Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Exchange with Protestants on the Meaning of "Unanimous Consent of the Fathers": Does it Allow Any Exceptions?

By Dave Armstrong (4-29-08)

Baptist pastor and blog regular Ken Temple's words will be in blue. "Interlocutor"'s words will be in green.

* * * * *

Mary was without sin even while on the earth,

You are just assuming that. Romans 3:23 "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."

I'm not assuming anything because I have backed up these views with Holy Scripture, in my paper:

"All Have Sinned . . . " (Mary?)

* * *

Tertullian, Origen, Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Basil, Hillary – 6 of the Early Church fathers who taught that Mary had sinned.

So what?

Well, there goes "unanimous consent" of the fathers. Rome defines a dogma based on Tradition. We examine history and see there's actually conflicting views amongst the fathers. Is 1 father good enough as a witness for a dogma/Tradition, 10, 50? . . . It basically seems to come down to, Rome says it, so we'll believe it, even if the evidence to support it seems lacking which is problematic to most Protestants. "Unanimous consent", the "constant teaching of the church", etc. etc. basically boil down to "trust our authority, you're not reading history or scripture correctly". Is there then anyway to test traditions/teachings as Christ instructed? Not really - the faith in Rome is a priori.

The early church fathers who believed that Mary sinned, . . . completely destroys this idea of "the unanimous consent of the fathers", a completely non historical claim. What does it mean?

Well, there goes "unanimous consent" of the fathers.
Not at all, because you fail to understand that that term (used in this particular ecclesiological / patristic context) does not mean "absolutely every" -- as it is used today, but rather, "consensus of the vast majority" in line with the magisterium of the Church. See a short paper by Steve Ray that explains this.

On the unanimous consent of the fathers issue: Steve Ray and your argumentation just don't fly with logic, reason, normal use of language; nor history. It is a modern attempt to escape the implications of this; for if your church is wrong on one thing; the whole thing falls. And it is wrong on many things, especially the Marian dogmas and the "unanimous consent of the fathers" statements -- these things fell your Infallibility dogma and the whole RCC system like a giant oak tree falling down.

To the contrary, Your Dictionary.com gives the following as synonyms:

unanimity Synonyms


accord, unity, unison, concord, consensus, harmony, concordance, sympathy, congruence, conformity, correspondence, apposition, compatibility; see also agreement 2.

Antonyms disagreement*, discord*, dissonance.
Note that "consensus" is included: precisely as I have stated. Not every term must mean "absolutely every." Roget's Thesaurus gives similar synonyms:

unanimity (520.5; under general category, "Assent")

like-mindedness, meeting of minds, concurrence, consent, accord, general agreement, consensus, consensus of opinion, general acclamation. [partial list]

(New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 3rd edition, 1962, p. 339)
Steve Ray wrote another article on this topic in Envoy Magazine. The Latin phrase is unanimem consensum Patrum . Note St. Vincent of Lerins' famous passage:
In the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that Faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense ‘Catholic,’ which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one Faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.

(Commonitory, 2)
See how he qualifies it at the end? This passage is often used polemically against Catholics. So if it is to be so used, then let our detractors at least understand its meaning properly. The same book is also the most explicit exposition of the notion of development of doctrine in the Church fathers.


Answers.com gives the same meaning:
Thesaurus: unanimity


The quality or condition of being in complete agreement or harmony: consensus, unanimousness. See agree/disagree.
If one follows the link to "consent" one finds:


1. An opinion or position reached by a group as a whole: “Among political women . . . there is a clear consensus about the problems women candidates have traditionally faced” (Wendy Kaminer). See Usage Note at redundancy.

2. General agreement or accord: government by consensus.

[Latin cōnsēnsus, from past participle of cōnsentīre, to agree. See consent.]
Thesaurus.com offers the same:

Main Entry: unanimity
Part of Speech: noun
Definition: The quality or condition of being in complete agreement or harmony.
Synonyms: consensus, unanimousness
Source: Roget's II: The New Thesaurus, Third Edition
by the Editors of the American Heritage® Dictionary.
Copyright © 2003, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Now, if we follow the same source (Dictionary.com) for the definition of "consensus", we get the following:
1.majority of opinion: The consensus of the group was that they should meet twice a month.
2.general agreement or concord; harmony.

[Origin: 1850–55; <>consent
(īre) to be in agreement, harmony (con- con- + sentīre to feel; cf. sense) + -tus suffix of v. action]
Many say that the phrase consensus of opinion is redundant and hence should be avoided: The committee's statement represented a consensus of opinion. The expression is redundant, however, only if consensus is taken in the sense “majority of opinion” rather than in its equally valid and earlier sense “general agreement or concord.” Criticism of consensus of opinion has been so persistent and widespread that the phrase, even though in common use, occurs only infrequently in edited formal writing. The phrase general consensus is objected to for similar reasons. Consensus is now widely used attributively, esp. in the phrase consensus politics.
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
Perhaps someone wants to quibble with the meaning of the word synonym? That won't work, either, according to Dictionary.com:

Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)


1.a word having the same or nearly the same meaning as another in the language, as joyful, elated, glad.
2.a word or expression accepted as another name for something, as Arcadia for pastoral simplicity; metonym.
3.Biology. one of two or more scientific names applied to a single taxon.

[Origin: 1400–50; <>synōnymum
<>synnymon, n. use of neut. of synnymos synonymous; r. ME sinonyme < class="luna-Img" src="http://cache.lexico.com/dictionary/graphics/luna/thinsp.png" alt="" border="0">]

Online Etymology Dictionary - Cite This Source - Share This


1432 (but rare before 18c.), from L. synonymum, from Gk. synonymon "word having the same sense as another," noun use of neut. of synonymos "having the same name as, synonymous," from syn- "together, same" + onyma, Aeolic dialectal form of onoma "name" (see name). Synonymous is attested from 1610.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper

- Cite This Source - Share This


two words that can be interchanged in a context are said to be synonymous relative to that context [ant: antonym]

WordNet® 3.0, © 2006 by Princeton University.What was it you claimed again?: "Steve Ray and your argumentation just don't fly with logic, reason, normal use of language; nor history".

Nice try. I rest my case. Your negative characterization of this point falls flat. The meaning as used by Catholics is completely possible by the rules of etymology and definition, as I have just demonstrated. You want to quibble? Then go after dictionary and thesaurus; it's no longer my problem, but your war with established, documented usage.

* * *

I'm aware of that view which is why I didn't bring forth Irenaeus and some of his views on Jesus' age and millenialism. That's why I mentioned the numbers - what percentage comprise a "vast majority"? We have 6 listed so far denying it, however many affirming her sinlessness (though they may admit they are speculating or that it's a matter of pious opinion), and however many silent on the issue. Do you think the Assumption has the "unanimous consent" of the fathers then, given you would not be able to bring forth a "vast majority" of fathers writing on it (and Epiphanus admits he is mainly speculating) and in light of the Joussard quote *? Or, if you think that is sidetracking the issue from the IC, where are the critical responses from others to the writings of the fathers who did not hold to the IC if this was the general belief of the "vast majority"? (This is simply a reversal of the "argument from silence" that Ray promotes for the papacy).

* Now I have not read this work (so maybe context helps), but came across this citation which seems to gel with many non-RC concerns over Tradition (here with the Assumption, but could deal with the IC reasoning as well as many other RC teachings): Joussard cited in Carol's Mariology:
A word of caution is not impertinent here. The investigation of patristic documents might well lead the historian to the conclusion: In the first seven or eight centuries no trustworthy historical tradition on Mary’s corporeal Assumption is extant, especially in the West. The conclusion is legitimate; if the historian stops there, few theological nerves will be touched. The historian’s mistake would come in adding: therefore no proof from tradition can be adduced. The historical method is not the theological method, nor is historical tradition synonymous with dogmatic tradition.
Ken has produced six who denied the sinlessness of Mary. I have 61 fathers listed in my book on the fathers. I have documented for many of these, that they accepted Mary's sinlessness.

The Assumption was a very slowly developing doctrine and difficult to find at all in many fathers, but that gives me no pause over against Protestantism, since the two pillars of Protestantism, sola Scriptura and sola fide, are scarcely found at all among the fathers (I devoted over 100 pages to the utter lack of the first concept in my book), and the canon of Scripture is a completely "unbiblical" doctrine, where the Protestant has to inconsistently rely on the infallibility of Catholic Church tradition.

If you think 5-10% dissent in the fathers regarding particular issues is a problem for us, why is not 95-100% dissent in the fathers and complete absence in Scripture as well (canon, Bible alone) not a problem for you? Goose and gander.

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