Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Refutation of the Fallacies & Circular Reasoning of James White Regarding "Moses' Seat," Authentic Tradition, & Sola Scriptura

The first section of this paper is from my book, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants (Sophia Institute Press, Spring 2004) and is a reply to White's arguments in his book, The Roman Catholic Controversy (Bethany House, 1996). The second section answers the relevant portion of White's Internet article, "A Response to David Palm's Article on Oral Tradition from This Rock Magazine, May, 1995", and also offers a critique of several erroneous statements and arguments of James White from the book above and another devoted to "biblical authority": Answers to Catholic Claims (Crowne Publications, 1990). Mr. White's words will be in blue.

* * * * *

Matthew 23:1-3 (RSV): Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; 3 so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice."
Reformed Baptist apologist and expert on sola Scriptura, James White, offered a two-page response to the Catholic apologetic use of Matthew 23:1-3 and Moses' seat. I shall quote the heart of his subtle but thoroughly fallacious argument:
Some Roman Catholics present this passage as proof that a source of extrabiblical authority received the blessing of the Lord Jesus. It has been alleged that the concept of "Moses' seat" is in fact a refutation of sola scriptura, for not only is this concept not found in the Old Testament, but Jesus seemingly gives His approbation to this extrascriptural tradition . . .

The "Moses’ seat" refers to a seat in the front of the synagogue on which the teacher of the Law sat while reading from the Scriptures. Synagogue worship, of course, came into being long after Moses' day, so those who attempt to make this an oral tradition going back to Moses are engaging in wishful thinking.

(The Roman Catholic Controversy, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996, 100)

White agrees that the notion is not found in the Old Testament but maintains that it cannot be traced back to Moses. That probably is correct, yet the Catholic argument here does not rest on whether it literally can be traced historically to Moses, but on the fact that it is not found in the Old Testament. Thus, White - from the outset - concedes a fundamental point of the Catholic argument concerning authority and sola Scriptura.

White then cites Bible scholar Robert Gundry in agreement, to the effect that Jesus was binding Christians to the Pharisaical law, but not "their interpretative traditions." This passage concerned only "the law itself" with the "antinomians" in mind. How Gundry arrives at such a conclusion remains to be seen. White’s query about the Catholic interpretation, "is this sound exegesis?" can just as easily be applied to Gundry's fine-tuned distinctions which help him avoid any implication of a binding extrabiblical tradition. White continues:

There was nothing in the tradition of having someone read from the Scriptures while sitting on Moses’ seat that was in conflict with the Scriptures . . . It is quite proper to listen and obey the words of the one who reads from the Law or the Prophets, for one is not hearing a man speaking in such a situation, but is listening to the very words of God.

(Ibid., 101)

This is true as far as it goes, but it is essentially a non sequitur and amounts to eisegesis of the passage (which is ironic, because now White plays the role of "a man speaking" and distorting "the very words of God"). Jesus said:
"The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice."
First, it should be noted that nowhere in the actual text is the notion that the Pharisees are only reading the Old Testament Scripture when sitting on Moses' seat. It's an assumption gratuitously smuggled in from a presupposed position of sola Scriptura.

Secondly, White's assumption that Jesus is referring literally to Pharisees sitting on a seat in the synagogue and reading (the Old Testament only) - and that alone - is more forced and woodenly literalistic than the far more plausible interpretation that this was simply a term denoting received authority.

It reminds one of the old silly Protestant tale that the popes speak infallibly and ex cathedra (cathedra is the Greek word for seat in Matthew 23:2) only when sitting in a certain chair in the Vatican (because the phrase means literally, "from the bishop’s chair"; whereas it was a figurative and idiomatic usage).

Jesus says that they sat "on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you." In other words: because they had the authority (based on the position of occupying Moses' seat), therefore they were to be obeyed. It is like referring to a "chairman" of a company or committee. He occupies the "chair," therefore he has authority. No one thinks he has the authority only when he sits in a certain chair reading the corporation charter or the Constitution or some other official document.

Yet this is how White would exclusively interpret Jesus’ words. The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, in its article, "Seat", allows White’s reading as a secondary interpretation, but seems to regard the primary meaning of this term in the manner I have described:

References to seating in the Bible are almost all to such as a representation of honor and authority . . .

According to Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees occupy "Moses' seat" (Matt. 23:2), having the authority and ability to interpret the law of Moses correctly; here "seat" is both a metaphor for judicial authority and also a reference to a literal stone seat in the front of many synagogues that would be occupied by an authoritative teacher of the law.

(Allen C. Myers, editor, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987; English revision of Bijbelse Encyclopedie, edited by W.H. Gispen, Kampen, Netherlands: J.H. Kok, revised edition, 1975; translated by Raymond C. Togtman and Ralph W. Vunderink; 919-920)

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (article, "Seat") takes the same position, commenting specifically on our verse:
It is used also of the exalted position occupied by men of marked rank or influence, either in good or evil (Mt 23:2; Ps 1:1).

(James Orr, editor, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., five volumes, 1956; IV, 2710)

White makes no mention of these considerations, but it is difficult to believe that he is not aware of them (since he is a Bible scholar well-acquainted with the nuances of biblical meanings). They don’t fit in very well with the case he is trying to make, so he omits them. But the reader is thereby left with an incomplete picture.

Thirdly, because they had the authority and no indication is given that Jesus thought they had it only when simply reading Scripture, it would follow that Christians were, therefore, bound to elements of Pharisaical teaching that were not only non-scriptural, but based on oral tradition, for this is what Pharisees believed. They fully accepted the binding authority of oral tradition (the Sadducees were the ones who were the Jewish sola scripturists and liberals of the time). The New Bible Dictionary describes their beliefs in this respect, in its article, "Pharisees":

. . . the Torah was not merely 'law' but also 'instruction', i.e., it consisted not merely of fixed commandments but was adaptable to changing conditions . . . This adaptation or inference was the task of those who had made a special study of the Torah, and a majority decision was binding on all . . .

The commandments were further applied by analogy to situations not directly covered by the Torah. All these developments together with thirty-one customs of ‘immemorial usage’ formed the 'oral law' . . . the full development of which is later than the New Testament. Being convinced that they had the right interpretation of the Torah, they claimed that these 'traditions of the elders' (Mk 7:3) came from Moses on Sinai.

(J.D. Douglas, editor, The New Bible Dictionary, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1962; 981-982)

Likewise, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church notes in its article on the Pharisees:
Unlike the Sadducees, who tried to apply Mosaic Law precisely as it was given, the Pharisees allowed some interpretation of it to make it more applicable to different situations, and they regarded these oral interpretations as of the same level of importance as the Law itself.

(F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, editors, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 1983; 1077)

Fourthly, it was precisely the extrabiblical (especially apocalyptic) elements of Pharisaical Judaism that New Testament Christianity adopted and developed for its own: doctrines such as: resurrection, the soul, the afterlife, eternal reward or damnation, and angelology and demonology (all of which the Sadducees rejected). The Old Testament had relatively little to say about these things, and what it did assert was in a primitive, kernel form. But the postbiblical literature of the Jews (led by the mainstream Pharisaical tradition) had plenty to say about them. Therefore, this was another instance of Christianity utilizing non-biblical literature and traditions in its own doctrinal development.

Fifth, Paul shows the high priest, Ananias, respect, even when the latter had him struck on the mouth, and was not dealing with matters strictly of the Old Testament and the Law, but with the question of whether Paul was teaching wrongly and should be stopped (Acts 23:1-5). A few verses later Paul states, "I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees" (23:6) and it is noted that the Pharisees and Sadducees in the assembly were divided and that the Sadducees "say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all" (23:7-8). Some Pharisees defended Paul (23:9).

Next, White mentions (presumably as a parallel to the Pharisees and Moses' seat) Nehemiah 8: a passage I dealt with previously:

Indeed, when Ezra read the Law to the people in Nehemiah, chapter 8, the people listened attentively and cried "Amen! Amen!" at the hearing of God’s Word.

(White, ibid., 101)

He conveniently neglects to mention, however, that Ezra’s Levite assistants, as recorded in the next two verses after the evangelical-sounding "Amens," "helped the people to understand the law" (8:7) and "gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading" (8:8).

So this supposedly analogous example (that is, if presented in its entirety; not selectively for polemical purposes) does not support Dr. White's and Dr. Gundry's position that the authority of the Pharisees applied only insofar as they sat and read the Old Testament to the people (functioning as a sort of ancient collective Alexander Scourby, reading the Bible onto a casssette tape for mass consumption), not when they also interpreted (which was part and parcel of the Pharisaical outlook and approach).

One doesn't find in the Old Testament individual Hebrews questioning teaching authority. Sola Scriptura simply is not there. No matter how hard White and other Protestants try to read it into the Old Testament, it cannot be done. Nor can it be read into the New Testament, once all the facts are in. White, however, writes:

And who can forget the result of Josiah’s discovery of the Book of the Covenant in 2 Chronicles 34?

(Ibid., 101)

Indeed, this was a momentous occasion (White probably thinks it is similar in substance and import to the myth and legend of Martin Luther supposedly "rescuing" or "initiating" the Bible in the vernacular, when in fact there had been fourteen German editions of the Bible in the 70 years preceding his own).

But if the implication is that the Law was self-evident simply upon being read, per sola Scriptura, this is untrue to the Old Testament, for, again, we are informed in the same book that priests and Levites "taught in Judah, having the book of the law of the LORD with them; they went about through all the cities of Judah and taught among the people" (2 Chron 17:9), and that the Levites "taught all Israel" (2 Chron 35:3). They didn't just read, they taught, and that involved interpretation. And the people had no right of private judgment, to dissent from what was taught.

White and all Protestants believe that any individual Christian has the right and duty to rebuke their pastors if what they are teaching is "unbiblical" (that is, according to the lone individual). This is an elegant, quaint theory indeed, on paper, but it doesn't quite work the same way in practice. I know this from my own experience as a former Protestant, for when I rebuked my Assemblies of God pastor in a private letter (because he had preached from the pulpit, "keep your pastors honest"), I was publicly renounced and rebuked from the pulpit (in a most paranoid, alarmist manner) as a theologically-inexperienced rabble-rouser trying to cause division.

White's arguments in his Internet treatment of this passage fare scarcely any better under close scrutiny than his weak and fallacious reasoning in his book, and further demonstrate the persistently inconsistent and incoherent nature of his apologetics (when he is opposing Catholicism).

. . . the term itself is not common in Jewish writings. It most likely refers to a seat in the synagogue from which the law (i.e., the writings of Moses and the prophets) was read. Obviously, since synagogue worship did not exist prior to the Exile, the term "ancient Israel" here needs to be limited to the intertestamental period.

("A Response to David Palm's Article on Oral Tradition from This Rock Magazine, May, 1995")

- Citations below will be from this article unless and until otherwise noted -

White doesn't acknowledge the metaphorical use of "seat," which was pointed out in the Protestant reference works cited above. How ancient the practice was is irrelevant to the general and supremely important question (for this debate on authority and sola Scriptura) of whether Jesus granted legitimacy to traditions not recorded in Scripture. If Jesus accepted those in acknowledging the teaching authority of the Pharisees, then this dispute is pretty much over.

Secondly, the authority of "Moses' seat" would have been primarily magisterial, not doctrinal. Lightfoot notes this by saying, "This is to be understood rather of the legislative seat (or chair), than of the merely doctrinal: and Christ here asserts the authority of the magistrate, and persuadeth to obey him in lawful things" (Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, II, 289). Moses acted as judge in Israel, and the priesthood maintained that role in the theocracy.

White does not give us the reasoning that Lightfoot uses to come to this conclusion. I don't see anything in the text itself that limits it to legislative or judicial functions. Lightfoot, it should be noted, however, does not take an absolute position that no doctrine is involved, as shown by his phrase "merely doctrinal." Thus, White can only argue the weaker position that their function was "primarily magisterial."

This concession is the proverbial "hole in the dam," because if they possess any doctrinal authority at all, by the sanction of our Lord Jesus Himself, then sola Scriptura is in dire straits indeed, for that would be a position quite analogous (though not perfectly so) to that of the Catholic Church: the authoritative interpreter of Christian doctrine and Guardian of Apostolic Tradition. Furthermore, Moses certainly gave and authoritatively interpreted doctrine, as did the priesthood in Israel (see, e.g., Nehemiah 8:7-8, above). It is a bit strange to argue that those occupying a position described as "Moses' seat" would not have this teaching authority.

Mr. Palm notes that we do not find this office in the Old Testament. This is true, as far as the specific name goes.

So much for Jesus only citing the Old Testament as authoritative . . . Dr. White may not have this opinion, but many Protestant do.

It is then asserted that Jesus' refusal to overthrow the form of synagogue worship and teaching is tantamount to a recognition of extra-biblical binding revelation. The close observer will note a huge chasm here.

I don't think it is necessary to offer this argument in such strong terms. Binding interpretation of a revelation is not the same as a new revelation. What the passage clearly demonstrates, I think, is that there is authoritative tradition outside of the Bible, and even outside of the apostles, who were alive at the time this encounter took place, and soon to appear on the scene with great zeal, after Jesus' Resurrection. Jesus could easily have said that the Pharisees' authority was to shortly be superseded by the apostles but He did not, and even Paul called himself a Pharisee and recognized the authority of the high priest.

The religious situation into which the Messiah came was hardly identical with the situation under Moses.

This is a non sequitur. The force of this particular argument does not rest upon whether "Moses' Seat" literally goes back to Moses. Rather, the salient point is whether it was a binding authority not based on solely the letter of the Old Testament. If so, sola Scriptura is in deep trouble.

Many things were different, and due to occupation, Roman rule, and many other factors, there were all sorts of things that were "extra-biblical" that were part and parcel of the Jewish life of the day. Are we to honestly believe that unless the Lord Jesus proved a revolutionary in rejecting every non-biblical tradition and practice that this gives us wholesale license for the addition of such traditions today?

Yes, but they are not "additions"; they were there from the beginning (in the Catholic view), and merely developed. The fact remains that Jesus accepted this particular "non-biblical tradition and practice". James White knows it, so he is playing the game of trying to minimize and de-emphasize this acceptance. It's a futile effort, and in so doing, he is already conceding four-fifths of the case (and trying to make out that he has not). Besides, Jesus was certainly a "radical" and a nonconformist through and through. Does White really think that He would have refrained from dissenting against any state of affairs or set of beliefs that He did not agree with?

I see little reason to believe that He would do so, from the record we have. But White would have us believe that our Lord Jesus let a few of these "non-biblical tradition[s] and practice[s]" slip through the cracks, so to speak (even with regard to a class of people whom He vigorously condemns for hypocrisy on several occasions). This makes no sense at all, and it is special pleading.

Or should we not realize that in light of Jesus words in Matthew 15 that such traditions need to be tested by a higher authority (Scripture), and, if they do not violate the Word of God, they can be followed and practiced?

St. Paul said far worse of the Galatians than Jesus said of the Pharisees in Matthew 15 and elsewhere, yet he continued to regard them as brothers in Christ and as a "church" (for this example and many other similar ones, see my paper: "Sins and Sinners in the Catholic Church"). Why is it so unthinkable for Jesus to do the same with the Pharisees? In John 11:49-52, the Apostle John tells us that Caiaphas, the high priest "prophesied" and spoke truth (an act which can only be inspired by the Holy Spirit). Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were righteous Pharisees. Jesus was even buried in the latter's tomb.

As for the traditions needing to be harmonious with Scripture; of course, no one denies that. But the question at hand is whether there can be a legitimate tradition not found (i.e., not described or written about) in Scripture itself. Something can be absent in Scripture but nevertheless in perfect harmony with it.

There was nothing against the Scriptures in having a man read the Scriptures from Moses' seat, or to give judgments based upon the Law. Why then reject such a tradition?

White assumes what he is trying to prove: Jesus had to be upholding sola Scriptura; therefore, the Pharisees possession of the office of "Moses' Seat" means only that they sat and read the Scripture from this seat in the synagogue. This is preposterous and can only be asserted (with the hope that people will accept it without questioning its nonexistent basis). The priests and the later rabbis interpreted the Law and the Scripture. The Pharisees also believed in an oral tradition received by Moses on Mt. Sinai when he received the Ten Commandments and the Law. Pharisees were the "mainstream Jewish tradition" at that time. The Sadducees were the "liberals" who rejected the resurrection and other things that all Christians believe. And they were the ones who accepted sola Scriptura, since they rejected the oral tradition.

The acceptance of a tradition that is not contrary to Scripture is not grounds for the acceptance of others that are.

Catholics wholeheartedly agree; this is why we reject sola Scriptura and other Protestant novel doctrines which are not found in Holy Scripture.

And what is more, the acceptance of a tradition current at the time does not mean that the Lord Jesus accepted the claims made by the Mishnah two hundred years later regarding the alleged basis of such traditions (i.e., those claims regarding Mosaic origin).

Regarding the Mishnaic tractate Aboth, it does indeed make the claim that Mr. Palm notes. However, are we to gather from Mr. Palm's citation that he believes this claim? It is hard to believe that he actually does - in fact, unless Mr. Palm has undergone a recent conversion to Judaism, I can't possibly see how he could do so. Let's note a few things:

1) The tractate indicates that the Torah was passed down to such individuals as Shammai and Hillel, yet, as students of NT backgrounds know, these two set up opposing schools with different understandings of tradition (should sound familiar!). Who was, in fact, the true recipient of this alleged oral tradition, then?
I find this an extremely interesting argument, given the multiplicity of Protestant schools of thought, which endlessly conflict and contradict (thus making the existence of much falsehood and error in Protestant ranks logically certain and inevitable). White contends that because there were two schools of interpretation in later Judaism, therefore, the very notion of oral tradition itself is somehow suspect and must be discarded. Why, then, is he not similarly troubled and perplexed about the state of affairs in Protestantism? He firmly believes that there is one Christian truth, and that it is so clear in Scripture, but Protestants are unable to find it. And if one group has found it, how does the man on the street determine which group has done so?

Does this sad state of affairs make him skeptical of the inspired revelation of Scripture? Of course not. He believes it despite the multitude of competing interpretations and schools of thought. So why is it so inconceivable that there could also be such a thing as a true tradition, even though all do not hold it or acknowledge it? This is one of the many double standards inherent in White's contra-Catholic polemics. He doesn't apply the same standard to his own Protestant beliefs that he applies to Catholics.

In 1996, when I was a member of James White's "sola Scriptura Internet list," he and I had a discussion about what I described as the "perspicuous apostolic message," which had to do with this aspect of the Bible message and Christian truth being so "clear," yet Protestants not being able to agree on it. He argued that this isn't a problem at all, because it is easily explained by the fact that "men are sinners," etc. I dealt with this desperate evasion in my paper: The Perspicuity (Clearness) of Scripture. So in his book, The Roman Catholic Controversy, White states on page 91:

The Bible is absolutely clear in the sense that the Westminster Confession states:
"Those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them."
Does it follow, then, that there must be a unanimity of opinion on infant baptism? Does the above statement of the Confession even say that there will be a unanimity of opinion on the items that "are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation"? No, it does not. And why not? Because people - sinful people, people with agendas, people who want to find something in the Bible that isn't really there - approach Scripture, and no matter how perfect it is, people are fallible.
One could have a field day with all the fallacies and errors in this facile analysis. I've noted many times in my apologetics that the "sin argument" concerning Protestant diversity of opinion is absurdly simplistic and remarkably judgmental, and casts doubt on major Protestant figures who couldn't agree. Luther disagreed with Calvin on whether baptism regenerates and on the Real Presence in the Eucharist, so who was right? Well, for White, Calvin was, because he agrees with him over against Luther.

But why did Luther get these "obvious" biblical teachings wrong? Well, again, according to White's suspicious and cynical mindset, that is because he must have been a "sinful" person with an "agenda" that fatally clouded his approach to Scripture, and made him see things in it which weren't "really there." Trouble is, White has to also dissent from Calvin and side with the Anabaptists concerning adult baptism, so Calvin's sin kept him from seeing that clear truth of Scripture, and so on and so forth.

The whole thing reduces to absurdity and belittles great figures in Protestant history in a way that even Catholics do not have to do. We can simply regard each of these men as holding some false beliefs in all sincerity, and different interpretive traditions and ways of approaching Scripture and the Christian life. We believe they were mistaken in many things, of course, but we don't have to run them down as unable to see the "clear" truths of Scripture due to some blindness in their character or thinking. Only the sort of Protestant view that White holds entails that sort of judgmentalism.

Secondly, regarding the Westminster Confession and its statement, "Those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded," for many Christians, including Luther and Lutherans, traditional Anglicans, and Methodists, and even later Protestant schools of thought such as the Churches of Christ, one of the things which is necessary for salvation is baptism. Therefore, it would be clearly taught in Scripture (per the Westminster Confession). And so all these groups, and Catholics and Orthodox, believe it indeed is clearly taught in the Bible. But Protestants cannot agree on the correct teaching, and are split into five major camps. There is a reason why most Christians throughout history have accepted baptismal regeneration. It is clearly taught in Scripture!:

Acts 2:38: And Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (RSV)

Acts 22:16: And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.

Titus 3:5: he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit,

1 Peter 3:19-21: in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

(for many more exegetical arguments, see my paper, Dialogue on the Biblical Evidence for Infant Baptism and Baptismal Regeneration)

According to James White, the people who see baptismal regeneration in these passages, are "sinful people, people with agendas, people who want to find something in the Bible that isn't really there." And presumably many of those Protestants who reject adult baptism or non-regenerative baptism think the same of White, since they accept the same principle of perspicuity of Scripture that he accepts. They must explain somehow why Protestants can't agree on such an important doctrine, given this "clearness" of Scripture. So they accuse others of blinding sinfulness, or they claim that baptism is merely a "secondary issue," upon which men can disagree, and that's fine and dandy, or else they start to question perspicuity itself. On page 92 of the same book, White writes:
Are we to believe that the Bible is so unclear and self-contradictory that we cannot arrive at the truth through an honest, whole-hearted effort at examining its evidence? It seems that is what Rome is telling us. But because the Scriptures can be misused, it does not follow that they are insufficient to lead us to the truth . . . The reason that Rome tells us the Bible is insufficient, I believe, is so we will be convinced of Rome's ultimate authority and abandon the God-given standard of Scripture.
I don't have to believe this as a Catholic. I think Scripture is pretty clear (I've always found it to be so in my many biblical studies), but I also know from simple observation and knowledge of Church history that it isn't clear enough to bring men to agreement. White says that is because of sin and stupidity. Certainly those things are always potential factors. But I say the rampant disagreement is primarily because of a false rule of faith: sola Scriptura, which excludes the binding authority of tradition and the Church, which entities produce the doctrinal unity that sola Scriptura has never, and can never produce. So "Rome" doesn't "tell us" what White thinks it tells us. What Catholics teach is that central authority and tradition is necessary for doctrinal unity; whether Scripture is "clear" or unclear. And we think Scripture itself teaches this (which is precisely why we believe it).

White thinks in dichotomous terms (a characteristic and widespread Protestant shortcoming), so for him, to accept binding Church authority is to somehow "abandon the God-given standard of Scripture," as if it were a zero-sum game where Scripture is the air in a glass and the Church is the water added to the glass: the more water ("Church") is added, the less Scripture there can be, so that a full glass of "the Church" leaves no room for the Bible at all as the "standard." Of course, none of this is Catholic teaching, nor does it logically follow from the notion of Church authority. It's a false dilemma and false dichotomy. But a certain Protestant mindset and mentality cannot grasp this. Thus, White states in another book:

One will either subjugate tradition to Scripture (as the Reformers taught) or one will subjugate Scripture to tradition, and this is what we see in Roman Catholicism. The Pharisees, too, denied that they were in any way denigrating the authority of Scripture by their adherence to the "traditions of their fathers." But Jesus did not accept their claim. He knew better. He pointed out how their traditions destroyed the very purpose of God's law, allowing them to circumvent the clear teaching of the Word through the agency of their traditions . . . If Christ was right to condemn the Pharisees for their false traditions, then the traditions of Rome, too, must be condemned.

(Answers to Catholic Claims: A Discussion of Biblical Authority, Southbridge, MA: Crowne Publications, Inc., 1990, 56)

What about the many false traditions in Protestantism? We know for a fact that many many such false traditions exist because there are competing views which contradict each other. That entails (as a matter of logical necessity) that someone is wrong, and dead-wrong. They can't all be right. There can't be five true doctrines of baptism simultaneously. Therefore, false "traditions of men" exist in Protestantism, and would be condemned by Jesus just as vigorously as supposed "false traditions" of Catholicism.

But do we ever hear White railing against those? Of course not. He doesn't write books and articles about Martin Luther's grave errors (from his own point of view) or about those of, say. St. Augustine (even though neither would qualify as a Christian if we adopt White's criteria for same, as I demonstrated beyond all doubt, I think, in my paper: "'Man-Centered' Sacramentalism: The Remarkable Incoherence of James White') Instead, he accepts the view (or at least his behavior suggests this) that a lot of Christian doctrine is up for grabs and is "secondary." He winks at the diversity, just as all Protestants must, faced with an opponent like the Catholic Church, which has at least preserved doctrinal unity (whether one agrees with the content of that unified doctrine or not).

And that gets us back to my experience with White on his sola Scriptura list. White argued that Protestants accepted what the apostles taught, and that this was why they rejected the alleged corrupt innovations and unbiblical additions of "Rome." I asked him what was it, precisely, that the apostles taught, so that I could know where I was in error, operating from the perfectly self-evident background assumption that, in order to have fidelity" to an "apostolic message," one must know what it is and define it. This would constitute some sort of criteria for "orthodoxy" in Protestant ranks.

White hemmed and hawed and never offered an answer to this very simple question, based on his own claims. To my mind, this proved that he had no basis for his claim in the first place; no content to speak of. It just sounded nice, and duly impressive. This is the classic characteristic of sophistry. He said justification by faith was one of these (which was fine, except for the extreme difficulty of finding Church Fathers who differed from the Catholic position), and the deity of Christ (which was beside the point, since all Nicene Christians accept that). Then he challenged me, asking whether the Bible was too unclear to resolve 18 questions concerning which I asked him to tell me what the apostles believed (18 areas where I knew Protestants could not come to agreement). I replied that it was irrelevant what I thought; I was asking him what in fact the apostles taught, since he was making the claim that Protestants were only following the "perspicuous apostolic authority."

Pressed, White admitted that Protestants disagreed on all 18 of the points I raised, but "so what?" I then asked White if he could tell me what the apostles taught on just five of the 18 issues, and what he meant by "apostolic message." He refused to answer and tried to change the subject to Catholic authority. Then he said that I was aware that my question had been answered (!!). And so on and on we went, round and round. White never answered my simple question, and opted for various evasions, topic-changes, and obfuscation and obscurantism. He knew full well that whatever answer he gave would make many other Protestants non-apostolic and essentially "out of the fold." He knew what I was driving at, which is why, I believe, that he refused to answer. But in any event, the answer from his own stated perspective should have been very easy to give. It was a case study in avoiding proclamations that one can't back up under the least bit of scrutiny and examination.

. . . Next Mr. Palm says that since the Pharisees stood in this alleged line of succession, their teaching deserved to be respected. The problem is, however, that the Lord Jesus often did not respect their teaching. The issue in Matthew 23 was not respect for the teaching of the Pharisees, but respect for the authority of the person who sat in Moses' seat. The two are not necessarily co-extensive, . . .

It's very difficult to argue that Jesus did not refer to their teaching, seeing that He said, "practice and observe whatever they tell you." One has to believe that this "whatever" included no doctrine. To make such an arbitrary distinction between "authority" and "teaching" is ludicrous (especially the more one knows about Jewish teaching methods and the history of Hebrew religion). If Jesus had said, rather: "practice and observe whatever I tell you," or, "practice and observe whatever the apostles tell you," White wouldn't have the slightest doubt about what was meant. He wouldn't play around, eisegete the text, and try to limit the scope and extent of the authority.

and what is more, there is nothing in the passage that even begins to suggest that the Lord Jesus is making reference to the entire idea of extra-biblical tradition, authority, etc.

No? This is plainly false, by the following straightforward logic:

1. Jesus said of the Pharisees, "practice and observe whatever they tell you."
2. But Pharisees believed in an authoritative oral tradition, which included some content not included in the Bible (but not necessarily contrary to biblical teaching).
3. Therefore, Jesus was giving sanction to the teaching authority of oral "extra-biblical" tradition.
He is saying to obey the authorities in the synagogue service.

No He isn't; he is saying, "practice and observe whatever they tell you." That is not limited to the synagogue, much as White might wish it to be so, for his own purposes.

To read into this the acceptance of an entire concept of oral revelation passed down through some "magisterium" is to be WAY beyond what is written.

It doesn't have to be "oral revelation"; only authoritative oral teaching that goes beyond the letter of Scripture. That is enough to be blatantly contrary to sola Scriptura.

Mr. Palm then says, "Jesus here draws on oral Tradition to uphold the legitimacy of this teaching office in Israel." This is simply untrue. There is nothing in the passage that even makes reference to "oral Tradition."

"Moses' Seat" was such a tradition, which was not in the Bible. The very term comes from oral tradition. The words "oral tradition" don't have to be there; the content is. This is a remarkably silly statement from a man as educated as White. Even he agrees that the notion of "Moses' Seat" is not found in the Old Testament, and that it comes from Jewish tradition.

This can only be identified as wishful thinking, based upon an anachronistic insertion of later developments back into the text.

If you have no case, grotesquely exaggerate the flaws in the opponent's position (or manufacture some) and hope that your readers (or jurors, as the case may be) will be fooled . . .

. . . Mr. Palm's attempt to use the chair of Moses suffers from the same problem as his first attempt: it assumes what it seeks to prove. It is circular, and does not provide anywhere near sufficient basis for its conclusions.

That is far more true of White's reply, as I think has been abundantly shown by now. Elsewhere in the article, White wrote:

It must be remembered that Jewish writers (including Matthew) felt much freer to engage in conflation and paraphrastic citation than we in our modern Western world . . . And why should we believe that Mr. Palm's leap into the undocumentable realm of "oral tradition" is any more solid than any of the suggestions that have been given for a Scriptural source?

If anything could be drawn at all from the phrase h'rethen dia twn prophetwn, it would be that this is indeed a conflated citation, drawn from the plurality of the prophets rather than from a single prophet.

This shows that White's peconceived notion is that whatever is cited in some authoritative manner in the New Testament will somehow be shown to be from the Old Testament, even if this entails citing several passages together as one. Thus he writes in one of his books:

Did Jesus give place to the Jewish leaders' claim that they were the true inheritors of the traditions of Moses? Did He for a second acquiesce to their claim of "interpretive authority"? Surely not. He held those who claimed to "sit in the seat of Moses" accountable to the words of Scripture, despite their claim to be in sole possession of the "correct interpretation." . . . Jesus did not participate in their "veneration" of "tradition."

. . . just as He rebuked the elders of the people of Israel for making the word of God null and void through their supposedly authoritative traditions, He would say the same thing today to the Roman Catholic people . . . For Him, the Word was final, it was not lacking in anything.

(Answers . . ., 30-32)

But that assumption is strictly arbitrary, of course. White admits that the New Testamwnt writers drew from many sources (he could hardly deny this even if he wanted to), but of course he has to deny that any were authoritative. With Matthew 23:1-3 it is different because Jesus is sanctioning Pharisaical authority in a blanket sense. In so doing, He necessarily is giving legitimacy to oral tradition, for this is what the Pharisees believed.

What is more, Mr. Palm slips into the common misrepresentation of sola scriptura that fills Roman Catholic apologetics works: the idea that sola scriptura, if it is true, must be normative during times of revelation.

Why would it not be? On what basis? The Bible says no more about this concept (exactly nothing) than it does about sola Scriptura itself. A false, novel principle is introduced with no biblical substantiation, then it is made the formal rule of faith of Protestantism, then it is argued that things were different during Bible times than they were now, with regard to the demands and nature of sola Scriptura. I just don't see any indication of that in Scripture.

If White does claim such scriptural support exists, he should, by all means, produce this biblical evidence. We all wait with baited breath. If he cannot do so, why does he believe this? He would have to do so on "extra-biblical" grounds, and to do that is to concede virtually his entire position, as any number of distinctive Catholic doctrines could be defended as also not explicitly biblical. But I maintain that there is no biblical proofs whatsoever for what White is contending (sola Scriptura and the idea that it only really starts applying after the Bible is complete). It's completely arbitrary, and yet another instance of begging the question and assuming what one is purporting to prove.

Sola scriptura refers to the functioning church, not to the church being founded and receiving revelation on a regular basis from living apostles.

I ask again, where is the support for this idea in Scripture itself?

There are no living apostles today, and revelation has ceased (even Rome agrees on this point). The issue now is, what is the infallible rule of faith? Does the Bible teach that that which is theopneustos ("God-breathed") is sufficient to function as the regula fidei? Yes, it does. That is the issue.

But where??!! The Bible is sufficient for salvation and teaching, but it does not follow from those truths, that the Church and Tradition are not binding and authoritative. Sola Scriptura is not so much false in what it asserts but in what it fails to assert, and what it positively excludes, contrary to Scripture.

In his book, Answers to Catholic Claims: A Discussion of Biblical Authority, White goes to even further extremes by coming to his conclusions for little reason other than his preconceived notions (more circular argumentation). Thus, he argues:

But what of 2 Timothy 2:2? Does this not indicate the existence of an oral teaching that could be passed down separately from the written record? . . .

. . . are we to believe that what Paul taught in the presence of many witnesses is different than what is contained in the pages of the New Testament? . . . Why should we limit what Timothy is to pass on to only those things that are not contained in the Bible, but instead make up some "traditions" that were to be entrusted to a particular class of individuals - those holding the "apostolic succession"? There is nothing to suggest that there was the slightest difference between what Paul had taught publicly and what he had written . . . Are we also to assume that there is more in the "oral teaching" than we have in the New Testament? Why? On what basis?

(Answers, 59-60)

In this case, White has answered his own question in his later book, The Roman Catholic Controversy:
1. First and foremost, sola scriptura is not a claim that the Bible contains all knowledge . . . Those who point out that there are truths outside the Bible are not objecting to sola scriptura.

2. Sola scriptura is not a claim that the Bible is an exhaustive catalog of all religious knowledge. When John commented on the wide range of the Lord Jesus' ministry, he wrote:

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written (John 21:25)

(pages 56-57)

Sola scriptura does not entail the rejection of every kind or form of "tradition." There are some traditions that are God-honoring and useful in the Church. Sola scriptura simply means that any tradition, no matter how ancient or venerable it might seem to us, must be tested by a higher authority, and that authority is the Bible.

(page 59)

White asks (above): "Why should we limit what Timothy is to pass on to only those things that are not contained in the Bible?" Indeed, why should we? Since the Catholic Church certainly doesn't do this, I wonder why the question was asked? It is a non sequitur. Apparently unaware that these two strains of thought are contradictory, White repeatedly engages in massive question-begging in his earlier book:
But what of Acts 2:42? Does it not say that the early Church, long before the writing of any of the New Testament, was devoted to the apostles' teaching? Yes, it does say that. But again, what does this have to do with the concept of the Bible being the sufficient rule of faith? We are not living in the time of the apostles, are we? New revelation is not being given right now, is it? . . . Then Acts speaks to us of a very unusual time, does it not? There is nothing in the fact that the early believers in Jerusalem devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching that indicates that this teaching to which they devoted themselves is other than what we have in the New Testament! Is there anything that would suggest that what the Apostles taught these early believers was different than what they taught believers later by epistle? Do we not have accounts of the early sermons in the book of Acts that tell us what the Apostles were teaching then? Do we find the Apostles saying "what we tell you now we will pass down only by mouth as a separate mode of revelation known as tradition, and later we will write down some other stuff that will become sacred Scripture"? Certainly not. The fact that the early believers were devoted to the Apostles' teaching should only strengthen our desire to also be devoted to the Apostles' teaching - as it is found in the sacred Scriptures.

(Answers, 40-41)

There is absolutely no indication whatsoever that there is any difference in content between the message preached to the Thessalonians and the one contained in the written epistle. The Roman Catholic Church has no basis in this passage [2 Thessalonians 2:15] at all to assert that the contents of these "traditions" differs [sic] in the slightest from what is contained in the New Testament.

Are we to assume that when Paul proclaimed the Gospel that he said something different than when he wrote his epistles? No, both Peter and Paul mean the same thing when they speak of evangelizing.

(Ibid., 61)

. . . for many Roman Catholic apologists, simply demonstrating that the apostles spoke something is enough to demonstrate that the written word is not sufficient. The underlying assumption is that what was spoken has to contain information that is not in what was written . . . We point out that there is no basis for asserting that the spoken teachings of the apostles differed in any way from the written record they left to us. There is no evidence of a belief in a second "mode" of revelation in the New Testament - no acknowledgment of a revelation outside of that given by the Spirit in the Scriptures.

(Ibid., 62)

White again engages in rhetorical irrelevancy by asking, "Do we find the Apostles saying "what we tell you now we will pass down only by mouth as a separate mode of revelation known as tradition, . . . ?" What this has to do with anything, I have not the slightest idea. But I guess it helps White to bolster his extremely weak case - with holes large enough for a truck to drive through -, to pretend that Catholics believe in sola traditio. Perhaps he can explain this exceedingly strange line of thinking in his reply (in the rare event that he does respond).

The transitional period to which White refers ("We are not living in the time of the apostles, are we? New revelation is not being given right now, is it?", etc.), would actually be far longer than the lifetime of the apostles. It would extend all the way to the end of the 4th century, when the canon of the Bible was fixed (including the so-called "Apocrypha," which was included in Bibles all the way till the advent of Protestantism, when these books were "demoted" and first removed). So sola Scriptura could not be applied in the sense it is today, until almost 400 A.D., when Church authority and Tradition set the limits of the canon. Does this not strike one as an exceptionally odd and weird point of view? The question of the canon itself is an extremely fascinating one and troublesome for sola Scriptura, but that is beyond our purview here.

One must also call attention to the fact that being separate from Scripture does not automatically mean "different from the teaching of Scripture." There need not be any conflict. Catholics believe that Scripture and Tradition are "twin fonts of the one divine wellspring." Sacred Tradition is not so much "different" from Scripture as it is "more." So White sets up a false dilemma. Arguing from the reasonable proposition that it is implausible that oral tradition would be "different" from Scripture, he falsely concludes that, therefore, no oral tradition exists, or if it does, it is irrelevant, and not binding in any way, shape, or form. He overlooks the possibility that oral tradition can supplement the Bible and offer authoritative interpretation of it (because he sees the two as somehow pitted against each other - which itself is a false and unbiblical dichotomy).

But White does more than even this. He practically equates the "tradition" often spoken of in the New Testament with the New Testament itself:

. . . A person with a Bible in his hands has the traditions of which Paul speaks.

(Ibid., 58)

This is clearly absurd, and it is from plain common sense. James White admits that the Bible does not contain all knowledge, or even all religious knowledge, and cited John 21:25 to show this. There are many other such verses (e.g., Lk 24:15-16,25-27, Jn 20:30, Acts 1:2-3). Jesus appeared for forty days after His Resurrection, in addition to all the days and nights He spent with the disciples teaching them. In one night He very well could have spoken more words than are in the entire New Testament. And He was with them for three years. St. Paul spent many years with Christians, and is described frequently as "arguing" or "disputing" with Gentiles and Jews. It is ludicrous and ridiculous to think that either Jesus or Paul were "Scripture machines" and that absolutely everything they taught (i.e., the ideas and doctrines) was later recorded in Scripture, and had to be, lest it be forgotten, and that nothing they taught was not in Scripture.

Consider, for example, just one passage: the account of Jesus' post-Resurrection appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-32). They talked for probably several hours, and the Bible informs us of one wonderfully tantalizing Scripture interpretation session from our Lord Himself (that every Bible student would give his right arm to have heard):

And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)
It is absurd to think that nothing in any of these gatherings was spoken which was not later recorded in Scripture: no idea, no doctrine or explanation of a doctrine or interpretation of various Scriptures (that the disciples and early Christians would have surely asked Jesus and Paul about). It is equally absurd to hold that no one could remember any of this, and that it could not become a Christian Tradition supplementary to and alongside Holy Scripture, and in perfect harmony with it. This would require a notion that all of this teaching was quickly forgotten and lost to posterity, and that only the Bible contained the truths which Christians need. Nothing else carried a similar authority. This scenario is implausible in the extreme; even laughably so. Yet White's empty axiom requires it.

On what basis does White assert these things? How does he know this? What proves it? When all is said and done, it will be seen that his assumption is based on nothing at all. It is an unproven axiom that he adopts simply because it fits into the schema of sola Scriptura. He assumes it without argument, and this premise is used in an overall sola Scriptura framework, but it is, of course, yet another circular argument: a vicious logical circle indeed. The "reasoning" (insofar as I can comprehend such incoherence) runs as follows:

1. When Paul refers to tradition he is referring to nothing more than what is in the Bible.
2. Therefore, there is no tradition to speak of, since it simply collapses or reduces as a category to "that which is in Scripture."
3. Therefore, the Catholic rule of faith (which includes so-called "unbiblical tradition") is unbiblical.
4. Whatever is unbiblical must be false.
5. Whatever is false must be rejected.
6. Therefore, the Protestant rule of faith, sola Scriptura, is true over against the Catholic "three-legged stool" of authority: tradition + Church + Bible.
The whole chain starts with a radically unproven premise. It proceeds to add error upon error and to build a house of cards, on sand. All indications from the Bible and from common sense; all plausiblity, suggests that #1 is false to begin with. But White thinks it is so true that he repeats it several times (often italicizing entire sentences), hoping that people who read it over and over will accept it and not notice that no evidence or biblical rationale whatsoever has been given, which would cause a reasonable person who accepts biblical inspiration to believe this.

We conclude, then, that White's arguments regarding sola Scriptura are filled with fallacies and insufficiently-supported contentions, begged questions and circular arguments. They collapse in a heap under even mild scrutiny, like a snowman on the equator. He ignores biblical evidence which contradicts his outlook, and to the extent that he engages such passages at all, he caricatures the Catholic position and simply redefines words away so that - presto! - the problem vanishes. If one sees the word "tradition" in the Bible, one must realize that it is merely a synonym for "Bible." When Jesus upholds the authority of the Pharisees, it means only that they can read the Bible in the synagogue, and cannot mean anything contrary to the preconceived axiom of sola Scriptura. When the New Testament writers cite "prophecies" that can't be found in the Old Testament, we will find them one day, and no one must rashly conclude that they are "extra-biblical." Etc., etc.

The old proverb never was more apt of a description than it is with regard to the sola Scriptura position, as defended even by its most vigorous proponents: "you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 27 December 2003. Added to blog on 2 November 2006.

Jesus Had "Offspring"? (Isaiah 53:10)

Someone who goes by "Mac" wrote in the comments for this blog:

DaVinci partly true? Isaiah 53:10 [the prophecied messiah] "...he shall see his seed..." Per this the true messiah was to have had a child. And would he have had a child without marrying the mother, and still be sinless as claimed?

Was Isaiah wrong therefore a false prophet? This isn't opinion, its in the original Hebrew. The same words are translated the same way 39 other times per Bible concordances. With consistency of grammar and voice, it is there. To change grammar pattern and voice mid sentence and back to avoid the straightforward meaning is bad translation.

And, the name of Jesus and other references to the people and places around Jesus are coded in Isaiah 53 with equal letter spacing. Read it for yourself, check several different translations. The King James Version is the one I'm quoting, some translations read offspring instead of seed. In the Latin Vulgate the word semen is used for seed, obviously referencing sexual conception of a child not a broad reference to a vast societal generation. In fact read Isaiah 53:8-10 and notice verse 8 presupposes a personal generation of a specific personal messiah. The question makes no sense unless the messiah has a child or children. If you doubt me use a concordance and check for the consistency of translation of the Hebrew words throughout that translation. And verse 10 frames the seed reference between alluding to the crucifixion and alluding to the resurrection - so its not out of context either...
I replied:

Nice try, but no cigar.

The word for seed in Isaiah 53:10 (RSV: offspring) is the Hebrew zera. As so often with Hebrew and Greek words, it can have a wide range of meanings, including "the royal race" (2 Ki. 11:1; 1 Ki 11:14), and (as seen in the same book), " a race of men" (in an evil or a bad sense: Is. 1:4; 6:13; 57:4; 65:23). This is according to Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979, 254; Strong's Concordance: word #2233).

Also, one must take into account the often-metaphorical application of words in the Bible. The context of the great messianic passage Isaaih 53 makes this clear; for example, 53:5: "with his stripes we are healed" is meant in the sense of "we are saved"; not of physical healing (as some in the "hyper-faith" movement falsely claim, in their promulgation of the false, unbiblical teaching that all men are physically healed and that this is God's will, but some lose out on that because of their lack of "faith").

Jesus is compared to a lamb in 53:7. Offspring in 53:10 is easily seen to refer to his spiritual offspring; not literal. How do we know this? Well, by the very next verse: "he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul . . . many to be accounted righteous." It is the spiritual fruit. We see the same dynamic in, for example, the parable of the sower (Mt. 13:24-30,36-40), which uses the metaphor of seed and planting and watering, to describe spiritual descendants (not physical). Hence Jesus says, in giving the proper interpretation:

He who sows the good seed is the Son of man [i.e., Himself]; the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil . . .

Note then that Jesus had seed, but it was spiritual seed ("sons of the kingdom"); likewise, the devil has seed or offspring ("sons of the evil one"). And this is the Greek sperma. So even though the word that can mean (in a broader physical sense) literal offspring is used, this proves nothing in and of itself, because it can also have a metaphorical application. That is exactly what is going on in Isaiah 53:10, as shown by context, the latitude of word meanings for zera, and related usages in the New Testament, taught by Jesus Himself.

As of writing, my reply, above, had been on my blog for five days; yet no sign of "Mac" . . . The "hit and run" tactic of "biblical exegesis" has a long, storied pedigree in skeptical and agnostic/atheist circles. As usual, the biblical interpretation here was exceedingly ignorant, and ignored elementary rules which anyone with a minimal acquaintance with Christian biblical hermeneutics could spot a mile away on a severely overcast day.

Lest this judgment seem harsh to some, I mention it only because in these circles, Christians are invariably accused of being extraordinarily ignorant, and our critics often blithely assume that they and anyone with a fourth-grade education could interpret and understand the Bible better than those who devote their lives to studying and defending it. 'Taint true, and I will point that out every time . . .


Did St. Thomas Aquinas Accept Astrology?

A link to a portion of St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica, called, Whether divination by the stars is unlawful?, was posted on this blog, in comments. This troubled "Paul D.C." and he wrote:

I was unsettled by what I found there. I am a Cathollic convert and mathematician, who has been "hung up" about my past obsessive interest in astrology. I do know about developement of doctrine, thanks in part to you, so I don't expect to find correct doctrine as fully developed in the Summa as in the CCC Catechism.

If someone wanted to mess around with natal charts, the article seems to validate their desire. The implication seems to be that astrology can illuminate the past - just don't use it to predict the future. This seems to mirror E. Rips in his assessment on predicting future events using the "Bible Codes." Is this consistent with Catholic teaching? I have strong misgivings about this possibility.
I read this part of the Summa and it seemed to me that Aquinas was simply accepting that part of astrology which seemed to have some scientific value to it: in other words, the aspects of star-watching which were far closer to astronomy than to the occult. Science was not as fully developed in his time, so we would expect to see some such confusion (and partially it was a matter of semantics). It was still there in the 16th century, in Kepler, Tycho, and Galileo, as I have shown in recent papers.

For example, if astrologers predicted a solar eclipse, then obviously they had made some observation that was scientific, in that it recognized observable patterns in the sky ("it is evident that those things which happen of necessity can be foreknown by this mean,: even so astrologers forecast a future eclipse.").

Note that the three objections are not the opinion of St. Thomas. He is disputing them. Then he goes on to dispute the fundamental thesis of astrology: that the stars affect human behavior and decisions, etc.:

In the second place, acts of the free-will, which is the faculty of will and reason, escape the causality of heavenly bodies. For the intellect or reason is not a body, nor the act of a bodily organ, and consequently neither is the will, since it is in the reason, as the Philosopher shows (De Anima iii, 4,9). Now no body can make an impression on an incorporeal body. Wherefore it is impossible for heavenly bodies to make a direct impression on the intellect and will . . .
So he denies the false, occultic part of astrology (which is, of course, the great bulk of it):

Accordingly if anyone take observation of the stars in order to foreknow casual or fortuitous future events, or to know with certitude future human actions, his conduct is based on a false and vain opinion; and so the operation of the demon introduces itself therein, wherefore it will be a superstitious and unlawful divination.
But he accepts that which simply operates on the same principles as science:

On the other hand if one were to apply the observation of the stars in order to foreknow those future things that are caused by heavenly bodies, for instance, drought or rain and so forth, it will be neither an unlawful nor a superstitious divination.
All that St. Thomas really grants here is some influence of the stars and planets on humans insofar as this is explained in terms of physical causation. That doesn't involve the occult. We know, for instance, of the influence of the moon on tides. The theory of gravity involves relationships between physical bodies in space. We are pulled to the earth: so the earth itself "influences" our bodies in that way. There seems to be some rrelationship with lunar cycles and psychologically disturbed people (that was, I believe, the etymological background of the word lunatic).

So I don't see any problem here. St. Thomas acknowledges that some truth can be found anywhere, but when all is said and done, he ends up by citing St. Augustine in strong disagreement with astrology:

Thus a good Christian should beware of astrologers, and of all impious diviners, especially of those who tell the truth, lest his soul become the dupe of the demons and by making a compact of partnership with them enmesh itself in their fellowship.
As for natal charts: that is still attempting to predict the future, no (by providing information on planetary alignments when one was born)? So that would fall under the recommended prohibitions of St. Thomas Aquinas.

So I don't see any problem or contradiction here at all.


Monday, May 29, 2006

Lord Acton on Melanchthon & Persecution of Heretics for Denial of the Real Presence & Various Other Crimes

In my continuing searching for material regarding Philip Melanchthon's policies of persecution (particularly regarding the Real Presence: see my previous paper on the subject), I ran across the following material from Lord Acton (1834-1902), the famous historian:

[note: Acton cites "Bretschneider". He was the editor, along with Bindseil, of the Latin Corpus Reformatorum, Melanthonis Opera, 28 volumes: 1834-1860. Footnotes below will be Acton's own, incorporated by means of brackets and blue coloring into the text exactly where he places them]

[Note #2: any translations (in green) of the Latin are from my very good friend John McAlpine, who has a Masters degree in Slavic Languages from the University of Michigan, and who presently - being semi-retired - teaches Latin to home-schoolers]

From: The History of Freedom and Other Essays, ed. John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence (London: Macmillan, 1907).

Chapter Five: "The Protestant Theory of Persecution."

*** CLICK ON "Tolle, lege!" immediately below to finish this article ***

The persecuting principles which were involved in Luther's system, but which he cared neither to develop, to apply, nor to defend, were formed into a definite theory by the colder genius of Melanchthon. Destitute of Luther's confidence in his own strength, and in the infallible success of his doctrine, he clung more eagerly to the hope of achieving victory by the use of physical force. Like his master he too hesitated at first, and opposed the use of severe measures against the Zwickau prophets; but when he saw the development of that early germ of dissent, and the gradual dissolution of Lutheran unity, he repented of his ill-timed clemency.

["Ego ab initio, cum primum caepi nosse Ciconiam et Ciconiae factionem, unde hoc totum genus Anabaptistarum exortum est, fui stulte clemens. Sentiebant enim et alii haereticos non esse ferro opprimendos. Et tunc dux Fridericus vehementer iratus erat Ciconiae: ac nisi a nobis tectus esset, fuisset de homine furioso et perdite malo sumtum supplicium. Nunc me ejus clementiae non parum poenitet. . . . Brentius nimis clemens est" (Bretschneider, ii. 17. Feb. 1530).]

He was not deterred from asserting the duty of persecution by the risk of putting arms into the hands of the enemies of the Reformation. He acknowledged the danger, but he denied the right. Catholic powers, he deemed, might justly persecute, but they could only persecute error. They must apply the same criterion which the Lutherans applied, and then they were justified in persecuting those whom the Lutherans also proscribed. For the civil power had no right to proscribe a religion in order to save itself from the dangers of a distracted and divided population. The judge of the fact and of the danger must be, not the magistrate, but the clergy.

["Sed objiciunt exemplum nobis periculosum: si haec pertinent ad magistratus, quoties igitur magistratus judicabit aliquos errare, saeviet in eos. Caesar igitur debet nos opprimere, quoniam ita judicat nos errare. Respondeo: certe debet errores et prohibere et punire. . . . Non est enim solius Caesaris cognitio, sicut in urbibus haec cognitio non est tantum magistratus prophani, sed est doctorum. Viderit igitur magistratus ut recte judicet" (Bretschneider, ii. 712). "Deliberent igitur principes, non cum tyrannis, non cum pontificibus, non cum hypocritis, monachis aut aliis, sed cum ipsa Evangelii voce, cum probatis scriptoribus" (Bretschneider, iii. 254).]

The crime lay, not in dissent, but in error. Here, therefore, Melanchthon repudiated the theory and practice of the Catholics, whose aid he invoked; for all the intolerance in the Catholic times was founded on the combination of two ideas - the criminality of apostasy, and the inability of the State to maintain its authority where the moral sense of a part of the community was in opposition to it. The reformers, therefore, approved the Catholic practice of intolerance, and even encouraged it, although their own principles of persecution were destitute not only of connection, but even of analogy, with it. By simply accepting the inheritance of the medieval theory of the religious unity of the empire, they would have been its victims. By asserting that persecution was justifiable only against error, that is, only when purely religious, they set up a shield for themselves, and a sword against those sects for whose destruction they were more eager than the Catholics. Whether we refer the origin of Protestant intolerance to the doctrines or to the interests of the Reformation, it appears totally unconnected with the tradition of Catholic ages, or the atmosphere of Catholicism. All severities exercised by Catholics before that time had a practical motive; but Protestant persecution was based on a purely speculative foundation, and was due partly to the influence of Scripture examples, partly to the supposed interests of the Protestant party. It never admitted the exclusion of dissent to be a political right of the State, but maintained the suppression of error to be its political duty. To say, therefore, that the Protestants learnt persecution from the Catholics, is as false as to say that they used it by way of revenge. For they founded it on very different and contradictory grounds, and they admitted the right of the Catholics to persecute even the Protestant sects.

Melanchthon taught that the sects ought to be put down by the sword, and that any individual who started new opinions ought to be punished with death.

["Quare ita sentias, magistratum debere uti summa severitate in coercendis hujusmodi spiritibus. . . . Sines igitur novis exemplis timorem incuti multitudini . . . ad haec notae tibi sint causae seditionum, quas gladio prohiberi oportet. . . . Propterea sentio de his qui etiamsi non defendunt seditiosos articulos, habent manifeste blasphemos, quod interfici a magistratu debeant" (ii. 17, 18). "De Anabaptistis tulimus hic in genere sententiam: quia constat sectam diabolicam esse, non esse tolerandam: dissipari enim ecclesias per eos, cum ipsi nullam habeant certam doctrinam. . . . Ideo in capita factionum in singulis locis ultima supplicia constituenda esse judicavimus" (ii. 549). "It is clear that it is the duty of secular government to punish blasphemy, false doctrine, and heresy, on the bodies of those who are guilty of them. . . . Since it is evident that there are gross errors in the articles of the Anabaptist sect, we conclude that in this case the obstinate ought to be punished with death" (iii. 199). "Propter hanc causam Deus ordinavit politias ut Evangelium propagari possit . . . nec revocamus politiam Moysi, sed lex moralis perpetua est omnium aetatum . . . quandocumque constat doctrinam esse impiam, nihil dubium est quin sanior pars Ecclesiae debeat malos pastores removere et abolere impios cultus. Et hanc emendationem praecipue adjuvare debent magistratus, tanquam potiora membra Ecclesiae" (iii. 242, 244). "Thammerus, qui Mahometicas seu Ethnicas opiniones spargit, vagatur in dioecesi Mindensi, quem publicis suppliciis adficere debebant. . . . Evomuit blasphemias, quae refutandae sunt non tantum disputatione aut scriptis, sed etiam justo officio pii magistratus" (ix. 125, 131).]

He carefully laid down that these severities were requisite, not in consideration of the danger to the State, nor of immoral teaching, nor even of such differences as would weaken the authority or arrest the action of the ecclesiastical organisation, but simply on account of a difference, however slight, in the theologumena of Protestantism.

[“Voco autem blasphemos qui articulos habent, qui proprie non pertinent ad civilem statum, sed continent xxxxxxx {Greek} ut de divinitate Christi et similes. Etsi enim gradus quidam sunt, tamen huc etiam refero baptismum infantum. . . . Quia magistratui commissa est tutela totius legis, quod attinet ad externam disciplinam et externa facta. Quare delicta externa contra primam tabulam prohibere ac punire debet. . . . Quare non solum concessum est, sed etiam mandatum est magistratui, impias doctrinas abolere, et tueri pias in suis ditionibus" (ii. 711). "Ecclesiastica potestas tantum judicat et excommunicat haereticos, non occidit. Sed potestas civilis debet constituere poenas et supplicia in haereticos, sicut in blasphemos constituit supplicia. . . . Non enim plectitur fides, sed haeresis" (xii. 697).]

Thamer, who held the possibility of salvation among the heathen; Schwenkfeld, who taught that not the written Word, but the internal illumination of grace in the soul was the channel of God's influence on man; the Zwinglians, with their error on the Eucharist, all these met with no more favour than the fanatical Anabaptists.

[emphasis added to highlight the relevant particular subject matter]

[ "Notum est etiam, quosdam tetra et dysphema {Greek} dixisse de sanguine Christi, quos puniri oportuit, et propter gloriam Christi, et exempli causa" (viii. 553). "Argumentatur ille praestigiator (Schwenkfeld), verbum externum non esse medium, quo Deus est efficax. Talis sophistica principum severitate compescenda erat" (ix. 579).]


"It has also been noted that certain people have said rotten and evil things concerning the blood of Christ, and it behooved them to have been punished, both on account of the glory of Christ and for the sake of example."

"That trickster Schwenkfeld argues that the external word is not the medium by which God is efficacious. Such sophistry ought to be curbed by the severity of the princes." ]

The State was held bound to vindicate the first table of the law with the same severity as those commandments on which civil society depends for its existence. The government of the Church being administered by the civil magistrates, it was their office also to enforce the ordinances of religion; and the same power whose voice proclaimed religious orthodoxy and law held in its hand the sword by which they were enforced. No religious authority existed except through the civil power.

["The office of preacher is distinct from that of governor, yet both have to contribute to the praise of God. Princes are not only to protect the goods and bodily life of their subjects, but the principal function is to promote the honour of God, and to prevent idolatry and blasphemy" (iii. 199). "Errant igitur magistratus, qui divellunt gubernationem a fine, et se tantum pacis ac ventris custodes esse existimant. . . . At si tantum venter curandus esset, quid differrent principes ab armentariis? Nam longe aliter sentiendum est. Politias divinitus admirabili sapientia et bonitate constitutas esse, non tantum ad quaerenda et fruenda ventris bona, sed multo magis, ut Deus in societate innotescat, ut aeterna bona quaerantur" (iii. 246).]

The Church was merged in the State; but the laws of the State, in return, were identified with the commandments of religion.

["Neque illa barbarica excusatio audienda est, leges illas pertinere ad politiam Mosaicam, non ad nostram. Ut Decalogus ipse ad omnes pertinet, ita judex ubique omnia Decalogi officia in externa disciplina tueatur" (viii. 520).]

In accordance with these principles, the condemnation of Servetus by a civil tribunal, which had no authority over him, and no jurisdiction over his crime - the most aggressive and revolutionary act, therefore, that is conceivable in the casuistry of persecution - was highly approved by Melanchthon. He declared it a most useful example for all future ages, and could not understand that there should be any who did not regard it in the same favourable light.

["Legi scriptum tuum, in quo refutasti luculenter horrendas Serveti blasphemias, ac filio Dei gratias ago, qui fuit xxxxxxxx {Greek} hujus tui agonis. Tibi quoque Ecclesia et nunc et ad posteros gratitudinem debet et debebit. Tuo judicio prorsus adsentior. Affirmo etiam, vestros magistratus juste fecisse, quod hominem blasphemum, re ordine judicata, interfecerunt" (Melanchthon to Calvin, Bretschneider, viii. 362). "Judico etiam Senatum Genevensem recte fecisse, quod hominem pertinacem et non omissurum blasphemias sustulit. Ac miratus sum, esse, qui severitatem illam improbent" (viii. 523). "Dedit vero et Genevensis reip. magistratus ante annos quatuor punitae insanabilis blasphemiae adversus filium Dei, sublato Serveto Arragone pium et memorabile ad omnem posteritatem exemplum" (ix. 133).]

It is true that Servetus, by denying the divinity of Christ, was open to the charge of blasphemy in a stricter sense than that in which the reformers generally applied it. But this was not the case with the Catholics. They did not represent, like the sects, an element of dissolution in Protestantism, and the bulk of their doctrine was admitted by the reformers. They were not in revolt against existing authority; they required no special innovations for their protection; they demanded only that the change of religion should not be compulsory. Yet Melanchthon held that they too were to be proscribed, because their worship was idolatrous.

["Abusus missae per magistratus debet tolli. Non aliter, atque sustulit aeneum serpentem Ezechias, aut excelsa demolitus est Josias" (i. 480). "Politicis magistratibus severissime mandatum est, ut suo quisque loco manibus et armis tollant statuas, ad quas fiunt hominum concursus et invocationes, et puniant suppliciis corporum insanabiles, qui idolorum cultum pertinaciter retinent, aut blasphemias serunt" (ix. 77).]

In doing this he adopted the principle of aggressive intolerance, which was at that time new to the Christian world; and which the Popes and Councils of the Catholic Church had condemned when the zeal of laymen had gone beyond the lawful measure. In the Middle Ages there had been persecution far more sanguinary than any that has been inflicted by Protestants. Various motives had occasioned it and various arguments had been used in its defence. But the principle on which the Protestants oppressed the Catholics was new. The Catholics had never admitted the theory of absolute toleration, as it was defined at first by Luther, and afterwards by some of the sects. In principle, their tolerance differed from that of the Protestants as widely as their intolerance. They had exterminated sects which, like the Albigenses, threatened to overturn the fabric of Christian society. They had proscribed different religions where the State was founded on religious unity, and where this unity formed an integral part of its laws and administration. They had gone one step further, and punished those whom the Church condemned as apostates; thereby vindicating, not, as in the first case, the moral basis of society, nor, as in the second, the religious foundation of the State, but the authority of the Church and the purity of her doctrine, on which they relied as the pillar and bulwark of the social and political order. Where a portion of the inhabitants of any country preferred a different creed, Jew, Mohammedan, heathen, or schismatic, they had been generally tolerated, with enjoyment of property and personal freedom, but not with that of political power or autonomy. But political freedom had been denied them because they did not admit the common ideas of duty which were its basis. This position, however, was not tenable, and was the source of great disorders. The Protestants, in like manner, could give reasons for several kinds of persecution. They could bring the Socinians under the category of blasphemers; and blasphemy, like the ridicule of sacred things, destroys reverence and awe, and tends to the destruction of society. The Anabaptists, they might argue, were revolutionary fanatics, whose doctrines were subversive of the civil order; and the dogmatic sects threatened the ruin of ecclesiastical unity within the Protestant community itself. But by placing the necessity of intolerance on the simple ground of religious error, and in directing it against the Church which they themselves had abandoned, they introduced a purely subjective test, and a purely revolutionary system. It is on this account that the tu quoque, or retaliatory argument, is inadmissible between Catholics and Protestants. Catholic intolerance is handed down from an age when unity subsisted, and when its preservation, being essential for that of society, became a necessity of State as well as a result of circumstances. Protestant intolerance, on the contrary, was the peculiar fruit of a dogmatic system in contradiction with the facts and principles on which the intolerance actually existing among Catholics was founded. Spanish intolerance has been infinitely more sanguinary than Swedish; but in Spain, independently of the interests of religion, there were strong political and social reasons to justify persecution without seeking any theory to prop it up; whilst in Sweden all those practical considerations have either been wanting, or have been opposed to persecution, which has consequently had no justification except the theory of the Reformation. The only instance in which the Protestant theory has been adopted by Catholics is the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

Towards the end of his life, Melanchthon, having ceased to be a strict Lutheran, receded somewhat from his former uncompromising position, and was adverse to a strict scrutiny into minor theological differences. He drew a distinction between errors that required punishment and variations that were not of practical importance.

["If the French and English community at Frankfort shared the errors of Servetus or Thamer, or other enemies of the Symbols, or the errors of the Anabaptists on infant baptism, against the authority of the State, etc., I should faithfully advise and strongly recommend that they should be soon driven away; for the civil power is bound to prevent and to punish proved blasphemy and sedition. But I find that this community is orthodox in the symbolical articles on the Son of God, and in other articles of the Symbol. . . . If the faith of the citizens in every town were inquired into, what trouble and confusion would not arise in many countries and towns!" (ix. 179).]

The English Calvinists who took refuge in Germany in the reign of Mary Tudor were ungraciously received by those who were stricter Lutherans than Melanchthon. He was consulted concerning the course to be adopted towards the refugees, and he recommended toleration. But both at Wesel and at Frankfort his advice was, to his great disgust, overruled.

[Schmidt, Philipp Melanchthon, p. 640. His exhortations to the Landgrave to put down the Zwinglians are characteristic: "The Zwinglians, without waiting for the Council, persecute the Papists and the Anabaptists; why must it be wrong for others to prohibit their indefensible doctrine independent of the Council?" Philip replied: "Forcibly, to prohibit a doctrine which neither contradicts the articles of faith nor encourages sedition, I do not think right. . . . When Luther began to write and to preach, he admonished and instructed the Government that it had no right to forbid books or to prevent preaching, and that its office did not extend so far, but that it had only to govern the body and goods. . . . I had not heard before that the Zwinglians persecute the Papists; but if they abolish abuses, it is not unjust, for the Papists wish to deserve heaven by their works, and so blaspheme the Son of God. That they should persecute the Anabaptists is also not wrong, for their doctrine is in part seditious." The divines answered: "If by God’s grace our true and necessary doctrine is tolerated as it has hitherto been by the emperor, though reluctantly, we think that we ought not to prevent it by undertaking the defence of the Zwinglian doctrine, if that should not be tolerated. . . . As to the argument that we ought to spare the people while persecuting the leaders, our answer is, that it is not a question of persons, but only of doctrine, whether it be true or false" (Correspondence of Brenz and Melanchthon with Landgrave Philip of Hesse, Bretschneider, ii. 95, 98, 101).]

* * * * *

My earlier opinion, then (held since 1991), has been confirmed. I stated that Philip Melanchthon persecuted (or sanctioned persecution) for the denial of the Real Presence in the Eucharist (an opinion he later adopted himself), citing historians Preserved Smith and Will Durant. My friend Edwin Tait (Ph.D., history) challenged (or doubted) the assertions of Smith because he gave no primary sources. He discounted Durant because he merely cited Smith. He ruled out deductively corroborating evidence (for which I presented a case) from Luther and Reformation specialist Roland Bainton because Bainton did not specifically mention the Real Presence in the laundry list of beliefs which Lutherans persecuted in the 1530-1531 period. But now I have provided a third historian who states the same thing; except this time he provides primary sources:

Corpus Reformatorum, Melanchthonis Opera:

VIII, 553
IX, 579

(many other citations also, on related topics)