By Dave Armstrong (10-6-08)
"St. Worm" is a friendly guy with whom I've interacted off and on through the years (not too much). Lately he has started asking some penetrating questions about infallibility: originally in the combox for my paper, "Critique of Bedrock (Self-Defeating) Protestant Principles of Authority." His words will be in blue.
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Hey Brother St. Worm (I feel like St. Francis . . .),
I appreciate this latest entry, and have many affinities to your view of things.
Cool. Maybe one day we can persuade you of the infallibility of popes, councils, and the Church, and we can be even more alike.
I did want to, if you could indulge me a bit, play the part of the interlocutor and try to address your argument from all angles, to see if there are any logical inconsistencies.
There are few things I enjoy more!
For while I feel the weight of your argument, I would like to think the best minds of the classical Protestant tradition as having already dealt with your arguments at length.
Please direct me to some of these treatments. I'd love to see them. As I noted in the paper, most Protestants today don't even make any claim to fullness of truth anymore. They are flat-out "pessimists" and theological semi-relativists compared to the robust faith of the apostles, fathers, and Catholics.
Perhaps with some dialogue we can dig a bit deeper in this matter to see if your position won't hold out under logical scrutiny.
My first series of questions to you, brother Dave, are these: Is infallibility a precondition to certainty?
It depends on how one defines "certainty." I would say, briefly, that Catholics and any Christian who accepts apostolic succession, can have the certainty or certitude of faith, which is not absolute (being faith, after all), but is highly dependable and sufficient for a person to know the truth of the matter beyond a reasonable doubt.
Infallibility is assumed in the Bible and by the apostles and fathers. We see it particularly in the Jerusalem Council. They certainly felt as if their ruling was infallible and binding; guided by the Holy Spirit Himself (Acts 15:28 ). Paul is described as going out and proclaiming the teachings of the Council (Acts 16:4).
If yes, then do you know this from an infallible source or a fallible one?
Much more than an infallible source: a divinely inspired ("God-breathed") one: Holy Scripture.
If the source is fallible, might you not have erred about whether the Church is truly infallible?
Since Scripture isn't fallible , the question is moot.
If you say, "Impossible" and yet you assert you are of yourself fallible, then I believe you are no less a Protestant in this matter than most classical Protestants.
Moot point again. Scripture also teaches papal infallibility (at least of a sort, or in effect), in the opinion, not just of Catholic scholars, but Protestant ones:
So Peter, in T.W. Manson's words, is to be "God's vicegerent . . . The authority of Peter is an authority to declare what is right and wrong for the Christian community. His decisions will be confirmed by God." (The Sayings of Jesus, 1954, 205)Even in Old Testament times, some were granted this gift of special protection from error; for example, the Levites, who were teachers, among other things:
(New Bible Dictionary, edited by J.D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1962, 1018; "Power," written by R.N. Caswell)
Not only is Peter to have a leading role, but this role involves a daunting degree of authority (though not an authority which he alone carries, as may be seen from the repetition of the latter part of the verse in 18:18 with reference to the disciple group as a whole).
(R.T. France; in Morris, Leon, Gen. ed., Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1985, vol. 1: Matthew, 256)
Just as in Isaiah 22:22 the Lord puts the keys of the house of David on the shoulders of his servant Eliakim, so does Jesus hand over to Peter the keys of the house of the kingdom of heaven and by the same stroke establishes him as his superintendent.
(Oscar Cullmann, Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr, Neuchatel: Delachaux & Niestle, 1952 French edition, 183-184)
And what about the "keys of the kingdom"? . . . About 700 B.C. an oracle from God announced that this authority in the royal palace in Jerusalem was to be conferred on a man called Eliakim . . . (Isa. 22:22). So in the new community which Jesus was about to build, Peter would be, so to speak, chief steward.
(F.F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1983, 143-144)
Malachi 2:6-8: "True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts."
Thank you for your responses. And thank you for letting me play Devil's Advocate. Again I stress that these questions are for testing your position, and in no way reflects my genuine opinion of things. Like I said, I stand with you on a great many things, so the spirit of this is truly non-combative, rather it is more akin to grappling and sparring -- but for the sake of truth.
Good. Surely you don't accept papal infallibility, as an Anglican. I suppose an Anglican can accept conciliar infallibility, though I think the Protestant elements of Anglicanism would make that problematic at some point.
You've given me a bunch of things to consider, and perhaps in due time I can respond to every one of your points,
Fair enough. It's getting pretty boring around here, debate-wise. I'm glad to have some feedback from more folks than usual. Seems like every time I tackle the authority issue it gets a lot of response. And well it should.
but something is sticking out in my mind, and I must insist we dig a bit more deeply in the question of certainty and the need for infallibility
Do you say Scripture guarantees infallibility to the Church perpetually by implication only or by explication? You say the Scripture "assumes" infallibility of the Apostolic band, which I agree, but I have to wonder in that statement how broadly the Scripture applies the notion. Are there limits and constraints to how the idea is applied? And do you find out from the text itself the character of such infallibility? If yes, then where? I'd be interested to see how you textually flesh that out.
Excellent questions. I'm not sure I could answer all these questions specifically or that Scripture itself does, or intends to. I have to appeal back to the arguments I have already produced. I find the Jerusalem Council example to be the most explicit example I am aware of. I don't see how one can escape that. It's conciliar infallibility, and a good argument can be made that Peter pretty much presided and confirmed, which is the Catholic model, not the Orthodox or Anglican.
We would expect everything to be relatively undeveloped, but I find all the essentials of the Catholic ecclesiology in place: papal supremacy, apostolic succession, tradition, episcopacy, and conciliar infallibility. The argument then becomes (for many) how it applies to future generations. I think that is common sense: What is in the Bible is normative for ecclesiology: both the doctrinal teaching and how we see it working in practice in the Book of Acts. I think it is all there.
I think because all of that is in place in Scripture and early Tradition, the Fathers follow suit and pretty much agree (though less on the nature of the papacy than on the other things). We can discuss more particulars as we go, because it was a very wide-ranging question and can go in many different directions.
Also, what you say regarding the Fathers, I cannot simply agree (no disrespect intended towards you -- but you see how such a sticky wicket patrology can be), I'd have to see a litany of testimony of the Eastern and Western Fathers to feel rather confident in the idea that it was a universally held belief.
One can't find complete agreement among Eastern fathers on the papacy, of course, but there is more than Orthodox usually claim, with strong statements from many prominent Eastern fathers.
I would say as a Catholic that the East (insofar as it disagreed) simply got this wrong. That wasn't unusual in the early centuries. They were wrong on several major issues, according to the joint beliefs of both later parties. Cardinal Newman wrote about the mass apostasy of Eastern bishops in the 5th century, so that if Rome hadn't remained firm, they would have barely stayed orthodox (in Christology) at all. So to be wrong on the papacy is just one more instance of Eastern error.
Blessings to you!
P.S. while up here in Wisconsin on a 6 month developer contract job, and while I've had no Anglican church anywhere close by to go to, I've been attending a fully in-communion Roman Catholic Tridentine Mass each Sunday (not to worry, I don't commune).
Very interesting. I went to one a few months ago in my parish, but prefer the Novus Ordo Latin.
Belongs to some Institute of Christ the King ministry. The church was filled with beautiful ancient hymns from a choir-loft, accompanied by a pipe organ. It was jam-packed with young families, and a sea of veiled heads to boot (99% of the women there were covered)! I love it. The lines to the confessional were backed up even while the liturgy was going. Such a blessing indeed to see the traditional forms taking hold. The diocese up here seems very supportive of the extraordinary Masses. God bless Pope Benedict XVI.
Sounds like a great parish there. I'm glad you found a good place to worship during your time there. We went through Wisconsin twice on our trip out west. I loved the southwest area. It was fun driving the hills.
Some of your responses raise more questions, if you don't mind:
Not at all. Thanks for the dialogue.
I appreciate the biblical appeal to the Jerusalem council, but I have to wonder if you couldn't be erring by reading back into the text certain things based on later developments. On the face of things, the text tells us that the Apostles called a council to settle a matter in regards to Gentile conversion. They certainly appeal to the Holy Ghost and their authority ("it seems good to the Holy Spirit and us") to pass judgment after discussing the matter amongst themselves and the elders. This is all we know. But do we really know that the Spirit's work in their midst is equal to a gift of infallibility?
How could the Spirit's direct involvement not be infallible? The question is whether the Holy Spirit protected these men and their decision. If one answers yes, then this is explicit infallibility (and I can hardly think of a more explicit narrative example). If they think not, then it seems that there would be a textual problem of the Holy Spirit's mention in relation to the decision.
Does the phrase, "It seemed good to the Spirit and us" preclude the council members who weren't Apostles?
Scripture applies it to the "apostles and the elders, with the whole church" (Acts 15:22; cf. 15:28). That looks to me like the entire assembly: very much as the Catholic Church regards ecumenical councils. I don't see any restriction to apostles.
More importantly, is there any hint that the Spirit cannot be resisted in this case by members of the body of Christ, but can be elsewhere (as all Christians are able to do)?
How is that relevant? Of course the Spirit can be resisted by individuals. But the point is a protection by the Holy Spirit shown in this example of the first major council of Christian leaders.
We would expect everything to be relatively undeveloped, but I find all the essentials of the Catholic ecclesiology in place: papal supremacy, apostolic succession, tradition, episcopacy, and conciliar infallibility.Do you really find these items in place? They might be suggested, or they might seem to fit your present view of things, but could it not be as reasonably suggested the text is talking about a temporal Papal Primacy (or even a primacy without a supremacy)?
I was referring here to the entire NT evidences in these regards, not just the Jerusalem Council.
Apostolic succession is not even discussed in this text.
I agree. But it is implicitly implied insofar as this council was clearly a model of what should take place in the future of the Church. It shows us the decision process in the early Church.
Tradition, insofar as it is a handing down of teaching, I concur. Conciliar Infallibility? May it not be as reasonable to say that fallible men delivered the Spirit's Infallible testimony? If not, then why not (based on this example)?
I think that's a distinction without a difference. If a result is an infallible decision, what is the logical difference, if it is described as you do it above, or if we say that the pope and/or council was infallible, and delivered an infallible truth? The men are fallible except in those extraordinary instances where the gift of infallibility applies. The gift is obviously (by definition) from God.
Well I think we both hope you are seeing the text correctly, but I have to wonder if in your view of things would allow the text to correct your understanding if indeed there's a possibility that your belief in an infallibly ecclesial authority is flawed.
It's a belief held in faith, of course. This is truly how I interpret the text and how I think Catholics, generally speaking, would interpret it. I'm always willing to be dissuaded. That is central to my identity as a socratic, and part and parcel of my experience as a convert. I often arrive at new truths and understandings by means of dialogue, so that if what you say in reply seems more plausible than what I have argued, then I could quite possibly change my mind.
Of course, if the Jerusalem Council is somehow shown not to be infallible, that doesn't mean that infallibility collapses, because it isn't based on just one prooftext, but a variety of converging biblical evidences all leading in that direction, taken as a whole.
Or is it the case that, like those who hold to Sola Scriptura, you take that interpretive grid for how you read the text?
I'm sure I do to some extent. We all have biases of creedal affiliation. I'm the first to admit that and state it often. I can only be persuaded otherwise by solid argument that convinces me that my present view is less cogent, coherent, and plausible than a suggested alternative.
If your interpretation has other good and strong possibilities, then how can you even be certain about an infallible Church?
As stated above, because it is based on many considerations, not just one text. I offered this one as the best and most explicit that I have found. It's not like no Protestants argue similarly. E.g., A. T. Robertson in his Word Pictures in the New Testament for Acts 15:28:
Definite claim that the church in this action had the guidance of the Holy Spirit . . . Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth (John 16:13). Even so the church deliberated carefully before deciding. What a blessing it would be if this were always true!Eerdmans Bible Commentary states:
So completely Spirit-possessed is their consciousness that the community is regarded as the very mouthpiece or vehicle of the Spirit.F. F. Bruce:
The Spirit . . . speaks through prophets in the church; [Acts 11:28; 13:1 f.; 20:23; 21:4.10 f.] when the apostles and their colleagues reach a common mind, his is the primary authority invoked in its promulgation; [Acts 15:28] it is he who directs the course of missionary activity. [Acts 13:4; 16:6-10]Bruce was Plymouth Brethren; Robertson a Baptist: hardly biased towards a high ecclesiology. So if they can come to these conclusions from their "low church" ecclesiological perspectives, I hardly think it is feasible to be suspicious that my Catholic affiliation is unduly coloring my perception of Acts 15:28. The stuff I note is there! It's not, I submit, excessive or anachronistic at all to describe it as infallibility in action in the early Church.
(Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977, p. 208 )
Looking forward to hearing more of your answers.
Likewise. I am enjoying this a lot.
By the way, I read some of your responses to Keith Mathison and Kevin Johnson's commentary on Sola Scriptura -- you offered some very penetrating analyses. I commend your thoughtfulness.
Thank you. I'm glad you liked it. I also look forward to interaction with C. Michael Patton in the near future. I'm trying to finish a book: working insanely every day on it!
Your patience with me is more than appreciated. Thank you for your candid responses. I've some more questions (surprise? It's the Socratic way, right? BTW, I'm a big Peter Kreeft fan, he turned me on to Socrates.)
We're going to a talk of his in this area in five days. I'm excited about that, as I consider him the greatest living Catholic apologist. I met him briefly once years ago. I was turned on to Socrates in my first philosophy class in late 1977. :-)
How could the Spirit's direct involvement NOT be infallible? The question is whether the Holy Spirit protected these men and their decision. If one answers yes, then this is explicit infallibility (and I can hardly think of a more explicit narrative example).Would you say the infallible decision rendered in this matter is the same thing as unconditional infalliblity? In other words, do we positively know from this text that the right rendering of the the Spirit's will is positively linked to a perpetual gift of infallibility?
As I believe I already stated (maybe not), the notion of succession is not in the text itself, but it is a rather straightforward deduction:
1) The early Church's government is shown to be of a certain nature in the NT, in the book of Acts.Would it not be just as plausible to say, given this text, the Apostles did not err by virtue of their obedience to the Mind of Christ, and it's not necessary to say they could not err because of some personal obstinancy or vice?
2) It stands to reason that this is a model for later Christians.
3) The Jerusalem Council is stated to have arrived at an infallible decision.
4) Therefore, given #1-3, and other corroborating teachings, such as apostolic succession, papal primacy, and patristic consensus, it is plausible to posit that Church councils throughout history were intended by God to also be in fallible.
As I noted above, the text indicates that not only apostles were involved, and it was a collective conciliar decision, under the direct guidance or protection of the Holy Spirit. This is all biblical data: much of it plain and explicit. I fail to see what more is needed. I think what we see in Scripture is precisely what we would expect to see under an antecedent assumption (either espoused on other related grounds, or accepted for the sake of argument) that Catholicism is the later development of biblical, apostolic Christianity. That is true in this instance of an aspect of ecclesiology, and I would argue (and have) that it is true in all areas of theology.
It seems to me the term "infallibility" is not a necessary one to interpret what is going on in this text, if indeed it is possible to obediently render a right judgment through revelation and sanctified reasoning (as displayed in the narrative). For if anyone with those two traits, revelation and sanctified reasoning, can render right judgments, are they to be considered infallible?
Certainly. Infallibility, however, no longer has anything to do with new revelation. It has to do with the continuing development nof the apostolic deposit received in the beginning.
I was referring here to the entire NT evidences in these regards, not just the Jerusalem CouncilI'm very happy you have other textual evidences to point to, as I do not think the Jerusalem council per se proves infallibility. It might justly be solicited as another example of it, if indeed there were unambiguous/clearer texts promulgating the idea.
Here is one line of argument that I made in a paper of mine:
Prophets routinely purported to proclaim the very "word of the LORD." This is a much greater claim than infallibility under limited conditions. Papal infallibility is primarily a preventive, or "negative" guarantee, not positive inspiration. It is easy to argue, then, that infallibility is a far less noteworthy gift than the "revelation on the spot" that we observe in the prophets:
1 Samuel 15:10: "The word of the LORD came to Samuel:"
2 Samuel 23:2: "The Spirit of the LORD speaks by me, his word is upon my tongue." [King David]
1 Chronicles 17:3: "But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan,"
Isaiah 38:4: "Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah:"
Jeremiah 26:15: ". . . the LORD sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears."
Ezekiel 33:1: "The word of the LORD came to me:" ["word of the LORD" appears 60 times in the Book of Ezekiel]
Haggai 1:13: "Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD's message, 'I am with you, says the LORD.'"Objection
But that was in the Old Testament. Prophets had to have a special word from God to proclaim their message, because they didn't know the future. That doesn't prove that any such gift exists today. Even if the apostles had this gift, it was only for the time when the gospel was first proclaimed (they also performed relatively more miracles).
Reply to Objection
To the contrary: the prophets received their inspiration by the Holy Spirit (2 Chron. 24:20; Neh. 9:30; Zech. 7:12). The Holy Spirit is now given to all Christians (Jn. 15:26; 1 Cor. 3:16), so it is perfectly possible and plausible that an even greater measure of the Holy Spirit would be given to leaders of the Church who have the responsibility to teach, since James wrote: "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness" (Jas. 3:1). The disciples were reassured by Jesus: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth" (Jn. 16:13; cf. 8:32), so surely it makes sense that shepherds of the Christian flock would be given an extra measure of protection in order to better fulfill their duties.
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[Apostolic Succession] is implicitly implied insofar as this council was clearly a model of what should take place in the future of the Church. It shows us the decision process in the early Church.Your understanding of Succession is in no way necessitated by the text itself.
I agree. It's a deduction. Apostolic succession itself is shown in other passages.
There are other plausible understandings of succession that could easily fit what's going on in this chapter, would you not agree?
No; not when all the biblical evidence and the subsequent patristic consensus is considered together.
If you insist other texts help us interpret this text, that is fine -- please point me to the texts that have in mind the sort of succession you believe is being implied here. I'll leave that to your discretion -- that, however, might be a bunny-trail since the point of my questioning is to test your view of infallibility.
That gets into many of my papers devoted to papal primacy and ecclesiology and tradition. It's too much to bring all that out. In my opinion, the strength of the argument (as often in Catholic apologetics, is in the convergence of all sorts of evidences leading to one conclusion: like a rope made of many strands.
If a result is an infallible decision, what is the logical difference, if it is described as you do it above, or if we say that the pope and/or council was infallible, and delivered an infallible truth?I don't believe it's a distinction without a difference if you admit that an infallible source (the Spirit) can communicate Himself through fallible men, without having to ascribe infallibility to the men themselves. For example, in the book of Acts there are a few examples of prophetic utterances: did they require a gift of infallibility for them to be received as true prophecies? If not, why not?
Okay; I agree that prophecy is another gift and category of knowledge. That could conceivably be applied to the Council of Jerusalem. If it were, though, it seems to me that this would likely be noted in the text itself, since the gift of prophecy is noted in the New Testament. Infallibility is not listed as a gift. It has to be deduced from data suggesting it.
If the Jerusalem Council is somehow shown not to be infallible, that doesn't mean that infallibility collapses, because it isn't based on just one prooftext, but a variety of converging biblical evidences all leading in that direction, taken as a whole.Excellent! Lead me to these texts.
Consult many of my papers on my Bible & Tradition, Sola Scriptura, Church, and Papacy web pages. I'm sure you'll find something of what you seek. Then come back and fire more questions and we'll go from there!
I would be curious if they truly support (unambiguously) your understanding of this matter. As it stands, I cannot find infalliblity a necessary component to the Jerusalem Council, unless you have something more textually to show me in this pericope.
I think it comes down to prior dispositions and one's understanding of development of doctrine. It's precisely because the Catholic doesn't require explicit proof of everything in Scripture, that the Jerusalem Council is all the more impressive, because it seems so explicit (at least in its main outlines). If you want absolute, mathematical proof, I don't think you'll find that. But the choice is yours: the traditional Catholic (or catholic) view vs. the absurdities of sola Scriptura. You may not think the Catholic view is airtight, but a strong view that isn't airtight is a heck of a lot better than a self-defeating, unbiblical, ahistorical one.
Blessings to you, dear brother.
I can't imagine how you devote so much time to blogging as you do.
I do this full-time; that's how I can have the time! And I am usually putting in 60-80 hours of work in any given week. At the moment I'm working feverishly on completing a new book, too (it's up to 240 pages but with a lot to go yet). I hope to announce it within the next few weeks (I think you and many non-Catholics will have an interest in it), and I have some additional significant e-book news too (shortly).
I do have to moderate the Coming Home Network discussion board during much of the day. I am committed to 30 hours a week working for them. Many times what I post over there becomes a new post over here, which works out nicely.
Five of the current seven posts that are posted here (including this very one) actually originated over there. They tend to be relatively less "polemical" because that board is devoted to helping new Catholics, and not to debate per se.
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Sorry it's been a while since responding to this delightful post. I've been meaning to interact some more. By my lights you've done very well answering my questions, but as you know very well is not necessarily the same as sufficiently well.
With that said, I wanted to pick up on a comment you made in terms of prophecy, categories of knowledge, and infallibility. You wrote:
I agree that prophecy is another gift and category of knowledge. That could conceivably be applied to the Council of Jerusalem. If it were, though, it seems to me that this would likely be noted in the text itself, since the gift of prophecy is noted in the New Testament. Infallibility is not listed as a gift. It has to be deduced from data suggesting it.I'm extremely happy you're holding my feet to the fire as to what the text says versus what it doesn't say.
Like a good Protestant would, huh? :-)
Silence can be such deafening distraction, no?
I think it is a wonderful phenomenon, working, as I do, at home, with four vigorous children . . .
You are right, the text makes no mention of this Council coming by way of prophecy (like, "The Word of the Lord came to so and so..." or "He prophesied, saying..."), so I grant we cannot say for certain it's that sort of thing -- but what we do know is that the Spirit is appealed to as the leading factor, yes?
That appears to me to be the case. Whenever God is said to have participated in a process, clearly He is the leading factor, no?
It's not like the apostles were suggesting, "It seems good to us, but not the Spirit, so the Spirit loses ... " The point of the text seems to say that the Apostles were men of the Spirit, operating mightily in His power -- the discerning agent that leads them into truth, etc. So far I think we can agree.
But what's sauce for the goose... the text nowhere indicates this council was a product of a gift of infallibility.
Not all things need to be explicitly stated to be believed. That in itself is an assumption that can be challenged. There are many doctrines that are deduced from a large number of suggestions. It is the accumulation of evidences that makes something a strong argument, in the absence of explicit statements. Protestants themselves argue in the very same manner with regard to sola Scriptura, because there are no explicit statements of that doctrine.
I think their arguments fall flat, even on a deductive level (having dealt with very many of them myself), but my present point is that everyone uses this sort of argument from Scripture: even supposedly "hyper-biblical" Protestants, who make out that all their beliefs are explicitly grounded in Scripture, when in fact, their very rule of faith is not at all (nor is the canon of Scripture, which can't be deduced from Scripture in any way, shape, or form whatever). In the present instance, I think my conclusion is a very plausible deduction from the text, with the consideration of other related texts. Systematic theology itself depends on cross-referencing of texts. One might even say that is the primary definition of it.
You say it's the clearest example, but I think it's only a probable example and not an explicit or necessary one.
I think it is quite plausible and probable. It's not airtight. Moreover, though you might want to argue that the text doesn't imply infallibility, surely no one would argue that the text as it stands contradicts the notion of infallibility. All arguments from plausibility rest to some extent on factors extraneous to the immediate context of the claims made.
There's nothing illogical about saying a particular council is not fallible but correct.
Did you mean to write "infallible"? It's not illogical, but on the broader scale of what we're talking about (and far beyond mere logical considerations), it is my contention that God wants to provide His people with doctrinal certainty and not confusion. Protestants deliberately chose private judgment and the primacy of abstract ideals over concrete, institutional unity and infallible received truths (via apostolic succession). Their mistake and naivete was in thinking that the abstract principles would lead to unity. Every decent Christian (Protestant) man would inevitably arrive at the truths expounded upon by a self-proclaimed Protestant authority (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, the Anabaptists et al; even Cranmer and the English "Reformers"; insofar as they cared about theology at all, rather than personal wealth stolen from Catholics, and power). We all know what it in fact led to. Lots of decent, equally committed Christian men came to all kinds of conclusions that were contradictory. Thus, the Church was divided against itself. God didn't want that. Scripture gives no indication whatsoever of any notion of competing denominations and Christian "pseudo-truths."
So in the gradation of probability, is it not just as likely that the correct answer from the council is rooted in the gift of wisdom and guidance?
I don't think so. I think it was intended as a model for subsequent Christian ecclesiology. Councils of elders and bishops were to be led by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit would lead them into all truth (as Scripture says elsewhere). And that is infallibility (as opposed to inspiration).
The Council of Orange (529) is in my mind a correct council, and led by the Spirit, but I don't believe I have to ascribe infallibility to the bishops and theologians attendant in that provincial council in order to feel confident in its outcome.
Again, what is the practical difference? If you agree with a council and feel confident in its results, then you are making an antecedent assumption that it is trustworthy, and have some assurance that this is dependable and solid. Now, the question is: what is the basis of such assurance? Either it is objective (the Spirit really led it; therefore it is infallible) or subjective: "I think it is correct, based on my reading of Scripture." The first choice is the Catholic position. But you (or at least your socratic alter-ego) don't want to accept that; you want to keep questioning infallibility (as all good Protestants must, because they come from the tradition and legacy of skepticism exemplified by Luther at Worms and the Leipzig Disputation).
The other choice is to fall back on yourself or private judgment, which is pure Protestantism. But we all know the problems with that. Everyone else in Protestantism is also doing the same thing, and that does not lead to unity. Disunity is a bad thing. It's not what God intended. Nowhere in the New Testament to we see the slightest notion of folks deciding things by themselves, apart from God-ordained authority. Doctrine is always the result of authority: either from an apostle, or a council or a papal figure like Peter or the Church referred to generally (as in 1 Timothy 3:15). Scripture speaks of bishops and tradition and of apostolic succession.
Again, my questions and cross-examining are not meant to say I disagree with you necessarily (I'm always a hair's breadth away from Rome some days, and other days I feel like it's an impossible thing to convert to for rational/historical/biblical reasons),
Obviously, today was an example of the latter. :-)
but we need to make sure self-critical analysis is never removed precisely because we are fallible creatures.
In the end, everyone who wants to be a Catholic has to accept the authority of the Catholic Church. One can apply reason to determining whether the claim is a valid one; I hope they do; I did myself during my conversion, but in the end it is a matter of grace and faith: not another piece of sola Scriptura and private judgment and the Protestant method of arriving at truth (real or illusory). One accepts Catholic claims as something larger than oneself: not as the end result of a self-generated syllogism based on a private interpretation of Scripture. The system doesn't work that way. I can only (to use the classic analogy of what apologists do) remove obstacles to acceptance of our claims. I think (and hope) I am doing that.
God Bless, dear brother.
And the same back atcha!
One other thing, while I have a minute to post. You wrote an interesting thing:
Here is one line of argument that I made in a paper of mine:
Prophets routinely purported to proclaim the very "word of the LORD." This is a much greater claim than infallibility under limited conditions. Papal infallibility is primarily a preventive, or "negative" guarantee, not positive inspiration. It is easy to argue, then, that infallibility is a far less noteworthy gift than the "revelation on the spot" that we observe in the prophets...
This is an interesting but unhelpful comparison for your own case. Are you saying that a prophet is thereby infallible because God told him something to say?
Insofar as he is truly repeating that which God told him, isn't that rather obvious and unassailable? He's infallible in that instance.
If it's not the case in the former scenario (the greater gift), why would we expect it to be the case in the latter scenario (the lesser gift)?
It is the case in both instances: when the prophet hears the word of God and repeats it, and when the Council hears the affirmation of God and proclaims their binding resolution.
If infallibility were required to communicate the words of God, then no priest on any given Sunday might be trusted to properly preach a homily.
He is not delivering binding doctrine; he is merely expounding upon the doctrine that has already been delivered. That doesn't require infallibility, but only adherence and basic reason.
He is after all fallible (right?) But surely we don't approach things this way. We don't really expect our priest to be infallible to adjudge his message aright.
We don't need to. It's a non sequitur. I don't need to be infallible, either. I need to come to the place where I accept that the Catholic Church is what it claims to be. I have many reasons for believing that, but in the end it is by faith and not an airtight proposition (as all theology is not, in one important philosophical / epistemological sense). Once I accept that, and accept that God guides His Church, which is the Catholic Church: the One True Faith, then I can accept the teachings proclaimed authoritatively and infallibly by that Church. I don't have to figure everything out on my own. I have enough trouble and responsibilities figuring out how to pay my bills and properly raise my kids (and to answer objections such as yours!!), without having to determine every jot and tittle of Catholic doctrine. I'd rather leave that to the Holy Spirit and the Church.
Looking forward to interacting with you.
Same here. Thanks again.
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Thanks for your reply. So far a very enjoyable exchange. I'll try to keep the momentum here.
You wrote regarding the Jerusalem Council and the possibility of its infallibility:
I think it is quite plausible and probable. It's not airtight. Moreover, though you might want to argue that the text doesn't imply infallibility, surely no one would argue that the text as it stands contradicts the notion of infallibility. All arguments from plausibility rest to some extent on factors extraneous to the immediate context of the claims made.Fair enough. I'm glad you don't say the text is airtight on this matter. And I concur some things are drawn out of the text by corroborating evidence (e.g., infant baptism -- nothing explicit, but deduced by premises already in the text).
I don't object to the possibility of Infallibility, and indeed embrace it happily as an AngloCatholic (I believe in conciliar infallibility),
That's a puzzling remark. I thought that was what this dispute was about? You keep questioning the evidence from the Jerusalem Council. If you deny that that is a prooftext for conciliar infallibility, then on what biblical basis do you believe in conciliar infallibility?
but as for my "socratic alter-ego" goes (love that term! can I steal it?), you're right, I cannot just take up that presupposition and come to the text.
But I wanna know why you believe in conciliar infallibility in the first place! I thought I was trying to convince you of that. Strange . . .
You need to give me good reasons from the text to argue this way.
We've been round and round. I have nothing else to add. All systematic theology involves cross-referencing and comparison. All theologians (at least orthodox ones) have prior assumptions before they approach any text.
Infant baptism has objective comparisons in Scripture because we see God dealing covenantally with infants in the Old Testament. So while one might object to the OT model being applied to the NT context, it can't be said there's nothing objective we can point to for comparison. Infallibility on the other hand has no example explicitly (which you grant), and nothing objectively comparable you can point to from sacred Scripture (so far) that shows infallibility at work (God excluded -- we all believe He's infallible by nature). You can't ask me to assume the paradigm in order to prove it to me (well you can, but it's not good reasoning, right?).
I disagree. I think there is a great deal of Old Testament relevant data (broadly speaking). The aspect of prophets and how they are led by God, presented above, is some of that.
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LOL, Dave -- I was trying not to confuse you by letting you know up front I'm playing the socratic skeptic, so to speak. I keep showing my cards to remind you I'm not so much against infallibility, per se, I was just trying to muster up the best arguments I could think of to counter the supposition that infallibility is a pre-requisite for certainty. I took on persona of "skeptic" to test the apologetic waters, not because I outright object to it. I'm not a papal infallibilist, but I am a conciliar infallibilist.
Sorry about the confusion. The dialogue was still enlightening to me about how you tease out your convictions in the light of Scriptural evidences.
Remember, I was from the beginning testing the strength of your argumentation, to see if it holds up under logical scrutiny.
Hope it wasn't a waste of time for you -- it wasn't for me.
So did I pass the test or not? What grade did I get?!