Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dialogue with a Protestant About Sacramentalism and Physical Items (Incl. Relics) in Worship

By Dave Armstrong (2-26-09)

This is a follow-up post to my previous entry, "Biblical Evidence for Candles, Incense, and Related Sacramental Symbolism for Prayer and Sacrifice." Nick, a Protestant, has been very active in the combox for that post. I wanted to interact with some of his statements there. His words will be in blue.

* * * * *

[Note: the last section of the paper above on candles, concerning "lamps" and "lampstands" ("candles" and "candlesticks" in KJV) was added after the initial exchange. So some of Nick's initial criticisms about "explicit biblical support" for candles have now been completely overcome. He is also, part of the time, responding to another person; hence the mixture of first and third person address]

Not a single verse you quote mentions candles. Not one.

I didn't claim they did, so that is a moot point.

The first three (1 from Genesis, 2 from Leviticus) are in reference to OT sacrifices/offerings to God . . . something no Christian church does.

That wasn't the main analogy in those passages, as I saw it (though I didn't state this): which was to the "pleasing odor" to the Lord, which is similar to the incense in revelation as symbolic of prayer. There are multiple layers of types and shadows here.

The other four refer to incense. Luke's reference is to incense in the Jewish Temple, due to a Jewish ceremony being held there,

That's why my first "summary" statement was the following:
Incense (i.e., a thing that burns and produce smoke and fragrances, which is similar to a candle, complete with the metaphorical smelling of the offering by God), as an image of prayer, is an explicit biblical motif.
What is biblically explicit is a burning thing that represents prayer. Later, I did find that candles themselves are explicitly mentioned, too, because I had somehow overlooked the menorah and lampstands of Hebrew worship.

and the two passages in Revelation are symbolic. The three verses from Paul are clearly metaphors.

The prayers of the saints in those passages are not metaphorical. The smoke of the incense is indeed a metaphor for prayer, which is exactly my argument. Candles are closely aligned to that, in my opinion, as I have argued.

It's certainly not indicative of something "sacramental," i.e. an actual physical thing that confers grace.

I meant "sacramental" in the very widest sense, which would be use of physical things. A candle in a Catholic church is indirectly a sacramental insofar as it entails a physical action that can be a blessing in some sense to the person who lights one. And they would have been blessed by a priest. So they are sacramentals, as opposed to sacraments.

I'm not claiming that candles are sinful, wrong, or that we should remove them from churches, but for you to claim that there's "explicit" support for them in the Bible is a bit much.

I have now produced ten prooftexts that refute your contention (and many cross-references also). My initial research was simply incomplete, whereas your assertion is flat-out false, and falsified in the Bible.

A Christian service void of candles is not incomplete or un-Biblical, by any stretch of the imagination.

I didn't make that claim, either. The purpose was to explain and justify one Catholic practice, not to run down non-Catholic worship (from which I have received a great deal in my Christian life).

I'm not opposed to the use of candles at all (along with many Protestant churches), but the Bible is basically silent on their use in Christian churches, and I just wanted to make that point. . . . the Bible is SILENT on the issue. Therefore, I make no judgement on a church, or on the Biblical soundness or validity of a given service, based on the presence or absence of candles in that service. . . . As I already said, I don't have a problem with candles. I am not in the least making it a "moral issue." Dave, in my opinion, made way too much of the indirect, metaphorical use of God smelling "fragrances" in the Bible to justify using candles in church. That doesn't mean the use of candles is "wrong," just that his Biblical defense of it wasn't particularly strong.

It's not "silent" at all, as I have shown.

Different people find beauty in different things; some people find beauty in very complex, fancy art, and others find beauty in very simplistic art. Also, "Protestant art" covers a huge range of forms, from very detailed and "Catholic" in style - with candles, incense, statues, and the like, to the very simplistic - perhaps a church composed of just one rectangular room with plain walls and a single cross behind the pulpit. . . . Personally, I don't find one more inherently sinful or another more inherently spiritual. God is far more concerned with the hearts within the people in the church than what the architecture of the church is. I also understand that, for you, a candle during Mass or some other church service may represent Christ, or some other perfectly orthodox and Biblical principle. Many Protestant churches, including mine, also utilize candles in their own services. My concern (and I think, that of Protestantism in general) lies in the fact that too much emphasis can be placed on such earthly accessories. Candles don't make us holy. If you want to light a candle in church and that represents something significant to you, cool. But having the idea in your head that that candle somehow makes you holy, or the place where you are worshipping more holy, or it gives it a "holy feel," seems to demonstrate a huge misunderstanding of what holiness is and from whence it comes. As for "elemental" components in religious services are concerned, I'm not terribly convinced that we should include things in Christian church services just because Buddhists and Hindus are. For me that's not really a detriment to Protestantism; it's a selling point. But perhaps you or someone else can convince me otherwise.

The local Catholic church is a holy place precisely because we believe Jesus is there Body, Soul, Spirit, and Divinity. Now, I understand that you probably do not believe that to be the case, but it is our belief, and that's why we think the sanctuary is holy: it is Christ-based.

That is a sacramental understanding indeed, just as the Incarnation was sacramental: God took on matter and so sanctified it by having human flesh. You and every orthodox Protestant believe in the Incarnation. Protestants (even very "low church" ones) are not entirely unsacramental. It is easy to demonstrate this. You usually have a cross in your church somewhere. There is often stained glass. Not many Protestant churches have bare white walls, Puritan-style. Protestants speak of the blood of Christ.

It depends what you mean when you say they are "sacramental."

I've explained that above. Protestants are sacramental to various degrees. Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, was very sacramental; he believed in the Real Presence in the Eucharist and regenerating baptism.

Protestants often utilize physical things to serve as symbols for those who are worshipping, yes. You earlier said that the term "sacramental" in its "widest sense" simply means, "use of physical things." So yes, in that sense pretty much everyone and their mother is "sacramental."


But that's a bit of a misleading definition when you're trying to defend Catholic "sacramentalism," because when Catholics refer to the "sacraments" and being "sacramental," they rarely mean it in this "widest" sense.

Sometimes we do; other times we don't.

Earlier you said that candles in a Catholic church can be a "blessing" to one who lights them, and that they have been blessed by a Catholic priest. This seems to entail more than mere symbology, no?

Yes, but it is distinct from, say, the Eucharist, which is inherently efficacious if received properly (i.e., without mortal sin). Sacramentals are effective (and in a far lesser sense than one of the seven sacraments) only insofar as a person's internal disposition is proper.

* * *

You don't think you are sacramental? Okay; let me ask you: if you had a vial of Christ's blood (grant that we are sure it is His), would you treat it like any other blood? Would you throw it down the drain, to enter the sewer? If not, why?

This hypothetical of course hinges on the huge "if" of whether or not we literally have a vial of Christ's blood drained from His physical body.

You have dodged the question (and I understand why). Hypotheticals (by nature) involve granted assumptions, as I made clear was the case with mine. We are granting for the sake of argument that it is Christ's blood. Now, how would you treat it? It's the "horns of a dilemma" for you, as they say in classical logic. I don't think you would throw it down the drain like any other blood. I doubt that one Protestant in a hundred would do that. They just wouldn't do it. I think you (and they) would revere it and treat it with the greatest respect; and to the extent that you do that you are already approaching some particular matter (our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ's blood) as Catholics do: in the sense that some matter can convey more grace and be "spiritual" or "special" more than other matter. When Protestants refer to the blood of Christ, they get this. But in other instances they forsake the principle that they themselves accept in the example of the blood of Christ.

* * *

Would you bulldoze the site of the cross and Golgotha / Calvary and make a parking lot or a drugstore, as if it had no more significance than any other place on earth? I highly doubt it.

No, . . .

There you go. See, I knew you wouldn't do it, and you wouldn't with Jesus' blood, either. Now you have to ask yourself why. The reasons you would come up with for not doing it would either be the same reasoning Catholics apply, or at least somehow leaning in our direction.

but would you kneel down and kiss the dirt on that hill?

Yes, absolutely. Protestants often kiss the Bible. What earthly reason could they give for not kissing the very ground our Lord died for us on? You'll kiss God's verbal revelation and written Word, but not the place where the Word, Jesus, died for you? That makes no sense. Why would you kiss the one thing and not the other? What is the difference in principle? But I say that if you kiss a Bible (or, say, a photograph of a son slain in military service), there is no inherent objection to kissing the dirt of Calvary.

Would you collect some of that dirt and take it home with you, and kiss it at night when you say your prayers? Would you try to find some splinter of the cross you think Christ was crucified on, and kiss and revere that?

Absolutely; by the same principles: because we know from the Bible that matter can convey grace. It's very straightforward (I'm surprised that you don't seem to know about it):

2 Kings 13:20-21 So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. 21 And as a man was being buried, lo, a marauding band was seen and the man was cast into the grave of Elisha; and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood on his feet.
The bones or relics of Elisha had so much supernatural power or "grace" in them that they could even cause a man to be raised from the dead.

2 Kings 2:11-14 And as they still went on and talked, behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, ‘My father, my father! the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ And he saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and rent them in two pieces. And he took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, ‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ And when he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other; and Elisha went over.

Acts 5:15-16 . . . they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

Acts 19:11-12 And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. (cf. Mt 9:20-22)
Elisha’s bones were a “first-class” relic: from the person himself or herself. These passages, on the other hand, offer examples of “second-class” relics: items that have power because they were connected with a holy person (Elijah’s mantle and even St. Peter’s shadow), and third-class relics: something that has merely touched a holy person or first-class relic (handkerchiefs that had touched St. Paul). Another example would be the woman healed by touching the hem of Jesus' garment (which would be analogous to a piece of the cross, or His blood):

Mark 5:25-30 And there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, "If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well." And immediately the hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, "Who touched my garments?"

Luke 8:43-48 And a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years and could not be healed by any one, came up behind him, and touched the fringe of his garment; and immediately her flow of blood ceased. And Jesus said, "Who was it that touched me?" When all denied it, Peter said, "Master, the multitudes surround you and press upon you!" But Jesus said, "Some one touched me; for I perceive that power has gone forth from me." And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed.
And he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace."
Jesus did say also that her faith was what made her well, but the point is that it was also with the aid of a physical object that was in contact with Jesus: as indicated precisely by its effect of causing "power" to go "forth from him." God used the physical object for spiritual (and supernatural physical) purposes: a healing. We see it again, when Jesus heals the blind man:

John 9:6-7 As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man's eyes with the clay, saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Silo'am" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
Jesus could have simply declared him healed, with or without the man's faith playing a key role (as He healed both kinds of people): it could have been a wonderfully Protestant, purely "spiritual" healing, with no material object used. But, interestingly enough, Jesus didn't do that. He used a bodily fluid (his own), and also clay, or dirt, and then the water of the pool, and rubbed the man's eyes, to effect the miracle (two liquids, solid matter, and physical anointing action of fingers). Obviously, then, we can't frown upon physical things related to a holy person in some fashion, in order to perform a miracle. The example is too clear. What more proof does one require?

This is exactly how Catholics view relics. Why, then, do you frown upon these practices, and regard them as foolish, excessive, and unbiblical, with all of this clear biblical proof of them? If you claim to follow what the Bible teaches, I've just shown it to you, with regard to physical means of grace, and specifically relics.

I've written about the altogether insubstantial Protestant arguments that attempt to overthrow this plain biblical data.

Would you think the presence of those things would make your house more "holy," simply by being there when you pray? We can both cite extreme examples in either direction.

It's not extreme at all. There are such things as holy objects and holy places. The ark of the covenant was one such thing. It was so holy that a man could die by just touching it (and the Bible records one such incident). The tabernacle which contained the ark was holy, as was the temple (which had the holy of holies inside of it). Wherever God is, is holy (e.g., the "holy ground" near the burning bush: Exodus 3:5). It's because Protestants don't believe that God can be specially present (not just in his omnipresence); even physically present, anymore, that they don't believe in holy places. We do; because we follow the Bible far more closely than you do.

When I searched for the phrase "holy place" in RSV, for the whole Bible, it came up with 70 matches (taking out 15 from the Deuterocanon that you don't accept). And that includes NT proof: Jesus referred to a "holy place" in Matthew 24:15. Paul used the analogy of Christians being temples (and therefore holy), because of the indwelling Holy Spirit inside of us:

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are.

1 Corinthians 6:19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own;

2 Corinthians 6:16 . . . For we are the temple of the living God . . .
Erasmus was quite put off by the hyper-sacramentalism of Rome when he visited there. I can't remember the exact quote, but he said something to the effect that, "After all the shoes that we've had to kiss, are you going to bring us the dung of a saint to kiss as well?" The point is, too much can be made of these "sacramental" elements that are included in church services.

Sure, there have been excesses (I freely acknowledge them; people being people, and prone to extremes), but that doesn't nullify the biblical principle of relics and sacramentalism. We don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. Erasmus wouldn't have denied that. He claimed many times that he accepted all that the Church taught (I know, because I recently studied one of his primary writings: the Hyperaspistes).

* * *

And you wouldn't [toss out Jesus' blood or bulldoze Calvary] because you have a sense of the sacred and of holy places, even though you may wish to argue against it when Catholics refer to it.

Don't assume that I'm rejecting anything just because "a Catholic said it." Catholics can make perfectly valid points in theological discussions as well. What I argue against is the near-obsession that many Catholics have with physical objects of adoration.

You have neither shown that it is always an obsession, nor that it is unbiblical, whereas I have shown that the justification is quite explicitly biblical; thus, that there is a proper use of this sort of piety and devotion.

I am not trying to argue against the sense of "sacramental" that you described earlier, if I understand what you meant. What I am trying to say is simply that the inner spirituality of a church is more important than its outer adornment. Fair enough?

But you want to deny the validity of relics and holy places, when the Bible doesn't do that at all. We fully agree with you that the inner disposition and the heart is fundamentally important. That's why we teach that it is a great sin to partake of Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin, and that absolution after confession can't take place if the person wasn't truly repentant. We don't dichotomize the "inward" and "outward" elements. But Protestants so often want to eliminate the physical, outward elements altogether, because their spirituality is not large enough to imagine a harmonious conjunction of both. They tend to equate "spirit" with good and matter with evil, as the ancient Gnostics and Docetics did. But that is a far more pagan Greek attitude (the folks who didn't like the Resurrection because it was physical) than Christian and biblical.

* * *

Candles reflect this holiness because the symbol of ascending smoke for prayer and sacrifice is a biblical motif, as I have shown, and part of the practice of Jews and Christians for at least four millennia.

We don't think a candle makes us holy. That is ridiculous. We think it helps foster an atmosphere of reverence and sacredness, just as stained glass, statuary, stations of the cross, etc. do. I myself have found that I am able to far more easily and deeply, reverently worship and concentrate on worshiping Jesus in my German Gothic cathedral parish than in the YMCA gyms that I sometimes worshiped in as a Protestant, and that is because beauty and truth are closely related. The beautiful fosters reverence.

Catholicism uses human impulses that are morally neutral and co-opts them for Christ. It utilizes whatever in paganism is a good thing (or at least neutral and not bad) and "baptizes" it for Christianity. The Apostle Paul did this on Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17:16 ff.). He commended the Athenians for their religiosity and the tomb to the unknown god (17:22-23), cited two of their poets / philosophers (17:28), and, building upon that knowledge, proclaimed the gospel to them (17:23-31). He didn't run their present knowledge down as heathen garbage, but rather, used it as a bridge to the gospel.

The Catholic Church does the same in many many ways. It's sacramentalism and incorporation of beauty and physical objects into worship. That's been done in our (Judaeo-Christian) religious tradition all the way back to the Temple and Tabernacle. God Himself used fire in the burning bush as a symbol of himself when He appeared to Moses. He used the physical object. He appeared in theophanies as a man or as the "angel of the Lord." It's nothing new. To the extent that Protestantism rejects all that it is being most unbiblical and against the same mode of thought that the Incarnation is included in (physical matter conveying grace).

* * *

Christ does not want you to kiss the ground where He once stepped.

Then why are you reluctant to bulldoze Calvary, if it is not a whit different than any other place on earth? Why is it that Protestants, just as much as Catholics, love to go to the Holy Land? Why bother? If it is no different from any other place, and physical conjunction with Jesus or holy men and women is utterly irrelevant, and there is no such thing as a holy place, why do they go there? That's a Catholic idea. They implicitly accept the notion of the "holy place." So do you. But you inconsistently apply it. You won't kiss the ground of Calvary, but on the other hand you wouldn't bulldoze it.

Well, if you want to preserve it because it is valuable and has meaning, what in the world is the objection to kissing it? We kiss dogs and inanimate objects that we love. You can't produce any saying of Jesus, where He said to not do this. But I already produced an instance of touching His garment, which brought about healing in conjunction with faith. Jesus obviously believed in the holiness of the temple because He said it was His father's house. He accepted it when the woman kissed His feet (Lk 7:38,45). Why not the ground that He died on? I say your spirituality is insufficiently incarnational and too influenced by Docetism, with all this antipathy to matter and how God uses it for spiritual purposes.

He would much rather that you obeyed His commands and used His life of love and servitude as an example to love and serve others.

This is a false dichotomy. Of course those things are commands, but pious acts involving matter are eminently biblical. It is you who have a problem with the Bible's teaching in this regard.

My whole point is, I question just how balanced Catholicism truly is. It seems to me that there is far too much emphasis (perhaps just in individuals, not in the system officially) on the outwardness, and very little inwardness. Personally I think inwardness has to be the individual's focus first, when one is a Christian. Going through outward motions isn't progressing anyone spiritually. Rather, meditation/prayer, Bible study, yielding to the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to bear fruit in our lives...THOSE are the things that must come first. If we are "right" inward, the outward expressions of our inward growth will come.

We agree wholeheartedly that the inward elements are supremely important. We simply refuse to pit them against outward, sacramental, physical things, as you do. We keep both in balance, because God became man, and so sanctified matter. You practically eliminate one or so emasculate it that little good is said about it, in relation to spirituality. That's where any imbalance lies. Yet Jesus' very death on the cross and His Resurrection are intensely physical things.

If you understand the definition of a church to be a body of believers, then you're going to focus on the inner spirituality of that "church." My point was that the latter is preferable to the former.

Case in point: yet another Protestant dichotomy. The Bible uses "Church" in both senses, and we adhere to both. We don't have to choose between them and "pick sides." Both are important. It's the biblical "Both/and" outlook; not the Protestant "either/or" mentality.

As I said, if you're focus is on external THINGS, objects that you think are going to get you closer to God, then you're not going to be focused on the internal things that Christ found so much more important (it's not the things that go into a man that make him unclean, but the things that come out of him, out of the heart the mouth speaks, etc.) So yea, you can light a candle. But that candle doesn't make you more holy. It doesn't make you more spiritual. Kissing dirt where Jesus once walked doesn't make you closer to Him or more like Him. Doing as He did, walking as He walked (through yielding to the Spirit), THAT makes you more like Him.

More false dichotomies. You reason, "because thing A is good; therefore, different thing B is not good, or less good than A." But we reason, in accord with the Bible: "God has revealed that both A and B are good things, so why must folks pit them against each other?"

We agree wholeheartedly with you about wholehearted devotion to God, in righteousness and holiness and right motive. That's all wonderful. We don't disagree with any of it. Read The Imitation of Christ sometime if you want to see a Catholic treatment of that. It's fabulous. But you disagree with sacramentality and physical objects used for spiritual purposes (you seem to collapse every instance of it into extremity and inferior spirituality). I have shown that this is a most unbiblical position to take. Your burden now is to refute the biblical arguments provided. Your fight in this respect is not ultimately with Catholics, but is, I believe, with the Bible and with the God Who wrote the Bible, and how He chose to do and reveal things.

* * * * *

A certain forum dominated by cynics and relentless critics of anything I do has a thread devoted to mocking and making ridiculous comments about the photograph posted at the top of this dialogue. This mentality highlights once again the odd Protestant antipathy to physical things in Christianity: even, in this case, the nature of the crucifixion itself.

The nice European, blonde haired, blue-eyed Jesus (who looks sort of like a guy in a 70s country rock band: like Kenny Rogers or something), used to be mocked, and rightly so. But let anyone dare show what truly happened when He was beaten and crucified for our sake, and sure enough, that has to be made fun of with idiotic remarks, as if a Catholic enjoys and gets a charge out of seeing what they did to our Lord and Savior (in other words, that it is -- what else? -- abnormal, mentally-questionable behavior). I can understand agnostics saying this (it is one of their brain dead, garden-variety blasts against Christianity), but other Christians? Very odd and strange. The entire point is missed, as usual.

I didn't make the crucifixion what it is. But I know it is good and pious to meditate upon the suffering of Jesus for our sake. Paul did that so much that he writes about taking into his own body the sufferings of Christ (2 Cor 4:10, Col 1:24) and that Christians are to share His sufferings (Rom 8:17; Phil 3:10). I guess, then, he is about as morbid as they come: obsessed with all the blood and gore, etc. We'll have to give Paul a Protestant, secularist American re-education and get him up to speed. Meanwhile, look at the violent movies our culture produces. That's fine and dandy. Instead it is considered chic and intelligent and sophomoric-clever to mock a Catholic meditation on the central event in the Christian faith, as if this were not a thoroughly Christian and "biblical" thing to do.

But whatever we do, we dare not meditate on the cross! We can't have that. We must have a sanitized, bleached, streamlined feel-good, warm fuzzy, non-physical religion, just like the Gnostics and Greek pagans did. We must forget the cross at every turn. It's too bloody. We can only have a bare cross or one with a Jesus on it who looks like he is from a junior high play. These cynics want to be more like pagan Greeks than Christians in this respect, like the ones St. Paul commented upon: "but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (1 Corinthians 1:23).

As it is, the main reason I posted the "bloody picture" was because it had a direct relationship to one of the arguments in the paper: about the blood of Christ and how a Protestant would treat it if he had a hypothetical vial filled with it. But I don't expect that to be grasped, either, by folks who consistently show a profound inability to comprehend what I write, or what my argument is, or even my reason for making any particular argument. Even my explaining it now won't matter a hill of beans, because hostility clouds one's intellectual capacities and makes one illogical, as well as silly beyond words.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Biblical Evidence for Apostolic Oral Tradition

By Dave Armstrong (2-20-09)

From my 2009 book, Biblical Evidence for Catholicism (mostly just Bible passages)

* * * * *


Matthew 13:19
When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path.

Matthew 13:20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; (other instances of “the word”: Matt 13:21-23; Mk 2:2; 4:14-20,33; Lk 1:2; 8:12-13,15; Jn 1:1,14 [of Jesus]; Jn 14:24; Acts 6:4; 8:4; 11:19; 14:25; 16:6; Gal 6:6; Eph 5:26; Col 4:3; 1 Pet 3:1)

Luke 5:1 While the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennes'aret. (other instances of “word of God”: Lk 3:2; 8:11,21; Acts 6:2; 13:5,7,44,48; 17:13; 18:11; Rom 9:6; 1 Cor 14:36; Eph 6:17; Phil 1:14; Col 1:25; 1 Tim 4:5; 2 Tim 2:9; Titus 2:5; Heb 6:5; 13:7; 1 Jn 2:14; Rev 1:9; 20:4)

Luke 11:28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Acts 4:4 But many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

Acts 6:7 And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

Acts 8:14 . . . Sama'ria had received the word of God . . .

Acts 8:25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans. (other instances of “word of the Lord”: Acts 15:36; 16:32; 19:10,20; 1 Thess 1:8; 4:15)

Acts 10:36-44 You know the word which he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), the word which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses to all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and made him manifest; not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that he is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.

Acts 11:1 Now the apostles and the brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.

Acts 12:24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.

Acts 13:46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.”

Acts 13:49 And the word of the Lord spread throughout all the region.

Acts 14:3 So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. (cf. Acts 20:32: “word of his grace”)

Acts 15:7 And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.”

Acts 15:27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth.

Acts 15:35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

Acts 17:11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessaloni'ca, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

Romans 10:8 But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach);

Romans 16:25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages

1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 14:29-30 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting by, let the first be silent.

2 Corinthians 3:6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Ephesians 1:13 In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, (cf. 2 Tim 2:15: “word of truth”)

Philippians 2:16 holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (cf. 1 John 1:1: “word of life”)

Colossians 1:5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

1 Thessalonians 1:6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit;

1 Thessalonians 2:13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

In 1 Thessalonians “Scripture” or “Scriptures” never appear. “Word,” “word of the Lord,” or “word of God” appear five times (1:6,8, 2:13 [twice], 4:15), but in each instance it is clearly in the sense of oral proclamation, not Scripture.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 . . . stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth, or by letter.

2 Thessalonians 3:1 Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph, as it did among you,

2 Timothy 1:13-14 Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me . . . guard the truth which has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.

2 Timothy 2:2 And what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

2 Timothy 4:2 preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.

Hebrews 1:7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.

Hebrews 2:1-4 Therefore we must pay the closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For if the message declared by angels was valid and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his own will.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 5:13 for every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child.

James 1:18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

James 1:22-23 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror;

1 Peter 1:23 You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;

1 Peter 1:25 “but the word of the Lord abides for ever.” That word is the good news which was preached to you.

1 Peter 2:8 . . . they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

2 Peter 1:19, 21 And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. . . . no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

1 John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all.

1 John 2:7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard.

1 John 2:24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father.

1 John 3:11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another,

2 John 1:6 And this is love, that we follow his commandments; this is the commandment, as you have heard from the beginning, that you follow love.

Revelation 1:2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.

Revelation 3:10 Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth.

Revelation 6:9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne;


Matthew 13:3 And he told them many things in parables, . . .

Matthew 28:20
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.

Mark 4:2
And he taught them many things in parables, . . . . .

Mark 4:33
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it;

Mark 6:34
As he went ashore he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

Luke 11:53
As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard, and to provoke him to speak of many things,

Luke 24:15-16, 25-27
While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. . . . And he said to them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

John 16:12
I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

John 20:30
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; (cf. Jn 21:25: “many other things which Jesus did”)

Acts 1:2-3
until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. 


Matthew 2:23 And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene."

This notion cannot be found in the Old Testament, yet it was passed down “by the prophets.” Thus, a prophecy, which is considered to be “God's Word” was passed down orally, rather than through Scripture.

Matthew 7:12 So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.

Matthew 23:2 The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat;

The phrase or idea of Moses' seat cannot be found anywhere in the Old Testament. It is found in the (originally oral) Mishna, where a sort of “teaching succession” from Moses on down is taught.

1 Corinthians 10:4 and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

The Old Testament says nothing about such miraculous movement, in the related passages about Moses striking the rock to produce water (Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:2-13). But rabbinic tradition does.

2 Timothy 3:8 As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith;

These two men cannot be found in the related Old Testament passage (Exodus 7:8 ff.), or anywhere else in the Old Testament.

James 5:17 Eli'jah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.

The reference to a lack of rain for three years is absent from the relevant Old Testament passage in 1 Kings 17.

1 Peter 3:19 in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison,

This is drawn from the Jewish apocalyptic book 1 Enoch (12-16).

Jude 9 But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, disputed about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him, but said, "The Lord rebuke you."

Jude 14-15
It was of these also that Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam prophesied, saying, "Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads, to execute judgment on all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness which they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him."

Direct quotation of 1 Enoch 1:9.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Biblical Evidence for Candles, Incense, and Sacramental Symbolism for Prayer and Sacrifice

By Dave Armstrong (2-16-09)

Incense (i.e., a thing that burns and produce smoke and fragrances, which is similar to a candle, complete with the metaphorical smelling of the offering by God), as an image of prayer, is an explicit biblical motif:
Genesis 8:20-21 (RSV) Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor, the LORD said in his heart, "I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.

Leviticus 2:9 And the priest shall take from the cereal offering its memorial portion and burn this on the altar, an offering by fire, a pleasing odor to the LORD.

Leviticus 6:15, 21 And one shall take from it a handful of the fine flour of the cereal offering with its oil and all the frankincense which is on the cereal offering, and burn this as its memorial portion on the altar, a pleasing odor to the LORD. . . . It shall be made with oil on a griddle; you shall bring it well mixed, in baked pieces like a cereal offering, and offer it for a pleasing odor to the LORD.

Psalm 141:2
Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice!

Luke 1:9-10
according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.

Revelation 5:8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints;

Revelation 8:3-4 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.
See also, 161 references in the (RSV) Bible (Part One / Part Two) to incense in general, as symbolic of an offering to the Lord; and 52 biblical references to "(pleasing) odor"; and "fragrant" / "fragrance" (37 instances).

The Bible even uses the symbolism of fragrance for the gospel, Jesus' redemptive sacrifice on the cross, and charitable giving:
2 Corinthians 2:14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.

Ephesians 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Philippians 4:18 I have received full payment, and more; I am filled, having received from Epaphrodi'tus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.
Some people may think this is "old-fashioned," but the Bible never goes out of fashion, and to the extent that the Catholic Church follows its guidelines and examples, she can't go wrong. The Bible is inherently sacramental (physical means of grace). It's everywhere. It can't be avoided. The incarnation itself is sacramental (God becoming man and taking on a material body in order to save us). And the Catholic Church abides by this biblical worldview.

Presently, with regard to candles and incense, I mean "sacramental" in the very widest sense, which would be use of physical things for spiritual purposes. A candle in a Catholic church is indirectly a sacramental insofar as it entails a physical action that can be a blessing in some sense to the person who lights one. And they would have been blessed by a priest. So they are sacramentals, as opposed to sacraments.

A burning thing that represents prayer or some other sort of offering to God is biblically explicit and analogous in large part to candles. The prayers of the saints in the two passages in Revelation are not metaphorical at all. I think this is a fairly strong argument by analogy; but many people don't understand analogical argument. Many Protestants demand explicit proof in the Bible for everything when this is not necessary. The logic of the argument runs as follows:
1) Incense as a metaphor for prayer (smoke ascending) or accompanied by prayer is an explicit biblical theme.

2) The metaphor of God smelling fragrances from incense and sacrifices and being pleased is also an explicit biblical theme.

3) The intended Catholic symbolism of candles (prayer rising to God from a burning thing, as represented by smoke and possibly also fragrance) is exactly analogous to the same qualities in incense.

4) Therefore, the essence of the symbolism of the candle is a thing which is biblically explicit, even though candles themselves aren't mentioned in the Bible.

5) What the candle is made of (wax) is wholly secondary in importance to that which it does, which is the essence of the symbolism.
But Protestants rarely reason in this fashion. It's foreign to them, and so to the Protestant mind it often seems like desperation or special pleading. However, types and shadows, symbolism, metaphor, double meanings, parables, etc. are all very common biblical motifs. So this method of reasoning is quite biblical.

But there is also explicit evidence for candles in the Bible as well: in the form of "lamps": essentially an oil lamp or candle-like item, with a wick that burns. The classic form of this is the menorah, or seven-branched lampstand, which has often been used as a symbol of Judaism. First I shall cite instances of lamps and lampstands being used in the context of temple worship in the Old Covenant (see all 131 examples of these words):

Exodus 25:31-38 And you shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The base and the shaft of the lampstand shall be made of hammered work; its cups, its capitals, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it; and there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; three cups made like almonds, each with capital and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almonds, each with capital and flower, on the other branch -- so for the six branches going out of the lampstand; and on the lampstand itself four cups made like almonds, with their capitals and flowers, and a capital of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out from the lampstand. Their capitals and their branches shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it one piece of hammered work of pure gold. And you shall make the seven lamps for it; and the lamps shall be set up so as to give light upon the space in front of it. Its snuffers and their trays shall be of pure gold. (cf. 26:35; Num 3:31; 4:9; 8:2-4; 1 Sam 3:3; 1 Ki 7:49; 1 Chron 28:15; 2 Chron 4:7,20-21; Jer 52:19; Zech 4:2,11)

Exodus 27:19-20 All the utensils of the tabernacle for every use, and all its pegs and all the pegs of the court, shall be of bronze. And you shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may be set up to burn continually. (cf. Lev 24:2-4

Exodus 30:7-8 And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it; every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps in the evening, he shall burn it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. (cf. 30:27; 31:8; 35:14; 37:17-23; 39:37; 40:4)

Exodus 40:24-25 And he put the lampstand in the tent of meeting, opposite the table on the south side of the tabernacle, and set up the lamps before the LORD; as the LORD had commanded Moses.

2 Chronicles 13:11 They offer to the LORD every morning and every evening burnt offerings and incense of sweet spices, set out the showbread on the table of pure gold, and care for the golden lampstand that its lamps may burn every evening; for we keep the charge of the LORD our God, but you have forsaken him.

2 Chronicles 29:7 They also shut the doors of the vestibule and put out the lamps, and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the holy place to the God of Israel.

1 Maccabees 4:49-50 They made new holy vessels, and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. Then they burned incense on the altar and lighted the lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the temple.

2 Maccabees 10:3 They purified the sanctuary, and made another altar of sacrifice; then, striking fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices, after a lapse of two years, and they burned incense and lighted lamps and set out the bread of the Presence.

Hebrews 9:2 For a tent was prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence; it is called the Holy Place.

Revelation 1:12-13, 20 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; . . . As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Revelation 2:1, 5 To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: "The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. . . . Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent."

Revelation 4:5 From the throne issue flashes of lightning, and voices and peals of thunder, and before the throne burn seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God;
The King James Bible often uses candle or candlestick in these passages and others (see 78 examples). The American Standard Version of 1901 maintained this usage in many passages also. But the Greek lychnos and lychnia describe (technically) oil lamps, not candles per se (made of wax: as we know them today). These were containers filled with olive oil, into which a wick of flax or hemp were inserted.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Luther Meets His Match: Part VII: Erasmus' "Hyperaspistes" (1526): Luther's Dissembling, Hypocrisy, Arrogance, Slanders, Etc.

By Dave Armstrong (2-13-09)

From: Peter Macardle and Clarence H. Miller, translators, Charles Trinkhaus, editor, Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 76: Controversies: De Libero Arbitrio / Hyperaspistes I, Univ. of Toronto Press, 1999.

* * * * *

Now I will show you the counsel of your wordsmiths, who thought to themselves as follows: . . . 'Erasmus . . . is eager for glory; hence we will always hammer at the point that he knows nothing, and we will everywhere spit on him as a person of no account and overwhelm him with scorn and disgust. That will really burn him up, but in order to do this credibly, we will mix in some praise, we will pretend to be his friends, we will put on a show of pity for him rather than hatred; we will attribute to him intelligence and supreme eloquence, so that when the reader sees our candour on these points, he will think we would also attribute other qualities to him if he deserved them. Then by every possible means we will increase and intensify his burden of suspicion and ill will, fashioning our speech as if he agreed with us but pretends not to, partly out of fear, partly out of his love for riches; we will consider the sophists, compared with him, to be far more preferable; and then we will act out the play so as to curry favour in both theatres, both that of the "brothers," who have hated him for some time now, and that of the sophists and pharisees, who have long since been hostile to him because of good learning. Finally we will mix in a good dose of abuse and insults, so that, if we cannot wear out the frail and timid old man with our loquacity or overthrow him with our arguments, we will at least wear him down with verbal abuse.'

Such advice, so straightforward and evangelical, would be immediately detected in your book by a reader of any intelligence, but to your adherents it seemed very clever. In this design who does not see the embrace of the scorpion about to infix his sting? Who does not perceive the poisoned cup smeared with honey? 'Worshipful Erasmus, my dear Erasmus, most beloved Erasmus, most excellent Erasmus, endowed with the highest intelligence, with the greatest gifts, with supreme eloquence, to whom good learning owes so much, etc.' Here indeed is the embrace, here is the honey. But this same praiseworthy Erasmus presently writes so wickedly that not even the impious sophists can put up with him; he blasphemes against God; and worse yet, he doesn't believe anything at all, but inwardly he is a secret Epicurus or an atheist Lucian, saying in his heart, 'There is no God, or if there is, he does not care about the affairs of mortals.'

This is the sting, this is the deadly poison, this is the toad's venom. If this book is not everywhere awash with such witticisms, then I am as lying as a Cretan. If, on the other hand, such accusations and many others are everywhere hurled, hammered at, and harped on, show me (I beg you) anyone against whom you have written more venomously. And this very inconsistency of your speech reveals the insincerity of your heart. . . . Do you think people are such blockheads that they do not understand by what spirit you are being led when you write such things, blowing hot and cold from the same mouth, offering honey and poison in the same goblet, presenting bread with one hand, hurling stones with the other? (pp. 104-106)

Your eloquence is not inconsiderable; would that it were matched by a sober and sincere attitude! (p. 106)

Now what sort of an accolade do you bestow on me when you attribute to me supreme eloquence joined with supreme ignorance of the subject matter? (p. 106)

And what you attribute to me in the beginning you take away from me in the course of the disputation, where you make Erasmus so stupid that he cannot see what is clearer than daylight. Time after time you accuse this most eloquent writer of being ignorant of rhetoric: he does not understand the central point at issue; he often says what is irrelevant or what completely undermines his case; he gives a bad definition, a worse division, and the worst arguments; in short, he does nothing which is not against the precepts of rhetoric. (p. 107)

Such inconsistencies demonstrate sufficiently that you are not saying what you think. And so, once eloquence has been taken away, all that is left is the intelligence which you initially attribute to me. But in the course of the disputation, my Discussion is dumbfounded and blind, she snores and dreams, she neither remembers nor understands what others say or even what she herself utters. So much for Erasmus' intelligence! This is the way authors vacillate, Luther, when they do not derive their language from the truth but instead cleverly make up everything they say.

You are no more consistent when, in the prefatory remarks at the beginning of your work, you say the authority of Erasmus is not to be scorned, and then in the course of the work you do nothing but make Erasmus a joke and a plaything, holding him up as a laughing-stock to the whole world. (p. 107)

For in your commentary explicating the Epistle to the Galatians, I am cried up as 'the top man in theology and a victor over ill will' -- that is what you say in the preface . . . in the course of the work I am frequently singled out for honour: in one place Erasmus is correct, 'as always.' . . . In another I am 'the most excellent Erasmus.' In another you are very happy to agree with your friend Erasmus. Once more in the appendix which was added by Commodus Britannus, you take second place but I am awarded the highest praise in the restoration of the gospel. I will not set out here the hundreds of letters by your adherents in which I am cried up as the prince of theologians. But the minute I dared to open my mouth against your teaching, I immediately became entirely ignorant of theology. . . . If your judgment is so vacillating, who will have any confidence in it? (p. 109)

At that time you were luring me with flattery to join your league, but now that you are vexed by A Discussion you try to make Erasmus as blind as a bat. But just as I was not taken in by those high-sounding praises, so too now I am not even the least bit disturbed by this vituperation of yours. I knew that those praises were not truly meant, just as this vituperation was dictated by hatred and anger. But at that time, when I was vaunted as supreme in theology, I became not so much as an iota the more learned; so too now, when I am proclaimed by a similar hyperbole to know nothing at all, I am not rendered a bit more ignorant. (p. 110)

There is in print a letter of Melanchthon in which he attributes a great deal to you, but me he does not hesitate to rank higher than all the ancients. So too a member of your school, a certain Erasmus Alber . . . makes me equal or even superior to St. Jerome. If all the ancient Fathers, if Jerome himself knew nothing about theology, if they and the church were totally blind, I am sorry for them, and I can put up with my blindness more easily, since I share it with such extraordinary men. (pp. 110-111)

We have the fruit of your spirit: it has come down to bloody slaughter, and we fear yet worse disasters unless God favours us and averts them. You say that such conflict is inherent in the word. I think it makes some difference how God's word is preached, supposing for the moment that it is God's word you are teaching. You do not acknowledge these rebels, I imagine, but they acknowledge you, and it is already clear that many who boast that they are evangelicals have been the cruelest instigators of revolution . . . to be sure, through your savage booklet against the peasants you deflected suspicion away from yourself, but even so you could not keep people from believing that you provided the occasion for these uprisings by your pamphlets, especially the ones written in German . . . against monks and bishops, in favour of evangelical freedom, against human tyranny. I still do not have so low an opinion of you, Luther, as to think you intended your designs to come to this, but nevertheless, long ago when you began this whole story, I conjectured from the violence of your pen that this is how it would ened; and that is why in my first letter to you I advised you to be upright in dealing with this business and take care not to write anything in an uncontrolled or divisive fashion. (p. 114)

[see highly related, copiously documented paper: "
Martin Luther's Violent, Inflammatory Rhetoric and its Relationship to the German Peasants' Revolt (1524-1525)"]

. . . you require us to believe that you do nothing of your own free will but rather under the guidance of the spirit of Christ, and you are indignant if we do not immediately abandon the teaching embraced and held by the Catholic church for so many centuries in the past and swear allegiance to you. I never had any inclination to join your conspiracy. (p. 142)

As for me, Luther, I have enough faith in Holy Scripture and the decisions of the church to hope for my salvation from the mercy of God, even without any help from your faith. In the future, therefore, do not claim what belongs to God, do not make pronouncements about a person's spirit, but rather examine your own spirit carefully lest it should turn out you have a rider different from the one you proclaim you have. (pp. 144-145)

You foist off such super-sophistry on us simple souls, boasting at the same time to the whole world that you have such knowledge in theology that I doubt any of the apostles ever claimed as much. (p. 153)

For never to make a mistake, never not to know, never to regret having said something is peculiar to such a Gnostic and Stoic knower as you. But now tell me this: how are you consistent when you claim I am utterly ignorant of the truth and yet you charge me with the unforgivable sin? But no one who sins through ignorance is held accountable for his offence . . . Therefore my ignorance exonerates me from this charge, but you, who are ignorant of nothing, have good reason to be afraid that you will have this charge levelled against you, since you stoutly rescind the decisions of the church and assert anything and everything. Again, how can you reconcile the fact that I know nothing with the notion that, though I agree with you, I defend divergent positions to curry the favour of princes? You want to make me out to be a scoundrel who knowingly impugns the truth out of fear of princes, and at the same time you want to make me utterly ignorant of the truth. . . . since you are always in the grip of an uncontrollable urge to slander, you follow now one impulse, now another, and so make statements which are inconsistent with one another. . . . But how do such things square with the Spirit of Christ . . .? (pp. 154-155)

For in this whole first part of your book, what else have you done, I ask you, except triumph, lord it over the defeated, show your battle-trophies, and sing paeans before you have even come up to our battleline? (p. 158)

I am so accustomed to such insults that I would almost take pleasure in them if it were not that I fear this savage attitude of yours will enmesh the world in the worst sort of disasters. For what Erasmus loses is of no importance whatever, as long as the gospel reigns. . . . If we imagine that the princes treated their peasants very tyrannically (and it is not clear to me that they did), whch was more advantageous to the peasants: to bear with their very unjust lords or to experience the effects of a rebellion in which so many thousands perished and the injury was so far from being removed that the yoke was doubled and rendered even more grievous? . . . For even if that cause of yours is as important as you make it out tobe, nevertheless that misplaced abusiveness of yours, which spares no mortal at all, has as its reult that you not only accomplish nothing but also that you double and exacerbate the tyranny you strive to eliminate and you advance those whom you wish to suppress. (pp. 170-171)

. . . this seditious wantonness of your pen also brings destruction down on all good things. The people are stirred up against bishops and princes; magistrates are hard pressed to put down mobs eager to revolt; cities which were once joined by very close ties now quarrel among themselves with fierce hatred; now you can hardly find any man you can safely trust; all freedom has been taken away. For you have not removed but rather you have aggravated the tyranny (for so you usually call it) of princes, bishops, theologians, and monks. All deeds and words are immediately subject to suspicion, and it is not allowed even to open one's mouth about points which once could be debated pro and con. The slavery which you set out to shake off has been redoubled; the yoke is heavier; the chains are not shaken off but tightened. (pp. 293-294)

Liberal studies, together with languages and good writing, are everywhere disregarded because you have loaded them down with ill will. The outstanding monuments of the ancients are rejected, and in their place the world is filled with quarrelsome and defamatory books which infect the reader with poison and disease. I know some good and learned men who at first were not unwilling to read your lucubrations with a desire to know and judge them. They were finally forced to reject them because they confessed that they were infected by the many grimaces, jests, witticisms, insults and unchristian slanders with which you contaminate your doctrine, not unlike those whose occupation is to stuff capopns or pheasants with garlic. And at first these things have a certain titillation and we itch to read them, but when they gradually creep into the mind, they infect the sincerity and gentleness of the heart. And although you see how many evils this ferocity of yours has brought into the world, though you have been warned so often, even by those who wish you well, still you continually get worse and worse, both uselessly drawing intoi danger those who commit themselves to your faith and alienating those whom you could have attracted to you -- for now I once more pretend that your doctrine is orthodox -- and finally preventing this worldwide uproar, however it arose, from ever bringing forth for us some degree of beneficent tranquillity. You have drawn numberless people away from their bishops, and now they wander around like scattered sheep, having no shepherd, especially when they see that your church is shaken by so many quarrels and thrown into tumult by internal warfare. (pp. 294-295)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Luther Meets His Match: Part VI: Erasmus' "Hyperaspistes" (1526): "Sola Scriptura" and Perspicuity of Scripture Critiqued

By Dave Armstrong (2-12-09)

From: Peter Macardle and Clarence H. Miller, translators, Charles Trinkhaus, editor, Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 76: Controversies: De Libero Arbitrio / Hyperaspistes I, Univ. of Toronto Press, 1999.

* * * * *

I myself prefer to have this cast of mind than that which I see characterizes certain others, so that they are uncontrollably attached to an opinion and cannot tolerate anything that disagrees with it, but twist whatever they read in Scripture to support their view once they have embraced it. (p. 120; citing his earlier Discussion, or Diatribe)

I do not condemn those who teach the people that free will exists, striving together with the assistance of grace, but rather those who discuss before the ignorant mob difficulties which would hardly be suitable in the universities. . . . to discuss those difficulties of the scholastics about notions, about reality and relations, before a mixed crowd, you should consider how much good it would do. (p. 123)

And then, as for what you say about the clarity of Scripture, would that it were absolutely true! But those who laboured mightily to explain it for many centuries in the past were of quite another opinion. (p. 129)

But if knowledge of grammar alone removes all obscurity from Sacred Scripture, how did it happen that St. Jerome, who knew all the languages, was so often at a loss and had to labour mightily to explain the prophets? Not to mention some others, among whom we find even Augustine, in whom you place some stock. Why is it that you yourself, who cannot use ignorance of languages as an excuse, are sometimes at a loss in explicating the psalms, testifying that you are following something you have dreamed up in your own mind, without condemning the opinions of others? . . . Finally, why do your 'brothers' disagree so much with one another? They all have the same Scripture, they all claim the same spirit. And yet Karlstadt disagrees with you violently. So do Zwingli and Oecolampadius and Capito, who approve of Karlstadt's opinion though not of his reasons for it. Then again Zwingli and Balthazar are miles apart on many points. To say nothing of images, which are rejected by others, but defended by you, not to mention the rebaptism rejected by your followers but preached by others, and passing over in silence the fact that secular studies are condemned by others but defended by you. Since you are all treating the subject matter of Scripture, if there is no obscurity in it, why is there so much disagreement among you? On this point there is no reason for you to rail at the wretched sophists: Augustine teaches that obscurity sometimes arises from unknown or ambiguous words, sometimes from the nature of the subject matter, at times from allegories and figures of speech, at times from passages which contradict one another, at least according to what the language seems to say. [De doctrina christiana 2.6.7, 2.9.15] And he gives the reason why God wished such obscurity to find a place in the Sacred Books.
[De doctrina christiana 4.8.22] (pp. 130-131)

Furthermore, where you challenge me and all the sophists to bring forward even one obscure or recondite passage from the Sacred Books which you cannot show is quite clear, I only wish you could make good on your promise! We will bring to you heaps of difficulties and we will forgive you for calling us blinder than a bat, provided you clearly explicate the places where we are at a loss. But if you impose on us the law that we believe that whatever your interpretation is, that is what Scripture means, your associates will not put up with such a law and they stoutly cry out against you, affirming that you interpret Scripture wrongly about the Eucharist. Hence it is not right that we should grant you more authority than is granted by the principal associates of your confession. (p. 132)

. . . how did it happen that after the gospel was preached such blindness remained in the church of God that there was no one after the apostles except Jan Hus and Wyclif who did not get stuck in places all through the Scriptures? (p. 133)

. . . even your own writings and your dissenting adherents refute what you assert. (p. 134)

Nor did I say that some places in Scripture offer difficulties in order to deter anyone from reading it, but rather to encourage readers to study it acutely and to discourage the inexperienced from making snap judgments. (p. 135)

But still, if I were growing weary of this church, as I wavered in perplexity, tell me, I beg you in the name of the gospel, where would you have me go? To that disintegrated congregation of yours, that totally dissected sect? Karlstadt has raged against you, and you in turn against him. And the dispute was not simply a tempest in a teapot but concerned a very serious matter. Zwingli and Oecolampadius have opposed your opinion in many volumes. And some of the leaders of your congregation agree with them, among whom is Capito. Then too what an all-out battles was fought by Balthazar and Zwingli! I am not even sure that there in that tiny little town you agree among yourselves very well. Here your disciples openly taught that the humanities are the bane of godliness, and no languages are to be learned except a bit of Greek and Hebrew, that Latin should be entirely ignored. There were those who would eliminate baptism and those who would repeat it; and there was no lack of those who persecute them for it. In some places images of the saints suffered a dire fate; you came to their rescue. When you book about reforming education was published, they said that the spirit had left you and that you were beginning to write in a human spirit opposed to the gospel, and they maintained you did it to please Melanchthon. A tribe of prophets has risen up there with whom you have engaged in most bitter conflict. Finally, just as every day new dogmas appear among you, so at the same time new quarrels arise. And you demand that no one should disagree with you, although you disagree so much among yourselves about matters of the greatest importance! (pp. 143-144)

If you agreed among yourselves on your dogmas, you could accuse me of pride for not paying attention to teachings propounded by learned men with such an overwhelming consensus. As it is, since I have always adhered to the Catholic church and kept away from your fellowship, since your doctrine has been condemned by the princes of the church and the monarchs of the world, to say nothing of the censure by the universities, since you quarrel so much among yourselves, each of you claiming all the while to have the Spirit of Christ and a completely certain knowledge of Holy Scripture, how can you still . . . be outraged that an old man like me who knows nothing of theology should prefer to follow the authoritative consensus of the church rather than to join you, who dissent no less from the church than you dissent from each other? (p. 144)

Certainly no one after the apostles claimed that there was no mystery in Scripture that was not clear to him. (pp. 153-154)

Just so you, Luther, teach that whatever questions arise out of Holy Scripture ought to be handled in the presence of any person whatsoever . . . certain points . . . though they are true, can still not be spoken of before just any audience without endangering piety and concord and which should be set forth prudently. And here I place many points which you publish in the German language for uneducated people, such as the liberty of the gospel, which, if treated in judicious sermons on the right occasion, are not fruitless, but if they are treated in such sermons as yours, you see what fruit they produce. (pp. 166-167)

. . . even though I were to grant that what you teach is true, judge for yourself what contribution to piety is made by those who proclaim to the ignorant mob such things as these: there is no free will; our will has no effect but rather God works in us both our good deeds and our bad ones. (p. 167)

. . . it is possible that certain things may be in some sense true which nevertheless it would be inexpedient to proclaim before an unlearned audience. (p. 168)

. . . you offend precisely in that you continually foist off on us your interpretation as the word of God . . . in interpreting Scripture I prefer to follow the judgment of the many orthodox teachers and of the church rather than that of you alone or of your few sworn followers . . . (pp. 180-181)

And so away with this 'word of God, word of God.' I am not waging war against the word of God but against your assertion; nor is the word of God inconsistent with itself but rather human interpretations collide with one another. If you are influenced by the judgment of the church, what you assert is human fabrication, what you fight against is the word of God. (p. 181)

I say that those who treat such questions with arguments pro and con before an ignorant mob are like actors who perform a play not suited to everyone before an indiscriminate audience. (p. 195)

Holy Scripture, together with its figures of speech, has a language peculiar to itself. . . . just as the divine wisdom tempers its speech according to our feelings and our capacity to understand, so too the dispenser of Holy Scripture accommodates his language to the benefit of his audience . . . who ever conceded to you that figures of speech in Holy Scripture are not at all obscure as long as grammar is available, since everywhere in Genesis we are tormented by figures and the most erudite men sweat so much over the allegories of the prohets? (pp. 195-196)

But what I was after was for you to tell how we could be sure that what your adherents claim for themselves is true, especially when we see those who struggle equally to claim the Spirit for themselves disagree so violently among themselves about so many things. An easy believer is light-headed, and you would rightly find us lacking in manly constancy if we rashly defected from the universal Catholic church unless the matter was proved to us with ironclad arguments. (p. 199)

You stipulate that we should not ask for or accept anything but Holy Scripture, but you do it in such a way as to require that we permit you to be its sole interpreter, renouncing all others. Thus the victory will be yours if we allow you to be not the steward but the lord of Holy Scripture. (pp. 204-205)

. . . if they [bishops or theologians] should agree among themselves in explaining Holy Scripture, we would have something certain to follow. As it is, our heralds teach something different than you do, and your adherents disagree among themselves and even go so far as to cry out boldly against you. Where, then, even in the church, is this certain judgment by which we prove or disprove teachings drawn from Holy Scripture, a rule which is completely certain . . .? (p. 215)

. . . the second chapter of Malachi [verse 7] commands the people to ask for the Law from the mouth of a priest . . . Why then do you people not follow the advice of Malachi and ask for the Law from the mouths of priests and bishops? Moreover, what need was there to learn the Law from the mouth of a priest, since anyone of the people who knew the language and had common sense could easily understand a Law that was perfectly clear. [?] Therefore someone who orders that the Law be sought from the mouth of a priest indicates that the Law is not clear to just anyone, but rather he points out the fitting interpreter of the Law. (p. 217)

And why do we speak of the light of the gospel, if not because what is wrapped and covered up in figures in the Law is brought out into the open by the gospel? Is nothing there predicted about Christ which is not perfectly clear to all, provided they know Hebrew? Indeed, even the disciples of the Lord, after hearing so many sermons, after seeing so many miracles, after so many signs and tokens which the prophets foretold concerning Christ, did not understand Scripture until Christ opened up the meaning so that they understood Scripture. (p. 218)

At this point when will you stop throwing prophets, baptists, and apostles at us? No one doubts their Spirit, and their authority is sacrosanct. Because they had the Spirit teaching them from within, they explained what is obscure in the writings of the prophets. We were talking about your spirit and that of your followers, who profess that there is nothing in Holy Scripture which is obscure to you as long as you know grammar, and we demanded that you establish the credibility of this certainty, which you still fail to do, try as you may. (p. 219)

. . . when the Lord added 'for those places speak of me,' [John 5:39] he added a good deal of light, pointing out the aim of the prophecy. Just so in Acts, when Paul had taught and admonished them, they compared the scriptural passages with what had been carried out and what had been propounded to them; and there was much they would not have understood if the apostle had not supplied this additional light. Therefore I am not making the passages obscure, but rather God himself wanted there to be some obscurity in them, but in such a way that there would be enough light for the eternal salvation of everyone if he used his eyes and grace was there to help. No one denies that there is truth as clear as crystal in Holy Scripture, but sometimes it is wrapped and covered up by figures and enigmas so that it needs scrutiny and an interpreter, either because God wanted in this way to arouse us from dullness and also to set us to work, as Augustine says, or because truth is more pleasant and affects us more deeply when it has been dug out and shines forth to us through the cover of darkness than if it had been exposed for anyone at all to see . . . (pp. 219-220)

. . . if, as you teach, nothing is needed for Holy Scripture except grammar, what need is there to hear a preacher expound and interpret it? It would be enough to read out a prophet or the gospel to the common people who do not have the sacred books without explaining anything at all, unless there might perhaps be some underlying difficulty about the words. (pp. 221-222)

If Holy Scripture is perfectly clear in all respects, where does this darkness among you come from, whence arise such fights to the death about the meaning of Holy Scripture? You prove from the mysteries of Scripture that the body of the Lord is in the Eucharist physically; from the same Scripture Zwingli, Oecolampadius, and Capito teach that it is only signified. (p. 222)

You say this as if I said that all Scripture is obscure and ambiguous, though I confess that it contains a treasure of eternal and most certain truth, but in some places the treasure is concealed and not open to just anybody, no matter who. The sun is not dark if it does not appear when it is covered by clouds or if a dim-sighted person gropes about in full daylight . . . I was dealing with intricate questions which arise from Holy Scripture as it is interpreted first in one way and then in another. Here was the place you should have brought forth that most certain light of yours by which you convict the whole church of blindness. For, as to that quibble of yours that this light is always concealed in that church which is hidden and not thought to be the church, even if I granted you this (which you cannot prove), it is more probable that the holiest and also most learned men belonged to that hidden church than that you and your few adherents do. (p. 223)

The same thing also happens to you followers: Bugenhagen and Oecolampadius speak about some places with doubts and hesitation, and in the end even Philippus [Melanchthon] does, for whom there is no end to your praises. Everything which you thundered with such vehemence and lavishness against those who think there is anything obscure in Scripture recoils on the heads of your followers and even on your own. Finally, you yourself confess that obscurity occurs in the mysteries of Scripture because of ignorance about words, and you will add, I think, because of corruptions in the manuscripts, figures of speech, and places which conflict with one another. Once you admit this, all the disadvantages return which you attributed to obscurity. For it does not matter where the obscurity comes from as long as some is there. Such obscurity you certainly cannot deny. But if you eliminate all faith in those who are at a loss anywhere, you yourself are at a loss and so are your adherents, in whom you wish us to have wholehearted faith. (pp. 225-226)

And he [Paul] says there: 'We know partially and we prophesy partially,' and a little further on 'Now I know partially, but then I shall know as I am known.' [1 Cor 13:9,12] By prophecy Paul means the interpretation of the mysteries of Scripture; why would he profess that it is imperfect if there is nothing which is not perfectly clear? And if Paul here acknowledges imperfection, where are those who now boast of omniscience? (p. 234)

But you will say that Zwingli and Oecolampadius lost the Spirit after they started writing against you. (p. 235)

But if you attribute a total understanding of the Holy Scripture to the Holy Spirit, why do you make an exception only for the ignorance of grammar? In a matter of such importance will the Spirit allow grammar to stand in the way of man's salvation? Since he did not hesitate to impart such riches of eternal wisdom, will he hesitate to impart grammar and common sense? (p. 239)

If you contend that there is no obscurity whatever in Holy Scripture, do not take up the matter with me but with all the orthodox Fathers, of whom there is none who does not preach the same thing as I do. (p. 242)

For which of them [the Church Fathers], in explaining the mysteries in these volumes, does not complain about the obscurity of Scripture? Not because they blame Scripture, as you falsely charge, but because they deplore the dullness of the human mind, not because they despair but because they implore grace from him who alone closes and opens to whomever he wishes, when he wishes, and as much as he wishes. (pp. 244-245)

But I am resolved in matters of faith not to give any weight to private feelings. (p. 247)

Both the Spirit and common sense and the clarity of Holy Scripture are claimed by both sides. . . . Grant that Scripture is perfectly clear: what will we unlearned people do when we see both sides contending with equal assertiveness that they have the Spirit who reveals mysteries and that they find Scripture absolutely clear? Grant that it is obscure in some places: what will we do when each side accuses the other of blindness? However these things may be, we are certainly left wavering in doubt, and in the meantime you neither acquit your faith by fulfilling your promise nor set us free by removing our doubt. (p. 254)