annul the first marriage. This does not strike me as reality. If the second marriage has children, and is a healthier, happier, and more loving union, I am not sure that God is really commanding its dissolution or considering it adultery."

". . . Divorce and remarriage is wrong, and it is not the perfect Christian way. However, we are sinners living in an imperfect world. Perhaps prohibiting people from receiving communion indefinitely is not the appropriate response to our current circumstances."

"It is this last point that I feel is missing in the Roman Catholic expression of faith. It is not that our theology of an indissoluble bond is necessarily wrong. Nor is our desire to discourage divorce and remarriage wrong. Marriage is a beautiful thing that we want to protect and support.

"However, I feel that we need a means for those who have remarried to reconcile with the Church. Christ's whole life proclaimed the possibility of reconciliation with God. This reconciliation means we need to take into account that there may even be children involved in both marriages, such that we may not want to determine a marriage "invalid" (and the children "illegitimate"). This reconciliation also means that we account for the growth in love that may occur in a person involved in a second marriage. I believe that the mercy and compassion shown by Christ demands that we take a more forgiving approach regarding this issue."

(Divorce and Remarriage)

In Catholic teaching, there is no such thing as a divorce, because true, sacramental marriage is indissoluble, by its very nature. Therefore, if someone is divorced (as opposed to being granted an annulment, which means no marriage actually occurred), and remarry, they are in mortal sin, and in an ongoing state of committing adultery. You seem to not only not want to point out that uncomfortable fact; but you commit further wrong by advocating inclusion of such people in the rites of the Church (I am assuming that you mean allowing them to partake of the Holy Eucharist; if not, then I have misunderstood, and apologize), as if they are doing nothing wrong. This is an extremely serious matter.

9) You see nothing wrong with John Kerry (who advocates an extreme pro-abortion position) receiving communion as a Catholic in good standing, and think that Fr. Richard McBrien is a good orthodox Catholic:

"At a very fundamental level, many of these folks are constantly trying to define Catholicism as narrowly as possible with the goal of looking for ways to exclude someone from the fold - prove once and for all that John Kerry is unworthy of Communion, and that theologian, Father Richard McBrien, is a heretic, and so forth . . . I am intentionally looking for the ways to say maybe John Kerry and Richard McBrien and all other so-called "dissidents" have something to say to the rest of us."

(What is "Advancing Progressive Views"?, emphasis added)

As for Fr. McBrien (not a dissident??!!), Fr. William Most, in his paper, Comment on Richard McBrien, Catholicism, 3rd edition, notes (his words in purple, McBrien's in red):

On p. 577 McBrien asks: "Did Jesus intend to found a Church? He answers: " 'No' if by 'found' we mean some direct, explicit deliberate act by which Jesus established a new religious organization... . The majority of scholars today support the assumption that Jesus expected the end to come soon." We can see the all-pervading notion of ignorance in Jesus peering out. If He thought the end was soon, why bother to found any organization?

. . . In line with that view he says the sacraments were not directly instituted by Christ (pp. 798-89). We presume he means that the Church and sacraments just evolved in the next century - Jesus was too ignorant to foresee any such structure, and, as said above, He expected the end soon.

McBrien clearly is not concerned about the fact that the Council of Trent defined that Jesus instituted the sacraments (DS 1601), and especially that he instituted the priesthood at the Last Supper when He said,"Do this in memory of me." (DS 1752).

. . . He admits that Jesus did not sin, yet He was capable of sinning (p. 547). He as not immune to sexual desires (pp. 562-63).McBrien grants that the Church does teach, as does the NT, that Jesus was without sin. But he has trouble about the impeccability, inability to sin, of Jesus.

. . . We do not say it is nature that sins, but a person sins. But in Christ there was only one Person, even though two natures. If He had sinned, the sin would have been attributed to the one Person, a Divine Person. Which of course is impossible.

Finally we mention Canon 12 of the second General Council of Constantinople, in 553 (DS 434) which spoke of Theodore of Mopsuestia as "impious" because he spoke of Christ as "suffering from passions of soul and desires of the flesh, and gradually going away from the worse things, and so becoming better by advancing in works... merited divine sonship... ."

As to the death of Jesus, McBrien says it was not a sacrifice of expiation-- just a peace offering (p. 457). McBrien here does not understand what a sacrifice is . . . the Council of Trent defined that the Mass is a true sacrifice: DS 1751.

. . . McBrien says( p. 541) that "the arguments historicity [of virginal conception] are also strong." First, he seems to say that if Mary and Joseph knew He had no human father, and they had not kept it from Him, then He would not have been so ignorant about who He was. He is so convinced of ignorance in Jesus that he can used it as an a argument against the virginal conception.

. . . Secondly he says that the infancy narratives, the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke,"suggest a nonhistorical rather than historical accounting of the conception of Jesus." He says that the two accounts are "virtually irreconcilable."

. . . McBrien thinks the virginal conception may have been just a theologoumenon. That would mean that physically there was no such thing, that to say it is just a way of asserting her holiness. To that we reply: Where else in Matthew and Luke do we find even one clear case of a theologoumenon? Further, the Church shows no sign of considering it such. From the earliest creeds on she is called simply ever virgin, aei parthenos. Pope Leo the Great, in his Tome to Flavian at the Council of Chalcedon wrote (DS 291): "She brought Him forth without the loss of virginity even as she conceived Him without its loss." What point is there in talking about keeping virginity if it was only a theologoumenon? What would that add when extended to during and after birth?

. . . Still further, Vatican II, in LG #12, wrote: "The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief." That is, if the whole Church, pastors and people, have ever, for even one period, believed something as revealed, that belief cannot be in error, is infallible. Now of course the people have never dreamed that her virginity is a mere theologoumenon.

. . . Speaking of original sin, McBrien says: "theologians today would probably agree with the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, who refers to the doctrine as a rationalized myth about the mystery of evil."

. . . Also, on p. 186, McBrien says "Although later doctrine of Original Sin has been read back into Paul's Letter to the Romans, neither biblical scholar nor theologian would agree that it is in fact there." This is a surprisingly bold contradiction of a defined doctrine. He does not really deny original sin himself, but he says Trent merely read into Romans what is not really there.

[see my paper, The Biblical Evidence for Original Sin]

Also, Ronald J. Rychlak (words in blue; McBrien's still in red) provides more gruesome details of this "so-called" dissident, who used to head the theology department at Notre Dame (God help us), in his article, Theology According to Richard McBrien:

. . . when Pope John Paul II asked Catholic universities to become more Catholic, McBrien responded in the Chronicle of Higher Education: "Bishops should be welcome on a Catholic university campus. Give them tickets to ball games. Let them say Mass, bring them to graduation. Let them sit on the stage. But there should be nothing beyond that." Regular readers of The Wanderer are aware of his comparisons of the Holy Father to Communist dictators and suggestions that the Pope may be an "unknowing prisoner of the Curia" (May 14th, 1998).

Even those readers who are accustomed to McBrien's dissenting viewpoint must have been surprised by a recent column that he wrote about the Church in the year 999. This piece was designed to raise questions about papal supremacy and infallibility by suggesting that these teachings — central to the Catholic faith, but not in line with McBrien's theology — are of recent origin and would have been inconceivable 1,000 years ago.

The article was presented as a conversation between a modern Catholic and one from 1,000 years ago. When the modern made reference to various Catholic teachings, the voice from the past expressed surprise because the doctrines supposedly were developed after the year 999. McBrien, of course, knows that the doctrines of papal supremacy and infallibility are much older than he suggests.

. . . In 1981, the first edition of McBrien's book Catholicism was published. Almost immediately the doctrinal committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops pointed out serious problems with it and asked him to make revisions. When those revisions had not been made by the time of the third edition, the conference finally released a statement indicating that the work was not a reliable guide to Catholic teaching and should not be used in theological instruction. The bishops said that Catholicism reduced the Pope's and bishops' teaching to "just another voice alongside those of private theologians" and that it minimized Catholic teachings and practice. "On a number of important issues, most notably in the field of moral theology, the reader will see without difficulty that the book regards the official Church position as simply in error" (Today's Catholic, May 5th, 1996).

. . . Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things, puts it slightly differently: "The Magisterium, (according to McBrien] is Fr. McBrien and others whom he recognizes as belonging to the sacred college of academic theologians." Regardless of how it is phrased, the problem is that McBrien likes his ideas better than those of the Church. (McBrien's willingness to question the Church's teaching on abortion has even caused two pro-life organizations to call for his excommunication.)

10) You dissent from Humanae Vitae (an infallible pronouncement):

"I care less about persuading anyone that Humanae Vitae is inconsistent than persuading people that it does not exclude one from the Church to ask some questions about it."

"I have spent a good deal of time exploring what I see as a weaknesses in Humanae Vitae."

(What is "Advancing Progressive Views"?)

11) You are soft on contraception, which the Church has long since defined as an intrinsically disordered grave sin:

"The concern that many laypeople have about using "artificial" substances to manipulate the internal workings of body to avoid natural functions may not be absolutely immoral. However, it may be very immoral for one partner in a marriage to try to force the other to use such substances against the will of the other. If a woman had health concerns about using the pill, for instance, her husband should not force her to use the pill. Likewise, if a man is uncomfortable with a reversible vasectomy, no wife should try to pressure him into it. Other means of preventing conception should be explored. This is a simple application of the golden rule."

"Could it be that Paul VI was simply mistaken in implying that artificial contraception is always wrong within a marriage bond? If the couple mutually decides that such means are appropriate, are we right to judge them in sin?"

(What is "Advancing Progressive Views"?)

12) You distort beyond all recognition what it means to submit to the Church's teaching:

"I believe that the religious submission of the mind requires that every Catholic who is troubled by a doctrine should examine the teaching carefully looking for its strengths prior to pointing out any deficiencies. In other words, we should give the Vatican enough benefit of the doubt to assume or presume that even if a teaching challenges our very fundamental assumptions about what is true, there is something valuable and true in that teaching. Our first reading should be biased toward the Vatican."

". . . Religious submission of the mind means that I looked for the truth in the document, examining the teaching in question with a presumption that there is some truth in it."

". . . I would hold that so long as you analyzed the teaching looking for its strengths and presuming there is genuine truth in there somewhere, you have fulfilled your obligation to give religious submission of the mind."

". . . We should be inclusive in our attitude, trying to define being Catholic as broadly as the Church allows. We should help people make real sense not only of the strength of a teaching, but of the rightness of their own questions about the teaching."

(What is "Advancing Progressive Views"?)

13) You act as if a pro-lifer can consistently vote for a pro-abortion advocate like John Kerry:

(Why I Voted For John Kerry as A Pro-life Catholic: An Examination of Participation in Evil)

See my paper:

How on Earth Can Christians Vote for Pro-Abortion Candidates?

You could be perfectly happy (feel right at home), holding all these positions, as a liberal Anglican (or even a liberal or "conservative" Orthodox, in some cases). What prevents you? At least then, you would not be contradicting the theological and ecclesiological principles of the Church you are a member of. But again, you would not be a "progressive" if you didn't try to change the Church to conform to your liking, rather than conforming your opinions and will to that of the Church, in all areas where you are bound as a Catholic to do so. So, lest the leopard change its spots, you must remain right where you are, to bless all of us "conservatives" with your never-ending dissent in the name of "open-mindedness" and "development."

Friday, February 18, 2005

Thoughts on Catholicity and Ecumenism (Reply to Reformed Pastor Tim Gallant)

Pastor Gallant wrote a post called Two Thoughts about a month ago, on his blog. I will reproduce it in its entirety in blue, below, and then make a response. I welcome his counter-reply. This could be a great discussion, I think, if only we can get it going and have Christians of many sorts join in, without rancor and acrimony. I think we can all agree that it is a very important discussion to have.


Over the past few weeks, a couple of (quite unrelated) thoughts occurred to me, both of which are fairly obvious, but I don't think they articulated themselves directly into my consciousness before. The second point is ultimately far more significant than the first, I think.
(1) Judaizers and Anathemas.

The Judaizers implicitly declared Paul's gospel a heresy before he anathematized them. How do we know? They required something for the salvation of the Gentiles that Paul had not required. Ergo, Paul's doctrine was heretical and deficient.

Not particularly a profound point, although I think it is of interest, because we good Protestants often tend to call others "Judaizers" when they don't dot their i's and cross their t's quite like they are supposed to. And the situation, as it turns out, is usually not all that analogous.
(2) Catholicity and Confessions.

A few days ago I was blindsided with the glaringly obvious fact: if Christ's Church is ever to find the measure of unity in true faith Christ prayed for in John 17, every church tradition is going to have to sacrifice its sectarian confessional statements. I boldly say that neither the Westminster Standards, the Book of Concord, nor even my beloved Three Forms of Unity will ever provide the confessional instrument of the one Body of Jesus Christ (and no, neither will that Statement of Faith drafted by Joe-Bob's Bible Church of Podunk, revised last Monday). It is imaginable to me that there will come a day when Christ's churches will be able to speak confessionally in a way that goes beyond the Nicene Creed, but it also is obvious to me that the ecumenical creeds will necessarily be the confessional starting point of any ecumenical effort worth pursuing.

While the above point, as I've said, is glaringly obvious, most of us conduct ourselves ecclesiastically as if the opposite were the case. Perhaps we actually believe that the true Church is defined by our sectarian confession, and thus think that others can adopt it or... well, go to hell. Or perhaps we recognize that something big needs to take place ecumenically; yet nonetheless we go our merry way becoming more insular and sectarian with every generation. Instead of seeking ways to transcend the divide, we create even more within our respective confessional traditions.

Not so long ago, a well-known figure in the Reformed world said that the Westminster's articulation of justification could not be improved upon. And the corollary seemed to be that this confessional document must be preserved and defended against all comers until kingdom come.

I'm going on record today: I am a confessionally Reformed Christian. But all the truly important weight in that phrase is on the last word. All the confessions that we are presently fighting over are destined to become ecclesiastically non-authoritative, and what is more, all of us should be praying and working for that day.

May it so come.

The problem I see with this (though quite helpful and commendable in many ways) is that it creates an ambiguous relationship with truth and the pursuit of Christian truth and the ability to find it with God's help.

If we grant your main point: that every Christian tradition has gotten some things wrong and will have to "give stuff up" for unity to occur, it seems to me that we have adopted a certain skepticism, for you would have us believe that not a single Christian body has figured out true Christian theology in toto for 2000 years.

If that is how uncertain God has left things in His Church, then it is a depressing state of affairs indeed. And if "unity" is achieved by everyone throwing their doctrinal distinctives in the pot "so we can all get along," how can we ultimately distinguish that from the liberal ecumenism that hasn't helped anyone? I'm not trying to be provocative; I sincerely wonder how you would distinguish yourself in this regard, from liberal theology.

I believe there is one Christian truth. As a Catholic, I think it resides in the Catholic Church in its fullness (by God's grace, and nothing else -- because I believe that was His will). I don't think it is arrogant or "triumphalistic" to assert that. Until recent times, most Protestants believed that their own particular Christian tradition was the best one, and truest. That's why Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and others fought so hard against each other right from the start, because they each believed their tradition was right, and the others wrong, where they contradicted one another.

It's fine to have an attitude of charity and humility and be willing to be corrected, etc. But we're not just talking about fallible, sinful men here. We're also talking about the omniscient, All-Holy, omnipotent God. Is He able to maintain Christian truth in its fullness through history or not? Is He so weak that He can't make it apparent what that truth is? Are we left to each make a lifelong journey, seeking for spiritual and theological truth, as if each generation (indeed, each person) has to reinvent the wheel?

That seems most implausible to me. We're fallible sinners, one and all, but the equation changes when God is brought into it. I think there are some very difficult problems about what Christian truth is, and how it is possible or impossible to find it, that have to be dealt with, beyond this level of "we all have some things wrong, and so we must put everything on the table for the sake of unity."

Whatever Christian unity is, or should be, it is certainly NOT the sort of doctrinal minimalism or "least common denominator" that this methodology would almost certainly bring about. I agree that the Nicene Creed is an existing common ground that can unite virtually all Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox NOW, complete with our own denominational distinctives. That already exists.

The problem comes when the "anti" factions in each group read the others out of Christianity. If those folks can learn that Christianity and Christians exist outside of their own group, then we can start to make some real, concrete progress, even with existing differences. But there is little sign of that happening (among anti-Protestants, anti-Catholics, and anti-Orthodox types). I say, first things first; baby steps first, and we have a lot to work out, if I have said anything at all above that rings true or poses a challenge to this sort of commendable-but-faulty ecumenism and concern for Christian unity.