Friday, March 09, 2007

Brian Tierney: Inveterate Enemy of Papal "Tyranny" and Infallibility

Professed Catholic historian Brian Tierney, is the author of many books on the Middle Ages and expert on conciliarism: the medieval movement which sought to give ecumenical councils supreme authority, over against popes. He is a vocal critic of papal infallibility.

I am quite familiar with the overall viewpoint: in 1990 when I was an evangelical Protestant, I engaged in a vigorous critique of papal infallibility. I enlisted the aid of Johann von Dollinger, the Catholic historian who was excommunicated for refusing to accept the definition of papal infallibility promulgated at the First Vatican Council in 1870. I also ran across the anti-infallibilist writing of Hans Kung, a modernist who has since been proclaimed by the Church as no longer a Catholic theologian (yet continues to claim to be one). And I found George Salmon, the anti-Catholic Anglican controversialist of the 19th century who is somewhat of a patron saint of historically-oriented anti-Catholic polemicists today (notably, William Webster). Brian Tierney takes positions roughly along these same lines.

But, of course, there are Catholics and there are Catholics. An orthodox Catholic is quite a different animal than a heterodox, modernist one like Hans Kung, or Brian Tierney. Orthodox Catholics accept the dogma of papal infallibility (along with all other Catholic dogmas), as it was defined in an ecumenical council ex cathedra (the highest level of infallibility in Catholic thinking). I was not yet a Catholic when I fought infallibility. In one of my papers I recalled my perspective in 1990 -- the year preceding my conversion:

During the course of this study, I gleefully discovered many of the standard "anti-infallibility" works, which are cited again and again: the Anglican George Salmon's The Infallibility of the Church (originally 1890), Johann von Dollinger's Letters of Janus and Letters of Quirinus (1869-1870) and Hans Kung's Infallible?: An Inquiry (1971) . . .

. . . the Church historian Dollinger's heretical opinions are also often utilized by Eastern Orthodox polemicists as arguments against papal infallibility. I know this well as a result of my own ongoing dialogues with Orthodox Christians over the Internet.

. . . It is beyond our purview here to examine the faulty and jaundiced reasoning employed by the above-cited "anti-infallibility" works, and my own ambitious and zealous adoption of them, in my effort to refute the Catholic Church on historical grounds. Suffice it to say that it is largely a matter of misunderstanding or misapplying the true doctrine of infallibility, as defined dogmatically by the First Vatican Council in 1870, or else a conveniently selective and dishonest presentation of historical facts and patristic citations. These practices run rampant throughout the current anti-Catholic literature, and always have. And I, too, was guilty of it. Bias has a way of blinding one to even basic logical errors.

Of course, it never occurs to theological liberals that the "pre-commitment" of the supposedly profoundly prejudiced, biased, intellectually-compromised, dishonest "orthodox" (amateur) historians and apologists such as myself might also be characteristic of the heterodox historians as well. Might not they have certain axes to grind? Is it not possible that in their "pre-commitment" to a vision of the Catholic Church in which greatly-lessened authority of the pope would be the norm and rule, they would be susceptible to interpreting the historical data in a certain way; emphasizing certain things and de-emphasizing others?

If one can be biased in favor of orthodoxy, then why would it be inconceivable that one could also be biased in favor of heterodoxy and against orthodoxy, in historical matters as well as theological ones? Or does someone wish to argue that historians who are in the orthodox wing of their faith (whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant) are inherently biased, while the liberals and heterodox who don't accept their own Church's teachings have only the highest intellectual integrity and would not be subject to such a hideous thing as "bias"?

In the theologically liberal mentality, the only honest Catholics are those who see through the absurdity of Catholic dogma. In other words, the only "good" Catholic is a lousy Catholic (i.e., one who doesn't accept the whole "Catholic ball of wax").

Let us see for a moment what Brian Tierney actually teaches. Here is a portion from the Introduction (pp. 2-5) of his book, Origins of Papal Infallibility: 1150-1350: (Leiden: 1972; emphases in blue added):

If the popes have always been infallible in any meaningful sense of the word—if their official pronouncements as heads of the church on matters of faith and morals have always been unerring and so irreformable - then all kinds of dubious consequences ensue. Most obviously, twentieth century popes would be bound by a whole array of past papal decrees reflecting the responses of the Roman church to the religious and moral problems of former ages. As Acton put it, "The responsibility for the acts of the buried and repented past would come back at once and for ever." To defend religious liberty would be "insane" and to persecute heretics commendable. Judicial torture would be licit and the taking of interest on loans a mortal sin. The pope would rule by divine right "not only the universal church but the whole world." Unbaptized babies would be punished in Hell for all eternity. Maybe the sun would still be going round the earth.

All this is impossible of course. No one understands the fact better than modern theologians of infallibility. If past popes have always been infallible—again, we must add, in any meaningful sense of the word—then present popes are hopelessly circumscribed in their approaches to all the really urgent moral problems of the twentieth century, problems involving war, sex, scientific progress, state power, social obligations, and individual liberties. The existence of this dilemma helps to explain the rather eccentric development of the doctrine of infallibility during the past century. Since Vatican Council I, Catholic theologians have felt obliged to defend some form of papal infallibility. Real infallibility has regrettable implications. In the years since 1870, therefore, theologians have devoted much ingenuity to devising a sort of pseudo-infallibility for the pope, a kind of Pickwickian infallibility.

Their usual technique has been to raise endless, teasing, really unanswerable questions about the meaning of the term ex cathedra as used in the decree of Vatican Council I and about the phrases "ordinary magisterium" and "extraordinary magisterium" that came to be associated with it in discussions on papal infallibility. Already in 1874 Gladstone could write, "... There is no established or accepted definition of the phrase ex cathedra and (the Catholic) has no power to obtain one, and no guide to direct him in his choice among some twelve theories on the subject, which, it is said, are bandied to and fro among Roman theologians, except the despised and discarded agency of his private judgment."

Things have not improved since. To be sure, modern apologists often insist that the conditions needed to guarantee the infallibility of a papal pronouncement were set out, once and for all, simply and clearly, in the decree of Vatican Council I. But then they find it impossible to agree as to which particular papal pronouncements actually satisfy these supposedly simple and clear requirements. There is no authoritative or agreed list of the infallible pronouncements made before 1870. The uncertainty as to what is and what is not infallible extends to papal declarations touching the most fundamental issues of public and private morality. Concerning the Syllabus of Pope Pius IX, for instance, the Catholic Encyclopedia declared in 1912, "Many theologians are of the that to the Syllabus as such an infallible teaching authority must be ascribed... Others question this." The New Catholic Encyclopedia, recording the theological progress of half a century, tells us that things remained exactly the same in 1967.

The one papal definition made since 1870 which has been commonly accepted as infallible is Pope Pius XII's proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption. But if, in due course, Catholic theologians find it desirable to retreat from the view that this late-blooming dogma forms an intrinsic part of the Christian faith, there will be no lack of theological argumentation devoted to proving that Pius XII (in spite of his best efforts) did not succeed in making an infallible pronouncement after all. The one consistent rule of interpretation we can be sure of encountering is this: whenever a theologian disagrees with some old teaching or new ruling of a pope he will find good theological grounds for deciding that the papal pronouncement was "not infallible." The whole modern doctrine of infallibility in its Pickwickian form might be summed up in the general principle, "All infallible decrees are certainly true but no decrees are certainly infallible."

To be sure this is not the only position open a contemporary Catholic theologian. During the 1950s Pope Pius XII's encyclical Humani generis stirred a strange eddy of controversy in academic theological circles. In this document the pope declared, "It is not to be thought that matters proposed in Encyclical Letters do not in themselves command assent because (in Encyclicals) the pontiffs do not exercise the supreme power of their magisterium. For these things are taught by the magisterium, to which also the words apply, 'He who hears you, hears me'."[footnote: Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 42 (1950), p. 568.] Pope Pius' reference to the authority of the "ordinary magisterium" led some theologians to insist once again that the decree of Vatican Council I actually meant what it said—that the pope was infallible whenever he pronounced on matters of faith and morals "in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians." [footnote: This controversy concerning the infallibility of the pope's ordinary magisterium is described in G. Thils, op. cit., pp. 181-185 and, more fully, in P. B. Bilaniuk, De magisterio ordinario summi pontificis (Toronto, 1966).] The difficulty in this position is that the pronouncements of popes, even of modern popes, sometimes contradict one another (notably, for example, in the matter of religious toleration). Some theologians therefore have upheld the infallibility of contemporary decrees without giving serious consideration to the possibility of their conflicting with preceding ones. In effect, they are content to pretend that the past did not happen. There is at least a beguiling innocence in this approach. Other theologians, more reprehensibly (from a historian's point of view), have devised hermeneutical principles so ingenious that the documents of the past can never embarrass them. By applying such principles, they can reinterpret any doctrinal pronouncement, regardless of its actual content, to mean whatever the modern theologian thinks that its framers ought to have meant. [footnote: A good introduction to the hermeneutical problems that arise when theologians try to reconcile doctrinal statements from different ages of the church's past that are really irreconcilable with each other is provided by H. Riedlinger, "Hermeneutische Ueberlegungen zu den Konstanzer Dekreten" is Das Konzil von Konstanz, ed. A. Franzen and W. Müller (Freiburg, 1964), pp. 214-238.] The infallible doctrine of the past remains infallible but it is deprived of all objective content. This procedure seems based on a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland logic. One is reminded of the Cheshire Cat—the body of a past pronouncement disappears but its grin of infallibility persists. The general principle underlying this second major approach to the problem of infallibility might be summarized in the formula, "All infallible pronouncements are irreformable—until it becomes convenient to change them." It seems only fair to add that most Catholic theologians have continued to opt for some version of the relatively simple and straightforward Pickwickian position.

By the time of Vatican Council II the Catholic theology of infallibility had become a tangle of paradoxes and evasions. The theologians had worked themselves into a complicated cul-de-sac. But the council refrained from any thorough-going reconsideration of this question and merely repeated with minor variations the doctrine of 1870. In the years since Vatican Council II, however, a new development of thought has occurred. Very recently—while this book was being written—a few Catholic scholars have begun overtly to challenge the validity of the doctrine that was defined at Vatican Council I and reaffirmed at Vatican Council II. [footnote: F. Simons, Infallibility and the Evidence (Springfield, Ill., 1968); F. Oakley, Council Over Pope? (New York, 1969); H. Küng, Unfehlbar? Eine Anfrage [Infallibility?: An Inquiry] (Zurich, 1970).] It remains to be seen whether their point of view will establish itself as a viable position that can be held within the Roman Catholic church.

Tierney is clearly no orthodox Catholic, and he surely has an axe to grind, since he makes no bones about making fun of Catholic dogmas as ridiculous. He has the usual liberal condescension, bringing to historiography such "objective" descriptions as those I have highlighted in blue above.
This is not objective historiography. Tierney has an agenda, and it is utterly obvious.

What I'm producing is not properly labeled "dissent" except from a modern, post-Vatican I Roman Catholic perspective.

So is it Tierney's position that the supremacy and infallibility of the pope was never held as the orthodox position in the Catholic Church until Vatican I? Or that the popes did not ratify the decisions of ecumenical councils until 1870?

What of, e.g., Pope St. Leo the Great (r. 440-461)?:

The Lord . . . wanted His gifts to flow into the entire body from Peter himself, as if from the head, in such a way that anyone who had dared to separate himself from the solidarity of Peter would realize that he was himself no longer a sharer in the divine mystery . . . The Apostolic See . . . has on countless occasions been reported to in consultation by bishops . . . And through the appeal of various cases to this see, decisions already made have been either revoked or confirmed, as dictated by longstanding custom.

(Letter to the Bishops of Vienne, July, 445 A.D., 10:1-2; in Jurgens, William A., ed. and tr., The Faith of the Early Fathers [FEF], 3 volumes, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1970, vol. 3, 269)

Although bishops have a common dignity, they are not all of the same rank. Even among the most blessed Apostles, though they were alike in honor, there was a certain distinction of power. All were equal in being chosen, but it was given to one to be preeminent over the others . . . the care of the universal Church would converge in the one See of Peter, and nothing should ever be at odds with this head.

(Letter to Bishop Anastasius of Thessalonica, c. 446 A.D., 14:11; in Jurgens, FEF, vol. 3, 270)

From the whole world only one, Peter, is chosen to preside over the calling of all nations, and over all the other Apostles, and over the Fathers of the Church . . . Peter . . . rules them all, of whom, too, it is Christ who is their chief ruler. Divine condescension, dearly beloved, has granted to this man in a wonderful and marvellous manner the aggregate of its power; and if there was something that it wanted to be his in common with other leaders, it never gave whatever it did not deny to others except through him.

(Sermons, 4:2; in Jurgens, FEF, vol. 3, 275)

For not only was the power of binding and loosing given to Peter before the others, but also to Peter more especially was entrusted the care of feeding the sheep. Yet anyone who denies that the headship must be denied to Peter, cannot really diminish his dignity: but is puffed up with the breath of his pride, and plunges himself to the lowest depth.

(Letters, 10:2, 450 A.D., in Philip Schaff & Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers - Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, 2nd series, vol. 12 [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994], 9)


II. . . . I . . . have delegated my authority to you, beloved, so that you, imitating our gentleness, might assist us in the care which we owe primarily to all the churches by Divine institution . . .

XII. . . . Though they have a common dignity, yet they have not a uniform rank; inasmuch as even among the blessed Apostles, notwithstanding the similarity of their honourable estate, there was a certain distinction of power, and while the election of them all was equal, yet it was given to one to take the lead of the rest . . . The care of the universal Church should converge towards Peter's one seat, and nothing anywhere should be separated from its Head.

(Letter 14:2,12, in Philip Schaff & Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers - Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, 2nd series, vol. 12 [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994], 16,19)

What of St. Francis de Sales, who, at the end of the 16th century, summarized the evidences for the primacy of the pope and Rome in early Christianity?:

St. Peter died Bishop of Rome - therefore the diocese of Rome was the last seat of the head of the Church: therefore the Bishop of Rome who came after the death of St. Peter, succeeded to the head of the Church, and consequently was head of the Church. Some one might say that he succeeded the head of the Church as to the bishopric of Rome, but not as to the kingship of the world. But such a one must show that St. Peter had two sees, of which one was for Rome, the other for the universe, which was not the case . . . Hence, the Bishop of Rome remained general lieutenant in the Church, and successor of St. Peter . . .

At the Council of Nicea, at those of Constantinople and Chalcedon, it is not seen that any bishop usurps the primacy for himself: it is attributed, according to ancient custom, to the Pope; no other is named in equal degree. In short, never was it said, either certainly or doubtfully, of any bishop in the first five hundred years that he was head or superior over the rest, except of the Bishop of Rome; about him indeed it was never doubted, but was held as settled that he was such. On what ground, then, after fifteen hundred years passed, would one cast doubt on this ancient tradition? I should never end were I to try to catalogue all the assurances and repetitions of this truth which we have in the Ancients' writings.

(The Catholic Controversy, tr. Henry B. Mackey, Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1989; orig. 1596, 279, 284)

In fact, St. Francis de Sales offers a statement of papal infallibility remarkably identical to the ex cathedra declaration of 1870, some 274 years later:

When he teaches the whole Church as shepherd, in general matters of faith and morals, then there is nothing but doctrine and truth. And in fact everything a king says is not a law or an edict, but that only which a king says as king and as a legislator. So everything the Pope says is not canon law or of legal obligation; he must mean to define and to lay down the law for the sheep, and he must keep the due order and form.

We must not think that in everything and everywhere his judgment is infallible, but then only when he gives judgment on a matter of faith in questions necessary to the whole Church; for in particular cases which depend on human fact he can err, there is no doubt, though it is not for us to control him in these cases save with all reverence, submission, and discretion. Theologians have said, in a word, that he can err in questions of fact, not in questions of right; that he can err 'extra cathedram,' outside the chair of Peter. that is, as a private individual, by writings and bad example.

But he cannot err when he is 'in cathedra,' that is, when he intends to make an instruction and decree for the guidance of the whole Church, when he means to confirm his brethren as supreme pastor, and to conduct them into the pastures of the faith. For then it is not so much man who determines, resolves, and defines as it is the Blessed Holy Spirit by man, which Spirit, according to the promise made by Our Lord to the Apostles, teaches all truth to the

(Ibid., 306-307)

How is it, then, that Tierney can object to what he describes as "endless, teasing, really unanswerable questions about the meaning of the term ex cathedra as used in the decree of Vatican Council I and about the phrases 'ordinary magisterium' and 'extraordinary magisterium' that came to be associated with it in discussions on papal infallibility"?

How is it that Tierney traces this "eccentric development of the doctrine of infallibility" to "the past century" and decries the wasted energies devoted to "devising a sort of pseudo-infallibility"? Is he unfamiliar with these remarks by St. Francis de Sales, a Doctor of the Church? Many sources can be cited, but Tierney needs to produce an authoritative decree of the Church which denied papal infallibility. The problem remains one of arbitrary vs. authentic Christian authority. I stated in another reply to someone else (a Protestant who is historically-minded):

Orthodox doctrinal development and corruption and the various currents of theology throughout history are also separable ideas. They are not mutually-exclusive. Tradition does not reduce to mere history; that is a rationalistic tenet. The Christian has faith, and will view Church history accordingly. It is not contrary to historiography but goes beyond it, just as faith in biblical inspiration is not contrary to archaeological evidences of biblical accuracy, but goes beyond it, introducing the supernatural.

Catholics are quite familiar with conciliarism. We simply disagree that its mere existence somehow is an immediate proof that it is as valid of a viewpoint as the papacy, as historically-understood by Catholics. Since you have no standard of orthodoxy, you can only appeal to the bald facts of history, so it stands to reason that you would "reason" from what is, to what should be, because that's all you have in your viewpoint.

The Catholic Church still has the prerogative to ultimately declare certain views heretical (sometimes taking centuries to do so), and the Catholic individual can regard them likewise, without denying the presence of heterodox currents of thought. This is elementary.

. . . diversity itself was not in question, only the interpretation as to its orthodoxy in a Catholic framework.

The problem remains one of determining orthodoxy. Gratian does not determine that; Tierney does not. The Church does, in her councils and popes. Furthermore, Calvinist critics of the papacy will not apply the same standard to their own faith. They hold to the Westminster Confession and the decrees of the Synod of Dort as a Calvinist. But they wouldn't countenance for a second the notion that the Arminians who were censured and condemned at Dort had opinions equally as valid or "orthodox" as the Calvinist worthies.

Yet when it comes to the Catholic Church, all of a sudden we must be subject to the "priesthood of liberal scholars" and our own pronouncements of orthodoxy from within our own authority structures are null and void and of no import. The very existence of plural notions of the papacy and ecclesiology "prove" that each one of them are equally "orthodox."

This is rationalism and secular historicism of the worst kind, devoid of faith, and it even has to be applied inconsistently. Calvinists are allowed to have faith in the decrees of their Calvinist ancestors, but Catholics are not allowed to rest in decrees of popes, Trent, Vatican I, etc., because, well, because they were wrong, and "everyone knows that." So we must live under the burden of this irrational, Enlightenment-inspired liberal mindset (applied to us alone) while the Calvinists are free from it and can exercise supernatural faith in their own brand of theology and ecclesiology. This is a rather curious epistemology and polemic.

Tierney needs to tell us what was "orthodox" then? Were Catholics supposedly permitted to hold any view of ecclesiology whatever? Could they be "papalists" or hold an Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology, or dispense with the papacy altogether and adopt congregationalism? Or are we to believe that there existed no orthodoxy and received tradition whatsoever because people had different opinions?

This is where the authority of the Church comes in, and faith in its dogmas. Dogmas cannot be absolutely proven. They transcend history. "Orthodoxy" itself is a concept that requires faith to believe. One cannot prove from history what was the "correct" doctrine" or "false, heretical" ones. History is simply a collection of facts (according to an observer). Orthodoxy and Apostolic Tradition are matters of faith, ultimately based on the revelation of Scripture. There were plenty of Arians around in the 4th century, too. But that did not make them "orthodox." It has still not been demonstrated that multiple traditions logically or historically rule out one orthodox tradition among them.

The teaching authority of the Church determines orthodox (including the nature of the papacy). Thus the Council of Lyons II (1274) declared:

Also this same holy Roman Church holds the highest and complete primacy and spiritual power over the universal Catholic Church which she truly and humbly recognizes herself to have received with fullness of power from the Lord Himself in Blessed Peter, the chief or head of the Apostles whose successor is the Roman Pontiff. And just as to defend the truth of Faith she is held before all other things, so if any questions shall arise regarding faith they ought to be defined by her judgment . . . in all cases looking forward to an ecclesiastical examination, recourse can be had to her judgment, and all churches are subject to her; their prelates give obedience and reverence to her.

(From Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma; translated by Roy J. Deferrari, from the 13th edition of Enchiridion Symbolorum, 1955, Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto Publications, section 466, p. 185)

Likewise, Council of Florence (1438-1445), in its Decree for the Greeks, Laetentur coeli, July 6, 1439:
We likewise define that the holy Apostolic See, and the Roman Pontiff, hold the primacy throughout the entire world; and that the Roman Pontiff himself is the successor of blessed Peter, the chief of the Apostles, and the true vicar of Christ, and that he is the head of the entire Church, and the father and teacher of all Christians; and that full power was given to him in blessed Peter by our Lord Jesus Christ, to feed, rule, and govern the universal Church; just as is contained in the acts of the ecumenical Councils and in the sacred canons.

(Ibid., section 694, p. 220)

Liberal historians like Tierney need to make the case from authoritative declarations of the Church that papal infallibility is heretical or that conciliarism is true, or that it is a free-for-all and the Church has been silent on the matter. Orthodoxy is intensely debated in Protestant circles as well, in the endless liberal-conservative battles for denominations and (particularly) biblical inerrancy. How does that prove that no one true tradition exists, or that, e.g., confessional Presbyterianism is false?

It is not only liberal but fundamentally dishonest, to claim to be an adherent of a particular theology and communion, yet ignore or re-define one of its binding decrees (and this applies across the board, to all sorts of Christians). What is stopping these people from getting out? If they don't like the papacy, they can become Anglican or Orthodox. If they want women priests, they can become Anglicans. If they want to contracept or abolish priestly celibacy or not be obliged to hold to Mary's Assumption or Immaculate Conception as dogma, they can become Anglican or Orthodox. Etc., etc. What is stopping them?

Catholic dogma won't change. It hasn't yet, and that is its glory, and one reason why I am a Catholic. We don't cave into modernism and the zeitgeist. Praise God for it! But some Calvinist apologists will even play along with the liberals when it suits their purpose. They would have nothing to do with them in their own Presbyterian circles, but when it comes to Catholicism, who cares? "My enemy's enemy is my friend."

Yet one doesn't observe Catholic apologists like myself demanding that the Calvinists admit Arminians and loosen up that requirement, under pain of being declared abominably triumphalistic and arrogant heads-in-the-sand. We recognize that this is what Calvinists believe and that they have a right to hold it and form their assemblies without harassment as to their internal inconsistency or intolerance. Why, then, are we not accorded the same respect or prerogative?

Every Christian tradition has lines which cannot be crossed. Why this is such a difficult concept to grasp is beyond me. You can't get from the historical is to the dogmatic ought to be without both faith in the revelation of the Bible and the authority of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit. Catholic dogmatic understandings do not have to fudge or ignore the facts of history. We are simply declaring one tradition to be orthodox. Trent did this, Lyons did. It didn't start with Vatican I.

A very historically-minded Protestant, on a discussion board, who goes by the nickname "Retro Rosco III", drew some excellent analogies:

I still don’t understand what the point of all of this talk about "dissent" is, at least in principle. So what if there was some variety in the Western tradition or even a certain amount of “dissent” against modern papal claims, which again I think aren't "absolute monarchy"? Why does this have anything to do with veracity of papal claims or the truth claims of other communions for that matter? Jacobus Arminius and his followers certainly were “dissenters” against the “extreme” positions on predestination that were gaining favor early on in the Reformed tradition. Does this “dissent” ipso facto disprove the Synod of Dort, especially as vast majority of people who call themselves Protestants both today and most likely in the future would agree more with the “dissenting” Arminius than Dort (the kangaroo court of Dort as some Arminians call it)?

Or what about Chalcedon? The Monophysite churches in Egypt, Syria and Persia (who are still around today) were “dissenters” from it and were orthodox on every other point (as was Arminius against Dort). So does their “dissent” cast shadows of doubt on the veracity of Chalcedon? I just don’t see how the idea that there were and are dissenters necessarily does anything one way or the other to the truth claims of a particular council or idea. If that is the case then the Reformed should ditch Dort and we should all question Chalcedon . . . But perhaps the principle of existing dissent isn’t being applied consistently in looking at church history.

. . . The Reformed typically claim that their own theories in regards to free will/predestination/soteriology represent the "historic Protestant position" over against the so-called "Arminians". I realize that the Reformed recognize Lutherans and Anglicans as "true Protestants" as well, but generally not Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals and generic Evangelicals. Well, I have already demonstrated that the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition, which was very much "Arminian" before Arminius illustrates that there was much more of a variety of views on soteriology (and other issues) in the Reformation than the Reformed care to admit. Not to mention very real disagreements with the Lutherans on these matters . . . both during the Reformation and today. Finally, Armininus' views weren't formally condemned until Dort anyway, and if is anchronistic to declare someone with Gratian's views a "heretic" or "dissent" before Vatican I, why isn't it the same with someone who held to Arminius' views before Dort?

What I am getting at is that your logic in regards to the Medieval papacy vis-a-vis current RCC papal claims if applied to the Reformation totally undercuts the Reformed tradition's claim to represent "historical Protestant soteriology". Thus, all the current Reformed talk about the "heresy" of "Arminianism", especially in regard to modern Evangelicalism is no different in principle than modern RCC papal historical and confessional claims you disagree with. And remember, "contemporary confessional commitments cannot be allowed to retroactively determine what the sources say or what was and was not "orthodox" in the actual time periods under discussion", right? Same with the Reformation, right? So if it is not the business of the RCC to pretend that their present standards are the authoritative interpretation of the past on the papacy, how can the Reformed turn around and do the same on the Reformation?

Liberal historians and other critics of the Catholic Church have not adequately overcome the force of the analogy of Catholics deciding what is orthodox or not according to their own theological paradigm. Some of them deny that it is even reasonable to speak of anything in the Middle Ages as "heretical" simply because there were multiple traditions on ecclesiology. We deny that they were all equally legitimate. And we do this precisely as Dort decided that Arminianism was illegitimate, even though it had a respectable Protestant strain going back at least to Philip Melanchthon and the Lutheran confessions (which any Protestant would be hard-pressed to consistently regard as "out of the mainstream" of early Protestant tradition); not to mention also the Anabaptist Protestant tradition.

Catholics (by the very definition of the word catholic [universal], cannot use the terms "heresy" and "orthodoxy" in a limited, "internal" sense, because in our vision of ecclesiology (which we consider explicitly biblical for the most part), it is meaningless to speak of multiple "orthodoxies," for there can only be one orthodoxy and one way to determine it with finality: the papacy, working in conjunction with ecumenical councils and the bishops outside of councils. We believe that there is but one Church and one Tradition which has preserved the fullness of the apostolic Tradition -- our own, of course.

It is not immediately arrogant or triumphalistic or "exclusivistic" to believe this. We simply believe that there is one legitimate orthodox Tradition and that it is the Catholic Tradition. Other variants of Christianity possess it to various degrees, and we acknowledge them as brothers in Christ by virtue of baptism and many other areas of agreement. But we cannot allow multiple orthodoxies. That does not mean we do not allow the existence of other Christians.

For the Catholic, there is no such thing as one orthodoxy for this community and another one for that community (not in any ultimate sense), for we believe that there is but one apostolic Tradition. This is clearly how St. Paul presents the notion of apostolic Tradition in Scripture.

The Apostles and Fathers would regard the notion of multiple orthodoxies, applied only internally to individual faith communities or "sub-traditions" as contrary to catholicity and apostolic succession, and in fact, itself a heretical and unbiblical concept.

As for Catholics "reading their own late-breaking, sectarian dogmas about the Papacy back into all of previous history," I categorically deny that we are doing this, and that it accurately reflects the facts of history. I have given plenty of documentation that there were strong papal views earlier on, and much more could be brought to the table (and, of course, as always, development of doctrine must be taken into consideration as well).

If anything is "late-breaking, sectarian dogma," it is all that Protestantism brought in as radical innovations and novelties: much of which had never been believed before except by non-trinitarian heretics and a few mavericks here and there (like Wycliffe). But that is another discussion altogether.

No one is "writing off" original sources. We are simply saying that there is such a thing as orthodoxy, that multiple strains of belief (in the Middle Ages or any other time) do not disprove this, and that the Catholic Church is no more unreasonable in believing that than Calvinists are in believing in their own confessions and thinking others "heterodox" (and oftentimes, not Christian at all, unlike the Catholic Church).

There is such a thing as an undue or extreme, partisan bias in doing history, and a liberal pre-commitment would certainly have a significant effect on this. It is evident, e.g., in Tierney's mocking of infallibility, calling it "Pickwickian," "Alice-in-Wonderland logic," and so forth. The historian does not mock. That isn't his job; he is supposed to report the facts as he sees them. This is sheer liberal disdain for supernatural faith.

I found an excellent online article in the evangelical journal, Quodlibet, by Scott David Foutz, entitled, "On Establishing an Evangelical Historiography for the 21st Century" ( The author makes a number of points that I agree with. I shall quote it at some length:

Although Christianity indeed offers the contemporary pilgrim much in the way of universal and transhistorical truth, it is quickly realized that even these have come to us in the swaddling clothes of history. Recent historiography en toto has increasingly tended toward relativism due to a growing awareness of the role of what Carl Becker has termed "climates of opinion" or Thomas Kuhn the now iconic "paradigm" . . . .

A very general overview of historiographical trends reveals three approaches which have each become prominent in the field at one point or another: the ideological, scientific, and relativistic. The first, ideological or presuppositional historiography is the predominant approach employed by pre-Enlightenment histories and several traditions thereafter. Ideological history starts with an historian who has already taken an interpretive stance of the events and thus goes about writing history in order to defend that position. Ancient examples of this would include the histories of Eusebius, Orosius, Josephus, and the Gospel of John, the latter of which explains, "These things have been written so that you may believe that Jesus in the Christ" (20:31) . . .

The second major approach to history is found in scientific historiography , which seeks to implement historiographical procedures modeled after those of the natural sciences. Traditionally, this approach has adamantly opposed any hint of ideological influence, but has instead insisted on a "presuppositionless" or "selfless" investigation of the historical facts. Following in the footsteps of empiricism, scientific historiography will see as true only those interpretations of historical facts which are most verifiable or reasonable. On the one hand, this method has engendered much gain in historical studies through its optimism that actual knowledge of particular facts is possible. On the other hand, strict adherence to this model has proven an obstacle to evangelical historians due to the former's near a priori denial of the possibility of the miraculous . . .

[Authors like Kung and to a lesser extent Tierney do not even believe infallibility is possible. This will necessarily color their conclusions in that regard; hence the anti-supernaturalist bias makes them untrustworthy -- from a broad Christian perspective -- to pronounce negatively and condescendingly on such supernatural, faith-based subjects as they do]

Scrutiny of scientific historiography has discovered it to be an unrealized ideal despite the valiant attempts of many. The possibility of a "presuppositionless" anything has fallen into more than doubt while greater and greater influence is attributed to one's own world view. Objective reconstruction of the past is denied by such thinkers as Carl Becker who has concluded that any history is "an imaginative creation, a personal possession which each one of us... fashions out of his individual experience, adapts to his practical or emotional needs, and adorns as well as may be to suite his aesthetic tastes." Even the once seemingly impenetrable bastion of scientific procedure has fallen into question with Thomas Kuhn's landmark analysis of the history of the sciences.

All of this marks the snowballing transition toward the third major approach we will consider, relativistic historiography, which views all attempts at history as inevitably a reconstruction of the past into what the historian thought or wished had happened. The relativistic differs from ideological historiography in that the former views the historian as inescapably locked into a particular worldview or paradigm. Ideological historians write history from a vantage point they have predetermined, while relativistic historiography views the very ability of the historian as determined by contextual factors such as culture, education, gender, race, and religion . . . relativism itself quickly moves from description to prescription and insists that every observer is a prisoner of one of many relative paradigms among which correspondence is at best unlikely. This utterly removes the possibility and relevance of factuality from the spheres of history and knowledge, leaving only autobiographical interpretation and solipsism. For some this may be a comfortable and non-demanding position to find oneself, but for many, it marks a serious degeneration of human knowledge. For evangelical scholarship, it denies a most fundamental necessity, historical knowledge as the basis of one faith. If biblical historians such as Luke or John 12 are subjected to this model, immediately lost is the ability to claim both that the text speaks one thing, and that this one thing corresponds to a universally accessible reality . . .

This brings us to the role of presuppositions or my term of choice, meta-view. It is clear that the total possible number of theories exceeds those implemented by the observer. Some he flatly rejects, some he puts on the back burner, and some he habitually implements. Thus a selection of theories has taken place according to some set of criteria. The grid through which a theory is run in order to ascertain its acceptability is that of the meta-view . Nicolas Wolterstorff understands this meta-view to be comprised of what he terms "Control-beliefs". Such control-beliefs do not simply stand above the observer determining what he or she may think or suppose; viz., they are not to be understood as controlling-beliefs . They are interactive with phenomena and may indeed be informed by observation, experience, and logic. They also may contain a priori beliefs and beliefs derived from special revelation. Together, these control-beliefs comprise a meta-view through which the individual interprets the world and its meaning.

The meta-view functions on three levels. On one level, it serves to inform the individual as to the very nature of meta-view itself. This is to say that the meta-view contains some basic beliefs about itself. Wolterstorff terms these as data-background beliefs . This is not to say that the meta-view determines itself, but rather that once particular data-background beliefs are adopted the individual is committed to only those meta-views which are compatible with those beliefs. It remains possible for the individual to exchange these data-background beliefs with others, thus allowing for a shift in meta-views . . .

[this is where I would place the Catholic faith in the indefectibility of the Church, one main stream of apostolic Tradition which resides in its fullness in the Catholic Church, the belief in a standard of orthodoxy and development of doctrine interpreted through this grid, an authoritative Church -- over against the sola Scriptura concept -- and dogmas such as papal infallibility]

Christian and non-Christian scholars alike have access to the historical data of Christian history. The difference between these two groups lies not in their access, but in their theorizing and structuring of that data into their respective meta-views . . .

A similarly traditional Christian view of historiography can be found in the online article, "Was Luke an Accurate Historian?," by Nicholas M. van Ommeren:
Another reason many scholars no longer regard Luke (and therefore the other Evangelists as well) as an objective historian, is the modern view of historiography. This view has its roots in a development in philosophy called the "New Hermeneutic." This "New Hermeneutic" has also forced its way from philosophy into biblical scholarship. Rudolf Bultmann, follower of the existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger, is closely associated with this development in biblical scholarship. According to this philosopher, the knowing subject cannot be separated from the known object. Therefore a hermeneutical circle is also spoken of. This entails that there is constant reciprocal influence between the subject and the object. In contrast to traditional hermeneutics, the subject cannot objectively observe the object from a distance. For modern historiography this means that the historian can never give an objective description of events.

Historiography then is not an investigation of objective facts, but an expression of the subjective impressions of the historian. The historian, as "knowing subject," cannot objectively observe the historical facts, the known object. There is therefore a distinction made in modern historiography between the fact "an sich" (in itself), and the fact interpreted and described by the historian. Marshall calls this the difference between "event" and "fact."

Therefore in that view no absolute reliability can be claimed for the work of any historian. This presupposition of modern historical science is then projected onto Luke the historian. Luke could therefore never have been an objective historian, according to these presuppositions. However, according to Marshall, these presuppositions of modern historical science are grossly exaggerated. It is wrong, he suggests, to posit that objective historiography is an unachievable ideal . . .

According to van Unnik, Luke was not only a reliable, objective historian, which is clear from his striking agreements with the historiography of Josephus, but Luke was also concerned with the infallibility of the facts. Luke wanted to describe the development of early Christianity.

[the writer is referring to I. Howard Marshall, Luke: Historian and Theologian (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1984) ]

In his second footnote, Marshall is again cited, making a point almost identical to one I have made:
This is the view of Bultmann: "To make faith dependent upon history would be to destroy the character of faith as faith and to substitute fallible knowledge for it." To this Marshall answers, "Basically this approach does not do justice to the biblical idea of faith. Such faith is rooted in the historical" (ibid., p. 34, . . . see also pp. 18, 30-37, 46, 50). "History is not irrelevant to faith, but historical statements form part of the substance of faith" (ibid., p. 37).
I wrote:
Tradition does not reduce to mere history; that is a rationalistic tenet. The Christian has faith . . . It is not contrary to historiography but goes beyond it, just as faith in biblical inspiration is not contrary to archaeological evidences of biblical accuracy, but goes beyond it, introducing the supernatural.
So my ideas are echoed by two evangelical articles on historiography, and a respected evangelical scholar even defends the notion of "objective historiography" over against the liberals. It appears, then, that my thought is quite in line with "evangelical historiography." than Tim's. Some Calvinist critics of Catholicism are currently taken with liberal "Catholic" historians, while I place much more credence in conservative evangelical ones. Truth is stranger than fiction once again. But if there is one constant in my thought ever since I converted to evangelicalism in 1977, it is a detestation of theological liberalism. I don't need to resort to liberal, modernist or post-modernist methodologies to critique Protestantism, and Protestants shouldn't do so in critiquing Catholicism.

I even found an ostensibly secular historian who agrees with my general historiographical point of view. Georg G. Iggers, is "distinguished Professor Emeritus at the State University of New York at Buffalo," and "has for more than thirty years been a leading expert on international historiography." In the article, "The Uses and Misuses of History", he concludes with a section entitled, "Objective Standards After All":

In the most recent decades, as we know, there has been a great deal of skepticism regarding the possibility of objective historical inquiry.

Despite my critique of the cult of objectivity which was shared by almost the entire historical profession, I am not willing to concede that there are no objective standards of historical criticism. The fact that the professional historians have contributed to the construction of national, ethnic, confessional and more recently gender related myths does not mean that there are no criteria of rational inquiry by which these myths can be taken apart. It is certainly very difficult to establish historical truths. Admittedly sources can lend themselves to different interpretations. But these interpretations are not arbitrary but are dependent on the sources. Historiography is thus an ungoing dialogue which does not necessarily arrive at consensus but may enhance understanding of the past by illuminating it from a variety of perspectives . . .

Every historian inevitably has a point of view. But the best way of avoiding arriving at untruths is to analyze one's point of view and thus being aware of one's perspective. This has been the responsibility of the historian past and present.

This little Apollon article is thus not a repudiation of professional history but a call for it to live up to the ideals of intellectual honesty which it proclaimed. The article itself harbors a conviction , which may to some appear a prejudice, namely the belief that there are standards of humanity and logical thinking which can guide the rational discourse among historians.

One thing the liberal critics of papal supremacy harp on about is the notion that heretical popes somehow disprove supremacy. But it is entirely possible within orthodox Catholicism that a pope could be a heretic and even teach heretical notions (we only deny -- in faith -- that it is possible for him to bind the entire Church to a heretical view):
But even if we grant that Pope Leo II and the Council condemned Honorius in his own person as a heretic (Chapman, Amann), this, as Cardinal Newman pointed out, is 'inconsistent with no Catholic doctrine' (Difficulties of Anglicans, II, 317).

(The Question Box, New York: Paulist Press, 1929 ed., 173)

The question with regard to conciliarism is whether councils or popes have final authority. Catholics have always held that this authority resides in the papacy, and have stated as much in councils and authoritative papal proclamations. Some medieval conciliarists, and anti-supernaturalist modernist historians and theologians such as Brian Tierney and Hans Kung deny this.

"Fr. Mateo," a Catholic apologist, replied to one particular charge of Brian Tierney:

[Question] On page 116 of his book "Origins of Papal Infallibility" Brian Tierney writes that Pope John XXII in his Bull of 23 Nov 1324 Quia Quorundam condemned the view that "What the Roman pontiffs have once defined in faith and morals with the key of knowledge stands so immutably that it is not permitted to a successor to revoke it ...". How is John XXII's Bull reconcilable with Vatican I's declaration on papal infallibility? Is he condemning ex-cathedra papal infallibility or merely key-of-knowledge papal infallibility? If the latter then what is key-of-knowledge infallibility as opposed to ex-cathedra infallibility?

Dear Gerard,

In the reign of Pope John XXII (1313-1334), a puritanical sect within the Franciscan Order who called themselves "the Spirituals" held that their interpretation of the rule and lifestyle of Saint Francis, especially in the matter of practicing poverty, was the ONLY LEGITIMATE WAY TO FOLLOW JESUS CHRIST. They taught that their rule of life was identically the same as the Gospel, the very way of life led by Christ and his Apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit as were the Scriptures.

They further held that approval of their rule by earlier popes was a matter pertaining to faith and morals; and since the rule was equal to the Gospel (they said), no subsequent Pope could change or revoke it.

Pope John rejected this fantastic doctrine in a bull of 1324 entitled Quia Quorundam . He denied the "Spirituals'" contention that their rule and style of poverty was equal to the Gospel and he pointed out that papal approval of a religious order and its rule was a matter of Church legislation, not of faith or morals. Therefore, he taught, a pope could (and sometimes might have to ) modify an earlier pope's legislation or revoke it.

In the course of the encyclical, Pope John denied the existence of a "key of knowledge", in virtue of which the "Spirituals" contended that earlier popes had unchangeably established this rule and lifestyle. (The phrase `key of knowledge' comes from Luke 11:52, which the "Spirituals" misused).

Pope John was not dealing with an issue of doctrinal infallibility, but with a defective understanding of the Church's governing power as invested in the Pope.

Infallibility, as defined in the First Vatican Council, requires that the faith of the whole Church be the norm of papal definitions; that these definitions be according to Scripture; that the pope speaks infallibly only when he speaks as teacher and pastor of all the faithful, with the infallibility with which Christ endowed his Church as a whole. This is 'ex cathedra' infallibility.

Tierney is not a reliable guide in understanding our doctrine of infallibility. His book "Origins" wins the praise of such dissidents as Hans Kung and Richard McBrien. If you want to correct his views, read James Heft's "John XXII and Papal Teaching Authority". Heft is at the University of Dayton . . .


An anonymous reviewer of Steve Ray's book, Upon This Rock, on, makes an interesting comment about Tierney's extremely liberal anti-dogmatism, with which we shall conclude:

Stephen K. Ray does an excellent job of presenting the scriptural and historical case for the papacy. He writes clearly and well. I would like to make a point about a book mentioned in the review by the Eastern Orthodox gentleman, namely Brian Tierney's "The Origins of Papal Infallibility". Moved by that review I read Tierney's book. Brian Tierney, though a good scholar, has an axe to grind, specifically a liberal Catholic axe. I am surprised that an Eastern Orthodox person would commend the arguments of Tierney, since Tierney obviously is against not just PAPAL infallibility, but ALL infallibility, including the infallibility of Ecumenical Councils and the infallibility of the Church herself, both of which doctrines are believed in by the Eastern Orthodox. Tierney, as a liberal, does not believe that the Church can definitively commit herself to truths. In other words, he rejects the possibility of dogma. Essentially his position is that of Hans Kung.

The mistake that this Eastern Orthodox reviewer makes illustrates a basic problem with attempts to interpret the historical evidence in an Eastern Orthodox or Anglican way: these via media are self-destructive, as Newman realized. The Orthodox accept the hierarchical authority of bishops and the infallibility of Ecumenical Councils. But the scriptural evidence and the evidence from the ante-Nicene Fathers is stronger for the papacy than for the authority of Ecumenical Councils. One can pick holes in the evidence for the papacy, but only by using arguments that ultimately can be used even more effectively against other doctrines that the Orthodox would wish to uphold. Protestants have the same problem: the same arguments that are used against the papacy can be turned even more effectively against the New Testament. To return to Ray's book, I recommend it very highly.


Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 5 June 2003. Revised on 1 December 2003 and 20 January 2004.


theguide42 said...

In order to better understand papal infallibility from a Catholic perspective, I recommend reading a short book by Msgr. Paul McPartlan called "A Service of Love: Papal Primacy, the Eucharist, and Church Unity." It explains the middle ground between Conciliarism and Ultramontanism.

The reviewer of Ray's book that you quoted makes an understandable point, but his perspective is based on a key mistake made by many Catholics trying to understand Orthodox ecclesiology. He says that Orthodox must repudiate Tierney's arguments because Tierney rejects the possibility of infallibility- including conciliar infallibility. This seems true, but actually the Orthodox version of infallibility is not limited to "propositional infallibility," or what the anonymous reviewer calls "Dogmas." The Church has infallible dogmas; however, they are not infallible in a propositional way, but a "personal way." As a Catholic, you can read any number of works by Wojytla, Ratzinger, Congar, or von Balthasar to learn more about personalist theology. Or, a helpful way to understand the difference between the Vatican 1-style Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox perspectives on infallibility would be to read an article by RC Fr. Brian Harrison,, and the Orthodox response by Fr. Laurent Cleenewerck, Pay special attention to Harrison's "Silver Bullet Argument" about infallibility and note Cleenewerck's response. [Also note that Harrison's extreme Vatican 1-style position has led him to reject Humanae Vitae as infallible.]

Jonathan Roberts said...

This "review" of Tierney's book has nothing to do with Tierney's book. In fact, Tierney addresses some of the responses found here. For example, Armstrong has some quotes that he believes support papal primacy. Papal primacy, however, does not entail papal infallibility--which is precisely what Tierney's book is about.

A critique of Tierney's work would be interesting. This is neither.

Dave Armstrong said...

A critique of my paper might be interesting. This ain't it.

Jonathan Roberts said...

Ok. You essentially state that the inveterate Brian Tierney is deceitful and selective regarding his sources regarding the issue of papal infallibility. You talk a good deal about how he is biased towards heterodoxy and then you provide quotes to support the notion of papal supremacy and the indefectibility of the Church. You provide not a single quote from a pre 13th and 14th century source to show that Tierney's thesis is false.

Furthermore, Tierney spends a good bit of time discussing how neither Papal primacy nor indefectibility entail papal infallibility.

The substance of Tierney's historical arguments goes untouched. If Brian Tierney is wrong, I would like to know. Life is too short. There is no point in willfully believing lies. But, as far as I know, Tierney is correct.

Dave Armstrong said...

My many arguments regarding papal infallibility can be found on my web page on the topic:

. . . and my book:

Take 'em or leave 'em. But there are plenty of arguments made by Catholics along these lines, both from the Bible, and from historiography.

Jonathan Roberts said...

Well, if you know of any substantial interaction with Tierney's work, let us know.