Monday, June 20, 2005

Dialogue With a Lutheran on Whether Lutheranism or Catholicism is More Consistent With Patristic and Early Church Beliefs (Part II)

With Kristo Miettinen (words in blue). Continuing the discussion from Part I . . . His original comments can be found here.


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

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

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

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

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

(Article XXI: Of the Worship of the Saints)

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

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

Here is another similar statement:


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


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

(Article I)

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

(Article VI)

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

(Article XX)

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

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

(Article XXIV)

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

(Article XXVI)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Part I, Article 2: Of Original Sin)

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

(Part II, Article 4: Of Justification)

Here and there among the Fathers similar testimonies are extant.

(Part V)

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

(Part VI, Article III)

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

(Part IX)

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

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

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

(Part X)

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

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

(Part XI: Articles 7 and 8)

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

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

I can defend my earlier arguments, that in the four areas I mentioned (and in many, if not all others), the Catholic Church is far more consonant with the teaching of the fathers and the early Church than Lutheranism is. The present argument has to do not with the nature of the "Reformation" per se (another great discussion for another time), but rather, with whether it is a closer adherent to patristic doctrine than Catholic teaching was and is.

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

Now, you claim, curiously to me, of Luther and Melancthon that "they were the ones who substituted the rule of secular princes for the episcopacy which had previously been the norm." What the reformers sought from the German princes was assistance in reforming the church in their territories; there was no revolution in bishop-prince relations implied. Lutheran princes exerted no more power, in general, in their territories than Catholic German ones did in theirs. Changes occurred, of course; else there would be no point to bringing the princes into the process. But the changes were within the ordinary scope of German politics since the emergence of Germany as a recognizeable political entity. If you could sharpen your point it would be appreciated.

Sure; I'd be happy to do so.

With isolated exceptions . . . we find everywhere the opinions which are exactly in harmony wlth those of the territorial prince of the day, striving their utmost to suppress all differing views. The theory of the absolute Church authority of the secular powers was in itself enough to make a system of tolerance impossible on the Protestant side . . . From the very first religious life among the Protestants was
influenced by the hopeless contradiction that on the one hand Luther imposed it
as a sacred duty on every individual, in all matters of faith, to set aside every authority, above all that of the Church, and to follow only his own judgment, while on the other hand the reformed theologians gave the secular princes power over the religion of their land and subjects . . . 'Luther never attempted to solve this contradiction. In practice he was content that the princes should have supreme control over religion, doctrine and Church, and that it was their right and their duty
to suppress every religious creed which differed from their own.'

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

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

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

The Church government became identical very soon with the state government in the Lutheran countries, and with the society government we call it "trustees in the Calvinist countries. The reason was that the hierarchy had been removed by Luther. There is no pope, no bishops, no priests, in the technical sense. Who shall govern in the Church? Now of course first of all the ministers, but they are not sufficient; they have no power. The power comes from the princes, or from free associations with society, as we have very often in Calvinism. Therefore the princes are called by Luther the highest bishops of their realm. But they are not to interfere with the inner-religious things; they have to perform the administration the ius circa sacrum, the right around the sacred, but not into the sacred, which remains for the ministers, and every Christian.

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

Out of this situation, which Luther accepted as an emergency situation, something occurred already, when it began to work, namely the state Church in Germany. The
Church became more or less and I think "more" than "less" a department of the state administration, and the princes became the arbiters of the Church in all respects. This is not intentionally so, but it shows that a Church needs a political backbone. In Catholicism it was the Pope and the hierarchy; in Protestantism it was the "outstanding members of the communion" who must take over, after the bishops have disappeared either the princes, or social groups in more democratic countries, or if the princes do not take it.

(The History of Christian Thought, Paul Tillich; Lecture 34: Luther (cont.) Christology, Doctrines of the Church and State. Zwingli)

Interestingly, it is with Luther's explicit understanding of temporal authority that the picture of Luther the freedom-fighter is most out-of-focus. For within his vision of the necessity for and justification of the secular arm, we see a harshness that inclines toward political authoritarianism, toward the absolute state. The markers of the story refer back to the question of authority, a problematic inseparable from issues of legitimacy, force, order, as well as freedom. In "An Open Letter to the German Nobility," Luther appeals to the secular princes to reform the church by openly revolting against its institutional forms and the authority internal to, and flowing from, those forms. His treatise is a wide-ranging, often vituperative rejection of the ecclesiastical edifice of medieval Christiandom. He strips the church, as an institutional edifice, of authority-he de-authorizes the church-yet he simultaneously valorizes secular authority.

The paradox here is startling and explicit, requiring no hermeneutical cleverness to expose. In depoliticizing the church, Luther does not so much break the bonds of authority as draw them ever tighter by providing for the flow of all legitimate authority over persons and events, over "externals," to secular rule. Assaulting the "three walls of the Romanists" (we discussed the "second wall," the pope's exclusive interpretive authority), Luther counters the claim that temporal power has no jurisdiction over the spiritual. To the contrary, the pope should have no authority over the emperor or any other lawfully established princes. But the obverse does not pertain. "I say," he writes, that "the temporal power is ordained of God to punish evil-doers and to protect them that do well…. Therefore, [it should] be left free to perform its office without hindrance throughout the whole body of Christendom." The nobility should set themselves against the pope "as against a common enemy." Further deauthorization of the church is proclaimed by Luther in another of his great treatises, "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church," in which he takes on the
sacraments and diminishes the church's mission as dispenser of sacred

By stripping political power of restraints exercised by ecclesiastical institutions and by downgrading the "right of resistance," a major and growing strain in medieval thought lodged in the idea of a social contract, Luther also squeezed out space for notions of rule based on the consent of the governed. He limits resistance to that of the individual commanded in a matter of faith-but faith, like freedom, pertains only to the "inner" self, not to "externals." In general, the prince should be obstructed in his grim work neither by pope "above" nor "the people" below. A new theory of the state and an attack against the doctrine of a natural right to resist tyrannical rule go hand-in-hand in Luther's thought. Luther's symbol of temporal rule is the sword-the bloody sword always unsheathed and at the ready.

Luther Sic-Luther Non, Jean Bethke Elshtain) [link]

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Apostolic succession" has meant different things in different eras, and still means different things in the east than in the west. It is not, so far as I can tell, conclusively addressed by the reform movement; therefore, some Lutheran churches have chosen to continue it, others have not. It's just not essential to orthodoxy, catholicism, or evangelicism (all deliberately spelled lower-case: no proper nouns are intended). It was critically important in the pre-consensus era of sorting out the NT canon, but it has served its purpose.

Where to begin!? Apostolic succession always meant a certain thing up to the time of the so-called "Reformation." Then it was changed. This is the problem I have with the innovations of Protestantism. It had no right or no basis to change what had been held universally before that time. It claims to continue what was before. Yet it will change things like this. That's why I think it's ultimately contradictory and incoherent system. You say it's "just not essential"; yet it certainly was for the Fathers. I choose their witness over yours and Lutheranism's, because you and Luther and Lutheranism arrived late in history and contradict what came before. It requires faith to believe that God will guide His one true Church and preserve it from error, but it is a faith based on what we are taught in the divine revelation, and from Jesus Himself (which is sufficient for me).

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

You have given me no basis or rationale to accept your opinion on this. Your opinion seems to be completely arbitrary. On what authority or epistemological or theological or revelational basis do you come up with the idea that the early Church needed apostolic succession, while today's Church, or the 16th century Church does not need it anymore? That is taught neither in Scriture nor in previous Christian tradition.

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

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

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

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

Grace is indeed unmerited, but that's sola gratia, not sola fide. The latter (at least in its extreme forms) seeks to separate works entirely from justification and salvation. I don't want to get sidetracked into this compex area. I only want to establish that Protestantism offered radical innovations here. Ted Dorman, in his article, "Justification as Healing: The Little-Known Luther," wrote:

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

[Footnote 1: Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification. Two volumes. Cambridge University Press, 1986. See Volume I pages 182ff. and Volume II pages 2f. The quotation is from II:]

The Reformers did not deny the reality of infused righteousness. Indeed, they insisted that justifying (passive) righteousness never exists apart from sanctifying (active) righteousness. [2] At the same time, however, they made a 'notional distinction' between justification and sanctification where none had previously existed.

[Footnote 2: John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion III.2.8. Footnote 3: McGrath, Iustitia Dei II.2]

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

[Footnote 38: McGrath, Iustitia Dei II 2. See also McGrath's comment on page 23 that Philip Melanchthon's increasing emphasis on iustitia aliena from about 1530 onward provided the chief impetus to this shift. To what degree Melanchthon influenced Luther, or vice-versa, is beyond the scope of this study.]

. . . In addition to Luther, three classical Christian sources demonstrate that prior to the Reformation the Church viewed justification as both an event and a process. These three are Augustine, Anselm of Canterbury, and Thomas Aquinas.

[Footnote 47: It must be noted that both Anselm and Aquinas followed Augustine in that neither entertained the Reformers' notional distinction between justification and sanctification, and both tended to emphasize infused righteousness.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dialogue on the Utility of Back-and-Forth Internet Exchanges (Socratic Dialogue)

Kristo Miettinen is a Lutheran, with whom I am presently engaged in a discussion about the Church Fathers. During that exchange, a little disagreement came up concerning how to format the discussion on the Internet, which led into larger (I think, important) issues. His words will be in blue:

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

It wasn't the Internet that inspired this in me, but Socrates and Plato and (among contemporary apologists) Peter Kreeft. I was writing papers like this before I ever got to the Internet (which was in 1996).

If you choose to continue in the interleaved-response style, would you please consider honoring my composition at least to the level of maintaining my paragraphs intact. Your practice (and it is, of course, a practice of many others as well) of chopping up my writing not only at the individual sentence level but even separating two halves of one sentence by volumes of rebuttal does no justice to my thoughts, and denies your readers any edifying benefit (if there is any to be had) from my writing.

I don't see the two as mutually-exclusive. First of all, your replies are posted in their entirety in these comments boxes (I linked to your first one right at the top of my back-and-forth post). So if someone wants to read your comment entire as you wrote it, they can do that in that fashion.

Secondly, the color coding makes it possible to do the same thing in the posted paper. All one has to do is read the blue text right through if they want to read your thoughts without my interspersed replies. If they want to read in the Socratic style that I favor, they can read it as I present it: back-and-forth. Thus, my method allows for both styles or formats, whereas yours would rule mine out altogether and also tend towards the "mutual monologue" tendencies which I think harm good dialogue.

Thirdly, you can always edit the exchange as you like and post it somewhere else. I would gladly link to that and let readers have a choice to read one, the other, or both.

I like back-and-forth because it helps readers better discern what the two opposing presentations are, and what exactly each comment is trying to answer. It's a good teaching technique, which is why I believe Plato used it, and why Peter Kreeft habitually does.

Also, it mitigates against the tendency of people to select what they think they can answer and ignore the rest. I answer everything because 1) I think that shows courtesy to and respect for one's opponent, and 2) it doesn't allow one to pick and choose. I suppose this is a more "philosophical" method, for better or ill (Socrates and Kreeft both being philosophers).

Is that agreeable to you, if I decide to do the same format for the rest of the discussion, or not? If not, I'd like to understand how my explanation does not resolve the difficulties that you feel.

You are, of course, master of you own domain (I have Seinfeld on the brain, having watched his "retirement" show with my kids last night). You are free to do as you please. I wish only to influence what it is that pleases you. You are, I trust, pleased to please others.

I think that all of your objectives can be met by interspersing replies between paragraphs. N'est ce pas? I tend to think of the paragraph as the unit of composition, and so dialogue can be, and in my view should be, at a minimum the exchange of paragraphs (if not essays, which your readers seem not to want).

For instance, in spoken dialogue, you wouldn't (or maybe you would, but your mother would disapprove) cut off someone else's reply after only one word (e.g. "Sure, …"). Wouldn't it be reasonable to hold off replies until the end of a complete expression in written exchange, just as it is in spoken exchange?

I don't think Socrates did it quite the same way you do…

Sine cera,


PS, how is the dialogue supposed to develop in the third and subsequent contributions? If the second contribution is interleaved in the first, then the third would seem to have to be interleaved right in there with the first and second, and pretty soon it's all a soup sandwich. Someone has to be starting over again, and frequently at that. Is that always going to be the same person? In any case, these questions are not central to the discussion, which can be (both of us willing) continued even in an asymmetrical format.

Hi Kristo,

I wish only to influence what it is that pleases you. You are, I trust, pleased to please others.

Of course; as much as possible (as the Bible says). You can't please everyone. People differ on this particular question, as with most stylistic questions, so I'm trying to find out your reasoning for having your view, and I'm presenting my rationale, as a Socratic.

But you didn't reply to my counter-replies (which, I think, more than overcome your objections), so it is difficult for me to understand your opinion on this, without explanations. Be that as it may, I'll stick to paragraph vs. paragraph if you like. Written dialogue is not the same as spoken. Sentences can be broken up and analyzed as units because they contain a particular statement which can be agreed or disagreed with.

As you know, in spoken conversation, people (especially thinkers) tend to go on and on. The difficulty I find in longer statements and longer replies is that a lot of details tend to get lost or overlooked. Details are important because they often deal with premises and presuppositions (and facts related to same). If they are lost, dialogues quickly go down rabbit trails, tend to change subjects, and little is accomplished. It is precisely the premises that determine the outcome of discussions.

Nor does my format "cut anyone off." As I wrote, you have written your entire response, and anyone is free to read it without interruption, either in the comments boxes, or by following the blue color in the final dialogue. Then they can read how I would respond to each particular, according to Socratic method. No one is "cutting" off anyone. To the contrary, by replying to every point you bring up, I am showing you and your position the utmost respect. It is when we pass over parts of the opponents' reply, that any "cutting-off" occurs.

I don't think Socrates did it quite the same way you do…

I think I am following his method (at least as it is presented to us in his student Plato) pretty closely. The dialogues Euthyphro and Crito will suffice as examples. They contain many short exchanges (many, one sentence), with occasional lengthy forays, when Socrates (or his opponent) was trying to nail down some argument. That's what I do. I go back and forth, then when something comes up which I think is highly important, I may give a reply that is many times longer than what I am replying to. This is precisely what we find in the Euthyphro and Crito. Here is an excerpt from the former, from Jowett's translation:


Soc. And what is piety, and what is impiety?

Euth. Piety is doing as I am doing; that is to say, prosecuting any one who is guilty of murder, sacrilege, or of any similar crime-whether he be your father or mother, or whoever he may be-that makes no difference; and not to prosecute them is impiety. And please to consider, Socrates, what a notable proof I will give you of the truth of my words, a proof which I have already given to others:-of the principle, I mean, that the impious, whoever he may be, ought not to go unpunished. For do not men regard Zeus as the best and most righteous of the gods?-and yet they admit that he bound his father (Cronos) because he wickedly devoured his sons, and that he too had punished his own father (Uranus) for a similar reason, in a nameless manner. And yet when I proceed against my father, they are angry with me. So inconsistent are they in their way of talking when the gods are concerned, and when I am concerned.

Soc. May not this be the reason, Euthyphro, why I am charged with impiety-that I cannot away with these stories about the gods? and therefore I suppose that people think me wrong. But, as you who are well informed about them approve of them, I cannot do better than assent to your superior wisdom. What else can I say, confessing as I do, that I know nothing about them? Tell me, for the love of Zeus, whether you really believe that they are true.

Euth. Yes, Socrates; and things more wonderful still, of which the world is in ignorance.

Soc. And do you really believe that the gods, fought with one another, and had dire quarrels, battles, and the like, as the poets say, and as you may see represented in the works of great artists? The temples are full of them; and notably the robe of Athene, which is carried up to the Acropolis at the great Panathenaea, is embroidered with them. Are all these tales of the gods true, Euthyphro?

Euth. Yes, Socrates; and, as I was saying, I can tell you, if you would like to hear them, many other things about the gods which would quite amaze you.

Soc. I dare say; and you shall tell me them at some other time when I have leisure. But just at present I would rather hear from you a more precise answer, which you have not as yet given, my friend, to the question, What is "piety"? When asked, you only replied, Doing as you do, charging your father with murder.

Euth. And what I said was true, Socrates.

Soc. No doubt, Euthyphro; but you would admit that there are many other pious acts?

Euth. There are.

Soc. Remember that I did not ask you to give me two or three examples of piety, but to explain the general idea which makes all pious things to be pious. Do you not recollect that there was one idea which made the impious impious, and the pious pious?

Euth. I remember.

Soc. Tell me what is the nature of this idea, and then I shall have a standard to which I may look, and by which I may measure actions, whether yours or those of any one else, and then I shall be able to say that such and such an action is pious, such another impious.

Euth. I will tell you, if you like.

Soc. I should very much like.

Euth. Piety, then, is that which is dear to the gods, and impiety is that which is not dear to them.

Soc. Very good, Euthyphro; you have now given me the sort of answer which I wanted. But whether what you say is true or not I cannot as yet tell, although I make no doubt that you will prove the truth of your words.

Euth. Of course.

Soc. Come, then, and let us examine what we are saying. That thing or person which is dear to the gods is pious, and that thing or person which is hateful to the gods is impious, these two being the extreme opposites of one another. Was not that said?

Euth. It was.

Soc. And well said?

Euth. Yes, Socrates, I thought so; it was certainly said.

Soc. And further, Euthyphro, the gods were admitted to have enmities and hatreds and differences?

Euth. Yes, that was also said.

Soc. And what sort of difference creates enmity and anger? Suppose for example that you and I, my good friend, differ about a number; do differences of this sort make us enemies and set us at variance with one another? Do we not go at once to arithmetic, and put an end to them by a sum?

Euth. True.

Soc. Or suppose that we differ about magnitudes, do we not quickly end the differences by measuring?

Euth. Very true.

Soc. And we end a controversy about heavy and light by resorting to a weighing machine?

Euth. To be sure.

Soc. But what differences are there which cannot be thus decided, and which therefore make us angry and set us at enmity with one another? I dare say the answer does not occur to you at the moment, and therefore I will suggest that these enmities arise when the matters of difference are the just and unjust, good and evil, honourable and dishonourable. Are not these the points about which men differ, and about which when we are unable satisfactorily to decide our differences, you and I and all of us quarrel, when we do quarrel?

Euth. Yes, Socrates, the nature of the differences about which we quarrel is such as you describe.

Soc. And the quarrels of the gods, noble Euthyphro, when they occur, are of a like nature?

Euth. Certainly they are.

Soc. They have differences of opinion, as you say, about good and evil, just and unjust, honourable and dishonourable: there would have been no quarrels among them, if there had been no such differences-would there now?

Euth. You are quite right.

Soc. Does not every man love that which he deems noble and just and good, and hate the opposite of them?

Euth. Very true.

Soc. But, as you say, people regard the same things, some as just and others as unjust,-about these they dispute; and so there arise wars and fightings among them.

Euth. Very true.

Soc. Then the same things are hated by the gods and loved by the gods, and are both hateful and dear to them?

Euth. True.

Soc. And upon this view the same things, Euthyphro, will be pious and also impious?

Euth. So I should suppose.

Soc. Then, my friend, I remark with surprise that you have not answered the question which I asked. For I certainly did not ask you to tell me what action is both pious and impious: but now it would seem that what is loved by the gods is also hated by them. And therefore, Euthyphro, in thus chastising your father you may very likely be doing what is agreeable to Zeus but disagreeable to Cronos or Uranus, and what is acceptable to Hephaestus but unacceptable to Here, and there may be other gods who have similar differences of opinion.

Euth. But I believe, Socrates, that all the gods would be agreed as to the propriety of punishing a murderer: there would be no difference of opinion about that.

Soc. Well, but speaking of men, Euthyphro, did you ever hear any one arguing that a murderer or any sort of evil-doer ought to be let off?

Euth. I should rather say that these are the questions which they are always arguing, especially in courts of law: they commit all sorts of crimes, and there is nothing which they will not do or say in their own defence.

Soc. But do they admit their guilt, Euthyphro, and yet say that they ought not to be punished?

Euth. No; they do not.

Soc. Then there are some things which they do not venture to say and do: for they do not venture to argue that the guilty are to be unpunished, but they deny their guilt, do they not?

Euth. Yes.

Soc. Then they do not argue that the evil-doer should not be punished, but they argue about the fact of who the evil-doer is, and what he did and when?

Euth. True.

Soc. And the gods are in the same case, if as you assert they quarrel about just and unjust, and some of them say while others deny that injustice is done among them. For surely neither God nor man will ever venture to say that the doer of injustice is not to be punished?

Euth. That is true, Socrates, in the main.

Soc. But they join issue about the particulars-gods and men alike; and, if they dispute at all, they dispute about some act which is called in question, and which by some is affirmed to be just, by others to be unjust. Is not that true?

Euth. Quite true.

Soc. Well then, my dear friend Euthyphro, do tell me, for my better instruction and information, what proof have you that in the opinion of all the gods a servant who is guilty of murder, and is put in chains by the master of the dead man, and dies because he is put in chains before he who bound him can learn from the interpreters of the gods what he ought to do with him, dies unjustly; and that on behalf of such an one a son ought to proceed against his father and accuse him of murder. How would you show that all the gods absolutely agree in approving of his act? Prove to me that they do, and I will applaud your wisdom as long as I live.

Euth. It will be a difficult task; but I could make the matter very dear indeed to you.

Soc. I understand; you mean to say that I am not so quick of apprehension as the judges: for to them you will be sure to prove that the act is unjust, and hateful to the gods.

Euth. Yes indeed, Socrates; at least if they will listen to me.

Soc. But they will be sure to listen if they find that you are a good speaker. There was a notion that came into my mind while you were speaking; I said to myself: "Well, and what if Euthyphro does prove to me that all the gods regarded the death of the serf as unjust, how do I know anything more of the nature of piety and impiety? for granting that this action may be hateful to the gods, still piety and impiety are not adequately defined by these distinctions, for that which is hateful to the gods has been shown to be also pleasing and dear to them." And therefore, Euthyphro, I do not ask you to prove this; I will suppose, if you like, that all the gods condemn and abominate such an action. But I will amend the definition so far as to say that what all the gods hate is impious, and what they love pious or holy; and what some of them love and others hate is both or neither. Shall this be our definition of piety and impiety?

Euth. Why not, Socrates?

Soc. Why not! certainly, as far as I am concerned, Euthyphro, there is no reason why not. But whether this admission will greatly assist you in the task of instructing me as you promised, is a matter for you to consider.

Euth. Yes, I should say that what all the gods love is pious and holy, and the opposite which they all hate, impious.

Soc. Ought we to enquire into the truth of this, Euthyphro, or simply to accept the mere statement on our own authority and that of others? What do you say?

Euth. We should enquire; and I believe that the statement will stand the test of enquiry.

Soc. We shall know better, my good friend, in a little while. The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods.

Euth. I do not understand your meaning, Socrates.

Soc. I will endeavour to explain: we, speak of carrying and we speak of being carried, of leading and being led, seeing and being seen. You know that in all such cases there is a difference, and you know also in what the difference lies?

Euth. I think that I understand.

Soc. And is not that which is beloved distinct from that which loves?

Euth. Certainly.

Soc. Well; and now tell me, is that which is carried in this state of carrying because it is carried, or for some other reason?

Euth. No; that is the reason.

Soc. And the same is true of what is led and of what is seen?

Euth. True.

Soc. And a thing is not seen because it is visible, but conversely, visible because it is seen; nor is a thing led because it is in the state of being led, or carried because it is in the state of being carried, but the converse of this. And now I think, Euthyphro, that my meaning will be intelligible; and my meaning is, that any state of action or passion implies previous action or passion. It does not become because it is becoming, but it is in a state of becoming because it becomes; neither does it suffer because it is in a state of suffering, but it is in a state of suffering because it suffers. Do you not agree?

Euth. Yes.

See the Crito for more of the same.

PS, how is the dialogue supposed to develop in the third and subsequent contributions? If the second contribution is interleaved in the first, then the third would seem to have to be interleaved right in there with the first and second, and pretty soon it's all a soup sandwich. Someone has to be starting over again, and frequently at that.

It does get more complicated then, I agree, and there are various ways to do that. I like to (usually) keep the back-and-forth flow, as follows:

1. Argument.
2. Reply.
3. Counter-reply to reply.
4. Counter-reply to counter-reply.

The problem usually doesn't come up, though, because people so often split after the first round, and (almost always) after the second round of dialogue.

Is that always going to be the same person?

Sometimes others jump in. The more the merrier, as good, challenging, constructive, amiable, on-topic discussion is so hard to find.

In any case, these questions are not central to the discussion, which can be (both of us willing) continued even in an asymmetrical format.

I'll bow to your wishes of paragraph vs. paragraph, but under the protest of the reasons I have given, and with some frustration that you didn't explain to me how my answers to your objections fail or are otherwise inadequate. Nothing personal at all; it is strictly a disagreement on format and what works best for the mutual attainment of truth and edification in discussion.

Related papers:

"Good Discussion": The Preferability of Socratic Back-and-Forth Dialogue Over "Mutual Monologue"

Why I Love Dialogues and Oppose Oversimplification in Apologetics

Thoughts on Amiable and Constructive Dialogue (Introductory Instructive Post Describing my Philosophy and Goals for my Blog: Cor ad cor loquitur)

Why I Write "Long" Papers: A Short Apologia (including a long listing of many scores of my shorter papers, for the time-challenged")

Oral vs. Written Apologetic Debates: Which Format is More Substantive?

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Dirge for Paranoid Blogsters and Those With an Axe to Grind Against Apologists (Dylan's "All I Really Want to Do" -- Revised)

The time has come to apply some satirical humor, in light of recent ridiculously paranoid and hyper-defensive behavior; this time at the Lutheran blog Here We Stand.; directed towards (who else?!) yours truly, yet again. My disgust with discussion boards is fairly well-known by now, I think. I've avoided them almost completely for over a year-and-a-half. I have thought since then that blogs were on a considerably higher level of civility and seriousness, but alas, after this pathetic display I must conclude that human nature has dictated that some blogmasters, too (and those who post on many blogs, perhaps often depending on the approach of the blogmaster), are most uncomfortable with the vigorous (yet good-natured) expression of opposing viewpoints or critiques.

Hopefully, this is not a widespread phenomenon, but something tells me it probably is. Thus, my eternal quest for folks who 1) understand their own theological position, and 2) welcome challenges to it and opportunities for dialogue with those who differ (within an overall attitude of mutual respect and amiability), continues.

Meanwhile, I offer this bit of humor, with an underlying serious message (as with all satire). I have changed the lyrics less than I usually do in these satire-songs, because Dylan is so perceptive about human foibles. He writes, no doubt, primarily if not solely about male-female relationships, but I think the lyrics (changed a bit for humor's and applicability's sake) also fit very well with insecure, judgmental types on the disembodied, often wildly, grotesquely impersonal Internet who want to (supposedly) read the heart and mind of someone who believes something different than they do, and "put them in their place."


All I Really Want to Do

(Bob Dylan: 1964)
(original lyrics)

I ain’t lookin’ to compete with you,
Beat or cheat or mistreat you,
Simplify you, classify you,
Deny, defy or crucify you.
All I really want to do
Is, simply to talk with you.

No, and I ain’t lookin’ to fight with you,
Frighten you or uptighten you,
Drag you down or make you frown,
Chain you down or bring you down.
All I really want to do
Is, simply to talk with you.

I ain’t lookin’ to block you up
Shock or knock or lock you up,
Analyze you, Catholicize you,
Proselytize or propagandize you.
All I really want to do
Is, simply to talk with you.

I'm not trying to humiliate you,
Convert, revert, or subvert you,
Or disgrace you or displace you,
Or define you or confine you.
All I really want to do
Is, simply to talk with you.

I don’t want to damn your kin,
Make you sin or do you in,
Or select you or dissect you,
Or inspect you or reject you.
All I really want to do
Is, simply to talk with you.

I don’t want to fake you out,
Take or shake or forsake you out,
I ain’t lookin’ for you to feel like me,
See like me or be like me.
All I really want to do
Is, simply to talk with you.


Now, am I happy when someone converts to Catholicism? Yes, of course. But does that mean that every time I "set foot" in a non-Catholic venue, that I am trying to immediately convert everyone, and that I therefore completely disrespect them and the environment I am in? No, of course not. I've been doing apologetics and evangelism for 24 years now: the first nine as a Protestant evangelical. Over that entire time I have never, ever (not once) applied "heavy pressure" or a "hard sell" technique or overbearingly, obnoxiously tried to "make people convert." I never put people on the spot in that way; either privately or publicly. I defend my position and challenge others, but that's a different thing, having to do with the "marketplace" of ideas.

I's the Holy Spirit's job, anyway, to convert and change the hearts and minds of whomever is to convert. If it is to be, it'll be, without human manipulation and Madison Avenue sales techniques or time-honored used car salesman tactics (and yes -- based on hundreds of letters I have received --, many people have converted to Catholicism, in part because of my efforts, but because of reading my materials, but not my putting personal pressure on them). I share and dialogue and challenge, insofar as the conversation is relevant to what I believe to be true, as a Catholic. But this nonsense that I am accused of as to motive and approach is simply not true.

People can and will believe whatever they want about me (and, apparently, apologists in general) in this regard. What I have stated here is the truth. People (my harsh critics) can believe what I write here or not. If they choose not to, then their choice of cynicism and believing that someone is lying or being duplicitous or equivocal is wrong, and not a Christian attitude, as far as I am concerned. We can't be suspicious of everyone because they are different than we are -- not even (gasp!!) apologists (!!!!!!!). If we can't even accept people's self-report, and have to second-guess everyone, then that is very dangerous ethical and spiritual ground, in my humble opinion. We must believe the best of people (1 Corinthians 13).

Friday, June 17, 2005

Reflections on the Sacrifice of the Mass

Excerpts from the original 1994 version of my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism:

1. Alan Schreck

"The Catholic Church has never taught that in the Mass Jesus is `resacrificed' or offered up to suffer again. The Catholic Mass is called a sacrifice because it `re-presents,' `re-enacts,' or presents once again before us, the one sacrifice of Christ on Calvary . . . What Jesus did in the past -- his death on the cross -- is present to God . . . In the Mass . . . his one sacrifice on Calvary is made real and present to us by God, so that we can enter into this central mystery of our faith in a new way."


2. Thomas Howard

"The liturgy, like prayer itself, pierces through mere time, and . . . `makes present' that which has indeed occurred only once, and once and for all. No human formulary can quite satisfy us here. Christ died once, but . . . his sacrifice . . . is always present in the heavenly temple, as it is in the Eucharist here on earth."


3. John Hardon

"Christ . . . is capable now, as he was on Good Friday, of freely offering himself to the Father. He can no longer die since he is now in a glorified body, but the essence of his oblation remains the same. It is the continued willing surrender of himself to the will of the Father."


"The Mass cannot be understood apart from Calvary, of which it is a re-presentation, memorial, and effective application of the merits gained by Christ."


4. Frank Sheed

"The Victim, once slain, now deathless, stands before God, with the marks of the slaying still upon Him - `a Lamb standing, as it were slain' (Rev. 5:6)."


5. John McKenzie

"The atoning value of the death of Jesus is applied, not expanded in the Mass . . . The Church repeats what Jesus told it to repeat, the rite of the Supper, and does not repeat what cannot be repeated, the death of Jesus . . . The Roman Church regards her priests as visible representatives of the one high priest. The Mass is offered in the name of the entire Church . . ."


6. Martin Scott

"At Mass it is Christ Himself who offers the sacrifice, the priest acting in His stead . . . The Mass glorifies God, by offering Him what is of infinite worth, and sanctifies man by putting before him the price of redemption."

(10:128, 133)

7. Karl Adam

"The priest does not offer for himself alone. Nor does he merely offer as the people's representative . . . On the contrary the unity between priest and people is a mystically real unity . . . of the priesthood of Christ, in which both priest and people share, though in different degrees."


"The Sacrifice of Calvary, as a great supra-temporal reality, enters into the immediate present. Space and time are abolished. The same Jesus is here present who died on the Cross . . . So Holy Mass is a tremendously real experience, the experience of the reality of Golgotha.

"Heiler [a Protestant scholar] laments in vigorous terms that the Reformation was not able . . .:

to enkindle that intimate and fervent life of prayer which is excited by the Catholic service of Mass. I have observed the life of prayer in both communions, long and carefully . . . and I have again and again received the impression that . . . there is more and more inward prayer in Catholic than in Protestant worship . . . I am continually reminded of Wellhausen's characteristic saying that Protestant worship is at bottom Catholic worship . . . with the heart taken out of it. "


Old Testament: General Observations
Ludwig Ott

"Prefigures of the Eucharist are the Tree of Life in Paradise, the sacrifices of Abraham and Melchisedech, the manna in the desert, the Shew-bread in the Temple, and the various
Sacrifices of the Old Covenant, especially that of the Paschal Lamb."


Genesis 14:18 / Psalm 110:4
18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.

4 The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.

A. Karl Keating

"The Old Testament predicted that Christ would offer a true sacrifice to God in bread and wine - that he would use those elements. Melchisedech, the king of Salem and a priest, offered sacrifice under the form of bread and wine (Gen 14:18). Psalm 110 predicted Christ would be a priest `according to the order of Melchisedech', that is, offering a sacrifice in bread and wine. We must, then, look for some sacrifice other than Calvary, since it was not under the form of bread and wine. The Mass fits the bill."


B. Ludwig Ott

"Melchisedech brought out bread and wine . . . in order to offer a sacrifice to God, as was customary in the celebrations of victory . . . This interpretation is affirmed by the express indication of Melchisedech's priesthood. The specific priestly activity is sacrifice. Christ, according to the Messianic prophecy of Ps 110:4, which the Epistle to the Hebrews (5:6; 7:1 et seq.) confirms, is a Priest according to the order of Melchisedech, that is, He is a King and Priest at the same time . . . In the sacrifice of Melchisedech the Fathers see the archetype of the Eucharistic sacrifice."


3. Isaiah 66:18,21
18 . . . I will gather all nations and tongues . . .
21 And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the Lord.

A. Ludwig Ott

"Isaiah proclaims a priesthood from among the Gentiles for the Messianic era; . . . A special priestly status is, according to the Old Testament view, not conceivable without sacrifice."


4. Malachi 1:11
11 For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a
pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts.

A. Ludwig Ott

"God is here proclaiming the abolition of the Jewish cult of sacrifice and forecasting a new, clean sacrifice . . . The universality of the veneration of God and of the new sacrifice which is proclaimed . . . points clearly to the Messianic era (cf. Ps 22:27-31; Is 49:6). The sacrifice of the Cross cannot be meant, as this was offered in one place only. The prophecy is fulfilled in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which, . . . in view of the sacrificial gift and of the primary sacrificing priest, is a clean oblation."


B. Karl Keating

"Note that he speaks of one sacrifice, not many sacrifices, but one that is offered everywhere . . . Only the Mass meets the requirements."



1. Adam, Karl, The Spirit of Catholicism, translated by Justin McCann, rev. ed., Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1954 (orig. 1924).

2. Schreck, Alan, Catholic and Christian, Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1984.

3. Keating, Karl, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, SanFrancisco: Ignatius, 1988.

4. McKenzie, John L., The Roman Catholic Church, GardenCity, NY: Doubleday Image, 1969.

5. Ott, Ludwig, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1974.

6. Hardon, John A., The Catholic Catechism, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975.

7. Hardon, John A., Pocket Catholic Dictionary, New York: Doubleday Image, 1980.

8. Howard, Thomas, Evangelical is Not Enough, Nashville: Nelson, 1984.

9. Sheed, Frank J., Theology For Beginners, New York: Sheed & Ward, 1957.

10. Scott, Martin, Things Catholics are Asked About, New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1927.

Dialogue With a Lutheran on Whether Lutheranism or Catholicism is More Consistent With Patristic and Early Church Beliefs

Kristo Miettinen offered a response to my challenge (whereas previously it was met with rancor and hostility and severe personal insult, when posted on a Lutheran board):

I came across your blog and your questions to Lutherans, and feel like attempting to answer half of your challenge (the half about Lutheran changes). The stuff about Cyril is interesting, but not compelling.

His words will be in blue. My original challenge will be in green; my present words in black.


Could not these new eucharistic elements in Cyril [I was responding to another paper, devoted to St. Cyril of Jerusalem] be seen as consistent developments? I would be curious to see the grounds upon which you would argue (if I understand you correctly) that they are utter reversals or corruptions of what came previously (thus, heresies), rather than merely orthodox developments. Certainly precursors of virtually everything you mentioned can be found in earlier fathers.

Furthermore, if these things are "corruptions," then how is it that many peculiar Lutheran doctrines, which seem to me to be far more radical than anything Cyril advocated, are not also radical innovations or "corruptions"?

This is your dilemma, as I see it: to somehow argue on the one hand that Cyril's eucharistic theology is new (in a negative, undesirable sense) leading to the "excesses" (from a Lutheran perspective) of Catholicism, whereas none of Luther's and Lutheranism's "changes" (to use a halfway "neutral" term) are corruptions.

For example:

1. The early Church accepted episcopacy (bishops) and apostolic succession. Luther rejected this and opted instead for the rule of the oh-so-spiritual secular German princes and a state-church (the latter of which is also, of course, contrary to the early Church). Before they died, both Luther and (especially) Melanchthon issued many statements of severe regret for having done that.

Maybe, maybe not. I'm not sure what, exactly, needs defending here.
First of all, thanks for your thoughtful, courteous reply. I'm delighted to meet your acquaintance.
The larger argument I was making, is constructed as follows:

A. Lutherans claim to revere the opinions of the Fathers, too, though not quite granting their consensus the authority that Catholics do. They do not claim to be ahistorical, or to have no concern about what the early Church widely held.

B. Lutheranism (and larger Protestantism) claimed to be a "reform"; i.e., going back or restoring what was before, in the early Church, not a "revolution" (introducing sheer novelties which were practically nonexistent before that time).

C. Therefore (if Lutherans are correct in this), we should expect to see something akin to Lutheranism dominating in the early Church, over against something akin to Catholicism.

D. To the extent that we do not find such a state of affairs, the Lutheran claim of (broad) fidelity to the fathers (more so than Catholic fidelity to same) is suspect and historically incorrect.
I have suggested several such disjunctions. You essentially concede the argument by admitting that some of these things were virtually unknown among the fathers. Apostolic succession is the first such case.

After all, the confessional Lutheran churches are not particularly committed to the opinions of Luther

I didn't say they were, nor does my argument depend on this. Luther and Melanchthon were mentioned because as a matter of historical fact (whatever the confessions say on this: you tell me), they were the ones who substituted the rule of secular princes for the episcopacy which had previously been the norm. This is a radical departure from precedent, thus proving my point. Apostolic succession had always been believed in before. Episcopacy was part of that. One can't simply ditch all that ecclesiology and build a radically new Church. But of course, sola Scriptura required this. Apostolic succession was part and parcel of an authoritative Church. Sola Scriptura takes out both an authoritative Tradition and Church.

(indeed, the very name "Lutheran" is, as I understand it, a Catholic invention, specifically a neologism of Eck).

That may be, but in any event, it is now the accepted term. It isn't like "papist" or "Romanist" -- titles that some of our more hostile our theological opponents thrust upon us despite our objections. Those are pejoratives, but Lutherans themselves have adopted Lutheran. It's their accepted self-address. But that is all beside the present point.

Luther-bashing and refutation of Lutheranism are not the same thing

I understand that, having done a ton of Luther research myself. But I wasn't "bashing" Luther; I was merely reiterating an indisputable historical fact: that he instituted the rule of secular princes in the Lutheran Church.

(just as catholicism and Catholicism are not the same thing: labels do not intrinsically tie the meanings of the words used as labels to the objects labeled).
Correct, but also irrelevant to the present discussion.

Luther was more than a spiritual reformer, he was also (eventually) a political figure of his age.
Precisely part of my argument here . . .

Nonetheless, state churches exist on both sides in western Christendom.

That's irrelevant too. The question at hand is whether this was the patristic norm or not. I say it was not. So Lutherans have abandoned the early Church on this point, whereas Catholics have maintained a continuity.

Apostolic succession does as well (not that it means much today, or did in the sixteenth century).

Exactly my point again. It doesn't "mean much" to you because you apparently don't care what the early Church held on this matter. You are conceding that my argument is correct, by your very indifference towards apostolic succession, which was how the early Church always viewed ecclesiology and authority.

2. The early Church and the Fathers (particularly St. Augustine) did not believe in Faith Alone (sola fide) or imputed, extrinsic justification, whereas Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon made this one of the two "pillars" of the so-called "Reformation."

Fine, if true.

It is true that the fathers did not accept this, as I've often documented in wither under scrutiny. Augustine did not believe in extrinsic, imputed justification. That's a simple historical fact. So Lutherans cannot trace their beliefs to him or any other major father, in this regard. I find that striking, and one disproof (of many) of these particular Lutheran claims of "reforming" the Church to what it supposedly was before.

I'm not asking that you refute sola fide from scripture,

Well, I've already done that, so you needn't ask. :-)

but I would be much more impressed if you could show that Polycarp didn't believe it. Now there was a man who was in apostolic succession in a meaningful way.

First of all, why would you think that Polycarp (d.c. 155) is an important dividing line? By what criterion do you contend that he is important as a witness to what the early Church believed, but not later figures such as Irenaeus (d.c. 202) or Cyprian (d. 258) or Athanasius (d. 373)? Do you think the Church was already "off the rails" and corrupt by the 4th century? That said, we don't have very much information about Polycarp, so I'm unable to comment any further on what he thought about justification and salvation. We have a lot more extant writing from St. Ignatius of Antioch (d.c. 107).

Anyway, I'll not leave it at that, but offer the following: faith, in the Lutheran understanding (as it has been taught to me - undoubtedly there are other Lutherans who were taught differently) contains its own intrinsic action, acts of charity and love and Christian universal brotherhood. "Sola fide" as a disputational position is only the denial of any salvific (ugh! I know there's a better adjective out there, and I once knew it, but it's not coming to me) need to add sacramental acts, acts of law, to these free-flowing acts of faith. This sacramental simplification has ample support from the first millenium of the church. This is not to say that we should abandon the sacraments (especially those instituted by Christ), only that the sacraments are among the tools of faith, rather than complements to faith.

I think that you are describing sola gratia more so than sola fide. Catholics agree with Lutherans that salvation is entirely by grace. We only deny an absolute separation between faith and works, and justification and sanctification. Since you (and Lutherans) have sought to make some intrinsic connection between faith and works, our positions are not all that far apart (not as different as Catholic vs. Reformed soteriology). But it remains true that the fathers did not hold to imputed justification, which is antithetical to infused justification.

3. The early Church and the Fathers (particularly St. Augustine) did not believe in Scripture Alone (sola Scriptura) as its Rule of faith, whereas Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon made this the other "pillar" of the "Reformation."

So with one word you again concede the point: the early Church did not hold what Lutherans and Protestants hold as one of their "pillars" (along with sola fide). This is quite a remarkable admission indeed.

but in Augustine's time there was no need for a yardstick against which authority could be tested.

There certainly was such a need, then, as always. The Fathers always appealed to apostolic succession, Church authority, and Tradition, in determining who was orthodox and who was not. 

Augustine was comfortable challenging contemporary popes on his own authority. By Luther's time, no bishop could stand against a pope the way Augustine could stand against Zosimus.
That's a long discussion, and far from the matter of Scripture and Tradition per se.

On reflection upon how things stood in the 16th century, and especially after his exchanges with Cajetan and Eck, Luther found that only scripture could stand between councils, popes, and error. This was a novel position at the time,

You said it. Let the reader note (as this is exactly what my argument is: that Lutheranism in many respects was a sheer novelty). And you guys wonder why the Catholics at the time objected to it; this being the case?

when conciliarism was thought to be the only alternative to papalism. Cajetan attempted to steer Luther toward conciliarism (a position out of favor in Rome, but not heretical); Eck swept the conciliar rug out from under Luther in their debate. Luther was left with nothing but a double negative position, neither popes nor councils being authoritative, and from this he eventually developed sola scriptura.

I agree entirely; couldn't have stated it better myself. What I want to know (what I always ask) is: why would anyone accept Luther's "novel position" (again, your description, not mine), over against the entire history of Church opinion? I think this is the $64,000 question for Lutherans, but I have the greatest difficulty finding any who want to discuss it. We've made a great start here. I hope it can go to the second "round" of the dialogue (which is always more interesting than the first round).

4. The early Church and the Fathers (particularly St. Augustine) believed in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Luther and Calvin threw it out as an abomination, sacrilege, and idolatry.
Absolutely. This is sola scriptura in action.
Now you have conceded all four points of my argument, so this has really been no dispute at all, in terms of what my original contention was. You haven't disputed any of that. You've only argued (very nicely, but firmly) that Lutheran positions were superior on other grounds. Here, you are willing to base a rejection of an ancient, universal belief and practice, based on a "novel position" developed by Luther under duress and the stress of debate, when the inconsistencies of his position were pointed out to him (which has been exactly my opinion as well, of the historical origin of sola Scriptura). So, in effect, Luther has more authority than the entire Church of the previous 1500 years. It didn't and doesn't matter what that Church held, if Luther disagreed with it. That's why I have referred to Luther as a "super-Pope." No Catholic pope ever had remotely this much authority, to overturn so much of what existed previously.

Christ's sacrifice was the one sacrifice sufficient for all. To continue to offer new sacrifices (even if they are, in some mysterious sense, the same sacrifice in a new location) denies the totality of the original sacrifice on Golgotha.

It does not at all, but that's another involved argument, too. The relevant thing presently is to understand that the early Church taught this, and Protestants rejected it. As Catholics, we would normally want to understand the grounds for such a radical change. We deny that Luther or Calvin or any other early Protestant had the right to do such a thing. They were acting no differently than early heretics did; those heretics were renounced and rebuked based on past doctrinal history and what the Church held in its Tradition, based on apostolic succession. Scripture Alone could not and did not settle these disputes. Same with Luther. He disagrees with the Church? He is a heretic, then, inasmuch as he does so (he didn't dissent in all areas, of course).

Now this is not to suggest that Luther and Calvin agreed on sola scriptura; they did not. Luther sought to expunge from Latin practice those things that contradicted Gospel in letter or spirit; Calvin sought to retain those that were scripturally affirmed. There's a lot of murky territory between those two positions.

I agree, but it is beyond our purview.

Thanks very much for your thoughts. I hope we can continue this discussion.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Stan Williams' Review of "The Catholic Verses" Now Posted on Catholic Exchange / Review by a Liberal Reformed Protestant

Link. It looks great! Thanks again to my good friend Stan. You're a blessing, brother!

I also notice a new review on the amazon site for this book, by one E.T. Ashworth, who is a Reformed Protestant of (far as I can tell) somewhat "liberal" persuasion. A mixed review, to be sure, but he says some nice things. Here it is in its entirety:

And in this corner..., June 2, 2005

Reviewer: E. T. Ashworth "tompaine47" (Richmond, Virginia United States) - See all my reviews

I had to give this book three stars because we can't give 2.5. That would actually make more sense - Mr. Armstrong hits his mark about half the time. He misses on the Eucharist (come on - do even Catholics believe in transubstantiation anymore? I mean the REAL Catholics, not you Johnny Come Lately converts?), and penance, just to name two.

The real failure of this book is in the author's fondness for stuffing his own straw men to joust with, hanging those cute little card board signs around their necks with PROTESTANT writ large in crayon. I mean, shucks - Dave, Reformed folks moved on past Calvin a long time ago. We've had Barth, for goodness sakes! Even Catholic theologians liked Barth!

Dave Armstrong, like many RC apologists, strives hard for charity and respect. This is to be commended, even when he sometimes backslides into peevishness or sarcasm. Compared to some of his Protestant debate opponents (I'm thinking of one who shall remain nameless but shares this writer's Reformed roots) he is saintly indeed. Okay, maybe not saintly, but definitely not a jerk, (unlike the Reformed guy with the big web site).

One of the good things - perhaps the only good thing - about so-called Post-Modernism is the encouragement to move beyond labels and positions.

This alarms the Professional Apologist, of course, on either side of the aisle. If a person can feel comfortable, say, in his Reformed tradition, without a pope and unafraid of the spectre of Calvin or Luther, affirming some Catholic doctrinal positions (such as freedom of human will and participation in the process of Sanctification) why, we can.

If this is so, what need do we have of Armstrong and his ilk? This must be daunting to face - wholesale closing down of Blog sites, failing book sales, no one on the phone asking the apologist to come to town and debate with the local The Same Only Different Fellow resplendent with charts and graphs and notebooks crammed with pamphlets and order forms for cassettes. No, it hasn't happened yet, but it is coming. Dave, what will you do? Come back home from Rome and start writing "I left but came back" works?

One sad thing to ponder is that, unlike the pagan Roman practice, Christians seem to bring their own lions to devour one another these days. Wonder when we'll forget doctrinal differences (my wife reminds me often that there will not be a Systematic Theology pop quiz when we reach Heaven) and concentrate on reaching the wanderers?


I found the second to last paragraph very amusing. This guy already would have me worrying about what I will do when my blog fails, and book sales dwindle, and no one "need[s]" apologists (my "ilk," as he endearingly phrases it) anymore. Well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, right? LOL No sign of this happening is yet upon me, and I can honestly say that I haven't lost a moment's sleep over the fearful prospect. Though I haven't hit the Fortune 500 and don't expect to, my book sales continue to rise, and my blog gets about 450 hits a day. I don't even keep track of my website hits, but I have reason to believe that they are quite high as well. The apologetic revival in the Catholic Church continues to grow (slowly but steadily). Nor am I suffering in the "published articles" department. And (just for the record), I don't do oral debates and I don't sell cassettes, so that tidbit is irrelevant to me. I hardly do any public speaking at all. Obviously, whatever "success" I have achieved is not dependent upon that. I'm almost solely a writer.

When Postmodernist Utopia strikes humanity and we learn once and for all to "forget doctrinal differences" then I'll start worrying. The only problem with this is that there is no sign whatsoever of some massive liberal revival (an oxymoron if ever there was one). Theological liberalism (historically) can't sustain itself for more than one or two generations at the most. The next generation either leaves Christianity altogether (having tired of the insipid nature of liberal religion, such as in present-day Europe), or undergoes revival because (beyond God's Providence) they want the Real Thing, not the liberal counterfeit, which ultimately brings no peace and joy or fulfillment or meaning. G. K Chesterton hit the nail on the head as to why this is:

I suspect that we should find several occasions when Christendom was thus to all appearance hollowed out from within by doubt and indifference, so that only the old Christian shell stood as the pagan shell had stood so long. But the difference is that in every such case, the sons were fanatical for the faith where the fathers had been slack about it. This is obvious in the case of the transition from the Renaissance to the Counter-Reformation. It is obvious in the case of a transition from the eighteenth century to the many Catholic revivals of our own time . . . Just as some might have thought the Church simply a part of the Roman Empire, so others later might have thought the Church only a part of the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages ended as the Empire had ended; and the Church should have departed with them, if she had been also one of the shades of night.

. . . At least five times, . . . with the Arian and the Albigensian, with the Humanist sceptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin, the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases it was the dog that died.

(The Everlasting Man, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1925, 250-252, 254)

Catholic apologetics is (always has been and always will be) primarily for Catholics. It is to educate them and give them confidence, and to help them integrate faith with reason: theology and spirituality with intellect and the mind, and to deal with hostile ideologies and cultures and antagonistic individuals. As long as there are orthodox Catholics around who want to not only learn what they believe (catechesis), but why they believe it (apologetics), there will be a place for Catholic apologists like myself.

Some few Protestants will read Catholic apologetics too, but that will never be the primary readership. In that case, Catholic apologetics performs the function of "removing obstacles to Catholicism." No apologist ever converted anyone, in the full sense of that word. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. Most folks read within their own paradigm, whether political, religious, or any other category. So, to paraphrase Mark Twain: "reports of the death of my apologetic career (or its demise in the near-future) are greatly exaggerated."

That said, I do sincerely thank Mr. Ashworth for reading my book and taking the time to write a review, and for the kind things included in it. Time will tell if his prognostications or mine (which are based upon 2000 years of past precedent) are more accurate.