Friday, January 22, 2010

Dialogue With a Catholic on the Perspicuity (Clearness) of Scripture, and the Definition of Christian in Relation to the Holy Trinity

[D3.JPG]
Evangelizing Mormons (as a Protestant),in the summer of 1989 at the Ann Arbor Art Fair (the only known picture where I am actually doing apologetics and/or evangelism)

This is a follow-up discussion to the paper, Clarifying Some Points of David Waltz's Present "Doctrinal Limbo" Status (Including Discussion of the Holy Trinity and the Definition of "Christian"). Rory (nickname "Lisamck") is a friend of David Waltz's, and was his sponsor for his reception into the Church in 2002. He thinks that Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are properly classifiable as Christian, and we also have different degrees of confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture for refuting heresies like Arianism (current-day Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians, and The Way International). He thinks my views amount to a version of sola Scriptura (or at least go down that road). I vehemently disagree on all these points, and give the reasons why (though later on we discovered we weren't as far apart on these issues as I first thought, and Rory made some important concessions). It's a good, civil discussion. The discussion occurred in the combox of a recent David Waltz post, starting with his comment. His words will be in blue.

* * * * *

1) Fr. Chilson would not probably change my mind on whether Mormons or others who deny the proclamations of an ecumenical Council should qualify as Christian. Certainly, everyone has a different definition in mind. I am inclined to accept under the broad umbrella of "Christian" anyone who can accept the historical facts of the Apostles' Creed. Of course, like most Protestants, Mormons do not give assent to belief in the holy Catholic Church or communion of saints. 2) Most Protestants and Catholics who would apply a standard that would exclude Mormons from being Christian are in my opinion, too optimistic about sola scriptura in the case of Protestants, or the material sufficiency of Scripture in the case of Catholics. As a Catholic I believe the Scriptures are materially sufficient to show plausibility of the true doctrine but not implausibility of the false doctrine.

This is a very interesting way of putting it, and I think you may be onto something; but on the other hand, if true doctrine can be shown in the Bible as plausible (as I certainly believe), are not the false doctrines shown to be implausible by virtue of being contrary to the manifestly plausible true scriptural doctrines?

In other words, to use an example, by demonstrating the Trinity (and particularly the deity of Christ), Arianism is thus shown to be false (therefore, also implausible, since false). I'm not sure one thing can be separated from the other.

My view of material sufficiency allows that without the authority of the Catholic Church to resolve biblical controversy, heretics could never be silenced because the Scriptures are intended to have a complimentary authority, not a sole authority. Apart from the Catholic Church, I think it is very unlikely that I would arrive at Catholic doctrine, and especially not the Nicene Trinity by reading it in a vacuum. Those Catholics who think the Scriptures are materially sufficient to silence studious Arians seem to forget that they had the Scriptures in 325 and they weren't sufficient by themselves. Scripture alone has not been adequate historically to resolve the major biblical controversies.

I think they are quite sufficient to disprove Arianism. I even did so myself in the early 80s (as an evangelical), as one of my first major theological research projects was studying and refuting Jehovah's Witnesses.

It is clearly not sufficient to silence or prevent heretics from being heretics. That is the aspect of formal sufficiency, and where the need of a Church comes in. But even a true Church is not capable of preventing all heresy in practice (since they will merely separate) but only to show how and where they are in error.

The Church's value (with regard to authority and in relation to Scripture) lies in interpreting Scripture, forming dogmas, and showing how the dogmas are consistent with Scripture and Tradition.

I suppose I will find myself alone among the Protestants and Catholics both who will suggest that the Arians were just wicked, stubborn, or stupid. I don't believe it is necessarily so. I think some of them were smart, sincere, and even devout. The devout would of course, have yielded to Holy Mother Church after the Council. While I hold that the Scriptures must be materially sufficient to support the plausibility of Catholic doctrine, this is not enough to withhold the title of Christian from people who believe in the birth, death, and resurrection of God's Son while having doubts about later creeds of Christendom.

I don't know enough of the particular history to make any solid claims, but in general I tend to think that people's errors are (at least quite often) brought about by false premises or illogical thinking. They have been sold a bill of goods: some false teaching, and sincerely believe in it, but the thing itself is wrong from the outset. Have we not all experienced this in our own lives?

I was perfectly sincere when I was into the occult, was pro-abortion, a sexual liberal, etc. (all that changed by the early 80s, just for the record!).

Great comment. You stimulated much thought in me; hence my three replies.

* * *

What I have never understood is why Catholics . . . seem inclined to disregard Restoration movements such as Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Islam, or Bahai, as though they are even less tenable then Protestantism. If I weren't Catholic, I would consider the Restorationists as more viable candidates for my religious affiliation than any Protestant group that believes the Nicene Creed, but rejects the right reason for believing it.

It's a trifling, minor matter called the Holy Trinity. In other words, the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian.

My comment . . . which favored Islam, Mormonism, or Bahai claims were regarding the viability of Restoration vs. Reformation claims. My presumption was for the searcher who is for one reason or another, not considering the Catholic claim.

I find it an extraordinary position, especially having studied Jehovah's Witnesses in great depth (without ever dreaming of joining them), and having familiarity with evangelicalism and Catholicism both, from firsthand allegiance.

My reply intended no disrespect to the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. I am glad that most thoughtful Protestants accept it.

That's good to know. Yet by taking this position, you appear to lower the relative importance of the Trinity. That is what baffles me about it.

What I was saying is that if I was similarly seeking the true faith, I would have to dismiss Protestantism because of the way they claim to arrive at Nicene dogma.

Since when is the way we arrive at a truth more important than attaining to the truth itself? It's more important to accept and understand trinitarianism than it is to possess some semblance of tradition in one's view. One has to do with the very nature of God Himself; the other with a rule of faith and authority. To me, it is no contest between the two.

But...here, if I am not mistaken, I recall that you would be in agreement with them, that even apart from Catholic authority, you would arrive at Nicene dogma from Scripture alone.

I didn't say exactly that. This is a complex issue. I've written more about it than anything else, including a book recently, critiquing sola Scriptura.

My position, briefly stated, is the following:

1) Scripture, is, by and large, clear, in its treatment of theological doctrines. The truth can be obtained by proper study. I've done this myself, many times, in Scripture study on various topics, and my experience has always been the same, for thirty years now.

2) Scripture is materially sufficient: it contains all Christian doctrines, either explicitly, implicitly, or by direct deduction from doctrines in the above two categories.

3) But Scripture is not formally sufficient (i.e., it is not alone the rule of faith). Formal sufficiency is the position of sola Scriptura; material sufficiency is distinct from that.

4) Massive use of Scripture in apologetics or systematic theology is not identical to sola Scriptura (making it the only formal and infallible authority). I specialize in biblical evidences for Catholic doctrine. But it is a serious mistake to assume that by dong this, somehow I am adopting anything remotely like the principle of sola Scriptura. Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm doing what the fathers did: they usually argued from scripture first, in fighting heresy, but ultimately they appealed to tradition and the Church and apostolic succession as their ace in the hole. I don't appeal only to Scripture in my apologetics, because I also specialize in development of doctrine, history of doctrine, and have written books about the fathers, Luther, and Calvin also.

5) Though I think Scripture is clear on doctrine, for the most part, and definitely I think Arianism and other errors of that sort can be amply refuted from it, alone, nevertheless on the practical level of folks having different interpretations of Scripture, the Church is also necessary to authoritatively interpret. And this is done in the framework of tradition and apostolic succession.

6) With regard to, e.g., Arianism, clearly, many people through history have misinterpreted Scripture and have come to that conclusion. They can be refuted from Scripture (I have done so, and would be happy to do so again here, if someone wishes to defend Arianism), but because Scripture Alone has proven to be a failure through history, the Church also has to proclaim orthodoxy.

7) I also acknowledge that we all come to Scripture via a preexisting grid or bias, and that we benefit from hindsight. We have 2000 years of apostolic succession and Catholic pronouncements. Someone in the third or fourth century was much less equipped to know all that we know now. Trinitarianism was far less developed, so when they approached Scripture, it was that much more likely that they would come to an erroneous conclusion. And so they did. Arianism was refuted by Nicaea and the few councils afterwards.

I could go on and on about this, but that will suffice for now, as a summary of my position. I vehemently reject sola Scriptura, and perspicuity in the exact form that Protestants conceive it. But I think Scripture is pretty clear overall. If it were not, systematic theology would be very difficult for anyone to do.

It is becoming clearer to me why most faithful Catholics, including you, think Reformation movements are more viable options than the Restoration movements. It is because of a shared belief in a higher degree of confidence than I currently have regarding the clarity of Sacred Scripture, when Apostolic Tradition and the Catholic magisterium are set aside.

You may lack confidence in Scripture. Perhaps you have studied it relatively less (I don't know), but in any event, you have not properly understood my own position (and so perhaps you may possibly be misunderstanding other Catholics on this score). I haven't lowered tradition and the magisterium at all. I simply specialize in use of Scripture in my apologetics.

I'm a student of the Bible. I love it. Nothing gives me more joy than studying it, in greater and greater depth. I was collecting this very day, passages about the general resurrection. It's wonderful. I wouldn't trade my life as a writer and apologist for anything. I have the luxury of the time to study the Bible a lot as part of my vocation.

For my part, I have already expressed how I deny that we can prove the implausibility of heresy except with Scripture and Tradition (ratified by the authority of Christ's Church).

I believe in ratifying through Church authority, as I stated last time. But people can reject the Church, just as they reject Scripture. They are both authorities, and people want to often go their own way. David Waltz has now rejected the Church as infallible because it doesn't interpret theology and history (or ecclesiology or whatever) in the way that he thinks it should.

Having adopted the position that the Church had true authority, and was higher than individuals in determining the truth, and protected by God so as to be able to be infallible, now for some odd reason he has put himself higher than the Church. He has adopted private judgment. So what will be his standard of truth and orthodoxy now? Scripture? Arians believe in sola Scriptura. But I digress . . .

I thought I spotted an internal inconsistency in your own position (that you have not addressed). You stated:

I believe the Scriptures are materially sufficient to show plausibility of the true doctrine but not implausibility of the false doctrine.

And I replied:

if true doctrine can be shown in the Bible as plausible (as I certainly believe), are not the false doctrines shown to be implausible by virtue of being contrary to the manifestly plausible true scriptural doctrines? In other words, to use an example, by demonstrating the Trinity (and particularly the deity of Christ), Arianism is thus shown to be false (therefore, also implausible, since false).

If this is true (as I think it is), then the doctrine of Arianism can indeed be disproven by Scripture. But like I said, heretics will reject a correct reading of Scripture, and they will reject a Church if the Church tells them otherwise. So you and I can agree that the Church is necessary as the safeguard, but it can't stop heretics, either, if they are intent to leave the Church and no longer be under her infallible guidance.

In any event, I don't see how you can hold that Scripture can teach truth, but not by the same token condemn error, when that error is directly contrary to the truth that is able to be proved therein. You can't have one thing and not the other, if these conditions hold.

It would be difficult I think to persuade me that it is infidelity to deny the Nicene Trinity, the Assumption and Immaculate Conception of our Lady, pedo-baptism, or Transubstantiation from the Scriptures alone.

I disagree in the case of the Trinity. It is too obvious, from literally hundreds of Scriptures. The divinity of the Holy Spirit is relatively more difficult to establish, but it still is able to be demonstrated, with enough cross-referencing. I did it myself, as I said, way back in 1982:

The Holy Trinity: Biblical Proofs

Jesus is God: Biblical Proofs

I agree that the Assumption and Immaculate Conception are very difficult to see in Scripture Alone, but I have constructed wholly biblical arguments for both [follow the links in this sentence]. It takes some doing, but it is not impossible.

Infant baptism is not that hard to show (from the baptism of entire families and the analogy to circumcision).Transubstantiation is a much higher development of Real Presence, which is itself easy to demonstrate in Scripture: especially from John 6.

For me, your position draws too near to sola scriptura.

Then you have not understood it properly. Perhaps (hopefully) you better understand it now, after I have clarified. Protestants don't "own" Scripture, and I will refuse to my dying breath, to adopt the notion that anyone who concentrates on Scripture study must necessarily adopt sola Scriptura or even elements of it. Even thinking in these terms plays into Protestant errors.

I think this apparent disagreement between us about the perspicuity of Scripture alone on the subject of the Blessed Trinity

It would be interesting to me to see exactly what you think Scripture does teach about the Blessed Trinity, if you think it is so unclear on the matter. Do you think it is difficult to find explicit proofs even of Jesus' divinity, wit passages like, e.g., John 1:1 and Colossians 2:9, along with many others, and every attribute of God the Father also attributed to Jesus (excepting, of course, the possession of a body)?

explains why, if we put the Catholic Church out of the equation, I could more easily be LDS, while you could more easily be Methodist (or whatever). It is probably also at the root of why I would consider Mormons Christian, and you wouldn't. I find their radical departure from Catholic teaching to be a more likely scenario if I am looking for the one true church, than the Trinitarian Protestant who rejects the reason I am Trinitarian.

Okay. But again I see an inconsistency in your position. You're telling me we need the Catholic Church to proclaim dogmas, that we supposedly couldn't find ourselves in the Bible without her aid. So in that sense you grant to Holy Mother Church a profound authority. Yet you don't want to follow her guidance when it comes to the definition of what a Christian is. It is clear that trinitarianism is indispensable in that regard.

It is not Mormons who were referred to as separated brethren: that was Protestants. There is an essential difference. Protestants remain Christians because they have the correct theology of God, and they have true sacraments (baptism and marriage). Mormons have an incorrect doctrine of God, and their baptisms are invalid, because (as the Church has now made more clear) they have an erroneous understanding of trinitarianism.

So what makes you think that you can arbitrarily reject how the Church defines "Christian" and "separated brethren" on the one hand, yet claim to follow her tradition and authority all down the line, over against a fellow like me who is supposedly too close to the Protestant position, in how I approach Scripture? You're still picking and choosing what you will believe (from the Church) and what you will not believe, by her authority.

Even the WCC and NCC, as I understand it, didn't allow Mormons for many years, to be members, precisely because they were not trinitarian (I think they do now; I briefly looked some of that up). It's not as if only we Catholics have been saying this through the years.

Perhaps I have arrived at my position too subjectively.

Objectivity does have its place!

As a Protestant, I had always been able to be persuaded favorably of multiple theological systems reasoning from the Bible alone.

I think each false system can be decisively shown to be so, from the Bible. The fact that you were persuaded of many things, proves neither that:

1) Scripture is in fact unclear, nor

2) that the reasoning employed in each case was not shot through with self-contradiction, nor

3) that the ones arguing in each case were doing so fairly; taking all relevant Scripture into account.

I had been everywhere from ultra-dispensationalism to Wisconsin Synod Lutheran (and other stuff in-between). I was tossed to and fro by every wind, and I can still in my opinion defend the plausibility of the beliefs I once held from Scripture alone.

I think if we as individuals find ourselves being in five, ten, twenty different camps, then we have to start looking at ourselves: we may indeed qualify as one whom Paul described as being "tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles" (Ephesians 4:14; RSV). Scripture is not to be blamed because a thousand different competing claims are supposedly derived from it. In effect, then, we would be blaming Scripture for our own shortcomings in discernment of theological truth.

It was in great part, the frustration of trying to discern between the claims of Hodge and Calvin, over against Spurgeon and Chafer, over against Luther and Chemnitz. Sola scriptura decided nothing for me. It drove me into the arms of Holy Mother Church as it offered a way of discerning truth that did not depend on my own abilities to expose the errors of biblical exegetes whose work seemed and still seems plausible, cut off from Catholic Tradition.

There is a lot of truth in that; I agree, but it still doesn't follow that Scripture is not clear. People simply need to become more familiar with it, and learn how to properly interpret it, within the framework of Holy Mother Church and supernatural faith.

I am willing to reevaluate my position. I will renounce my position if anyone can demonstrate that my negative view of the perspicuity of Scripture is incompatible with what the Catholic Church has proclaimed regarding the relationship between Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

The Church relates those two to each other. What it doesn't do is require a given interpretation for every passage in Scripture. There are only seven such passages.

On the question of perspicuity in particular and what the Church teaches, I'd have to look up things to determine that. I don't know offhand. But I would contend that even citing a lot of Scripture (CCC, VII, any theology book or catechism or encyclical) presupposes that each verse is sufficiently clear to be cited as a more or less evident proof, without further comment.

Thanks for your consideration.

It is enjoyable discussion, though we disagree a bit. I firmly believe that dialogue can lead both participants closer to the fullness of truth.

I would like to add that between you and me, what I discussed above is an academic exercise. I think faithful Catholics can disagree until the Church further clarifies Her understanding of how Scripture and Tradition properly interact.

I think the Church has stated plenty about that. The Church will never disconnect herself from being a guide in Scriptural theology. There is no debate on that. But how relatively clear Scripture is regarded to be is probably an area where Catholics can disagree.

I do not know, but for David W., this question might have some importance as to how he was eventually led to where he finds himself now.

Perhaps. I've been waiting now for two weeks or so to see his reasons for his decision. Obviously, as Catholic apologist, in my opinion, there is no sufficiently good reason to leave the Catholic Church. And I can back up my statement with argument; I don't merely assert it as if I consider it an unarguable maxim.

I am not privy to any great details regarding my friend's departure from the faith into which I sponsored him in 2002. He kept most of it to himself and we have had only a brief but very amiable phone conversation since he broke the news. I am still wildly curious about the way he began to doubt papal/ecclesiastical infallibility.

Me, too. But I think I have a clue, with all these allusion to Arianism and Mormonism floating around, and having discovered that David has had very serious interaction with both Mormons and "anti-Mormons."

I think we could get sidetracked if we read too much into your questions he did not answer. I suggest that his reasoning for accepting Mormons as Christian might be similar to mine.

I don't see how it can stand proper scrutiny.

Further, if he is not Catholic, I tend to think he would be as I am with regard to whether we can dismiss Arianism from the Scriptures alone. I know you disagree with it, but I am hoping you can follow the line of thinking that may lead him to be open to Arianism or inclusive with a word that can be defined in multiple ways and which to my knowledge has never been formally defined by the Church.

The word "Christian"? If that is what you mean, it has been defined by direct implication of which groups are considered "brethren in Christ." Obviously Muslims are not in that category; nor are Jews. Nor are Mormons and Arians and Unitarians, etc. They are outside the parameters of Christianity.

According to CCC #818 (citing the Decree on Ecumenism, 3, 1, from Vatican II, which itself cites the Council of Florence in 1439), those who are baptized "have a right to be called Christians." Since Mormon baptism has been rejected as invalid, because of the rejection of orthodox trinitarianism, and the trinitarian formula (along with correct intention) is essential to baptism; therefore, the Trinity is a necessary element in the definition of the word "Christian."

Isn't that clear enough? Baptism is required, and legitimate baptism requires belief in trinitarianism, in the way that the Church teaches it; therefore, belief in the Trinity is essential to the definition of "Christian."

The Decree on Ecumenism in section 1 is even more explicit. It refers to "the restoration of unity among all Christians. Taking part in this movement, which is called ecumenical, are those who invoke the Triune God and confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour. They do this not only as individuals but also as members of the corporate groups in which they have heard the Gospel . . . "

Thus, again, trinitarianism is central in the definition of a Christian, and this is in a document from an ecumenical council: even within the portion that was specifically ecumenical. Being ecumenical doesn't require watering down doctrines or pretending to believe things that we don't believe.

In what sense is this insufficient to immediately resolve the question for a Catholic who is giving assent to all that the Church requires?

Thank you for your comprehensive examination of my post of a few days ago. I promise to give it a lot of thought.

I got into a little debate . . . Sunday night and this question of definition of Christian came up (he taking your position). I had already seen that The Catechism of Pope Pius X insists upon valid baptism. I will probably concede that this is the official Catholic definition. But then I will add some things that you still won't like. Heh. Anyway...like I said...I'll be thinking about your whole reply and will try to respond before Dave returns (around Saturday). I bet we'll get something by next week at this time from him. Thanks again.

Well, thanks for taking the whole thing in good spirits. Sometimes folks are offended by my vigorous style of discussion. It's just love of dialogue and debate, not intended to be "personal."

God bless.

GO TO PART TWO

14 comments:

Irene said...

Hi again Dave A.

I decided to put my comments to our discussion over at Dave W.'s board here. I may post it there too. I am afraid I do not know how to transfer the dialogue in a way that is pleasing to the eye and easy to follow. If you care to do so, feel free to use italics, colors, or any other tools that you think might make for more clarity for any readers.

Hi Rory,

Rory original:
My comment to Crimson Catholic which favored Islam, Mormonism, or Bahai claims were regarding the viability of Restoration vs. Reformation claims. My presumption was for the searcher who is for one reason or another, not considering the Catholic claim.

Dave reply:
I find it an extraordinary position, especially having studied Jehovah's Witnesses in great depth (without ever dreaming of joining them), and having familiarity with evangelicalism and Catholicism both, from firsthand allegiance.

Rory response:
Hi again Dave A. I have been Catholic since 1995. I continue to grow more and more satisfied that by God's grace, I have found the fulness of truth, the ordinary means of salvation, and an attachment and affection for the Catholic Church that I could not have expected. I love the Church. Yes. I do. She is beautiful as is befitting the Bride of Christ.
That has to be put aside when comparing the claims of non-Catholics who claim to be replacing, reforming, or restoring what is lost in the assumption that the Catholic Church is not what I believe her to be. Given such a context, I find that the word you chose to describe my position, extraordinary, is perfect. I realize that my position is not the ordinary one. Catholics seem to assume that the most viable vehicle for salvation, if it is granted for sake of argument that the Catholic Church is not what she claims, is that vehicle which most closely resembles her. I vigorously disagree that this "ordinary position" is merited. With much deliberation, I have taken an "extraordinary position".

Rory original:
Crimson Catholic had opined that he could not understand why anyone could give a second to considering Protestant claims (paraphrasing).

Dave reply:
Well, I think he goes too far, too.

Rory response:
For the record, I said something in response to Crimson Catholic about how I could sooner evaluate Islam, Bahai, Jehovah's Witnesses etc. before considering Protestantism. It would not be fair to Crimson Catholic to take this isolated sentence as his final word on the merits of Protestantism. I more or less changed the focus in my comment to something that he either did not see, or was not interested in discussing, which is fine. I am the one who redirected the discussion.

Irene said...

----Continued

Rory original:
My reply intended no disrespect to the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. I am glad that most thoughtful Protestants accept it.

Dave reply:
That's good to know. Yet by taking this position,. you appear to lower the relative importance of the Trinity. That is what baffles me about it.

Rory response:
I see why you might think that my argument favoring the possible truth claims of non-Trinitarians over non-Catholic Trinitarians might be confusing.

Rory original:
What I was saying is that if I was similarly seeking the true faith, I would have to dismiss Protestantism because of the way they claim to arrive at Nicene dogma.

Dave reply:
Since when is the way we arrive at a truth more important than attaining to the truth itself? It's more important to accept and understand trinitarianism than it is to possess some semblance of tradition in one's view. One has to do with the very nature of God Himself; the other with a rule of faith and authority. To me, it is no contest between the two.

Rory response:
If I were not Catholic, I would not have any reason to favor Nicene dogma. What you call "some semblance of tradition", as though it is extrinsic to the doctrine of the Trinity, seems to me to be a necessity. I do not even know why I would accept the books which have been claimed as Scripture by Protestants. So even if I agree that the Nicene Trinity would be clear from studying those documents, I would be troubled. That is a good part of why I would be concerned that I couldn't get past the canon and on to the question of the Trinity as a non-Catholic.

I would agree that if one is at sea, the most important thing is to be in the ship. Whether you were born in it, were dragged from the water, or bought a ticket, the main thing is to not be swimming. So I am glad that Protestants accept 66 of our books, that they agree with us for the most part about the Trinity, and most importantly share Catholic baptism with us entitling them to the name of Christian.

Nevertheless, if I were searching for the true faith, I would consider the Protestant way of being in the boat as incompatible with how God would direct the true faith. I would see them as stowaways, borrowing from those who are carrying them along, and who are the owners, crew, and pilots of the ship. This might be a helpful picture of why "the way" Protestants become Trinitarian would be essential in evaluating whether or not I wanted to ride in the ship they are in. I think I would be susceptible to the cries of the Restorationists who would be accusing them of riding in a borrowed vessel.

Irene said...

Continuing...

Rory original:
But here, if I am not mistaken, I recall that you would be in agreement with them, that even apart from Catholic authority, you would arrive at Nicene dogma from Scripture alone.

Dave reply:
I didn't say exactly that. This is a complex issue. I've written more about it than anything else, including a book recently, critiquing sola Scriptura.

My position, briefly stated, is the following:

1) Scripture, is, by and large, clear, in its treatment of theological doctrines. The truth can be obtained by proper study. I've done this myself, many times, in Scripture study on various topics, and my experience has always been the same, for thirty years now.

Rory response:
Even if Dave Armstrong is capable, in my opinion, relatively few of the faithful are so able. If without hearing a priest/catechist explain in what way the Father is greater than the Son, I think I would conclude that John 14:28 teaches that Christ is not as fully God as His Father. Sure, the truth can be obtained by "proper study". But proper study involves Apostolic Tradition as well as concordances, commentaries, and other tools besides the Bible. So soon as a priest interprets John 14:28, we are moving beyond sola scriptura.

I think the Nicene dogma of the Catholic is obtained by proper study. But I doubt that the Nicene dogma of the Protestants makes sense for one seriously considering joining their number. Proper study would lead to both Rome and The Trinity. Proper study (which would include an historical perspective) could never in my opinion, lead to the Trinity by itself. If the Catholic Church was false, because they didn't hold to Luther's doctrine at the time of the Reformation, they didn't hold to it at the Council of Nicea either. So why would I think that unregenerated Catholic bishops would be anyone that I want to agree with? This is why, if the Catholic Church was wrong, I would expect the truth to lie somewhere less dependent upon the Catholic Church for its beliefs than the Protestants. I would be open to reevaluating everything the Catholic Church ever taught as Muslims and Mormons do.

Dave reply, continued:
2) Scripture is materially sufficient: it contains all Christian doctrines, either explicitly, implicitly, or by direct deduction from doctrines in the above two categories.

Rory response:
This is my understanding of what the Church teaches too.

Irene said...

----Continued

Dave reply, continued:
3) But Scripture is not formally sufficient (i.e., it is not alone the rule of faith). Formal sufficiency is the position of sola Scriptura; material sufficiency is distinct from that.

Rory response:
Yes. To be understood better, I should add that without the proper background, the Ethiopian eunuch was lost in Scripture. He needed some man to guide him. That is how I now understand all of the Scriptures. Proper study involves moving away from invocations to God to enlighten you from Bible study alone.

Dave reply, continued:
4) Massive use of Scripture in apologetics or systematic theology is not identical to sola Scriptura (making it the only formal and infallible authority). I specialize in biblical evidences for Catholic doctrine. But it is a serious mistake to assume that by dong this, somehow I am adopting anything remotely like the principle of sola Scriptura. Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm doing what the fathers did: they usually argued from scripture first, in fighting heresy, but ultimately they appealed to tradition and the Church and apostolic succession as their ace in the hole. I don't appeal only to Scripture in my apologetics, because I also specialize in development of doctrine, history of doctrine, and have written books about the fathers, Luther, and Calvin also.

Rory response
I am familiar with your method, as you say, insomuch as it is in imitation of the fathers. I do not oppose it. The only thing that I don't like about it is when I see Catholics apparently forgetting that we eventually have to pull out the hole card.

I can see how a Baptist interprets John 6 with a reliance upon Jesus saying that His words are "spirit" as though he is speaking figuratively. I don't think that is the best interpretation. Of course not. I am Catholic. But I used to believe that and I am not going to talk him into thinking that his belief makes no sense. I try to show that there is another interpretation that also "makes sense". Obviously, I think ours makes a lot more sense, but I try to make him see that without "a man to guide him" (an apostolic man, by the way), he has no way to know which interpretation is the correct one.

Irene said...

---continued

Dave reply, continued:
5) Though I think Scripture is clear on doctrine, for the most part, and definitely I think Arianism and other errors of that sort can be amply refuted from it, alone, nevertheless on the practical level of folks having different interpretations of Scripture, the Church is also necessary to authoritatively interpret. And this is done in the framework of tradition and apostolic succession.

Rory response:
Agreed.

Dave reply, continued:
6) With regard to, e.g., Arianism, clearly, many people through history have misinterpreted Scripture and have come to that conclusion. They can be refuted from Scripture (I have done so, and would be happy to do so again here, if someone wishes to defend Arianism), but because Scripture Alone has proven to be a failure through history, the Church also has to proclaim orthodoxy.
I shared my previous experience as a Protestant, failing to be able to decide between those who I considered the most able expositors of Scripture. Often, a doctrine rises and falls upon the difficulty of whether the language should be understood figuratively or literally. Such fine nuances are rarely able to be decided by appeals to Scripture without some outside authority (the Ethiopian's man to guide him). I came to the Church by way of confusion and a figurative tower of Babel. What a relief it was to not be alone anymore with Is. 53 for the eunuch, and for me to have help with every teaching of Scripture.
I never considered Arianism. I still haven't. During all those years of flailing in Protestantism for doctrinal certainty, I never questioned the Trinity. I am of course familiar with the major passages that lead down that road though. David Waltz was with me during those Protestant years. He is a former Jehovah's Witness who has always said that from a sola scriptura approach, he could be Arian. I have always accepted his evaluation as being compatible with my previous experience.
I still have to wonder if you Dave A., are underestimating sola scriptura Arianism. Nevertheless, it would be a purely academic exercise for me, and I am besides incapable of arguing such a view.

Irene said...

Dave, I am sorry. These comboxes are really hard to work in. I am spending more time dividing all this up than I did writing. Ugh. In the last post, I mistakenly attributed to you my own comments beginning with "I shared my previous experience..."

Rory

Irene said...

continued---

Dave reply, continued:
7) I also acknowledge that we all come to Scripture via a preexisting grid or bias, and that we benefit from hindsight. We have 2000 years of apostolic succession and Catholic pronouncements. Someone in the third or fourth century was much less equipped to know all that we know now. Trinitarianism was far less developed, so when they approached Scripture, it was that much more likely that they would come to an erroneous conclusion. And so they did. Arianism was refuted by Nicaea and the few councils afterwards.

Rory response:
I enthusiastically agree. But as a sola scriptura Protestant, I understood myself as obligated to put all of this aside. I understand that there are some in the Reformed camps who find it necessary to affirm what they call tradition, as distinct from Tradition. The small case letter doesn't make it sola scriptura. Protestants still use teachers and tradition with a small "t". Why? If Scripture is perspicuous (clear), and our only authority, why not hand everyone a Bible, tell them to read, and get out of the way? This is another part of why I couldn't be anything but a Catholic (or Orthodox, which for sake of this discussion is the same thing) Trinitarian. Most Protestants are NOT sola scriptura.

Dave reply, continued:
I could go on and on about this, but that will suffice for now, as a summary of my position. I vehemently reject sola Scriptura, and perspicuity in the exact form that Protestants conceive it. But I think Scripture is pretty clear overall. If it were not, systematic theology would be very difficult for anyone to do.

Rory response:
I think we are pretty close Dave A. Is systematic theology not difficult? Heh. Anyway, I am not trying to change your mind on anything. I appreciated the time and consideration your replies to me took and want to return the favor by clarifying my position with the possibility that I might have something useful for you.

Irene said...

continued---

Dave reply, continued:
I could go on and on about this, but that will suffice for now, as a summary of my position. I vehemently reject sola Scriptura, and perspicuity in the exact form that Protestants conceive it. But I think Scripture is pretty clear overall. If it were not, systematic theology would be very difficult for anyone to do.

Rory response:
I think we are pretty close Dave A. Is systematic theology not difficult? Heh. Anyway, I am not trying to change your mind on anything. I appreciated the time and consideration your replies to me took and want to return the favor by clarifying my position with the possibility that I might have something useful for you.

Rory original:
It is becoming clearer to me why most faithful Catholics, including you, think Reformation movements are more viable options than the Restoration movements. It is because of a shared belief in a higher degree of confidence than I currently have regarding the clarity of Sacred Scripture, when Apostolic Tradition and the Catholic magesterium are set aside.

Dave reply:
You may lack confidence in Scripture. Perhaps you have studied it relatively less (I don't know), but in any event, you have not properly understood my own position (and so perhaps you may possibly be misunderstanding other Catholics on this score). I haven't lowered tradition and the magisterium at all. I simply specialize in use of Scripture in my apologetics. I'm a student of the Bible. I love it. Nothing gives me more joy than studying it, in greater and greater depth. I was collecting this very day, passages about the general resurrection. It's wonderful. I wouldn't trade my life as a writer and apologist for anything. I have the luxury of the time to study the Bible a lot as part of my vocation.

Rory response:
I have spent a bit of time in Scripture too. I was an unordained minister who started his own church, eventually calling it Berean Bible Church. I always preached expository sermons. I went through a book of the Bible word for word. Its harder to ignore the "hard passages" when you go that way. I think God was leading me. One of the biggest problems I had as a young preacher was knowing what to speak on. It was easy to ride the same hobbyhorse all the time. This was solved when I decided to quit making up sermons and to teach the Bible. Being a truck driver has its advantages too, but not necessarily the same as yours and what mine used to be! Heh. I know this: There is nothing so fruitful for your own soul as Bible study done for the sake of teaching to others. God bless you in your vocation as a Catholic.

Irene said...

Continued----

Rory original:
For my part, I have already expressed how I deny that we can prove the implausibility of heresy except with Scripture and Tradition (ratified by the authority of Christ's Church).

Dave reply:
I believe in ratifying through Church authority, as I stated last time. But people can reject the Church, just as they reject Scripture. They are both authorities, and people want to often go their own way. David W. has now rejected the Church as infallible because it doesn't interpret theology and history (or ecclesiology or whatever) in the way that he thinks it should. Having adopted the position that the Church had true authority, and was higher than individuals in determining the truth, and protected by God so as to be able to be infallible, now for some odd reason he has put himself higher than the Church. He has adopted private judgment. So what will be his standard of truth amd orthodoxy now? Scripture? Arians believe in sola Scriptura. But I digress . . .

I thought I spotted an internal inconsistency in your own position (that you have not addressed). You stated:

"I believe the Scriptures are materially sufficient to show plausibility of the true doctrine but not implausibility of the false doctrine."

And I replied:

"if true doctrine can be shown in the Bible as plausible (as I certainly believe), are not the false doctrines shown to be implausible by virtue of being contrary to the manifestly plausible true scriptural doctrines? In other words, to use an example, by demonstrating the Trinity (and particularly the deity of Christ), Arianism is thus shown to be false (therefore, also implausible, since false)."

If this is true (as I think it is), then the doctrine of Arianism can indeed be proven by Scripture. But like I said, heretics will reject a correct reading of Scripture, and they will reject a Church if the Church tells them otherwise. So you and I can agree that the Church is necessary as the safeguard, but it can't stop heretics, either, if they are intent to leave the Church and no longer be under her infallible guidance.

I any event, I don't see how you can hold that Scripture can teach truth, but not by the same token condemn error, when that error is directly contrary to the truth that is able to be proved therein. You can't have one thing and not the other, if these conditions hold.

Irene said...

Rory response:
Okay. I get what you are saying here. Let me explain. Most Christians who stay in one particular ecclesiastical environment don't know what the other side is saying. They are unfamiliar with biblical arguments in favor of something other than what enthuses them. They read the Scriptures through one lens. Maybe an example could illustrate.
I went to a Baptist Bible school. Baptists are real good at coming with names of mockery for those who differed with us. Baptismal regenerationists could be called "water dogs". Pedobaptists might be known as "baby sprinklers". I cannot speak for other schools, but we never, ever examined what the other side said. It wasn't until I came across a book by a Presbyterian named Duane Spencer who showed that the best arguments for pedobaptism include an understanding of the Abrahamic covenant of circumcision. Wow. I was bowled over. I had no idea that pedobaptists associated it with circumcision.

Now I was a pastor. I had people come to my church with all kinds of various background and I had to become familiar with other viewpoints or be ignorant. But the vast majority of Protestants don't know anything the counterarguments to their beliefs.

The Bible does disprove error if it proves Apostolic truth, but most Protestants lack familiarity with important Apostolic truths and some truths are much harder to detect than you say (and I grant for sake of discussion) the Trinity is. The truth can be hidden from them. Believer's baptism was the only kind I could detect in probably 20 cover to cover devotional readings and untold hours of other kinds of study the 66 Book Protestant canon. From all this time in the Scripture alone, my denial of pedo-baptism was plausible. When I became familiar with the theory which attaches a covenantal relationship between infants and the Church, I realized I might have missed something. Both were now plausible in my mind, and without an appeal to the "ace card", I couldn't tell a Baptist he was disproven from the Bible alone.

Irene said...

Rory original:
It would be difficult I think to persuade me that it is infidelity to deny the Nicene Trinity, the Assumption and Immaculate Conception of our Lady, pedo-baptism, or Transubstantiation from the Scriptures alone.

Dave reply:
I disagree in the case of the Trinity. It is too obvious, from literally hundreds of Scriptures. The divinity of the Holy Spirit is relatively more difficult to establish, but it still is able to be demonstrated, with enough cross-referencing. I did it myself, as I said, way back in 1982:

Rory response:
As I said above, I am ill-equipped to argue what I tend to believe about the plausibility of Arianism sola scriptura. I would be happy to be persuaded that the Trinity is more obvious than I have assumed. I know it is what I see, from literally hundreds of Scriptures too. I will concede this point for now.

Dave reply:
I agree that the Assumption and Immaculate Conception are very difficult to see in Scripture Alone, but I have constructed wholly biblical arguments for both. It takes some doing, but it is not impossible.

Rory response:
Okay.

Dave reply, continued:
Infant baptism is not that hard to show (from the baptism of entire families and the analogy to circumcision).Transubstantiation is a much higher development of Real presence, which is itself easy to demonstrate in Scripture.

Rory response:
I already shared my understanding of why I can see the error of believer's baptism only is "plausible" from Scripture alone. If this view is incompatible with what the Church says about the clarity of Sacred Scripture, I repent as a dumb convert and a knucklehead.

Irene said...

Rory original:
For me, your position draws too near to sola scriptura.

Dave reply:
Then you have not understood it properly. Perhaps (hopefully) you better understand it now, after I have clarified. Protestants don't "own" Scripture, and I will refuse to my dying breath, to adopt the notion that anyone who concentrates on Scripture study must necessarily adopt sola Scriptura or even elements of it. Even thinking in these terms plays into Protestant errors.

Rory response:
Heh. I didn't know you had written a book about it. Maybe I should read it?

In truth, I think this era of Catholic Bible study tends to fail to appreciate how non-Catholic communities interpret Scripture. Dispensationalism and Reformed covenant theology can square off and brilliantly defend themselves without laying a glove on the other guy. I find the Scripture wholly adequate for Catholic apologetics too. But my opinion has been that more is needed for going on the attack, for polemics, which is also sometimes necessary.

Maybe it is just a question of different strategies. My aim is to turn them from sola scriptura. I do this by showing the plausibility of my own beliefs beside their own. I suppose I try to reproduce in them the confusion this once caused in me with the hopeful result that they will run with open arms to the Catholic faith and her "ace cards".

Irene said...

continued---

Dave reply, continued:
It would be interesting to me to see exactly what you think Scripture does teach about the Blessed Trinity, if you think it is so unclear on the matter. Do you think it is difficult to find explicit proofs even of Jesus' divinity, wit passages like, e.g., John 1:1 and Colossian 2:9, along with many others, and every attribute of God the Father also attributed to Jesus (excepting,. of course, the possession of a body)?

Oh, Dave A. John 1:1 is completely adequate for me. I know of several lesser known ways to deal with John 14:28 besides that Our Lord may have been speaking of His created nature. Are you familiar with St. Hilary's view of the matter as outlined in his sermon on Psalm 138 (139)? I tend toward that...but it doesn't matter. I am not an Arian! Please. I have never been close and intend, by God's grace to never expose myself to that which would lead me to such error.

Rory original:
Maybe this explains why, if we put the Catholic Church out of the equation, I could more easily be LDS, while you could more easily be Methodist (or whatever). It is probably also at the root of why I would consider Mormons Christian, and you wouldn't. I find their radical departure from Catholic teaching to be a more likely scenario if I am looking for the one true church, than the Trinitarian Protestant who rejects the reason I am Trinitarian.

Dave reply:
Okay. But again I see an inconsistency in your position. You're telling me we need the Catholic Church to proclaim dogmas, that we supposedly couldn't find ourselves in the Bible without her aid. So in that sense you grant to Holy Mother Church a profound authority. Yet you don't want to follow hr guidance when it comes to the definition of what Christian is. It is clear that trinitarianism is indispensable in that regard. It is not Mormons who were referred to as separated brethren: that was Protestantism. There is an essential difference. Protestants remain Christians because they have the correct theology of God, and they have true sacraments (baptism and marriage). Mormons have an incorrect doctrine of God, and their baptisms are invalid, because (as the Church has now made more clear) they have an erroneous understanding of trinitarianism.

Irene said...

continued---

Rory response:
Oh yes. I want to follow her when it comes to anything she teaches. I gladly relinquish my previously expressed private opinion that the Apostles' Creed is the most reasonable guide to who should qualify as Christian. If not infallibly, I have seen now that the Church has certainly officially used the word in connection with Trinitarian baptism.

I trust I have explained why I still perceive non-Trinitarian Restorationist movements to be more viable options for the one who rejects Rome. I still say that if I were non-Catholic, I could sooner be Mormon than Methodist. It was probably for that reason that I wished to extend the use of the word "Christian" to the Mormon. I will need to find another way of expressing how I find their claims to truth to be more satisfying than those of John Wesley for instance. But I will in future refrain from representing myself as a Catholic, calling them Christian.

Dave reply, continued:
So what makes you think that you can arbitrarily reject how the Church defines "Christian" and "separated brethren" on the one hand, yet claim to follow her tradition and authority all down the line, over against a fellow like me who is supposedly too close to the Protestant position, in how I approach Scripture? You're still picking and choosing what you will believe from the Church and what you will not.

Rory response:
Not now! And not then either really. Not in spirit. Any opinions I have ever offered since Easter of 1995, have been subject to the judgment of the Catholic Church. I hadn't adequately looked into the way the Church defined "Christian".

I think most of what followed after this centered on what I have just now conceded.

Dave salutation:
So, God bless and goodnight Irene (couldn't resist). LOL

Rory salutation:
Heh. God bless and good afternoon Irene to you! You're probably too young to remember Jo Stafford? I got a 4 CD set for Christmas with a great version of Goodnight Irene. What a voice. Doris Day, Rosie Clooney, and Peggy Lee each had styles. Jo just sang, and she did all kind of styles, and as good as any of those three great and more popular ladies. Anyhow, I am not that old. I am Woodstock generation bored with what came after.

Rory