Monday, June 20, 2005

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

By Dave Armstrong (6-20-05)

Kristo Miettinen's words are in blue

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

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

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

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

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

(Article XXI: Of the Worship of the Saints)

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

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

Here is another similar statement:


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

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

(Article I)

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

(Article VI)

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

(Article XX)

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

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

(Article XXIV)

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

(Article XXVI)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Part I, Article 2: Of Original Sin)

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

(Part II, Article 4: Of Justification)

Here and there among the Fathers similar testimonies are extant.

(Part V)

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

(Part VI, Article III)

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

(Part IX)

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

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

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

(Part X)

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

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

(Part XI: Articles 7 and 8)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, one can do a word search ("Ctrl f") of "bishops" in my paper, "Martin Luther's Violent, Inflammatory Rhetoric and its Relationship to the German Peasants' Revolt (1524-1525)", to see Luther's intense hostility towards Catholic bishops and their office.
On state churches, I cannot sort out your position: you acknowledge that they exist in Catholicism, yet claim that Catholicism has preserved what Lutheranism has abandoned by not having state churches. Could you please succinctly clarify your charge?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luther's teaching (sola scriptura) was only a novelty in context, the context being the papal-conciliar disputes of the 14th and 15th centuries. Luther, assisted by Cajetan and Eck, came to realize that both parties in that dispute were wrong. The whole dispute was misguided, and Luther turned back to the consensus-era response to the question of authority, namely scripture. Now granted, Luther and the assemblers of canon were answering different questions: Luther needed to know where authority lay; the fathers needed to know which writings were authoritative. But the latter question, seen in the context of the doctrinal disputes of the early church, implicitly answers the former one. The fathers were identifying authoritative writings precisely because scripture was the vessel of authority.
The Fathers always appealed to Tradition, apostolic succession, and the teaching of the universal Church, in refuting heretics. The heretics, on the other hand )particularly the Arians), usually came at questions from a "Scripture Alone" perspective. Knowing that they were departing from orthodoxy, they had to latch onto Scripture (i.e., their heterodox, peculiar interpretations of it) to have some semblance of legitimacy. But Scripture has to be interpreted within a framework of orthodoxy. And that leads us right back to the Church and Tradition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Dave Armstrong (6-20-05)

Kristo Miettinen is a Lutheran. 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.

Friday, June 17, 2005

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

By Dave Armstrong (6-17-05)

Kristo Miettinen's 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. 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.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

"The Prayer of a Righteous Man Availeth Much" (James 5:16: KJV): What Does It Mean? Dialogue with Lutherans

By Dave Armstrong (6-8-05)

This post arose from a thread at the Lutheran blog, Here We Stand, entitled What The Church Does Not Teach. I made some posts in the comments section. The discussion was about the communion of saints and invocation of saints. Thus, during its course, several negative appraisals of the practice of invocation of saints were made. Lutheran Stuart Floyd's comments throughout will be in blue; Lutheran Josh Strodtbeck's in red:

"Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:16

Why should we not come boldly to our Lord ourselves rather than through His mom?


Are you recognizing that the Church Triumphant is praying for the Church Militant, or are you seeking the intercessions of the saints on particular issues of interest to you? The two are quite different concepts and vary widely in their orthodoxy.


Being an traditional [sic] doesn't make it true. According to Hebrews 10, every Christian is to boldly approach the throne of grace with confidence...that's why I have such a problem with "Well, pray to Mary, because she has access to Jesus" or "How could Jesus say no to his mother?" It seriously denigrates the love Christ has for the world and for his saints. It all comes back to Roman merit-based soteriology, of course. In order for Jesus to listen to your prayers, you have to be "good enough," so you'll probably be better off asking someone better than you to pray. Further, any teaching to the effect that Christ is more likely to listen to so-and-so than us, or that a certain group of people has better acces to Jesus than us undermines Christ's humanity and his promises in the Gospel to always be with us: Scripture clearly teaches that Christ is not just our Lord, but also our brother. This is likewise well-attested in the preaching of the early church.


I entered the discussion at this point:

The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.

(James 5:16 - RSV / KJV: . . . availeth much)
This isn't the first time one of the several Protestant soteriologies clashed with the inspired words of James, and I'm sure it won't be the last.

The Catholic and biblical teaching isn't that Jesus won't listen to rotten sinners; rather, it is that prayers of those who have attained a higher level of righteousness will have more power (per the above).

Of course, this biblical view isn't possible when one takes the unbiblical position that there is no differential righteousness, and we're all sinners to exactly the same degree; even good works are "filthy rags," etc.

A straightforward reading of the Bible, including this passage, would suggest otherwise.


[I then provided an overview of Catholic biblical arguments for the communion of saints, in the next post and another following it]


Calling something Biblical and Catholic does not make it so.

"So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, "We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do." Luke 17:10

I am intrigued though. How many levels of righteousness are there? Just out of curiosity, Biblical Catholic, who fulfilled all righteousness? When? What does that mean you are left with in your quest for a higher level of righteousness?

Christ is your righteousness. Faith is the apprehension of that infinitely deep pool of righteousness (Baptismal pun intended). Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness. That is the Catholic and Biblical stance.


Make an argument, Stuart. What does James 5:16 mean? You tell me. I think a straightforward reading suggests that there is such a thing as a righteous person, and that his or her prayers are more powerful.

As to levels of righteousness, that is clearly the implication of the very notion of sanctification. That we can attain to a higher level of less sin and more holiness is so self-evident from the Bible that it is not even necessary to give proof texts (but here's one: 2 Tim 4:6-8).

Related to this are the differential rewards in heaven which are taught in the Bible (e.g., Matt 16:27, Mk 9:41, 1 Cor 3:10-15, 2 Cor 9:6, Heb 10:35).

Now, of course, most (but not all) Protestants will separate sanctification from justification, but that doesn't overcome the difficulty here. It still is a biblical reality, however it is related to soteriology or salvation. We can become more sanctified. And the more sanctified we become, the more effective our prayers are, according to James.

David P. Scaer, in his article, Sanctification in Lutheran Theology, explains the Lutheran position:

In Lutheran theology justification describes the believer's relationship with God. Sanctification describes the same reality as does justification but describes the justified Christian's relationship to the world and society. Justification and sanctification are not two separate realities, but the same reality viewed from the different perspectives of God and man. From the perspective of God the reality of the Christian is totally passive and non-contributory as it receives Christ only. From the perspective of the world, the same reality never ceases in its activity and tirelessly performs all good works. In this scheme the justification of the sinner never becomes a past event.

G'Mornin' Dave,

James 5:16

The word in question is dikaiou. You seem to imply that there is a comparative attached to this substantive use adjective, "righteous", since it is masculine genitive singular "righteous man" or "justified man". If you will note however, there is no comparative. It is not the sin of the "more righteous", the supplication of the "better" man, but simply the prayer of the "righteous or justified man".

Since you are quoting Dr. Scaer, I assume you are somewhat familiar with Biblical, that is to say, Lutheran theology. We are all justified by faith because of the atoning sacrifice of the Fulfiller of all righteousness Himself on the tree of life.

The prayer of a righteous man, you, me, all dead and raised with Christ in Baptism "works (much)". It might also be noted, while we are on the topic of James 5:16 to intercessory prayers that it is beyond a stretch to apply James 5 to the prayers of the Church Triumphant. The context implies an earthly application. When someone is sick, proseuksasthosan tous presbyterous tas ekklasias "call together the elders of the church" and have them pray over the sick person.

Surely you are not implying that James is making some sort of plea to call the heavenly host together so that they might pray for them. That reaks of the dark arts and seances.


Hi Stuart,

My point was not directly about prayers from those who have died and attained salvation. But it was indirectly connected to that, since the context in which I brought this up was a few people
wondering aloud (the garden variety Protestant objection, which I would have expressed myself, 20 years ago): "why ask Mary to pray for you when you can go right to God?"

And the Catholic answer is, of course: "because she is more righteous -- we believe, without any sin --, so that her prayers are therefore more effective (based on James 5:16)."

But she is dead, you say, so this amounts to "the dark arts and seances". The Bible does not take this view, as I believe I have amply shown by my proof texts for a "Catholic" conception of the communion of saints. The Bible teaches us that the dead in Christ are quite aware of earthly goings-on, so that it is not at all implausible to ask for their prayers (by deduction: if they are praying for us -- as we know from Revelation -- and are aware of earthly events, then it stands to reason that we can ask them to pray).

And since this was the widespread practice of the early Christians, then Catholics and Orthodox (and traditional Anglicans and Lutherans, etc.) merely continue what was passed down to us, whereas most Protestants have rejected it, because it is supposedly "unbiblical".

I'm familiar with Lutheran and general Protestant doctrines of justification, having debated and written about the issue, and having once believed the same myself.

Your exegetical argument for James 5:16 is one legitimate opinion for dikaiou, so Kittel and other linguistic NT scholars tell us. But my conception is also permissible (i.e., still generally-speaking). The trick here is to determine the particular application in James 5:16.

Gerhard Kittel himself (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament; one-volume edition, pp. 170-171) seems to lean more towards my view:

Yet those who belong to this righteous one must themselves do right (I Jn. 2:29) . . . Fidelity to the law is often at issue, but with a stress on the relationship with God in the parents of the Baptist (Lk. 1:16), Simeon (Lk. 2:25), and Cornelius (Acts 10:22). Joseph deals righteously with Mary in Mt. 1:19 . . .

d. dikaios sometimes denotes the disciple as a person who truly keeps the law or does God's will . . . The dikaioi at the last judgment are those who have practiced love (Mt. 25:37). James has disciples in mind when he says that the righteous are oppressed by the rich (5:6) and that their prayers have great power (5:16) . . .

e. Paul can accept the distinction between the righteous and the wicked. The dikaios is one who as a doer of the law will be vindicated by God's sentence (Rom. 2:13) . . .
[discusses salvation by faith and grace] . . . In 1 Th. 2:10, however, present conduct is the theme; we are righteous as we act according to divine law.

Clearly, according to Kittel and a plain reading of Scripture, NT usage of this word (Strong's word #1342)incorporates far more than simply imputed or extrinsic justification. It's also used in the sense of present behavior (i.e., sanctification).

That said, let's look again at James 5:16. What is the context? In the very next verse, James cites "Elijah . . . a man of like nature to ourselves," who "prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on earth. 18 Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit."

Now, is this a routine situation of "one of the elect, or righteous, or followers of God" prayed and received a positive answer? No, again, clearly, it is an extraordinary scenario with a particularly holy and righteous prophet asking for a miracle and being granted his request.

You think this is a routine prayer that any elect, justified Christian could do? Okay, show me where this sort of thing can easily be prayed for and granted. It's not talking about being regenerate or justified, but of a holy, sanctified, exceptionally righteous person praying, and having more effect. The remarkable example given proves it. Or so it seems to me, anyway.

That's the context. We can also briefly examine Elijah, for it is not without reason that James cited this amazing prophet as his example to illustrate his teaching.

What else did he pray for? Well, his prayer raised a boy from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24). How often does that happen when you and I pray? But when Jesus and folks like Peter and Elijah do it, it works.

Elijah also was answered by God with fire. One time, fire came down from heaven and killed two sets of fifty men (2 Kings 1:10-12). The other time was in the famous contest with the false prophets on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:36-39).

This is what (apparently) was the kind of thing that was in James' mind when he cited Elijah as an example of a righteous man who prayed to great effect: three-year droughts, fire coming down from heaven, and raisings from the dead. Therefore, to believe that all that is being discussed here is prayer by any Christian who is justified, is highly implausible, and must be discarded.

(6-8-05 + part two)

Hi Dave,

You wrote a great deal. Thanks for taking the time to do so.

I still have to respectfully say that your view is just plain wrong. There is the righteousness of Christ which we possess through Christ and there is not righteousness. There is no gray.

On Elijah being superior, look at the new Elijah, the Baptist. And yet, "I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." Luke 7:28 He who is least is greater, Dave. And, for St. Luke that kingdom of God is preached. It is Gospel proclamation (4:43, 8:1, 9:2, 9:60). I hear this Kingdom of God preached in the pulpit every Sunday. I presume that you do too. We are, through Christ, equal with even this great saint, Elijah.

As to invocation of the saints, I refer you to
our Confessions [link]. As to the righteousness that is ours only through Christ, I refer you to Confessions II [link].


Hi Stuart,

Again, the subject of the passage in James is prayer, not justification; specifically, a more effective or powerful or efficacious prayer. Elijah's prayers raised the dead, caused a three-year drought, and fire to come down from heaven (twice). That's awful powerful praying! And why is that? Not because Elijah and we Christians are all equal in Christ and saved and the elect and filled with the Holy Spirit, etc., but because he was a very righteous, holy man.

Why would James use the extraordinary example of Elijah if his point were merely, "all Christians' prayers are very powerful, because they are in Christ?" That makes no sense; the point was clearly that extraordinarily righteous peoples' prayers are very powerful.

Nothing you believe about justification overcomes these factors, in my opinion, because the passage isn't about justification in the first place; it is about sanctification and its relationship to efficacious prayer.

Nor does the specifically Lutheran belief on sanctification and justification affect this. If "righteousness" is indeed being used by James in the sense that I have advocated, then all you would have to do is place this passage under the "category" of sanctification. You don't have to give up anything you believe to interpret it the way I do.

Moreover (as my good Baptist friend who is visiting, suggested, in agreement with me -- which proves that this isn't strictly a Catholic-Protestant dispute), the context of James 5:16 gives another strong clue as to the meaning here. In the two preceding verses, James writes:
Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
Now why does he say to go to the elders to pray, when (as you contend) all our prayers are equally efficacious? Obviously, James thinks that the elders have more power in their prayers, so he recommends going to them. He specifically attributes the "prayer of faith" to this kind of prayer of elders.

This backs up my contentions and contradicts yours. And it is all in context: it immediately precedes our passage, and the Elijah passage follows it. What more is required? To me it is very clear-cut and compelling, and it is not dependent on a specifically Catholic theological / exegetical predisposition (since my Baptist friend believes in the same thing, and he doesn't deny imputed justification).

(6-8-05; Part two)

Friday, June 03, 2005

Response to "CPA" (Lutheran) on Christian Unity and Ecclesiology

By Dave Armstrong (6-3-05)

CPA's words will be in blue.

* * * * * 

OK, having read your post, you do seem to be not arguing the purely epistemological problem of 3 (although I think given what you wrote at first I was not wrong to think you were; I don't think you expressed yourself very clearly).

Quite possibly; sure. That's why lengthy dialogue and clarification is always helpful, because we can always be more precise in our language and expression.

Your position is not that an interpreter is necessary epistemologically in order to know the truth, but it is necessary practically in order for the truth to be made sufficiently plain that it will in actual fact prevail among people.

That's an excellent way to put it in one sentence; thanks. I've had entire debates with people, where they never understood this distinction. Hence, they wound up arguing against a view that was not my own, and they never figured out that they were warring against a straw man, not my position or the Catholic one (which I hope are the same).

Here are what I take to be your key passages:

As I have stated repeatedly, binding Church authority, is a practical necessity, given the propensity of men to pervert the true apostolic Tradition as taught in Scripture, whether it is perspicuous or not. The fact remains that diverse interpretations arise, and a final authority outside of Scripture itself is needed in order to resolve those controversies. This does not imply in the least that Scripture itself (rightly understood) is not sufficient to overcome the errors. It is only formally insufficient by itself.

Even if Scripture is in fact clear on a matter (say that God declares that it was perfectly clear, when we get to heaven and ask Him about it, which would be absolute certainty), that doesn't mean that Christians will agree. And since contradiction necessarily involves error, it is important for all of us to have some way of resolving these disputes. And that brings us right back to Church authority and/or some form of tradition. It's unavoidable. It's inevitable. Anyone who denies this is living in unreality and self-delusion. All Christians have to resolve this dilemma in some fashion. The solutions differ, and that is what we are debating presently, but the problem is the same for all.

Indeed. You understand my position well. And that's the prerequisite for any good, constructive debate.

But to this argument my position is that the problem is, in earthly terms, insoluble. The only solution is the Last Judgment when God will reveal the secrets of men.

I don't know why you would take this position, which I find to be a "counsel of despair" (i.e., insofar as concerns this particular problem), and most unbiblical.

In point of fact, the Catholic Church has not practically been able to make the gospel teaching sufficiently clear so as to insure the unity of all Christians (defining Christians here as those who confess the Trinity and the Incarnation of Jesus).

I was not so much discussing actual, concrete unity of all Christians. I think that is exceedingly unlikely, short of a massive supernatural conversion to one view. What I advocate as a Catholic is the view that the principle of attainable unity (for those who seek it) is available: not just theoretically, but in actuality, in the Catholic Church and the papacy, and apostolic Tradition or "deposit" passed down through apostolic succession. I would argue that this was God's will for ecclesiology and unity, under this "umbrella," so to speak.

Not only that, arguably it is the inflated claims of the Papacy, intended to secure total unity, which played a big role first in the Great Schism and then in the Reformation.

That's another question entirely. But (as a logical point) because people leave one group, does not prove (by that fact alone) that said group is not the most correct or divinely-willed, or the closest in doctrine to actual God-given truth. To use an analogy: if next year half the world ceased believing that 2 + 2 = 4, that would not at all make that mathematical truth less true. It would only prove that now less people believed in the truth. Or another way to put it is that "truth is not determined by head counts."

The Biblical solution to your problem, as I see it, is "Let God be true and every man a liar." We all believe what we believe for reasons we don't even know, and God will reveal in the end on the Last Day, who has believed correctly, who was a true prophet and who a false, who was walking the narrow way and who the broad way to destruction.

Certainly, but I find it extraordinary that you would resign yourself to the fact that we can't attain to the full truth of biblical, apostolic Christianity, with the certainty of faith, till Judgment Day. I've often critiqued Protestantism as being a sort of "perpetual quest," where one spends their entire life trying to "figure out" what the truth is about various doctrines. I don't believe that this is how God intended things to be at all.

What I think the "biblical solution" is, is an authoritative Church. Where do we find that in Scripture? Easy: the Jerusalem Council. Here's what the Bible says about that council and its binding authority (RSV):

Acts 15:28-29: For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.

Acts 16:4:
As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.

But since Protestants believe that no council is infallible (let alone led by the Holy Spirit), then we have to provide the Revised Protestant Version of the Bible (RPV):

Acts 15:28-29 (RPV): For it has seemed good to the hundreds of other synods and denominations and us (but of course not the Holy Spirit) to lay upon you no greater burden than these entirely optional things and secondary doctrines; matters of individual conscience: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will probably do well (at least until the future when another council may reverse this decision). Farewell.

Acts 16:4 (RPV): As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for consideration and a vote (and the possible veto of scholars) the edifying suggestions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.

One could do the same with the many Pauline commands to follow the tradition that he passed down to his churches. For example:

2 Timothy 1:13-14: Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.

It's obvious (perspicuous) in Scripture, then, that the Church was to have binding authority of this nature. One could know the body of true doctrine, because the Church guarded it, and was entrusted with it, and protected by the Holy Spirit. I don't see how it can be denied. I wrote in my book, The Catholic Verses (which dealt with these passages and some historic Protestant responses to it (I cite my manuscript draft, which may be slightly different):

One Protestant reply to these biblical passages might be to say that since this Council of Jerusalem referred to in Acts consisted of apostles, and since an apostle proclaimed the decree, both possessed a binding authority which was later lost (as Protestants accept apostolic authority as much as Catholics do). Furthermore, the incidents were recorded in inspired, infallible Scripture. They could argue that none of this is true of later Catholic councils; therefore, the attempted analogy is null and void.

But this is a bit simplistic, since Scripture is our model for everything, including Church government, and all parties appeal to it for their own views. If Scripture teaches that a council of the Church is authoritative and binding, then it is implausible and unreasonable to assert that no future council can be so simply because it is not conducted by apostles.

Scripture is our model for doctrine and practice (nearly all Christians agree on this). The Bible doesn’t exist in an historical vacuum, but has import for the day-to-day life of the Church and Christians for all time. St. Paul told us to imitate him (see, e.g., 2 Thess. 3:9). And he went around proclaiming decrees of the Church. No one was at liberty to disobey these decrees on the grounds of “conscience,” or to declare by “private judgment” that they were in error (per Luther).

It would be foolish to argue that how the apostles conducted the governance of the Church has no relation whatsoever to how later Christians engage in the same task. It would seem rather obvious that Holy Scripture assumes that the model of holy people (patriarchs, prophets, and apostles alike) is to be followed by Christians. This is the point behind entire chapters, such as (notably) Hebrews 11.

When the biblical model agrees with their theology, Protestants are all too enthusiastic to press their case by using Scriptural examples. The binding authority of the Church was present here, and there is no indication whatever that anyone was ever allowed to dissent from it. That is the fundamental question.

That the Gospel will be challenged and torn apart (but not vanquished) by heresies is something Christ and the apostles foresaw,

Yes, because that would be the sad reality (and the result of human sin and misinformation). But that doesn't mean that it is, therefore, impossible for a seeking Christian individual to attain to the full apostolic deposit by means of an authoritative Church.

and something against which they prescribed not a single teaching magisterium,

Does not the Jerusalem Council contradict this notion? Also, how the Bible describes bishops would also, on a smaller scale.

but Spirit-taught vigilance of individuals and clerics alike (Mat. 7:13-27; John 10:5, 1 John 2:20-23; Acts 20:28-31, Gal. 1:6-9, 2:11ff, Col. 2:16ff, 1 Tim. 4, 2 Tim. 2-3; 1 Peter 5; 2 John 7-11).

Okay, now you're making me work; I gotta look up all these Scriptures. But it's my pleasure. This is, of course, a rather typical Protestant (and also typically American, I might add) presupposition of individualism, which, I would argue, is entirely foreign to the biblical and ancient Hebrew worldview.

Matt 7:13-27. Jesus is speaking proverbially, so it is addressed to individuals. But then, so is every sermon (this is from the Sermon on the Mount). This doesn't prove that an authoritative Church and a communal Christianity with all of one mind, do not exist. I've often argued that Jesus' statement at the Last Supper: "that they may be one, even as we are one" (John 17:11) presupposes and entails a doctrinal unity, since the Father and the Son do not disagree on doctrine or anything else. This is extraordinary unity. If Jesus prayed for it, it must be possible, and there must be a way to attain it (for those who obey and seek this unity). That doesn't mean that everyone will do so, but it means that a way is made for unity, for those who seek and find and see it, by God's grace.

John 10:5: Ditto; proverbial language is not to be construed as sanctioning a radical individualism to the exclusion of the group. To read such a notion into it is eisegesis, I think.

1 John 2:20-23: this passage is already communal in nature, suggesting an existing unity: verse 19: "They went out from us" ("us" is repeated twice more in the verse). Verse 20: "you all know."

Acts 20:28-31: This is written to bishops (RSV: "elders" / Gk. presbuteros); hence the language of "overseers [Gk. episkopos], to care for the church of God" (v. 28). Paul wrote to Titus, "appoint elders [presbuteros] in every town as I directed you (Titus 1:5) -- regional, rather than congregational. Referring to the same office ("bishop": 1:7 [episkopos] ), he wrote that they were to "give instruction in sound doctrine and . . . to confute those who contradict it" (1:9). This is, again, a communal notion of doctrine, not an individualistic one. The bishops were in control, not the single person and his perspicuous Bible, figuring out what is true and what isn't. Of course, historically, episcopal government prevailed in the early Church, and local and ecumenical councils were held. Catholics still do both, but Luther and Lutheranism wanted to replace the bishops with the secular princes, and I don't see them holding true councils anymore. So who is more biblical? Clearly Catholics are.

Gal 1:6-9: Paul is writing to "the churches of Galatia" (1:2), not to individuals.

Gal 2:11 ff.: Paul rebukes Peter for his hypocrisy; this has nothing to do with doctrine or ecclesiology.

Col 2:16 ff.: "let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink . . ." Yet this is precisely what the Jerusalem Council did (which decree Paul himself proclaimed to his hearers, as seen above), so this didn't rule out Church authority.

1 Timothy 4: this is a communal passage. 4:1 mentions "some will depart from the faith," not "some will depart from various denominations and form other equally valid (based on Protestant presuppositions and its rule of faith) denominations, which operate on individualistic private judgment" (RPV). 4:14 refers to a "council of elders."

2 Tim 2-3: this must be understood in light of Paul's other teachings, as seen above, and particularly in Paul's first letter to Timothy, where he refers to "the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15).

1 Peter 5: the preeminent elder of the Church, commissioned by Jesus to lead the Church (Matt 16:18-19) is exhorting other elders.

2 John 7-11: John presupposes that there is one truth, that can be known and followed (what you seem to deny): "the truth" (1:2,4), "the doctrine of Christ" (1:9) .

I see nothing in any of these passages which rules out a Catholic or episcopal understanding of ecclesiology, and much that suggests and supports it.

The church (built on Peter, the apostles, the prophets, and the faith of even two or three gathered in His name) as a whole is the pillar and ground of the truth, but I see no promise in these passages a guaranteed transmission of the truth in one place and one succession.

If indeed it's "built on Peter," then clearly, his successors would also be the guardians of the deposit. Since Paul and Peter both went to Rome and were martyred there, it seems fairly clear that this was God's plan. The Roman church quickly became a leader in early Christianity (as evidenced by Paul's lengthy letter to it). Peter and Paul possessed this apostolic deposit (I don't think anyone would deny), so it is common sense that they would pass it down to their successors in Rome. That's not to say that other cities could or would not also possess it (they would, because they were also evangelized by apostles). But Rome definitely would.

God didn't do that in the Old Covenant (the high priests were anything but guardians of orthodoxy, and challenged on occasions beyond count by righteous prophets and teachers of the law) and I see no reason from history or Scripture to believe He has done that in the New.

There are abundant indications of an authoritative body of teaching in Old Testament times that would serve as a model for NT and Catholic infallible authority. For example:

1) Deuteronomy 17:8-13: The Levitical priests had binding authority in legal matters (derived from the Torah itself). They interpreted the biblical injunctions (17:11). The penalty for disobedience was death (17:12), since the offender didn't obey “the priest who stands to minister there before the LORD your God.” Cf. Deuteronomy 19:16-17, 2 Chronicles 19:8-10.

2) Deuteronomy 24:8: Levitical priests had the final say and authority (in this instance, in the case of leprosy). This was a matter of Jewish law.
3) Ezra 7:6,10: Ezra, a priest and scribe, studied the Jewish law and
taught it to Israel, and his authority was binding, under pain of imprisonment,
banishment, loss of goods, and even death (7:25-26).

4) I think all Christians agree that prophets, too, exercised a high degree
of authority, so I need not establish that.

That is sufficient for now. If you would like to pursue individual aspects of this reply, that would be worthwhile, I think.