Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Dialogue With a Protestant on the "Infallibility Regress" Argument and Catholic Authority , Part II


Chartres Cathedral, France

See Part One. My dialogue opponent "Interlocutor" is (presumably, since he won't tell us his affiliation) a Protestant of some sort. He has, however, expressly denied being either an anti-Catholic Protestant undercover, or a "traditionalist" Catholic trying to raise a ruckus (see his comment on that). I have expressed in no uncertain terms a protest or objection to anonymity of both person and position: obviously to no avail (see my comment on that). His words will be in blue.

* * * * *

Since you are bound to obey (potentially) fallible/reformable teachings of the RCC, you still consider them valid exercises of authority although they are not under the purview of infallibility.

That's correct. But there are also different gradations of infallibility, and folks are wont to categorize teachings as non-infallible when in fact they are often infallible but at a lower level than ex cathedra. The number and percentage of infallible teachings have been shrunk: particularly by liberal dissidents.

Does the authoritative nature of the RCC then necessarily depend solely on infallibility?

In all doctrines that it has declared to be infallible (including virtually all doctrines that even Protestants would consider "important" or infallible), yes. The things that aren't infallible are n a much lower relative level of importance (such as Molinism vs. Thomism).

I don't see how it would. This is why previously I have asked you about whether you think fallible authoritative teachings could be in error, but not such an extent as to be hurtful to the soul (which you said was probably more of a question for trained scholars/theologians - I agree it's somewhat of a complicated question).

Fallible teachings could quite possibly be in error, by definition. It's like asking, "will a person with original sin possibly sin?"

If there was no ongoing infallible Magisterium in the OT/intertestamental periods, and a host of differing Jewish sects arose (and yet God's people still forged on), why must there be an ongoing infallible Magisterium in the new covenant?

Because (it seems plausible to me, anyway) the New Covenant is more developed and "higher" than the Old Covenant, and God wanted to give His Church a higher level of certainty than even the Jews possessed (which was quite considerable and not at all akin to sola Scriptura). The Sadducees were simply the liberals of their time, just as we have today. The mere existence of heretics or liberals or dissidents has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not there is an authoritative system in place. They simply dissent against it. Classical Protestants argue in exactly the same fashion, contending that the Anabaptists and extreme wacko sects of today do not prove that there is no intelligent, self-consistent Protestant system to be had (Calvinism or Lutheranism). And they're right. But my objections hold force, in my opinion, against all forms of Protestantism.

Now, it could be a gift of the NC certainly, but the argument that without it there would be mass disunity which God simply would not allow - well He did allow such a thing and preserved His faithful (and indeed still held people accountable to interpretations of Scripture); divine precedent matters.

Protestant history has proven what happens when infallibility (and many other things) are ditched. I need not prove that; it's the most self-evident part of my argument. The existence of sects like the Sadducees proves only that men went astray in th Old Covenant just as they do in the new. It does nothing towards establishing what is the fullness of truth. The Pharisees were the "orthodox" party at that time (whuch is why Jesus, Paul, and many early Christians followed their customs, and why Jesus even urged His followers to obey their teachings: Matthew 23:1-3). Orthodoxy is not disproven by the presence of heterodoxy. You put yourself in the odd position of having to believe that Jesus didn't know what was Jewish Truth, out of the different sects. He certainly knew; so did St. Paul, who called himself a Pharisee twice in Scripture. Pharisees are called Christians in Scripture; Sadducees never are.

Also, you seemed to want to read more about Dulles' book - to be fair, that citation was from Steve Hays' review of that book - he cites extensively from it and makes some interesting points (you will disagree heh) about the nature of the Magisterium.

I'm not gonna read his nonsense or respond to it (per my policy with anti-Catholics, whose views I have always considered intellectual suicide). If you want to draw from it make the argument, and I'll respond to you. I've refuted Hays several times in the past (when I still dealt with anti-Catholics). Trusting him to accurately interpret or even report what Cardinal Dulles argued is a bit like trusting the Democratic National Committee to give an accurate, fair appraisal of Sarah Palin.

* * *
So, what is the next step in always testing whether my beliefs mesh with Magisterial teaching? How do I know I understand the catechism and various councils and encyclicals and the like correctly?

By reading the Catechism or reading additional catechetical and apologetic works.
Sure, but I have to figure out what they mean, and might get it wrong.

I deny that it is difficult. Anyone who can read and exercise rudimentary logic, can understand what the Church teaches, from the Catechism. It's easy for you to talk in generalities, and try to cast doubt on everything, just as agnostics do with Christianity and the Bible. Unless you get down to particulars and show how the Catholic system fails in those examples, and moreover, that they are important enough examples to be relevant to a debate about whether Catholicism or Protestantism has a more coherent and workable rule of faith and authority structure, you haven't accomplished anything (at least not when I'm here to show how your arguments are insufficient for your purposes).

There are theologians and apologists with different viewpoints and credentials.

What's that have to do with the Catechism or the magisterium itself? Nothing.

And what if I don't even realize I do actually have it wrong?

You can play philosophical skeptic all day long; it's a fun game, but irrelevant to our discussion, since (as I keep repeating) Christianity (in any form: not just Catholic) is not a mere philosophy or rationalistic exercise. It is a religious faith, and requires a reasoned (not irrational) faith. Faith is not mathematical demonstration. Your premises are absurd to begin with, because you have to assume the untruth (Christianity is mere philosophy and operates totally on that plane where it comes to determination of true doctrine) to even make the argument. Whether you are aware of it or not, that is what your premise amounts to. I deny the premise, and I think you do, too, if you will only seriously think about it some more.

All this sifting I must do.

Nonsense. All you have to do is know how to read, have an IQ above 60 and have the faith and willingness to accept what the Catechism proclaims. I think the lack of faith is really the bottom line with Protestants who reject Catholic claims. They don't have enough faith to believe that God could and does protect a Church, which is a human institution, and Christian apostolic doctrine. They have the faith to believe in the higher, more involved gift of the inspiration of human sinners (Scripture) but not the lesser and far more limited gift of infallibility of human sinners (a pope and ecumenical councils and apostolic succession and sacred Tradition). Even that makes no sense. They have great faith in one instance that requires more faith and none (and outright skepticism) where less faith is required.

Again, this sounds silly to some extent,

You said it . . .

but it's just an application of the typical argument against SS and interpretation.

No; the analogy doesn't fly because we aren't making the individual the final arbiter of true doctrine, as Protestants do. To posit and believe by faith in an infallible Church makes perfect sense, because Christians already believe in an inspired Scripture, and that Scripture has much indication of an infallible Church. That is self-consistent. But to fall back on a mere non-infallible individual believer, who supposedly will figure all this stuff out, or else have to operate in a sort of limbo or agnostic or uncertain state in their Christian life, is not only absurd and perfectly implausible in the abstract, but chaotic in actual practice, as history has amply shown.

The fact remains that there is no chaos with regard to Catholic doctrine, for those willing to accept what the Church has clearly proclaimed; whereas there is plenty within Protestantism. You can play the "infallibility regress" game if you like, but it falls flat every time, when properly scrutinized (wich is very laborious and time-consuming, as this reply proves. Disproving error is always a lot harder than assertion of error).

My understanding will always be fallible, but I could become confident (to varying degrees) in my understanding of sources. Just as I could become confident in my understanding of Scripture (to varying degrees).

But you inevitably have to fall back on authority at a certain point. I don't think Scripture is unclear. I've argued many times that it is abundantly clear, for the most part (the papers are on my site). But people still differ, because that is the nature of human beings. That's why God gave us a Church and Church authority in the first place: to have certainty of what doctrines are true and which are false doctrines: even concerning the very content of Holy Scripture, before we even get to interpreting it.

Scripture can be infallibly authoritative, just as written magisterial docs are infallibly authoritative. If I can have fallible certainty on Magisterial docs, why not with Scripture?

You can, but the trouble comes with masses of people; as soon as they start to disagree. This has been one of my 200 arguments with this never-ending discussion on authority. You or I could come to any number of true doctrines by reading Scripture alone. I pretty much did that in a number of cases, when I was a Protestant. By the time I became Catholic, I had arrived at maybe 70% of the Catholic doctrines on the authority (ultimately) of Scripture alone. Most other Catholic doctrines did not strike me as utterly unbiblical, either, once they were adequately explained to me. And the more I did Catholic apologetics (whch I started in late 1990 and have constantly done ever since), the more I saw this.

The problem, however, comes with the Jehovah's Witness (an Arian) on the next block, who reads the same Scripture that we do and concludes that Jesus was created. It's with the Mormon two blocks over who believes that God was once a man and that men can become gods. It's with the Christian Scientist and the Sabellian (Jesus Only) and the Unitarian and Moonie and Scientologist and snake handlers and Name-it-Claim-it heretics, etc., etc., etc. They're all operating on the principle of Scripture Alone, just as the ancient Arians and virtually all heresies did, too.

The Fathers countered them by appealing to Scripture AND Tradition and apostolic succession.
And that is how we counter Protestant arguments today. I myself specialize in "biblical evidences" but I also appeal to Church authority, because that is how Catholicism works. It is consistent with both the Bible and Christian history. Protestant distinctives are consistent with neither.

Do disagreeing catholics not both claim that the Magisterium is guiding them (and marshall their own books/theologians/documents supporting their positions), yet they contradict each other (sound familiar?)

Usually it is a liberal Catholic who claims we can't know what the Church teaches, which (in every case I have seen) is sheer hogwash. The clearest example is contraception. That is the biggest bugaboo in the liberal mind (and the immediate cause of the huge dissent in 1968, after Humanae Vitae), but it is absolutely clear what the Church teaches on that, and what she has always taught. They simply don't want to accept it and so they pretend there is some doubt.
rather than talking abstractly in the broadest terms, give me some examples of teachings that you think are so unclear that a Catholic wouldn't know what to believe about them.
Sure, I'm not going to get into stuff like predestination, evolution, or partim/partim vs. MS which I think is clear RCs can hold various ideas. But here are some: The list of infallible teachings obviously. Or, similarly, the list of authoritative (not necessarily infallible) teachings that I cannot disagree with.

That's not necessary, on the same grounds as I have argued: it is not necessary for each person to have infallible certainty; they simply have to accept the teaching: most conveniently presented in the Catechism. We still need specific proposed examples to have a constructive discussion about it. In order to assert this, you presuppose that every Christian believer is a philosopher, with a special grasp of epistemology, which is patently ridiculous.

Dulles again - "There is, however, no canonical list of all the ecumenical councils." And even if we had such a list, there is no list of what all promulgated by each council is infallible.

Theologians play around with all these fine points, but I dont see how that has much effect on the day-to-day life of Catholics, or casts doubt on their beliefs.

Are all canons of Trent authoritative (not even asking about infallibility)

Yes, I believe so.

- if so, is the Vulgate with its translation errors as endorsed by Trent something to be used by all catholics ("no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever")?

Pope Pius XII interpreted this:
But that the Synod of Trent wished the Vulgate to be the Latin version `which all should use as authentic,' applies, as all know, to the Latin Church only, and to the public use of Scripture, and does not diminish the authority and force of the early texts. For at that time no consideration was being given to early texts, but to the Latin versions which were being circulated at that time, among which the Council decreed that that version was rightly to be preferred which was approved by the long use of so many centuries within the Church.

So this eminent authority of the Vulgate, or, as it is expressed, authenticity, was established by the Council not especially for critical reasons, but rather because of its authorized use in the Church continued through the course of so many centuries, and by this use it is demonstrated that this text, as the Church has understood and understands, in matters of faith and morals is entirely free of error, so that, on the testimony and confirmation of the Church herself, in discussions, quotations, and meetings it can be cited safely and without danger of error, and accordingly such authenticity is expressed primarily not by the term critical but rather juridical.

Therefore, this authority of the Vulgate in matters of doctrine does not at all prevent--rather it almost demands today--this same doctrine being called upon for help, whereby the correct meaning of Sacred Scripture may daily be made clearer and be better explained. And not even this is prohibited by the decree of the Council of Trent, namely, that for the use and benefit of the faithful in Christ and for the easier understanding of divine works translations be made into common languages, and these, too, from the early texts, as we know has already been praiseworthily done with the approval of the authority of the Church in many regions.

(Divino Afflante Spiritu [1943] )
What sins are of grave matter? Some are clear-cut, but no exhaustive list.

Give me a proposed example.

To see the confusion amongst RCs on this see the sampling of topics at the moral theology forum.
This is your argument. You bring up things to discuss. Don't just send me somewhere else. I'm busy enough!

* * *

I think your ongoing debates with traditionalists and their interpretations of vatican 2 and its authority/nature and other historical documents would say something about clarity of the Magisterium.

I don't think so. I think their erroneous opinions say a lot about them and their false presuppositions, but not much about the Church. There have always been rigorists throughout the history of the Church (Montanists, Donatists, Jansenists); even in Protestant circles (Anabaptists, Puritans, extreme fundamentalists today). So what? The "traditionalists" are merely repeating the errors of Joseph Dollinger and the Old Catholics, who rejected Vatican I because of papal infallibility. They didn't get it. They were overly rationalistic. They lacked faith. They couldn't see the forest for the trees. Likewise, "traditionalists" today don't get it. They don't think with the Mind of the Church (they know better than the Church), and so don't comprehend developments in religious freedom, ecumenism, liturgical developments, and so forth. They pick and choose what they want, which is precisely what both liberal Catholics and Protestants do. You can cite their example against mainstream orthodox Catholicism if you like, but it doesn't prove anything, because their dissenting opinions have no authority or basis anymore than Hans Kung's or Richard McBrien's opinions have, when they contradict Church teaching.

You may think their interpretations are hogwash which is great - not all interpretations are equally valid or supportable - now what about that common argument against SS and interpretation again?

"Traditionalists" don't speak for the Catholic Church. The popes and bishops and councils do that. So it proves exactly nothing. Sola Scriptura is only as good as the individuals who apply it, which is every Protestant individual. There is no analogy whatever.

Friday penance - still obligatory or voluntary? Canon law unclear here apparently ("Of course, all this could be settled by the bishop's conference issuing a document settling this question, so that the blogosphere wouldn't be forced to adjudicate it.")

It is voluntary except for Lent.

Sinful to not advertise your competitors based on catechism? ("folks in the hierarchy ... don't have extensive familiarity with [some topics]. The result is that they often write in an unclear manner.")

CCC #2409 can't be said to definitely require such a thing. It is referring primarily to price gouging, unjust wages, etc.

Does "for the sake for our salvation" in dei verbum mean the bible is only inerrant in salvific matters (as Brown and others contend) or is the bible completely inerrant? Brown (and Fitzmyer and other RC scholars usually dismissed immediately as liberals by apologists) had serious credentials and papal backing; why not trust his views?

Brown and Fitzmyer are indeed liberals; there is no question about that. Even your pal Steve Hays agrees (so it's not just us Catholic apologists):
Fitzmyer is a learned liberal . . .

Ironically, it’s liberals like Fitzmyer, with their secular historiography, who easily succumb to anachronistic interpretations. Because they don’t believe in genuine prophecy or typology, they reinterpret the Bible consistent with their closed-system viewpoint. Even if they don’t subscribe to metaphysical naturalism, they operate with methodological naturalism in their version of Biblical hermeneutics, following the lead of Troeltsch.

(14 July 2007)
Hays protege Jason Engwer wrote the same about Raymond Brown, on Triablogue:
Brown was a liberal who was wrong on many points, . . .


We seem to hear much more about his more liberal conclusions, but he also agreed with conservative scholarship on some points.

One Catholic article asserted:

Fr. Brown drew sharp criticism from the late Lawrence Cardinal Shehan and others for his pioneering role "in a new Catholic theology founded on modern exegesis" that cast doubt on the historical accuracy of numerous articles of the Catholic faith.
These articles of faith, proclaimed by Popes and believed by the faithful over the centuries, include Jesus' physical Resurrection; the Transfiguration; the fact that Jesus founded the one, true Catholic Church and instituted the priesthood and the episcopacy; the fact that 12 Apostles were missionaries and bishops; and the truth that Jesus was not "ignorant" on a number of matters.
Not least, though, was Fr. Brown's exegesis concerning the infancy narratives of Saints Matthew and Luke that calls into question the virginal conception of Jesus and the accounts of our Lord's birth and childhood.
In addition to Cardinal Shehan, such eminent peers of Fr. Brown as Msgr. George A. Kelly, Fr. William Most, Fr. Richard Gilsdorf, Fr. Rene Laurentin, and John J. Mulloy were highly critical of the Brown revisionism of the Catholic Church's age-old theology of inspiration and inerrancy.
(Henry V. King, "Traditional Catholic Scholars Long Opposed Fr. Brown's Theories")

Msgr. George Kelly (raving fundamentalist and President Emeritus of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars) has also been critical of Brown, and wrote an entire book responding to his heterodoxies, entitled, The New Biblical Theorists: Raymond E. Brown and Beyond (Servant: 1983).
"Complete inerrancy" is not necessarily required. That is more or less a Protestant view. I've seen myself examples of (probably) copyist errors that have crept into the received text. But I will leave this to theologians and scholars, as it is an exceedingly complex issue. The average Bible reader isn't concerned about whether 2 Chronicles and 1 Kings have a discrepancy of 100 in the number of King David's cows, and suchlike. It's only atheists and nitpickers like you who want to make issues of such a thing. The Christian reader wants to learn about God in the Bible and how he can live a better life and obtain salvation.

Did vatican 2 partly endorse Pelagianism? Ratzinger seemed (still seems?) to think so - Ratzinger’s commentary on the first chapter of Gaudium et Spes contains still other provocative comments...The treatment of free will in article 17 is in his judgment 'downright Pelagian.'" - [link to an article by Cardinal Dulles]

This was apparently a citation from early works by then Joseph Ratzinger. Opinions prior to his becoming pope (or even his earlier office under JPII) would have no magisterial force, so they are neither here nor there. As Cardinal Dulles notes in the article more than once, the earlier views of the Holy Father were more liberal. He became more orthodox over time.

If it did, are only certain parts of Vat2 infallible then (touches on first point with Trent's canons)?

That is another highly technical issue that is best left to scholars. I don't claim to know all the ins and outs of it. But I disagree that this somehow means that the average Catholic can't determine
what the Church teaches, because scholars have discussions about the fine points of levels of infallibility. That is the fallacy . . .

Ok to support death penalty? Catechism says no (except for "very rare, if not practically non-existent" situations), so no right? Even though Innocent III, Pius XII, Trent catechism supported it as a punitive measure. But while those documents were likely not infallible, yet authoritative, I presume this would still be consistent with your system (so if a new catechism or encyclical was issued supporting again the death penalty as a proper punitive measure in society, catholics would then be bound to support it).

The death penalty falls under the ultimate jurisdiction of states (Romans 13) and has not been disallowed, as CCC #2266 makes clear (only strongly urged against if there is any possible alternative). I've written about this vastly misunderstood issue: Reply to Two Lutheran Pastors on Fundamental Misconceptions Regarding the Catholic Position on the Death Penalty (+ Discussion).

Ok to support Iraq/preeemptive war?

States have the ultimate jurisidction, again (CCC #2263-2265). The pope as a peacemaker will speak out against virtually all wars. It doesn't follow that all states have to adopt a pacifist position. I've written about this, too:

Dialogue on the Iraqi War: Is it in Accordance With Just War Criteria or an Imperialistic Outrage? (+ Part Two) (Dave Armstrong vs. Stephen Hand)
Is It Dissent Against the Pope and the Church, and Downright Disobedient For a Catholic to Favor the War in Iraq? (+ Discussion)

Catholic social theory - does Rome have authority in economic matters?

The Church gives principles based on Christian ethics. It has no direct jurisdiction over the economies of nations, anymore than it does over their governments.

* * *
But there isn't, RC theologians disagree over what decrees/canons/etc. are infallible (indeed even sometimes what sentences are infallible).

How does that affect the day-to-day lives and Catholic beliefs of the faithful? The teachings are authoritative, if they come down to us from papal encyclicals, ecumenical councils, or the Catechism.
True, but are you then asserting that those authoritative (yet perhaps non-infallible) documents never contradict each other?

Some non-infallible ones may, sure. Again, it is a question of definition. Fallible doctrines can fail!

The argument is often that they weren't infallible when examples are brought up of encyclicals/catechisms/etc. from the past contradicting modern teaching in certain areas. So the RCC is exercising fallible authority in many cases (I presume the list of irreformable teachings are a very small percentage of all authoritative teaching).

I'd have to see examples of what tou have in mind. But I tire of all these nitpicky discussions, because the result is to always get away from the overall picture and to imply that the system is faulty and radically incoherent (or no better than Protestant authority) because there are some inevitable difficulties in application or things that not all will understand with perfect clarity. This doesn't follow. I always quote C.S. Lewis, who said something to the effect of "chess rules create chess problems." There are "problems" to work through in a chess game, but they don't cast into doubt the rules themselves. For the Protestant, there are all sorts of textual difficulties and questions in the Bible that are discussed. We would fully expect this. But it no more casts into doubt the inspiration of the Bible than scientific anomalies cast doubt onto scientific method or the scientific truths that we have come to accept as highly certain.
Tradition in the Bible was "received" and "passed down" or "delivered" (several passages in Paul). The same teachings continued to be passed down by the fathers and doctors of the Church. They have a history. But Protestant distinctives do not. Therefore, by the criteria that the fathers always relied on as their "ace in the hole" (apostolic succession), and the biblical criteria, Protestant distinctives are false.
What were the contents of that Tradition?

The Catechism, councils, encyclicals, Denzinger, Ott, etc.

Tradition suffers the same problems as infallibility - yes it sounds nice, but when one tries to nail down specifics, it becomes elusive and abstract.

I haven't found that to be the case at all, and I think I would know something about it, since my task as an apologist is to not only present it but also to defend it (such as with relentless skeptics such as yourself, for whom no evidence ever seems sufficient). In 17 years of doing this, I haven't found an insuperable difficulty yet.

Do you also agree that apostolic succession is primarily a matter of faith (episcopal lineage of bishops has only been tracked down through the 16th century [ link ] also confirmed at www.catholic-hierarchy.org and there are differing lists of papal succession throughout history).

I think it is another instance of some possible "difficulties" around the edges (that may or may not have an airtight answer) that don't really cast doubt on the overall picture.
But this is perfectly irrelevant. Showing that there were a number of soteriological options available in the later nominalistic, post-Scholastic period of the Middle Ages doesn't one whit determine what the unbroken genuine, orthodox tradition was in the same regard. There are always multiple heretical options about in all periods of Church history.
Well, do you think the proponents of these various views later condemned by Trent did not consider the patristic and historical witness to support them - that they were all just throwing out stuff with no regard for tradition?

Many people show themselves uninformed about the past tradition of things. Luther and Calvin certainly did that on a massive scale, so why not also the various nominalists in the late Middle Ages?

I'm not talking the Reformers; RC theologians and teachers held various views in the centuries leading to Trent. The bishops at session 6 themselves held a wide spectrum, some like Seripando and Pole opposing the Jesuit position that eventually won the day. Or Contarini and Gropper before Trent who also leaned towards a Protestant compromise. The point is I don't think the Tridentine or Protestant understanding of justification has unambiguous support from Christian theology prior to the Reformation.

That gets into a long discussion on development of doctrine, beyond our purview. My contention is that what later was declared to be soteriological dogma at Trent is rather easily traced. There are always views out of the mainstream. Late medieval nominalism is another very complex topic. I have myself compiled a great number of sources on that: The Influence of William of Ockham and Nominalism on Martin Luther and Early Protestant Thought.

* * *

If you do claim Trent does, I'm sure the Eastern Orthodox wouldn't mind talking to you and giving ample patristic support (while RC/EO views of justification/soteriology are similar, they are definitely nuanced and differing enough to warrant distinction, similar to the Reformed/Lutheran differences). As Pelikan wrote, "When the reformers attacked this notion in the name of the doctrine of justification by faith alone—a doctrine also attested to by some medieval theologians and ancient fathers—Rome reacted by canonizing one trend in preference to all the others. What had previously been permitted (justification by faith and works), now became required. What had previously been permitted also (justification by faith alone), now became forbidden. In condemning the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent condemned part of its own catholic tradition." (Riddle of Roman Catholicism).

That was an early book. I think the later Pelikan would disagree, but I've spent enough time on this. I'm not gonna spend an hour rummaging through my Pelikan books. Councils (as surely you know, if you know much about Church history) are usually reacting against a heresy that has recently become rampant. Trent made the declarations it did because of the errors (and sometimes downright nonsense) that the early Protestants taught, regarding justification. Before that , there wasn't a felt need to do so, and so there was more freedom of varying opinion. But once an error arises, then the Church naturally narrows the opinions that are subsequently permissible.

Protestants did the same thing. The Arminians thought they were legitimately developing Protestant thought, but the Synod of Dort said no. The Lutheran tradition developed into a sort of Arminianism, over against the Calvinists (differing on several points from Luther). But the Calvinists thought it was heresy and wouldn't allow it in their ranks. Yet we get all the criticism when we react against Protestant errors, generally speaking.

More McGrath from Iustitia Dei - "The Council of Trent was faced with a group of formidable problems as it assembled to debate the question of justification in June 1546. The medieval period had witnessed the emergence of a number of quite distinct schools of thought on justification, clearly incompatible at points, all of which could lay claim to represent the teaching of the Catholic church." Do you see that it was not clear what was genuine tradition? Does this mean the gospel was "unclear" until Trent then? And, back to the theme of our discussion, after Trent, McGrath writes there "was considerable disagreement in the immediate post-Tridentine period concerning the precise interpretation of the decretum de iustificatione."

This is a long discussion. Of course, McGrath has a Protestant bias on the matter. He will tend to see in the previous history, Protestant-like views as in the mainstream, whereas the Catholic will see otherwise. Any analysis of legitimate developments vs. corruptions presupposes a certain dogma or creed or at least fairly identifiable tradition. There is no way out of that; otherwise there would be no way to determine what was a corruption.
You have to show a consensus.
Come now, as if you can show a consensus on the assumption/atonement/purgatory/indulgences/ treasury of merit (superogatory works)/salvation of those who deny Christ's deity/etc. in both east and west.

Virtually the entire East (i.e., the bishops) espoused Monophysite heresy in the 5th century (as Cardinal Newman eloquently wrote about with great historial detail and substantiation), so it can hardly be a judge of universal Catholic orthodoxy, without the leadership of the Apostolic See: Rome. Each theological topic has to be considered on its own.

As Fitzmyer wrote,"There was no uniform or monolithic patristic interpretation, either in the Greek Church of the East, Alexandrian or Antiochene, or in the Latin Church of the West. No one can ever tell us where such a “unanimous consent of the fathers” is to be found, and Pius XII finally thought it pertinent to call attention to the fact that there are but few texts whose sense has been defined by the authority of the Church, "nor are those more numerous about which the teaching of the Holy Fathers is unanimous." (Scripture, The Soul of Theology)

Another discussion. "Consensus" in the Latin meaning of that time didn't mean "absolutely unanimous," but rather, a substantial agreement.
You have Augustine/Carthage/Orange and that's about it.

No! We "have" a huge patristic consensus and the more or less complete absence of distinctive Protestant soteriology.
I phrased this poorly. I mean "you" as in christianity in general - the issues of soteriology just weren't dominating the scene much, hence the diversity leading up to Trent.

I agree. But the mainstream (including Augustine, Aquinas) was fairly clear. The Protestants introduced new heresy, such as imputed justification, fiducial faith, etc., that had to be put down.

* * *

As JND Kelly says, "The student who seeks to understand the soteriology of the fourth and early fifth centuries will be sharply disappointed if he expects to find anything corresponding to the elaborately worked out synthesis which the contemporary theology of the Trinity and the Incarnation presents.

Yes, exactly, because that was even before Chalcedon (451). No one would disagree with that. It's simply the nature of development of doctrine.

In both these latter departments controversy forced fairly exact definition on the Church, whereas the redemption did not become a battle-ground for rival schools until the twelfth century, when Anselm’s Cur deus homo (c.1097) focused attention on it.

I agree again, but it's neither here nor there as to our broader discussion.

Instead he must be prepared to pick his way through a variety of theories, to all appearance unrelated and even mutually incompatible, existing side by side and sometimes sponsored by the same theologian." The last sentence casts some doubt on the notion of consensus.

This gets into a huge discussion on development and very deep waters, which I've started to do in the past with a few folks (such as the Anglican Dr. Edwin Tait), but they never seem to have the time to get to the bottom of any given issue. I tried, anyway . . .

I also like this thought from an Anglican professor I came across: "Was the Reformers’ understanding of justification a novelty? Yes, in the sense that it was a genuine development, in the same way as Athanasius’ introduction of homoousios was a genuine development. The pre-Nicene fathers had tended to be subordinationist [me - this is affirmed by many scholars of all stripes]. Athanasius showed that subordinationism was incompatible with affirming the true deity of Christ. After Athanasius’ insight, it was really impossible to embrace subordinationism without compromising the deity of Christ. Similarly, once Luther arrived at his insight into the meaning of Paul’s use of forensic justification language, it was really impossible any longer to continue to conflate Christ’s alien righteousness with my own (albeit infused) righteousness."

I've already appealed to papers of mine that dispute this general idea that Protetant soteriology was a consistent development. It only was where it agreed with Catholicism (such as in sola gratia).
That's more than sufficient to show you or anyone else what the Church teaches. The pope said so. This is how our authority structure works.
Sure, but as Dulles says, "The various teachings in the Catechism have no greater authority than they had in the documents from which they are drawn."

It's more than enough for the average lay Catholic to know and understand what his Church teaches. That's a lot better than what we have in any form of Protestantism. Cardinal Dulles is a theologian and a scholar. We expect them to talk like that, so they can have things to debate amongst themselves (otherwise theology is no fun).

And the pope's statement was authoritative and pastoral, yes, but certainly his statement is not irreformable. This touches on one of my points in the previous comment here, can the Pope be in error on authoritative, yet fallible teaching?

If it's truly classifiable as fallible, of course. But people often classify erroneously.

Usually there are all these qualifications on infallibility to exculpate past popes (in that they were not teaching infallibly).

There is a lot of mythology about, too, as in the famous cases of Honorius et all: the supposedly heretical popes.
Ours leads to unity and harmony.
Well, I don't see the hierarchy excommunicating or disciplining many members who openly oppose RC doctrine.

Discipline of dissidents is a completely separate issue from whether Catholic doctrine is identifiable and fairly easily known.

You have unity in that you all ascribe to certain confessions, just as any Protestant body does.

Exactly. Now how do we decide which Protestant body is correct when they contradict? Furthermore, no Protestant system can be shown to be consistent with early Church teaching. They omit many doctrines and teach doctrines that were unknown to the early Church.

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No one disagrees that there is no salvation outside the Church.
Yes, I wasn't trying to argue about Unam Sanctam but just driving at issues with infallibility. We have this general concept of infallibility, but when we get down to brass tacks, it's a very complicated issue figuring out exactly and in what manner it applies in the thousands of magisterial docs (can documents be partitioned out, do supporting arguments carry any weight, does reaffirmation/use of a fallible document in a council change its status and in what manner, what factor does historical context play, etc), each document requiring a highly specialized knowledge of history and theology just to be able to interpret it (as Tavard's article amply demonstrates with his countless references in building up his interpretation against other RC theologians of US).

It is once you get down to fine points. Catholicism is a thinking man's religion. But I contend that all this fine-tuning, which is the game of theologians and pointy-heads, has little effect on the common man and lay Catholic. All the latter has to accept are the teachings of the Church, not every jot and tittle. That is what the argument is.
Protestants don't claim SS gives them a "superior" position epistemologically - just that there's epistemic parity between the two systems

You deftly avoided answering my question.
If we both agree Scripture is infallible, and if the infallible Magisterium as an interpretive guide suffers from the same criticisms foisted against SS and cuts itself at the knees, then SS should be the default position, unless otherwise proven.

But the two cases are not analogous, as I have shown at great length, and in many other papers in the past. I also completely reject your claim that if both positions have the same amo0unt of difficulties, that sola Scriptura " should be the default position." That is utterly absurd, seeing that sola Scriptura has not the slightest amount of compelling biblical proof, whereas Catholic notions of authority have all kinds of biblical indications. It does you no good to appeal to a ninfallible Scripture, when that same Scripture has to be properly interpreted. Protestants don't deny the utility of trained Scripture teachers. We Catholics go one step further and provide our folks with magisterial teachers: bisops and popes.

I'm not trying to discredit RCism or prove SS, just this one particular argument that is often used to support RCism (or EO/Mormonism/JWs) as opposed to SS, the notion there must be another infallible authority.

I don't see how you have cast any essential doubt on the Catholic authority system. It remains as strong as ever. I appeal back to my many papers (linked in Part One), showing how the Protestant system always breaks down at some point into either outright incoherence or sheer arbitrariness.

I think this along with my previous couple of questions in this combox shows that in practice the distinction between infallible and fallible authoritative teaching is not really made very much, and that for all intents and purposes, fallible authoritative teaching seems to be the guide for RCs.

No; authoritative teaching is the guide, and the great bulk of that is infallible.

Another thought on my previous question related to providence and the OT - God has also permitted doubts and disagreements to persist for some time about who is the true pope; this seems to be nearly as significant as an error in papal teaching, again opposing the common argument for infallibility as a pragmatic guiding system.

You mean the Great Schism? See the Catholic Encyclopedia article on that.

* * *

This discussion has exhausted itself. I've defended my view at extreme length in two big posts. For the discussion to proceed any further, intellectual fairness would dictate that you should have to defend sola Scriptura and your own denominational position. But thus far, you have only indicated a willingness to try to poke a bunch of holes in the Catholic position, while not being willing to defend any Protestant alternative.

You're in very good company, though. No Protestant I have yet met has been willing to defend the Protestant system of sola Scriptura and authority right down to the end, and explain exactly how it is not incoherent and self-defeating in the final analysis. They always split when it got too hot in the kitchen, with the stove fires of scrutiny lapping at their backs. So in one sense it is wise of you to not even be willing to begin that arduous task; in another sense it is a double standard, as I have stated before: to reserve the right to take shots at another view while not also subjecting one's own to shots.

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