Thursday, June 30, 2005

Is America the Wickedest Nation Ever? Yes (a Strong Biblical Case Can be Made)

By Dave Armstrong

Excerpts from a much longer paper written in September 2001:

The most rebellious nations (by definition), and the most worthy of judgment, are the most Judaism- or Christianity-saturated nations. They are all the more accountable for their rebellion, just as ancient Israel became an abomination to God time and time again because she was given so much, and rejected it. We know from revelation that God clearly judges nations in direct proportion to how much moral truth they know and deliberately reject.

One might argue that mass media (now including the Internet), literacy, centuries of further development of moral and theological teaching, more awareness of the gospel and Christianity; more familiarity with its good fruits and blessings resulting therefrom; revivalism, stated belief, and any number of additional factors would be criteria for determining which countries today might possibly be "ripe" for judgment, having rejected so much true knowledge of the faith and of God and His teachings and moral laws. It is the contrast or relationship between how much of Christianity a nation knows and has rejected, which is the key factor, and what that nation has done or permitted (legally or otherwise) since having rejected it as a culture.

Better for a nation to not even claim to be Christian than to pretend it is while, for example, slaughtering babies by the millions, or sanctioning legally and culturally a host of sexual sins and other sins not harmonious with traditional Christianity. To whom much is given, much is required. This is utterly obvious, given God's treatment of His own chosen people, the Jews, throughout history. They knew much more than the Gentiles, so God judged them accordingly. The presence of many good things in a nation would not necessarily comprise any sort of disproof of this opinion. The very fact of undeniable and great amounts of good supports the contention that a nation has been especially blessed by God's grace (for where else does good come from?). That nations fall so low despite that is their indictment, much like ancient Israel.

Our Lord reasoned precisely in this way, in condemning Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum, in relation to Tyre and Sidon (Luke 10:13-15). There, the idea is that the former places knew more; therefore they were more culpable for rebellion: . . for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon . . . (10:13) In fact, our Lord mentions Sodom in contrast to those towns which reject the disciples' message, in Luke 10:12 (compare to Ezekiel, chapter 16, and Romans, chapters 1 and 2). All quite biblical, all quite divine, being from our Lord.

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nin'eveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

(Matthew 12:40-42)

Natural law is also binding on all persons and cultures. The key lies in Romans 1 and 2. Those two chapters refer specifically to individual culpability, rather than national. But they can also be applied by extension or analogy, to nations. It all depends on what one knows of God's law and/or natural law. All men have the potential for knowing how to act morally, in the main, even without revelation, and they are judged accordingly, as St. Paul explicitly informs us. So the following theoretical/philosophical scenario would apply, I think. I don't pretend to know how one would quantify degrees of sin in all particulars. That is for God to ultimately determine (in terms of both judgment and individual salvation), not men, but here is my scenario :

1. Nation X has "degree 99" of knowledge about revelation/Judaism/Christianity and has (institutionally, and in terms of societal norms) rejected 85% of it.

2. Nation Y has "degree 0" of knowledge about revelation/Judaism/Christianity - therefore it cannot reject it (insofar as revelation goes beyond the moral knowledge achievable through natural law).

3. Nation X has "degree 50" of the sins of abortion, materialism, oppression of the poor, racism, lack of piety, sexual sin, etc.

4. Nation Y also has "degree 50" of the sins of abortion, materialism, oppression
of the poor, racism, lack of piety, sexual sin, etc.
Now which nation is more worthy of judgment? Clearly, Nation X, because it knew more, having received and accepted more of God's revelation, therefore incurring a higher culpability, than Nation Y, which received none. The sin and hypocrisy is proportionate to how much the nation knew and rejected. One can argue, of course, over degrees and culpability, as it is a largely subjective matter, but the bottom line principle of to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48) stands, I think. The context of this saying of our Lord was the parable of the faithful and wise steward (Luke 12:41-48). Here is its conclusion: verses 47-48 (RSV):
And that servant who knew his master's will, but did not make ready or act
according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.
The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) makes a very similar point. It is noteworthy that the servants received different amounts of talents: 5, 2, and 1, to each according to his ability (25:15). The servants with 2 and 5 talents multiplied them by the same amount (25:20,22), while the servant with one did nothing. He was damned (25:30), while the others were greeted with well done, good and faithful servant (25:21,23). So they were judged by what they did with what they had, just as those with and without the law are judged by what they know and (more importantly) do (Romans 2:12-16). James makes the same point in another fashion:

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.

(James 3:1; cf. Romans 2:17-24)

Jesus echoes this same thought in his conversation with the Roman centurion, where he contrasts his strong faith with the spiritual hypocrisy of the disobedient among the Jews who knew more but who would be damned (Matthew 8:5-13; cf. 21:28-32). That said, I believe there could indeed be (and often have been) nations which were so exceedingly wicked, even never having received or accepted any significant knowledge of revelation (but still being responsible for moral law and conscience), that they are worse than a nation receiving revelation and rejecting part of it. So e.g., I would say that the ancient Aztecs, with their human sacrifice, were worse as a society than Rome in 430, or America in 1960, or even France in the throes of "Enlightenment" tyranny in 1795. No contest.

But once (particularly) the millions of slaughtered babies start adding up in so-called Christian countries, with legal and societal sanction ("all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing" - Edmund Burke), then I say that the latter countries are far worse, according to Scripture, just as an individual who truly didn't know what abortion entailed, and had one, is far less guilty than one who committed this horrible sin, knowing full well what it was, and perhaps even knowing that it is utterly contrary to the Bible and Christianity.

One must think about these matters biblically, as opposed to being a fish wholly contained by the "aquarium" of their own culture and how it predominantly thinks; beholden to the currently fashionable zeitgeist. It is always an ongoing task for Christians to think "biblically" and "Christianly" in the midst of an overwhelmingly secular culture, whose influence affects us all. Oftentimes, unfortunately, people come from a perspective of sheer emotionalism or arbitrary opinion, rather than from a biblical worldview, with regard to this matter of when God might be construed as "judging" or "chastising."

That is quite understandable (as it is an unpleasant, frightening topic), but at the same time, it is the duty of the Christian apologist to explain and defend a biblical worldview, especially if it is being snickered at, attacked, and dismissed as of little import, or relegated to the sole domain of "fanatics" or so-called "fundamentalists." God doesn't change. He judged nations in the past; He still does today, and He will judge the entire world and everyone in it at the End of the Age.

Oftentimes in the Old Testament, the prophets would give a conditional prophecy: "If you act righteously you will win battle X with nation Y. But if you continue in your idolatries [substitute any serious sin], you will be defeated, and led away with hooks in your noses, [etc.]" So repentance was urged, without being thought of as a substitution for military action against enemies. Prophets (as I recall) didn't say very often, if at all, not to fight, but rather, to repent so that the battle would be successful. The evil nature of the enemy did not change, whatever Israel decided to do with regard to its own sins:

but if you will not hearken to the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the
commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you and your

(1 Samuel 12:15; cf. 2 Chronicles 7:11-22)

Nations are as contradictory as every human being is: we are mixtures of radical good and radical evil, due to original sin, the world, the flesh, and the devil. Alexander Solzhenitsyn correctly noted: "the line between good and evil runs through every human heart." Nations are much the same. Many of the inhabitants of a country could be very righteous and perform many good works, but there is a common motif in the Old Testament, whereby God ceases to even acknowledge the goodness of spiritually or morally good, pious acts, if enough evil is tolerated that even the pious acts become overtly hypocritical.

Many Christians today apparently think that God no longer judges, or does in a fashion much different than what He did in the Old Covenant. This is simply false, for anyone who accepts the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible in toto. God doesn't change. The short answer to this is found in Jesus' words in His Sermon on the Mount:

Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.

(Matthew 5:17, RSV; cf. 5:18-20)

Revelation 19:11-16, which speaks of Jesus judging the nations at the end of the current age, should disabuse anyone of the "meek and mild Jesus" stereotype, which is thoroughly unbiblical.

Does God not love the countries He judges? Of course He does love them. Likewise, we can love our own country even while believing that it might be ripe for judgment, just as Jeremiah did, just as Jesus did as He wept over Jerusalem:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! . . . . . Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate.

(Matthew 23:37a,38)

To deny that, one would have to believe that Jesus didn't love His country, the Chosen People of Israel, because He pointed out their grievous sins and predicted that their Temple would be destroyed within a generation. Jesus didn't often emphasize all the good things that had occurred in Jerusalem. He dwelt on the bad things (which is the function and purpose of preachers and prophets), thus causing (according to the fashionable psycho-babble of today) irreparable harm to their self-esteem. Jesus spoke of an Israel that featured prophet-killing, hardness of heart, money-making in the Temple, hyper-legalism, and nationalistic pride. As He said, He "came not for the righteous, but for sinners."

God judges. He has the power of life and death in His hands. Jesus implied that Israel was to be judged because of its disobedience. The Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Now, according to the reasoning of some, it would then follow that Jesus must have positively willed this destruction, and that the Roman troops were therefore "good guys." But this simply doesn't follow. God doesn't positively decree evil. He cannot do so. Such a view is rank blasphemy. He merely uses it for His ends.

Evil is evil. How could God have used Judas to betray His own Son? How could He have devised the plan of redemption whereby the Crucifixion occurred at the hand of evil men? The Roman Emperor Nero was not exactly a Boy Scout troop leader. Plenty of Christians died under him, and this was God's plan, too, because martyrs' blood is the seed of the growth of the Church. The Assyrians or the Babylonians (or for that matter, the Nazis and Communists) are no less evil than any agents of judgment today that God might use (in the sense of passively permitting the evil they devise). God used all these stooges and buffoons as shadows in the "screen" of history, in His Providence.

People tend to see the situation they themselves are in as intrinsically different because they are in the midst of it, and often, still grieving and suffering from it. We should no more expect a people to see the overall picture of what may be happening to them, than we would expect Job to understand his sufferings while they happened, or the disciples to understand the Cross while it was happening. Job never was told why he suffered so much. He was told to trust God, who set the universe in motion, etc. All we can go by in such a matter is biblical revelation, example, and precedent.

Finally, it is almost inconceivable to imagine an official Catholic teaching, declaring that such-and-such an act against nation X or individual Y unquestionably constituted divine wrath, judgment, or chastisement. The Church doesn't even declare that any given individual is in hell (not even Judas). Catholics don't even believe in the absolute assurance of personal salvation, let alone thinking that we know for sure that God is judging in any particular context. In that sense, judgment is similar to the fulfillment of prophecy. As with the judgment of nations, it is a very tricky business indeed to determine if it is actually taking place in any given circumstance.

In any case, it is far more biblically correct to say that God still judges nations and to speculate (with all due self-reflection and willingness to repent) on which nations might be so liable, than to deny that God still does this (with little or no biblical basis) and to say it is illegitimate to talk about at all, simply because we can't achieve philosophical certainty of the highest order (which can't be attained in most fields of inquiry, anyway). Therefore, I think this line of thought leads to a rhetorical and philosophical dead-end.

I don't claim to understand why certain nations seemingly worthy of judgment have been spared (including my own). I can imagine, however, any number of reasons why they might be spared, in theory, in "God's mind." E.g., they might be needed to judge other, more wicked nations, or someone might be born there who would cure cancer, or help cause a revival which would have far-reaching, positive consequences (a guy like John Wesley). Only God sees all things, and the whole of history, being out of time.

I'm simply trying to grapple with the biblical data and anomalies such as a country like ours -- admirable in so many ways -- which can live with 44 million deliberately-inflicted executions, while mourning, weeping and wailing and achieving extraordinary unity over some 7000 deliberately-inflicted executions.

The current casualties [from 9-11] are a mere 0.000159% of the legal deaths in America at the hand of abortionist "doctors." Yet we as a nation have a hundred, a thousand times more grief over that than we do about the mountains of dead babies, now over seven times as large as the number of Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust. We look down our noses at the terrorists, who deny the "sanctity of life" (as if we don't, as a society). We despise Hitler, while we have murdered five, six, seven times more than he did (depending on how the casualties of WW II are figured in).

We are even approaching Mao's estimated 60 million murders of his own people. He killed his own without Christ and Christian revelation. We kill ours with those spiritual benefits. We even allow mothers to kill their own children. God help us. This is the sort of utter, abominable moral hypocrisy that I have been trying to point out. I know it is difficult to see, but it is undeniable.

We certainly can know what nations are particularly worthy of judgment, based on their sins. America is worthy, I have little or no doubt, based on legal abortion alone, as well as a host of other evils, including soon-to-be-institutionalized homosexuality (which reminds me just a wee bit of Sodom and Gomorrah). Does this prove therefore that September 11th was in fact divine judgment? No, not at all. Yet a belief that it was is not at all implausible or incoherent or impermissible, given the biblical data on the topic.

Also, God may choose to exercise His mercy at any time, even if a nation is worthy of judgment. He did that with Israel repeatedly; so I believe He continues to do (as He does not change). Determining actuality, on the other hand, is a quite different proposition, due to the complexity of Providence and the place of evil in it. I think it is every bit as hard to determine as fulfilled prophecy, if not more so. Hypocrisy is surely a prominent motif in Scripture, for those who know more of revelation, and it is by no means confined to nations possessing revelation. God is not mocked. The scales will be made right in due course, whether in history or at the end of it.

If one wishes to quibble with a person stating that September 11th was "definitely" a judgment, I can see that, but to not even allow one to believe it is a plausible possibility: that I can't comprehend. Nor do I accept the proposition made by some Christians that God no longer judges, and has changed somewhere in the period between the Old and New Testaments.

We are already far beyond worthiness for judgment, as far as I am concerned. What does it take (I ask anyone who denies this)? I haven't seen anyone who denies this possibility arguing as to how 44 million savage executions of children are somehow not serious enough to merit judgment. Would 100 million be? Would one billion? Or maybe blowing up the whole earth and killing 7 billion or whatever it is now? We rightly detest the evil of 6 million Jews being killed in the Holocaust . . . Obviously, little people are placed out of the category of people (even by many Jews, who ought to know better, one would think), just as blacks and Indians and Jews and other groups were placed historically. Otherwise, our culture wouldn't think in these radically contradictory and absurd terms.

I shall now re-state my "thesis on judgment" briefly and more precisely, and draw some additional distinctions which might be helpful to promote further discussion and thought on this issue:

1. Significant amounts of institutionalized evils or illegitimate, immoral social norms in a nation/society (whether "Christian" or pagan) render it worthy of judgment, according to biblical teaching.

Nations which possess relatively more revelation and reject it, will tend to be more spiritually hypocritical and rebellious in degree (thus more worthy of judgment, according to "to whom much is given, much is required") than nations not possessing revelation which also have institutionalized evil and illegitimate, immoral social norms, though there may be exceptions to the rule in the case of extraordinarily wicked nations which had never been Christianized or "Judaized."

2. Being worthy of judgment is determined by lack of adherence to biblical and natural law morality, whereas a possible scenario of being in fact judged by God cannot be determined with certainty, since many other factors with regard to Providence and the "timing" of God's actions must be taken into account, and man doesn't have enough information to render such a conclusion beyond all doubt (and no biblical information, excepting some extraordinarily clear prophecies).

3. Given #1 and #2, it is altogether permissible and proper to believe that it is plausible or possible that a given nation is in fact being judged or chastised, based on its disobedience to moral law and/or spiritual hypocrisy (which God clearly disapproves of in the strongest terms in Scripture).

4. Repentance on an individual level and in a corporate sense (e.g., as the Ninevites did in response to Jonah) is consistent with either an acceptance of moral failure, based on #1, or belief that judgment may in fact be taking place, as in #3, or both. Belief that judgment is indeed occurring (like a belief that the End of the Age or the Second Coming is near) often produces deep repentance among those in the society who are still spiritually "reachable." Even if that belief is mistaken, the repentance based wholly or in part on that belief is still a positive social good. And of course it is good (at all times) for a nation to examine itself and its laws and norms and moral teachings. History teaches us that this usually doesn't happen unless and until some serious calamity occurs.

Addendum: One might also possibly argue (I'm basically thinking out loud and exploring this notion) that since whole nations do not usually repent unless serious calamities occur (and/or revivals), that therefore, the presence of widespread repentance and self-examination might be taken as evidence (given what history teaches us) that indeed judgment or revival had occurred. The purpose of judgment (unless it is final) is to purify a nation, so increasing moral purity in turn might lead one to reasonably suspect that the judgment that usually produces it was present.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

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

By Dave Armstrong (6-23-05)

Kristo's words will be in blue. My former words will be in green. Former citations of mine (other writers) will be in smaller font and black print.

* * * * * 

First, here is my response to a comment by "BWL" (in red):

I think the problem is that Lutherans and Catholics simply disagree not just about Scripture, but about what the ECFs taught as well.

Of course. Heaven forbid that Christians could ever agree on anything! :-)

You say, for example, that the Lutheran confessions are factually incorrect on Augustine. The problem is that there is simply a disagreement over what the "facts" are in the first place. Not just on Augustine, but on Jerome, whom the Lutherans cite as evidence that priests and bishops are the same. Now, I'm not advocating some sort of relativism here; clearly someone is right and someone is wrong. I'm just not sure what way there is out of this impasse. We could cite the ECFs and Scripture back and forth all day, but what would be gained? Is there a better way?

No. I think each instance has to be discussed individually, with both sides presenting their historical and biblical evidences. I believe that it can be determined what a particular Church Father believed (about most things, anyway). These things have answers if enough research is done. It's not like they are some tremendous mystery. The historical truth is there to find. I think that is easier than working through exegetical disagreements, because those are invariably interpreted through theological grids, which have to be examined in turn. It's very time-consuming! I wish there was a shortcut, but there isn't. Most people on both sides couldn't care less about such a discussion, but I think it is an important one.

As a preliminary comment, though, while you conceded all of my points about Luther being a political figure as well as a reformer, and that Luther-bashing is not refutation of Lutheranism, yet you seem to be bashing the political Luther rather than refuting the spiritual reform agenda.

I'm not "bashing" anyone; I'm simply making my historical case as a Catholic, against Lutheran innovation. The "Reformation" was all of a piece. One can divide it into spiritual and political components, I suppose, but in the end it's all intertwined. The theology and view of culture was bound to affect politics, and politics would affect theology also (since much of the period consisted of power struggles in various territories).

Already on the first reply we have, to my taste at least, a soup sandwich. But I'll dutifully try to add to it. Ugh!

Just agree with me and it is a lot less work for you! :-)

I'll use asterisks to identify my new content inserted into the deluge from your keyboard, so that it can be found with the "find" command.

As stated, I reply with enough information to refute my opponent's contention. If I didn't have a good case, then I wouldn't have much to write. But I will try to keep it as short as I can this time, because I don't think we can go much further with this, anyway, without discussing individual Fathers and single doctrines.

You quote miles of Lutherans, where you could have (and in your place I would have) simply asked "Hey Kristo, you say Lutherans didn't want their churches necessarily to resemble early churches. If so, why are they constantly citing fathers in the confessions and elsewhere?" Just as effective, and much easier to read.

Frankly, I don't think this point is arguable. I was surprised that you denied it. But I can understand a reluctance to connect with patristic consensus, since it so often goes against Lutheran teachings and favors Catholic teaching. So I think it (the view of the Fathers) is a mixed bag in contemporary and even historic post-Reformation Lutheranism. But originally, as far as I can tell, Lutheran self-understanding was that they were going back to patristic Christianity and purging themselves of what they saw as Catholic corruption. Otherwise, it was a revolution, not a self-described "reform."

My point was not that Lutherans aren't prepared to defend their practices from historical fathers, nor even that they don't value fathers. My point was that Lutherans in general, and Luther himself in particular, are motivated by contemporary problems, especially pastoral problems, particularly justification and reassurance of justification. Luther was much more obsessed with sin, guilt, and doubt than with the fathers or anything else scholarly, historical, or remote from laypeople's grinding reality. None of this is contradicted by your quoting miles of Lutherans citing fathers.

I agree. But your latter point does not rule out the earlier one (your first sentence). This discussion is about whether Lutherans think they are closer to the Fathers than Catholics are (not the overall emphasis or foremost concern of the "Reformation," which is a separate issue). Clearly, Lutherans did think they more closely resembled patristic Christianity, in the confessions, and in Luther's and Melanchthon's polemical rhetoric. But I deny the factuality of this claim.

So why do they cite fathers? First, heaven knows, they don't push the fathers when teaching their flocks. This is something they do in dialogue with Catholics, and especially Catholic officialdom at that. Compare the large and small catechisms to the confessions to see what I mean. This focus on the fathers is not a Lutheran obsession, it is a Catholic obsession that Lutherans are willing to indulge in dialogue and disputation. But, like I said before, the Lutheran reform was not driven by nostalgia, it was driven by the contemporary state of affairs.

I think this remains to be proven. Can you give me citations from Luther, Melanchthon, the confessions, or Chemnitz which state outright that use of the Fathers was only a polemical tactic in discussion with Catholics, and that Lutherans cared less about what the Fathers taught than Catholics did? Otherwise, it is only your bald opinion. You need to back it up from leading Lutheran figures for me to accept it. Certainly today Lutherans care less about these hist6orical issues, but I am going by the official confessions and founders of the movement (which is what one must do when critiquing a Christian group).

Lets add:

"They [fathers] were human beings who could err and be deceived." Apology XXVI:95

No one disagrees with this, so it is not at issue.

"Other writings of ancient and modern teachers, whatever their names, shall not be regarded as equal to holy scripture, … and not be accepted in any other way, or with any further authority, than as witnesses of how and where the teaching of the prophets and apostles was preserved after the time of the apostles." Epitome Summary:2

We agree with this, too. Fathers are not infallible; not even when they reach a consensus. But they provide a key witness to the legitimate apostolic Tradition, and its development through history. The Church ultimately determines orthodoxy, and in so doing, it will often disagree with individual Fathers. But we think that patristic consensus in fact agrees with Scripture.

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.

Isn't Augustine way too early to be denying purgatory? Gary Wills, in his wonderful "Why I am a Catholic", mentions in his discussion of indulgences that "It wasn't until the 1170s that purgatory became a noun…" (p.135) Anyway, you give no reference, but I assume that you mean article 12 of the Apology, which references The City of God XXI:26. And there we find a crucial difference between what the Apology actually says and what you accuse it of: the Apology does not claim that Augustine denies purgatory, it claims that he does not teach it. That, it seems to me, is correct, and even if you disagree, it should seem plausible. Augustine's passage makes plenty of reference to fire, but none specific to what a modern Catholic would call purgatory.

I don't know offhand when the word purgatory was first used. But the concept was present early on. Of that I am sure. For my support of this contention, see my paper, "The Witness of the Church Fathers With Regard to Catholic Distinctives"; sectionVII: Purgatory. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (2nd edition, edited by F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, Oxford University Press, 1983, 1144-1145), a prominent non-Catholic reference work, confirms my position:

St. Clement of Alexandria already asserts that those who, having repented on their deathbed, had no time to perform works of penance in this life, will be sanctified in the next by purifying fire (Stromateis, 7.6), a conception developed by Origen (Numbers, Hom. 15; J.P. Migne, PG, xii, 169 f.).

. . . A more developed doctrine is taught by St. Ambrose, who asserts that the souls of the departed await the end of time in different habitations, their fate varrying acc. to their works, though some are already with Christ. The foundation of the medieval doctrine is found in St. Augustine, who holds that the fate of the individual soul is decided immediately after death, and teaches the absolute certainty of purifying pains in the next life (De Civ. Dei, xxi. 13, and ib., 24), whereas St. Caesarius of Arles already distinguishes between capital sins, which lead to Hell, and minor ones, which may be expurgated either by good works on earth or in Purgatory. This doctrine was sanctioned also by St. Gregory the Great, who taught that the privation of the vision of God was one of purgatorial pains, and Gregory's position was accepted by many Latin theologians, e.g., the Venerable Bede.

John Henry Cardinal Newman, a patristics scholar, wrote that evidence for some form of purgatorial concept in the Fathers, was more prevalent than that for original sin. Here are some statements by St. Augustine:

The man who perhaps has not cultivated the land and has allowed it to be overrun with brambles has in this life the curse of his land on all his works, and after this life he will have either purgatorial fire or eternal punishment.

[Genesis Defended Against the Manicheans, 2,20,30]

Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment.

[The City of God, 21,13]

That there should be some such fire even after this life is not incredible, and it can be inquired into and either be discovered or left hidden whether some of the faithful may be saved, some more slowly and some more quickly in the greater or lesser degree in which they loved the good things that perish, - through a certain purgatorial fire.

[Enchiridion of Faith, Hope & Love, 18,69]

The time which interposes between the death of a man and the final resurrection holds souls in hidden retreats, accordingly as each is deserving of rest or hardship, in view of what it merited when it was living in the flesh. Nor can it be denied that the souls of the dead find relief through the piety of their friends and relatives who are still alive, when the Sacrifice of the Mediator is offered for them, or when alms are given in the church.

[Enchiridion of Faith, Hope & Love, 29,109-110]

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.

Well, this current discussion is about whatever we interactively discuss. It takes two to dialogue. By interacting we'll find topics of interest to both of us. The topic of the fathers is not without interest to me, it's just not that essential to Lutherans. But inasmuch as it is important to you, I'll try to engage your views where I can. I'll have to do some reading to reply in greater detail.

The original topic was the Fathers, vis-a-vis Lutherans and Catholics. I don't just go wherever the conversation leads: not if it strays from the topic (because that accomplishes little). If you want to discuss something else, then name a subject, and we can start anew if you wish. Again: not to be cynical, but if you keep asserting that the Fathers don't matter that much to Lutherans, I submit that this is because they find themselves massively contradicted there, and we tend not to be interested in things that are contrary to our chosen positions. This merely supports my overall opinion.

But, if you intend to defend the likeness of late medieval Catholicism to some "early church", which early church do you have in mind, and how does the supreme papacy compare to the collegial episcopacy of the consensus era?

The universal Catholic Church, headed by the popes of Rome. The papacy is not antithetical to collegiality. Councils are supremely important, too. Historically, popes could overturn rulings of such councils, and confirmed or denied their teachings (e.g., the Robber Synod of 449 was an example of the latter).

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.

Where can you draw the line? A butterfly emerges from a fantastic transformation while "retaining the same identity". What, if any, limit have you placed on changing primary dogma/doctrine? And would CDF agree with you in conceding any change?

That is a complicated discussion, beyond our present purview. See the many papers on my Development of Doctrine topical index page. Development is my favorite theological topic.

Also, of course, isn't priestly celibacy at least debatably primary? I seem to recall that it has been affirmed in modern times using the Vatican 1 recipe for infallibility.

It's a discipline, not a dogma. But it is very firmly entrenched in Catholic tradition, and thus, exceedingly unlikely to change as the norm. Eastern Rite Catholics ordain married priests, and we allow some Anglican priests to come over and remain married.

The essential question, however, is whether the distinction between "secondary applications" and dogma/doctrine is consistent throughout the centuries. The Catholic claim is not only that doctrine and dogma don't change and aren't innovated, but also that teachings aren't promoted into or demoted out of dogmatic status (else they can change first, then be locked down; or be released to a lower status for the purpose of changing them). Also, then, of course, teaching can't be in limbo, with the church not knowing whether it is primary or secondary, waiting to see if it changes before declaring its status. A good discussion point, relevant to the reformation, is the medieval teaching on burning anathematized heretics (affirmed in, among other places, Exurge Domine), and more generally the whole concept of anathema in contrast to excommunication. Did Exurge Domine teach doctrine, or only secondary matters? I would argue the former. Has Catholic teaching on heretics, anathema, and "acts of faith" changed? I think so. Was it once primary? I think so.

Again, off the present topic . . . Besides, I can't give short answers to stuff like this, and we're trying to shorten our replies, not lengthen them. :-)

I see that you may misunderstand how it is that ecclesiastical order was disturbed in the first place. It was not part of the reform agenda, and didn't happen everywhere (e.g. not in Finland, where I was confirmed). We could debate the relative degree of intolerance of princes, but the important point is what Lutheranism and Catholicism teach, today and in the past, not how events unfolded in a time of conflict, crisis, and warfare. You also, of course, seem to be citing a rather partisan source. I might direct you to Hans Kung as an alternative Catholic writer on church history (and other matters), unless you think he's a Lutheran partisan.

Hans Kung is rather ignorant when it comes to historical matters, as abundantly shown in his book on infallibility. Also, given his heterodox views, I wouldn't trust him as a source on the history of any doctrine. My point here is that many Lutherans no longer have bishops, and they deny apostolic succession as historically understood by the Church. Even where they have bishops, it may not be a legitimate succession, from a Catholic perspective.

You continue to assert, incorrectly, that there are no bishops in Lutheran countries.

I didn't assert that (I understand this). I asserted, rather, that apostolic succession was denied or redefined. If episcopacy were so important, then why do any major groups of Lutherans fail to have bishops?

I've lived there, I've seen them. Granted, you add the vague caveat "in the technical sense". Still, I don't get the core of your complaint: do you think that Lutherans have failed to implement the "two kingdoms" model, or that the "two kingdoms" model itself is un-Christian? This is one of those places where your writing would really benefit from succinctness.

Luther and the confessions either deny or redefine apostolic succession. This is a departure from historic Christian teaching. That's all I am arguing here. It's real simple.

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

[cited from an article; not my own words]

Yes. Now, how did the emergency come about? Is it inherent in the reform agenda, an accidental (from the church's perspective) consequence of princely malfeasance, or a tactical move on the part of the Catholics? In various places, individual bishops were removed for political reasons (being nobility from a family competing for power with the prince), in some they left their post because they objected to the reformation, in some they were ordered to leave by their Catholic superiors as a tactical move, in many cases they just left because they weren't from the area anyway and had more comfortable homes in less turbulent places. If you could tie your complaint to Lutheranism itself then I could see why this amalgam of complaints is relevant to our discussion, otherwise I don't see your point.

I've already repeated it twice above.

I disagree that the church needs a political backbone (and I wonder whether Benedict 16 agrees at least in some respects). If the state, in some places, subverts the visible church, so be it. I would rather have that than the visible church subverting the state. Some of the noblest chapters in the history of Christianity are those when the visible church had the least political power, but the invisible church had the greatest intensity.

The history of caesaropapism in the East was not a happy one.

I'm unfamiliar with the "picture of Luther as freedom-fighter". Luther, of course, has been interpreted and reinterpreted ad nauseam, so the idea that someone portrays him this way isn't surprising. Still, it isn't in any way essential to Lutheranism. Now the reform agenda in "to the Christain nobility", expressed in 28 points, is relevant, but it's also quite reasonable. Luther appealed to the princes to help with the reform because the reform was important, and the visible church hierarchy was opposed. To a comfortable middle-class modern western Catholic, for whom resistance to ecclesiastical hierarchy is heresy per se, nothing more needs to be said. But to the people living under that particular hierarchy at that particular time, the call for reform was compelling.

This was a revolution, not a reform. See my paper: Luther Was Not a Revolutionary?! Huh?!

Wow. My Marxist college teachers (mostly perpetual graduate students teaching freshman seminars) would have loved this stuff. You'd have gotten easy A's. But what, exactly, should I take away from this, or answer?

It was just a relevant article I cited. No need to digress further. We're basically spinning our wheels on the original topic by now.

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.

Ad hominem. Lutheranism isn't Lutherolatry.

You're confusing things. You kept asking over and over why I thought Lutherans had overthrown apostolic succession. So I had to go into the background of how they originally got rid of bishops (at least in some places). This would be merely a sort of footnote. It has nothing to do with "Lutherolatry" or some other silly thing. Why is it that almost every time I cite Luther (or one of his actions) to a Lutheran, I get accused of confusing Luther with confessional Lutheranism? I understand the distinction, but it's not wrong to briefly examine the historical background. There is this guy named Luther, to whom your system can be traced in many ways. It's relevant, therefore, to mention him when discussing major changes from Catholicism to Lutheranism. Apostolic succession is one of these. Luther redefined it (basically in the three great treatises of 1521). So one will often find reason to discuss him if one is doing history of Lutheran doctrine.

How is the pope above secular auhority today? How was Miltiades above Constantine? How was Silverius or Vigilius above Justinian?

The pope,can speak truth to power even if he doesn't have temporal power. Clearly he doesn't today. But we regard him as the supreme ruler of the Church, which is ultimately above every state. So in that sense he is supreme.

From Wills, pp. 62-63: "Apostolic succession: This has become, in some modern versions, a linear descent of all bishops from the bishop of Rome. That was far from the sense given to the concept in the second century (when there was still no bishop in Rome). It referred to the joint testimony of the six outstanding communities of the early church…"

Papal succession is one particular form of apostolic succession. I am referring to the succession of bishops. Wills is no authority on Catholicism, by the way. He is a dissident, who doesn't believe many things that the Church teaches. I suggest you find other sources than Wills and Kung if you wish to learn more about what we actually believe.

On what authority or epistemological or theological or revelational basis do you come up with the idea that the early Church needed apostolic succession, while today's Church, or the 16th century Church does not need it anymore? That is taught neither in Scriture nor in previous Christian tradition.

You mean it's not self-evident? Think of how oral history works (the Muslim example is great to study, because Christians can look at the workings dispassionately and learn how things develop). Even if it's not self-evident to you, you complain too much if you deny that it is at least plausible. So tell me what you believe: give me a target to throw darts at, as I have done for you. What, exactly, do bishops in apostolic succession pass from one to the next that bishops outside that succession (which, in the early church, was most of them) don't have? And which version of apostolic succession do you hold?

Orthodoxy and legitimate ordination. This is a separate discussion. But see papers of mine on ecclesiology, on my Church page.

The starting point is the collection and establishment of a scriptural canon, also a thing not taught in scripture. Surely you don't deny the value of that innovation, the canon? Once you accept the canon, and why it was assembled (to distinguish authoritative teaching), "sola scriptura" becomes nothing more than an acknowledgement that the canonists succeeded.

No it doesn't, because it isn't taught in that same Scripture. It's still a false principle, whether there is a canon or not.

I was confused: when I spoke of priestly celibacy as doctrine/dogma I was mistaking Ordinatio Sacerdotalis for Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, sorry. It is the all-male priesthood which has been defined at a level that meets Vatican 1 standards for infallibility.

The all-male priesthood will never change in Catholicism, because we don't bow to faddism and whatever the fashionable, trendy zeitgeist happens to be. Priests were always male in the Christian Church, and so they will remain in the Catholic Church.

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.

The question, of course, is first about the content of that orthodox consensus, then about what changes, if any, are evolutionary and acceptable, what changes are revolutionary and unacceptable. Part of that orthodox consensus, prior to establishment of the scripture canon, was the joint witness of the most prominent sees in Christendom and those writings which taught the same doctrine from recorded apostolic witness. In Ellen Flessman-van Leer's words,

"For Tertullian, scripture is the only means for refuting or validating a doctrine as regards its content… For Irenaeus, the church doctrine is certainly never purely traditional; on the contrary, the thought that there could be some truth, transmitted exclusively viva voce (orally), is a gnostic line of thought… If Irenaeus wants to prove the truth of a doctrine materially, he turns to scripture, because therein the teaching of the apostles is objectively accessible. Proof from tradition and scripture serve one and the same end: to identify the teaching of the Church as the original apostolic teaching. The first establishes that the teaching of the church is this apostolic teaching, and the second, what this apostolic teaching is."

(Tradition and Scripture in the Early Church, pp. 184, 133, 144)

I agree. This is Catholic teaching. We believe in the material sufficiency of Scripture, and the necessity of an authoritative Church and the standard of Tradition, within which Scripture must be properly interpreted.

The last sentence is the takeaway, describing how tradition and scripture worked hand in glove in the era before the canon. Tradition distinguished the true apostolic teachings from the false teachings at the level of up-or-down, but only scripture gave the trusted content of the teaching. Once the canon was established, the first function (that of using tradition to distinguish which writings to treat authoritatively from those not to trust) was obsolete.

Not at all, because theological grids (both orthodox and heterodox) profoundly influence biblical exegesis, so that simply reading the Bible does not necessarily bring about true interpretation of it (and has not, historically). You assume that Scripture is self-interpreting. If there is anything that has been proven to be false during the course of the Protestant experiment, it is that.

The original Lutheran teaching was not, really, sola gratia and sola fide, but rather their undifferentiated composite, which we might irreverently call "sola gride". Both parts deny the salvific value of human action, but sola fide denies the value of (disputably meritorious) works (like indulgences and sacraments) while sola gratia denies the value of freely-willed human choices. Before I get accused of dropping the sacraments let me point out that we still practice them, but they are acts compelled by faith, not acts to augment faith.

Thanks for the interesting information, but this discussion is about what the Fathers believed, and whether Lutherans departed from them in these areas.

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

This is neither sola fide nor sola gratia, but it is worth discussion. Is this really a theological novelty, or only a terminological novelty? Is it really a new teaching, or only new pedagogy? I'll defend the latter.

It's a theological novelty and a new teaching, just as McGrath (no Catholic) wrote.

[Footnote 1: Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification. Two volumes. Cambridge University Press, 1986. See Volume I pages 182ff. and Volume II pages 2f. The quotation is from II:]
The Reformers did not deny the reality of infused righteousness. Indeed, they insisted that justifying (passive) righteousness never exists apart from sanctifying (active) righteousness. [2] At the same time, however, they made a 'notional distinction' between justification and sanctification where none had previously existed. [3]

This seems to confirm that the novelty is pedagogical rather than theological, i.e. in how you explain the two aspects of regeneration, the yes-no and the more-less, the event and the process. Luther was big on pedagogy, and specifically innovative in pedagogy. But the underlying theology is orthodox. Or do you disagree?

I think it is heterodox to make an arbitrary (abstract) separation between justification and sanctification, where none existed (either biblically or historically) ; and this was a novelty, as explained above. In "concrete" practice, however, Lutheranism stresses an organic connection between justification and good works; salvation and sanctification. So there is much commonality, as seen in the recent Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue on Justification. It's the radical expression of faith alone that makes all stress on works some sort of Pelagianism, which is wrong. The Lutheran confessions wrongly make this comparison or connection, thus showing that they greatly misunderstood Catholic teaching on this.

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

The Catholic/protestant distinction is sometimes explained as an ontic/epistemic distinction (am I righteous, or am I regarded as righteous by God?). But is there any ontic/epistemic distinction when the mind in question is that of God? Arguably this is nothing more than a new way to explain an old problem, how the justified can still have a wounded nature inclined to evil, why Christ can declare "it is done" on the cross, yet we the redeemed still have more regenerating to do.

If justification and sanctification are not radically separated in Scripture (and they are not), then in some sense, justification is a process, not a one-time event. It's the separation of the two, and the denial of process which was new. What was done on the cross was the opening of redemption and salvation to all men: to all who would repent and receive it. That doesn't mean that a sinning man is "really" righteous. That's just a word game. We believe that righteousness, where present -- to whatever degree present -- is actual and literal, not merely declaratory or extrinsic. We are saved by Grace Alone through Christ Alone, but that doesn't make good evil and evil good just by playing with words. So there is a distinction, I would say, even in the Mind of God. Holiness is a requirement in actuality, not just in the abstract. That's why we believe in purgatory, because few of us reach a level of holiness which makes us fit enough to enter into the presence of God. We don't allow God's grace to bring about that result in us. So the remaining sin has to be purged, as no sin can enter heaven.

Where you see "radical innovations and novelties" I see new pedagogy but old theology.

I don't see how . . . the historians who have studied these things agree that they were innovations and novelties, and that the Fathers didn't teach them. You may be in favor of novelty, here and there, but that doesn't negate the fact that they were novelties (and you have to show why you think novelty is permissible in Christian theology).

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.

Yes and no. The Arians definitely used scripture to their advantage, as did their orthodox opponents. The tradition that this argument gets you doesn't lead to "it is absolutely necessary for every human being to submit to the Roman Pontiff". The kind of traditional understanding of scripture that you are referring to here is not the exclusive property of the pontifical church, and can be pursued just as well outside of communion with Rome. The kind of "tradition" that is controversial is some esoteric special revelation only posessed by Catholic bishops.

At this point of the argument (contra sola Scriptura) I would only be maintaining that some authoritative Church and Tradition is necessary. Identifying the truest or fullest one would be a separate endeavor. As to your last sentence, you would have to give an example. The only bishop we grant special charisms is the pope, and that is not correctly called "special revelation," but rather, infallibility.

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" . . . !

And again, I am not claiming that apostolic succession ceases, only that it becomes obsolete, its purpose fulfilled in the canon.

What's the difference? If it is no longer needed, and no longer applies, it is obsolete. Why not call a spade a spade? The Bible needs to be interpreted. That's why the bald fact of a canon doesn't render null and void apostolic succession or an infallible Church.

To your point about protestant disagreements, what of it? Catholicism has at least as much diversity of scriptural interpretation under its one umbrella as the major original protestant movements have among them.

No; dogmatically it has no such radical disagreement as Protestantism does. Our teachings are clear. We do have renegade liberals who dissent from Church teaching. That's the whole point: they are "dissenting." In order to do that, one must know what it is that they are dissenting against. And that is orthodoxy and the true Church teaching. Protestants, on the other hand, actually degenerate as denominations and become heterodox. They change their teaching. Anglicans today are the most obvious example of this. But the Unitarians 200 years ago would be another.

That sola scriptura is from the fathers is obvious, once you look for it. I'll not flood you with quotes off the internet, but one quote seems worth sharing given the origins of our encounter in your exchanges over Cyril of Jerusalem. Cyril taught that "This seal have thou ever on thy mind; which now by way of summary has been touched on in its heads, and if the Lord grant, shall hereafter be set forth according to our power, with Scripture proofs. For concerning the divine and sacred Mysteries of the Faith, we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures: nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument. Do not then believe me because I tell thee these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures." (The Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril, Lecture 4.17)

It's not at all obvious. This citation proves nothing, because opposing sola Scriptura does not mean opposing Scriptural proofs or use of Scripture in opposing falsehoods. Sola Scriptura is a (new) rule of faith which goes against an authoritative, binding Church. I've debated this at great length with a Protestant apologist (Jason Engwer). He couldn't prove a thing, and departed the discussion after dealing with only 4 of the 10 Fathers I wrote about. So to determine whether St. Cyril (or any other Father) believed in sola Scriptura, or the Catholic three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Church, one has to also look at what he wrote about Tradition and the Church, in order to interpret his statements about Scripture in context, with that fuller understanding of his view on the rule of faith. We might also take a look at this very work of his which you cite (Catechetical Lectures), to find evidence of one view or the other. What do we find there? In the immediately preceding section (4:16), on the same topic (the Holy Spirit), Cyril writes:

Believe thou also in the Holy Ghost, and hold the same opinion concerning Him, which thou hast received to hold concerning the Father and the Son, and follow not those who teach blasphemous things of Him.


In the very next lecture (Five), Cyril exhibits a profoundly Catholic understanding of the "Bible and Tradition" issue (emphasis added):

12. But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to thee by the Church, and which has been
built up strongly out of all the Scriptures.
For since all cannot read the Scriptures, some being hindered as to the knowledge of them by want of learning, and others by a want of leisure, in order that the soul may not perish from ignorance, we comprise the whole doctrine of the Faith in a few lines. This summary I wish you both to commit to memory when I recite it, and to rehearse it with all diligence among yourselves, not writing it out on paper, but engraving it by the memory upon your heart, taking care while you rehearse it that no Catechumen chance to overhear the things which have been delivered to you. I wish you also to keep this as a provision through the whole course of your life, and beside this to receive no other, neither if we ourselves should change and contradict our present teaching, nor if an adverse angel, transformed into an angel of light should wish to lead you astray. For though we or an angel from heaven preach to you any other gospel than that ye have received, let him be to you anathema. So for the present listen while I simply say the Creed, and commit it to memory; but at the proper season expect the confirmation out of Holy Scripture of each part of the contents. For the articles of the Faith were not composed as seemed good to men; but the most important points collected out of all the Scripture make up one complete teaching of the Faith. And just as the mustard seed in one small grain contains many branches, so also this Faith has embraced in few words all the knowledge of godliness in the Old and New Testaments. Take heed then, brethren, and hold fast the traditions which ye now receive, and write them an the table of your heart.

13. Guard them with reverence, lest per chance the enemy despoil any who have grown slack; or lest some heretic pervert any of the truths delivered to you. For faith is like putting money into the bank, even as we have now done; but from you God requires the accounts of the deposit. I charge you, as the Apostle saith, before God, who quickeneth all things, and Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed the good confession, that ye keep this faith which is committed to you, without spot, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.


John Henry Cardinal Newman, in his 1872 preface to this work, makes some very insightful comments about this matter:

Without, however, entering into a question which our Church seems to have determined for us, a few words shall be devoted to the explanation of a verbal difficulty by which it is often perplexed. An objection is made, which, when analyzed, resolves itself into the following form. {xiii} "Either Antiquity does or does not teach something over and above Scripture: if it does, it adds to the inspired word;—if it does not, it is useless.—Does it then or does it not add to Scripture?" And, as if showing that the question is a perplexed one, of various writers who advocate the use of Antiquity, one may be found to speak of the writings of the Fathers as enabling us to ascertain and revive truths which have fallen into desuetude, while another may strenuously maintain, that they impart the knowledge of no new truths over and above what Scripture sets before us. Now, not to touch upon other points suggested by this question, it may be asked by way of explanation, whether the exposition of the true sense of any legal document, any statute or deed, which has been contested, is an addition to it or not? It is in point of words certainly; for if the words were the same, it would be no explanation; but it is no addition to the sense, for it professes to be neither more nor less than the very sense, which is expressed in one set of words in the original document, in another in the comment. In like manner, when our Saviour says, "I and My Father are One," and Antiquity interprets "One" to mean one in substance," this is an addition to the wording, but no addition to the sense. Of many possible means of interpreting a word, it cuts away all but one, or if it recognizes others, it reduces them to harmony and subordination to
that one. Unless the Evangelist wished his readers to be allowed to put any
conceivable sense upon the word, the power of doing so is no privilege; rather
it is a privilege to know that very meaning, which to the exclusion of all others is the true meaning. Catholic Tradition professes to do for Scripture just which is desirable, whether it is possible or not, to relieve us from the chance of taking one or other of the many senses which are wrong or insufficient, instead of the one sense which is true and complete.

But again, every diligent reader of the Bible has a certain {xiv} idea in his own mind of what its teaching is, an idea which he cannot say is gained from this or that particular passage, but which he has gained from it as a whole, and which if he attempted to prove argumentatively, he might perplex himself or fall into inconsistencies, because he has never trained his mind in such logical processes; yet nevertheless he has in matter of fact a view of Scripture doctrine, and that gained from Scripture, and which, if he states it, he does not necessarily state in words of Scripture, and which, whether after all correct or not, is not incorrect merely because he does not express it in Scripture words, or because he cannot tell whence he got it, or logically refer it to, or prove it from, particular passages. One man is a Calvinist, another an Arminian, another a Latitudinarian; not logically merely, but from the impression gained from Scripture. Is the Latitudinarian necessarily adding to Scripture because he maintains the proposition, "religious opinions matter not, so that a man is sincere," a proposition not in terminis in Scripture? Surely he is unscriptural, not because he uses words not in Scripture, but because he thereby expresses ideas which are not expressed in Scripture. In answer then to the question, whether the Catholic system is an addition to Scripture, we reply, in one sense it is, in another it is not. It is not, inasmuch as it is not an addition to the range of independent ideas which Almighty God intended should be expressed and conveyed on the whole by the inspired text: it is an addition, inasmuch as it is in addition to their arrangement, and to the words containing them,—inasmuch as it stands as a conclusion contrasted with its premisses, inasmuch as it does that which every reader of the Scriptures does for himself, express and convey the ideas more explicitly and determinately than he finds them, and inasmuch as there may be difficulty in duly referring every part of the explicit doctrine to the various parts of Scripture which contain it. {xv}

Nothing here is intended beyond setting right an ambiguity of speech which both perplexes persons, and leads them to think that they differ from others, from whom they do not differ. No member of the English Church ever thought that the Church's creed was an addition to Scripture in any other sense than that in which an individual's own impression concerning the sense of Scripture is an addition to it; or ever referred to a supposed deposit of faith distinct from Scripture existing in the writings of the Fathers, in any other sense than in that in which asking a friend's opinion about the sense of Scripture, might be called imputing to him unscriptural opinions. The question of words then may easily be cleared up, though it often becomes a difficulty; the real subject in dispute, which is not here to be discussed, being this, how this one true sense of Scripture is to be learned, whether by philological criticism upon definite texts,—or by a promised superintendence of the Holy Ghost teaching the mind the true doctrines from Scripture, (whether by a general impression upon the mind, or by leading it, text by text piecemeal into doctrine by doctrine;)—or, on the other hand, by a blessing of the Spirit upon studying it in the right way, that is, in the way actually provided, in other words, according to the Church's interpretations. In all cases the text of Scripture and an exposition of it are supposed; in the one the exposition comes first and is brought to Scripture, in the other it is brought out after examination into Scripture; but you cannot help assigning some exposition or other, if you value the Bible at all. Those alone will be content to ascribe no sense to Scripture, who think it matters not whether it has any sense or not. As to the case of a difference eventually occurring in any instance of importance, between what an individual considers to be the sense of Scripture and that which he finds Antiquity to put upon it, the previous question must be asked, whether such difference is likely to arise. It will not arise in the case of the majority, nor in the case of serious, sensible, and humble minds; {xvi} and where men are not such, it will be but one out of many difficulties. A person however, thus circumstanced, whether from his own fault or not, is in a difficulty; difficulties are often our lot, and we must bear them, as we think God would have us. We can cut the knot by throwing off the authority of the Fathers; and we can remain under the burden of the difficulty by allowing that authority; but, however we act, we have no licence to please our taste or humour, but we act under a responsibility.
It's interesting also that you claim that the completion of the biblical canon makes sola Scriptura the new norm and rule of faith, then cite Cyril of Jerusalem as a supposed proponent of this view. Yet his canon is different than yours. He did not include Revelation, and includes Baruch. This information comes from the same work (4:35-36).

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.

Sounds good to me. I particularly like the "found in toto in written form in the canonical books".

Then we have little disagreement here, except that you seem to define sola Scriptura differently than I do. The Lutheran system threw out the infallibility of the Church. This is unarguable. and it was one of my four original points.

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.

Yes. So, for instance, we must not be bibliolatrous hermits, locking ourselves away from the community of believers, with only our scriptures to engage us. We must hear the Word preached, have it explained, apply it to our lives and to those of our bretheren, and have them apply it to ours. We are expected to do all of this as Lutherans. Yet none of this violates "sola scriptura", none of this elevates popes or councils to the level of scripture.

Again, you mischaracterize the Catholic rule of faith (a very common failing of Protestants, but still irksome). Authoritative interpretation of infallible, inspired Scripture is not the same as being inspired (or, in short, infallibility is not inspiration). Why that is, was explained above by Cardinal Newman.

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 . . .

Yes, unless you mean only in your church. The invisible church will, in the fullness of time, reveal itself to be in many unexpected places.

There is only one Church, both biblically speaking, and historically speaking (before Protestantism came onto the scene). This was how the Fathers spoke; this was how the Apostle Paul wrote, and so we accept it. Your "invisible church" does not take the place of the historical, institutional Church. This is yet another radical ecclesiological novelty from Luther.

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

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

Yes. But whereas we mustn't retroject 16th century controversies onto discussions of the 2nd century, it is reasonable to project 2nd century controversies (such as over which writings are authoritative) onto discussions of the 16th century.

I agree.

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

These are, of course, the very same territories which were overwhelmingly Arian.

. . . which goes to prove that one cannot safely survive with only Scripture or only Tradition, or without the Church. All theree are necessary for the firm maintenance of orthodoxy and the apostolic deposit.

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

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

Maybe, maybe not. I've certainly always been taught (in my Lutheran congregations) the hazards of individual interpretation, of substituting personal scholarship for interactive, communal, and applied interpretation within the living church. But in any case, "sola scriptura" is not about how you interpret scripture; to assert that one method (based on tradition) is better than another (unspecified) does not contradict the proposition that it is scripture, rather than, e.g., councils or popes, that is authoritative. By moving from authority to interpretation you have left the topic of "sola scriptura".

I think the information I have provided above adequately deals with these concerns.

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

You asked me at one point for a quote from one of the original Lutheran theologians to affirm that "use of the fathers was only a polemical tactic in discussion with Catholics". You ask too much; I doubt that any discussion of polemic tactics of any kind can be found in their writings, or that of their adversaries for that matter.

Then you have admitted that you made a claim without the substantiation to back it up.

I would briefly offer, instead, two points of evidence that conformance to the teaching of the fathers is not part of Lutheran self-understanding (contrary to your explicit claim).

The first evidence is the catechisms. While the confessions are addressed to the world, but especially to Catholicism, the catechisms are addressed to Lutherans. I pointed out before that they are very different from the confessions in not quoting or citing the fathers. The contrast with the confessions (and, for that matter, with the Catholic catechism) in this respect is quite strong. Even where you would expect some reference to those patristic authors/traditions which don't divide Lutherans and Catholics, there is nothing. The hounds of Baskerville are silent. Check out, for example, the elliptical treatment of the authorship of the Apostle's Creed in LC:Preface:19 and LC:II:5, or the father's analyses of oaths in LC:I:65. When Luther doesn't pass over the fathers in silence he deliberately writes in circles to avoid introducing them.

That's easily answered: catechisms by nature are simple, declaratory treatments of what a Christian communion believes, for instruction of the faithful. They are neither theological treatises nor apologetical tracts. So the absence of the Fathers here shouldn't surprise anyone. Rather, it is highly noteworthy that the Fathers are all over the Lutheran confessions. You say that was just a polemical nod to the concerns of Catholics, but when asked to prove that claim, you can't give me anything.

The second evidence is my personal testimony. My Lutheran self-understanding, formed in three very different Lutheran bodies, never involved going back to patristic Christianity. This was never taught in confirmation classes, sunday/wednesday school, or sermons. On the contrary, delving too deeply into these issues (which comes too naturally for me) has always been politely discouraged, as leading to scholarly individualism and loss of focus on the congregation, fellowship, witness, ministry, and reality of Christ in our lives today. Not that studying the fathers was a bad thing per se, only that it was correlated with unhealthy obsession over esoterica.

This is irrelevant to the discussion also, since I never denied that modern-day Lutheranism-in-practice was woefully deficient in historical teaching and patristics. I am discussing confessional, historical, original Lutheranism. One can only go by the creedal statements of those whom one opposes in something or other. And when I look at the Lutheran creeds and confessions, the Fathers are mentioned quite often, and "claimed" as proto-Lutherans, not proto-Catholics. When these claims as to historical fact are examined and given proper scrutiny, they collapse.

Hence, we can only conclude that Catholicism is far closer in theology to the early Church and the Fathers than Lutheranism is (precisely my original claim which I have been defending).

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)