Monday, February 01, 2010

Dialogue With a Catholic on the Perspicuity (Clearness) of Scripture, & the Definition of Christian in Relation to the Holy Trinity , Part 2

[NicaeaChurch.jpg]
Ruins of Hagia Sophia in present-day Iznik, Turkey (ancient Nicaea), where the first ecumenical council met in 325 A. D. (photo credit: David Trobisch; Trip to Turkey)

Follow-up to Part One with the same title. This is a discussion with a Catholic named Rory. I think it is a good and fruitful exchange, with true interaction back and forth. His words will be in blue. My older cited words will be in green; his older words in purple.

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I decided to put my comments to our discussion over at Dave W[altz].'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.

I am doing so now. Thanks for your thoughtful and extensive reply. I am enjoying our conversation. I hope you are, too.

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.

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.

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.

So do I, and I always love to hear others express their love for the Church, too. We ought to love Holy Mother Church, just as we love God and Holy Scripture, and Sacred Tradition, and other human beings.

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".

I understand that, and thanks for the further clarification. I still think (for reasons I have given) that it is far less plausible to consider Mormon or JW claims as superior to Protestant ones, even if Catholic (and/or Orthodoxy) are methodologically or hypothetically removed from the equation).

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.

Okay. We all make comments that may sound extreme, if taken in isolation. I know I have, many times, and if these are taken out of context, it is even more of a problem.

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.

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

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.

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.

I was presupposing some familiarity with Scripture, and acceptance of it as what it is. If issues of the canon are brought in, then the discussion is, of course, far broader.

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.

Without the Bible, then it would be purely an authoritarian and much more subjective issue. The entire epistemological grounds would shift. That is another distinct discussion, which is far less important to me. I was much more interested in your seeming position of Scripture being unclear enough to not be able to discern trinitarianism in it. That is what I profoundly disagree with.

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.

A good analogy . . .

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.

Which was pretty much my entire point as to why I would go to them a thousand times before I would become an Arian or a Mormon . . .

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.

This is largely the distinction between ecclesiology and theology proper (i.e., of God). Ecclesiology is very important, but, I would contend, considerably less so than our theology of God. In other words, if a group can't get their doctrine of God right, they are disqualified as a serious consideration for allegiance on that grounds alone.

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.

I agree. Chesterton compared Protestants to Robinson Crusoe: always going back to the ship to get more stuff, so that they can survive. But at least they are borrowing from the right source, aren't they? An Arian conception of Jesus, whereby He is not God; did not rise bodily, etc., is not borrowed from Catholicism at all (let alone the Bible). It is heretical and blasphemous.

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.

Okay; I understand better where you were coming from now, but I still think it is putting both method and ecclesiology too high in the overall scheme of things.

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 [link], 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.

Even if Dave Armstrong is capable, in my opinion, relatively few of the faithful are so able.

I'm not nearly that pessimistic. Surely it takes a basic understanding of hermeneutics and Christian theology, but when I first studied the Trinity in depth in 1982, I had only been truly serious about Christianity for less than two years, and had learned under orthodox Protestant teachers for five. With the aid of Nave's Topical Bible and the cross-referencing of my leather-bound NASB Bible, I learned a ton of things. I have a knack for organization of material and systematic thinking, that was helpful, but it was not all that difficult to clearly see what the Bible taught. I had read the whole Bible by that time and had a fair grasp of its overall outline and teaching: that was my main background.

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.

One would do that if the passage is interpreted on a surface-level, yes. But the Bible is not a "surfacey" document. Those who approach it in that way are bound for trouble. And that gets back to a Church and Tradition that provides the parameters of orthodoxy, tying into biblical interpretation. So a passage like John 14:28 ("the Father is greater than I" -- for those unfamiliar with it by memory) needs to be seen in a context of other related passages and the ton of verses that indicate the deity of Christ: the less clear is interpreted by the relatively more clear passages.

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.

Ultimately it does; I agree. But when I approached the study, it was basically all Bible and the knowledge that "the Trinity is true biblical doctrine" -- vaguely tied in at that time, to historic Christian teaching, which I knew was trinitarian. But even if I had started off with trinitarianism as merely a hypothetical assumption (possibly true, possibly false) to be tested in the Bible, I'm convinced that I would have seen that it is clearly taught there. The evidence is simply too overwhelming to conclude otherwise.

I learned firsthand from experience of how Arians (JWs) approached the Bible, too. By 1983 I was witnessing to the JWs: going to Kingdom Halls, talking to them on the street, etc. I could see full well that their basis for Arianism and the demotion of Jesus to a creature was based on a few pet prooftexts, and those exegeted in a goofy, illogical, incoherent manner. They wanted nothing to do with the many hundreds of prooftexts that I had amassed from the Bible.

This is the problem. If one picks a few pet verses that falsely appear to teach a certain thing, then they will be led astray. I saw them doing this. Again and again, I challenged them to look at my passages and give me an alternate explanation that was more plausible than trinitarianism: to have a real discussion of competing truth claims, but they refused every time, even when I said ten elders could come to my home if they wished, to engage in the debate, as long as I was allowed to present my side.

If the whole Bible is considered as a harmonious whole, the truth is laid out fairly straightforwardly. I agree that there are still complexities, but I disagree that it is extremely difficult to arrive at truth of trinitarianism by reading the Bible. Other truths are more difficult to find (Mariology, communion of saints, various aspects of ecclesiology, development of doctrine, etc.), but not trinitarianism. That's my position.

So soon as a priest interprets John 14:28, we are moving beyond sola scriptura.

A priest is not strictly necessary. Bible study tools are more than enough to show that it implies no inequality between Jesus and God, anymore than Philippians 2:5-7 (the kenosis) does:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [6] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7] but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [RSV]

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.

It certainly did for me, back when I was an evangelical cult researcher. I was happy to subscribe to the Creed as part of C. S. Lewis' "mere Christianity."

Proper study would lead to both Rome and The Trinity.

And that is where my studies led me! But operating basically from the Bible alone, it is far easier to arrive at trinitarianism than Catholic ecclesiology, for the simple reason that there is much more data in the Bible about the Trinity than there is about ecclesiology: which is a thing that developed a great deal after the biblical period. I didn't arrive at Catholicism by the Bible alone: I had to talk to folks who could defend Catholicism from reason and history as well. I wasn't converted by the Bible alone. I started defending Catholicism from the Bible shortly after I converted, in order to better understand the biblical basis myself, and to explain it to Protestants, who would respect biblical reasoning.

What made me a Catholic was moral issues: particularly contraception (having been a pro-life activist) , development of doctrine, and a study of what went on in the "Reformation" from a Catholic, as well as a Protestant perspective. My big issues were papal infallibility and the Inquisition and Crusades. I saw all of these as plain symptoms of catholic corruption, excess, and lust for power. Learning about development resolved the infallibility issue in my mind.

Proper study (which would include an historical perspective) could never in my opinion, lead to the Trinity by itself.

I don't see how you could say that. It's in the Bible, and it is part of apostolic tradition, as defined at Nicaea and other early councils, at the same time many other doctrines (including the canon of the Bible) were being developed in their final form). Acceptance of the Holy Trinity is not a matter of fideism or blind faith. It is tied in directly with the claims of Jesus to be God: a thing which is able to be ascertained as a matter of history. He was either lying or not. This is Lewis's "Lord, Liar, or Lunatic" trilemma.

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?

I agree that without the Bible, the rationale for such a choice would be totally changed. But in our initial conversation I presupposed familiarity with the Bible. But to hold that a Catholic bishop is unregenerate ids already assuming hostile anti-Catholic assumptions that come largely fro Protestantism. A person unfamiliar with traditional Protestant polemics (or the Bible and the notion of regeneration itself) would likely not think in those terms.

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.

I think this is a good insight. Assuming Catholicism is wrong through and through, then Protestantism goes with it: as a corrupt break-off movement. So does Orthodoxy. And then we're back to square one: now no form of historic trinitarian Christianity is true, so what do we choose? I believe I would choose Judaism in that instance. Take Jesus right out of it, if Christianity is false, rather than redefine Him, as Mormons and Muslims do. He's still an historical figure Who has to be reckoned with.

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

This is my understanding of what the Church teaches too.

So we agree on that.

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.

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.

I've used that passage as an argument against perspicuity. But on the other hand, there were not abundant Bible aids and reference books as there are now. I don't disagree that guidance is needed. Of course it is. I'm saying that such guidance can also come in the form of good books about hermeneutics, exegesis, and theology.

Proper study involves moving away from invocations to God to enlighten you from Bible study alone.

Authority is absolutely necessary in the final analysis. But can many truths be arrived at by a person with the Bible alone? Yes, I think they can. The Bible is not utterly mysterious, as if it is as undecipherable as Egyptian hieroglyphics. When we are that pessimistic about the clearness of Bible teaching, we fall into the stereotypes of what Protestants habitually think of Catholics: biblical illiterates, mindlessly following whatever the Church teaches them. We "demote" the Bible. That is not at all required by the Catholic position. All we do is bring in Church and tradition as the other two legs of the stool. The Bible isn't lowered; it is merely placed in its proper position vis-a-vis Church and Tradition (where it places itself). All are of a piece. They all serve to transmit to us "God's Word."

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.

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.

Since I do that, it is a moot point. I use Scripture first, in argument with a Protestant. If I am then challenged as to historic pedigree (since many Protestants argue that the fathers are closer to Protestantism than to Catholicism) then I argue on that plane. If the evidences there are relatively slight or subtle or scarce, then I argue on the plane of doctrinal development. The two questions of "what does the Bible teach?" and "what did the fathers teach?" are entirely distinct, with "what body more closely resembles patristic thought?" being a third distinct issue. I'm quite happy to discuss all these things. Protestants, however, rarely even want to do so with Catholics who are able to argue these things. That is a bigger difficulty than actually defending our views on all three scores.

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.

Again, it can be done strictly by cross-referencing. I've written quite a deal about it:

John 6 (Eucharist): the Plausibility of Literal Interpretation, Based on Extensive Analogical Cross-Referencing and Insufficient Counter-Arguments [most relevant presently, to establish what I am contending]

Lack of Faith in the Substantial, Physical Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist as Parallel to Doubting Thomas & the Disciples Who Forsook Jesus (John 6)

Dialogue With Calvinist "Pilgrimsarbour" on the Nature and Purpose of Parables in Relation to John 6 and the Eucharist

Counter-Reply to a Protestant Take on John 6 and the Eucharist (vs. C. Michael Patton)

In fact, most Catholic apologetic (or plain theological) works, in dealing with John 6, take exactly this approach. Then they argue it from history and overwhelming consensus for the real presence in the fathers. What they don't generally do is simply appeal to Church proclamations, in trying to defend the Catholic eucharistic position. They don't because I think it is understood that such an approach would be unsatisfying to a Protestant, but also to a lesser degree to a Catholics, who (often) want reasons why the Church believes what it does, not proclamations apart from the rationale. Vatican II stressed discussing Catholicism with Protestants in terms that they can relate to and understand. And that is the Bible. Thus, I am following the recommended method from the most recent ecumenical council, which expresses the Mind of the Church. I am within that in using the method that I use.

The Protestant doesn't care what the Church says about it, because he is not yet convinced of the unique authority of the Catholic Church. But if we can show him from the Bible alone that John 6 is literal, and that a non-literal interpretation makes little sense, then we have a far greater prospect of persuading him.

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.

Agreed.

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.

There is plenty of help in many ways within broad Protestantism. Most of the Bible reference books I use to this day are Protestant, and they are generally excellent and not in opposition to Catholic teaching. The problem is that Protestant denominations do contradict each other, though, as you note. I think the fault there lies in their faulty rule of faith, not in the Bible being radically unclear.

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.

That may be true in his own case, as far as allegiance, but I contend that he cannot in any way, shape, or form, defend Arianism from Scripture. If he thinks differently, I would be happy to dialogue with him and let him try to prove that Jesus is not God. That is an unenviable task if there ever was one: to try to prove that from Scripture.

I still have to wonder if you Dave A., are underestimating sola scriptura Arianism.

I think it collapses in a pitiful pile of mush, if it is ever compared side-by-side with trinitarianism. People can arrive at it from Scripture alone, but it is invariably (in my understanding) due to basic misunderstanding and bad exegesis and insufficient cross-texting.

Nevertheless, it would be a purely academic exercise for me, and I am besides incapable of arguing such a view.

I want to see what David says when he gets back: how he would answer all my questions. I think that his background and extensive dialogue with Mormons are likely clouding his judgment as to whether Catholicism is true. There appear to possibly be aspects that he has never sufficiently resolved in his mind.

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 future, if you like, you can send me your replies by e-mail (apologistdave [at] gmail [dot] com), and I'll post them in this current format. The text limits in Blogger are frustrating. I don't think I can change those.

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 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.

Many strains of Protestantism give considerable credence to historic Christian teaching (while reserving the right to judge it by Scripture): Anglicanism, Methodism, at least some Lutherans, Presbyterianism (Calvin claims to be following the fathers, just as Luther did). What you describe is more so the Anabaptist or ahistorical tradition within Protestantism. It is the extreme position, or what some call solo Scriptura.

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?

Because the Bible itself talks about tradition, a Church, and Christian authority, and they know this full well, and agree with it (which is why they have pastors and creeds and confgessions).

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.

I think you are defining it way too narrowly. The position is not that the Bible is the only authority, but that it is the final and only infallible authority.

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.

I think we are pretty close Dave A. Is systematic theology not difficult? Heh.

It's not easy, but it is easier than many people think, in my opinion.

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.

I am enjoying the discussion very much. Thank you. I think it is good for us to do on many levels.

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.

And also (primarily) because of the centrality of the Trinity and of baptism. You seem to think Scripture is far more difficult to correctly interpret than I do.

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.

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.

Then we have had very different experiences with regard to how we view the Bible. Interesting. The main thing is that we are now Catholics.

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.

Well thank you, and God bless you in all that you do. All work is honorable and God's work, as long as no violation of God's moral teaching is entailed.

. . . by demonstrating the Trinity (and particularly the deity of Christ), Arianism is thus shown to be false (therefore, also implausible, since false)." . . . 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.

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.

That's generally the case, yes.

Maybe an example could illustrate. I went to a Baptist Bible school. Baptists are real good at coming [up] 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.

That would explain a lot of anti-Catholic ignorance.

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.

Calvin did that himself. I had a similar experience reading Presbyterian eschatology (Oswald Allis and others) when I was still a dispensationalist, and critiques of the historical origin of the rapture (Darby and the Plymouth Brethren in the 1830s, as I recall).

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.

Sounds familiar. The same is true for Catholics, too, of course, except for (mostly) those of us who are converts (i.e., who converted for some actual reason other than to get married to a cute Italian Catholic or something).

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.

I already agreed to that above, yes.

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.

We all see things through a grid or a framework. When the framework changes, all of the beliefs go along with them. If the foundation crumbles, the house crumbles, with all that is in it.

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.

But between the circumcision argument and entire households being baptized, I think that is sufficient argument from the Bible alone. You could also argue that the majority of Protestants also believed in it, based on Scripture alone as their ultimate authority. I used to believe in adult baptism myself (I got "baptized" at age 24 in a warm Assembly of God bathtub). But when I finally read the (biblical) arguments for infant baptism, they made perfect sense to me.

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:

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.

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.

Okay.

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.

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.

As I said before, I'm not sure exactly what the Church says about perspicuity. I'm mainly going by my own firsthand experience in doing biblical research, and in the course of my apologetics.

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.

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

I'll send you a free copy in MSWord or PDF if you like. Just drop me an email. Here is the link to the book page, learn more about 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.

Okay; fair enough.

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".

There is nothing wrong with comparing the plausibility of systems. I rather like that method, too. I have a concern, though, that Catholics are perceived as blindly adopting Catholicism by fideistically accepting the Church as providing all answers, irregardless of the Bible. I think it is supremely important that we show that the Bible is a thoroughly Catholic document: that Catholics have nothing whatever to fear in a deeper examination of the Bible and comparison of beliefs side-by-side.

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, with 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)?

Oh, Dave A. John 1:1 is completely adequate for me.

Good. I couldn't tell how unclear you thought it was the first time around. You have clarified a lot as we have continued to dialogue.

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)?

No.

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.

I wasn't trying to imply that you were an Arian or even inclined in that direction; only arguing that I think that Scripture Alone is quite sufficient to refute Arianism. With David it may be another story. I need to learn a lot more about what is troubling him to see if there is any way I can help him -- by God's grace -- work through his difficulties.

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.

I understand a lot better what you mean now, but I continue to disagree.

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.

Good. No doubt most are sincere, good, well-meaning people, with good morals and traditional values. But according to the definition of historic Christianity, they cannot possibly qualify as a species of it.

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.

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.


Fair enough. I admire your willingness to change your mind. Excellent.

So, God bless and goodnight Irene (couldn't resist) [name on his daughter's Google account]. LOL

Heh. God bless and good afternoon Irene to you! You're probably too young to remember Jo Stafford?

I know a lot of old music but I don't know much about her. I know Goodnight Irene from Leadbelly and The Weavers.

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.

I'll have to check her out. Last night I listened to Patti Page's bestselling songs, and she was superb. Now I have a new interest in 50s female pop music: an area I have never known much about, even though I am an avid music collector. Thanks for the recommend. I'm 51, by the way: old enough to remember seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and to experience the whole 60s musical golden era.

Thanks again for the engaging discussion.

12 comments:

TOm said...

Hello Rory and Dave A,
I thought I might tread in here. As is my way I will probably post this. Then I may … and then I will likely disappear for a while.

My general opinion is that the Bible teaches that Jesus is divine. There is clearly a degree of subordinationism within the Bible (and the pre-Nicene Fathers). I do not think the Bible suggests that Christ’s –ousia is inferior to the Father’s –ousia, but I do not think that God’s divinity or Christ’s divinity in the Bible is ever said to be a product of their (one or shared or possessed or different or …) ousia. Of course the Bible never uses “ousia” to mean the substance of the Father or the shared divine substance. Thus, what the Bible does do is subordinate Christ to His Father and not comment on the relative equivalence or lack of equivalence of their –ousia.

I personally believe that God is three and God is one and we are to become gods. The exact manner of aligning those three Biblical truths is not specified in the Bible such that there is little room for differing opinions. I build upon “God is love” into a Social Trinity model (like many Protestants and some Catholics). This seems to me to be the most straight forward way of interpreting the Bible. The only place that I am aware of that offers information on HOW God the Father and God the Son are ONE is when Christ prays for the Apostles to be one like He and His Father are one. Surely this will not be a oneness like Athanasius and Augustine meant when they said “homoousian.” It is also surely true that the Apostles were homoousian as Eusebius (the historian not the Nicene dissenter) and the majority of the Bishops at Nicea conceived of the term, even before Christ offered His prayer.

To me the Trinity when used as a stick to beat upon LDS is associated with a meaning of homoousian that Athanasius and Augustine shared. This meaning was generally rejected during the Sabellian heresy. It was not preserved in the Council of Chalcedon. And it was not held by the majority of Bishops as Nicea. But, such technical designations IMO are extra Biblical and clearly so. In fact the moderate party at Nicea said they wished to only use Biblical language, but this was rejected because it would not adequately protect against the Arian heresy.

So, my point is that I think you are quite incorrect when you suggest that there is some straight forward way of developing Nicene orthodoxy to the exclusion of many other Trinity constructions from the Bible alone. To the extent that “sola scriptura” is unequal to “solo scriptura,” perhaps you have a point. Maybe “sola scriptura” will get one to Nicene orthodoxy, but that is specifically allowing for more than just scripture in ones definition of the Trinity. Once you allow for that, you are imbuing your scripture with tradition or Tradition.

cont...

TOm said...

Dave A said:
One would do that if the passage is interpreted on a surface-level, yes. But the Bible is not a "surfacey" document. Those who approach it in that way are bound for trouble. And that gets back to a Church and Tradition that provides the parameters of orthodoxy, tying into biblical interpretation.

TOm:
Where does the Bible say it is not a “surfacey” document. I could argue that the Ethiopian eunuch who needed a man to guide him is a good place. Perhaps this means that Ethiopian eunuchs are poor thinkers, but I think it far easier to infer that it means that some amount of authority or tradition or Tradition or … should be part of proper interpretation. I guess if you walk a non-authority path (which you once did), you might demand that this is a Biblical teaching that teaches the Bible is not a surfacey document. I think that is far from clear.

Dave A:
I've used that passage as an argument against perspicuity. But on the other hand, there were not abundant Bible aids and reference books as there are now. I don't disagree that guidance is needed. Of course it is. I'm saying that such guidance can also come in the form of good books about hermeneutics, exegesis, and theology.

TOm:
Who is to judge which books are good. I think Ostler’s series Exploring Mormon Thought has some of the best ways of interpreting the Bible. He draws on Protestant and Catholic scholars throughout. Perhaps we should use something by him when we offer a companion to the Bible.

Dave A:
Authority is absolutely necessary in the final analysis. But can many truths be arrived at by a person with the Bible alone? Yes, I think they can. The Bible is not utterly mysterious, as if it is as undecipherable as Egyptian hieroglyphics. When we are that pessimistic about the clearness of Bible teaching, we fall into the stereotypes of what Protestants habitually think of Catholics: biblical illiterates, mindlessly following whatever the Church teaches them. We "demote" the Bible. That is not at all required by the Catholic position. All we do is bring in Church and tradition as the other two legs of the stool. The Bible isn't lowered; it is merely placed in its proper position vis-a-vis Church and Tradition (where it places itself). All are of a piece. They all serve to transmit to us "God's Word."

TOm:
I can understand your sensitivity to the criticism that Catholics are Biblically illiterate, but to overcompensate (IMO) and suggest that the Bible is far clearer than it really is can removes the strongest pro-Catholic case. In my non-Catholic, non-Protestant position, Protestantism doesn’t work because without acknowledging the Catholic authority it leans on the Catholic authority. I think development is the strongest anti-Protestant argument available. As David W. is fond of saying, “AND THIS ONE THING AT LEAST IS CERTAIN; WHATEVER HISTORY TEACHES, WHATEVER IT OMITS, WHATEVER IT EXAGGERATES OR EXTENUATES, WHATEVER IT SAYS AND UNSAYS, AT LEAST THE CHRISTIANITY OF HISTORY IS NOT PROTESTANTISM. IF EVER THERE WERE A SAFE TRUTH, IT IS THIS…TO BE DEEP IN HISTORY IS TO CEASE TO BE A PROTESTANT.” – JOHN HENRY NEWMAN.

Now, I believe you do well to show that Catholic truth can be found in the Bible, but to speak as if it is the only REASONED position to be found in the Bible just does violence to Catholic and Protestant history. Whatever history teaches … this one thing is certain, the history of INTELIGENT REASONED positions that claim to rest upon the Bible shows convincingly that the Bible is not able to teach a single orthodoxy.

cont ...

TOm said...

Dave A:
You could also argue that the majority of Protestants also believed in it, based on Scripture alone as their ultimate authority.

TOm:
I believe (and I suspect that Rory does too) that Protestants BORROWED from the Catholic Church.

Dave A:
Good. No doubt most are sincere, good, well-meaning people, with good morals and traditional values. But according to the definition of historic Christianity, they cannot possibly qualify as a species of it.

TOm:
I think one of the clearest ways for a Catholic to decide who to apply the title “Christian” to is via the acceptance or rejection of the baptism of purported Christians. I am far more comfortable when a Catholic says that because of the way the magisterium has ruled on LDS baptism, I am not a Christian.

Back to this so I can finish with Art Sippo.
Dave said:
That may be true in his own case, as far as allegiance, but I contend that he cannot in any way, shape, or form, defend Arianism from Scripture. If he thinks differently, I would be happy to dialogue with him and let him try to prove that Jesus is not God. That is an unenviable task if there ever was one: to try to prove that from Scripture.

TOm:
Here are a few words from Catholic apologist Art Sippo. He links favorably to a Protestant scholar who teaches that Arius was the sola scriptura (or perhaps solo scriptura) Christian at Nicea.

Art Sippo (http://art-of-attack.blogspot.com/2007/05/sola-scriptura-vs-historic-catholic.html):
Sadly, the folks at Biola do not understand the distinction between "infallible" and "inspired" in Catholic and Orthodox theology. They have also confused the Acta of the Council for its output. And I find it highly amusing that the Biola folks think that Arius' main fault was "that he twisted scripture's true meaning" and not that "he held to sola Scriptura and thereby failed to give enough place to tradition". Anyone even remotely familiar with Arianism knows that its adherents appealed to Scripture against the traditions of the Church in an attempt to change the teaching about who Jesus was. There is an excelent explanation of this in a talk Begotten Not Made? Athanasius and the Creeds given by Protestant Scholar Hans Boersma:
http://www.regentaudio.com/product_details.php?item_id=148&category_id=85


TOm:
I am not sure if Art or Hans B. would suggest that Arius arrived at his position via a REASONED application of sola scriptura, but it seems like they lean that direction.

On the surface there are scriptural assertions that appear to contradict one another. When trying to take scripture as a whole, there are decisions that must be made concerning how to address these apparent contradictions. God’s oneness, the divinity of Christ, and the distinction between the Father and the Son create an apparent contradiction that must be resolved for a reasoned theology. Nicene orthodoxy is one method that has some points in its favor, but the biggest of which is not that it is the most sola scriptura option IMO.

Charity, TOm

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Tom,

Thanks for your comments.

My general opinion is that the Bible teaches that Jesus is divine. There is clearly a degree of subordinationism within the Bible (and the pre-Nicene Fathers). I do not think the Bible suggests that Christ’s –ousia is inferior to the Father’s –ousia, but I do not think that God’s divinity or Christ’s divinity in the Bible is ever said to be a product of their (one or shared or possessed or different or …) ousia. Of course the Bible never uses “ousia” to mean the substance of the Father or the shared divine substance.

[KJV]

Jesus' Own Words

MATTHEW 10:40 . . . he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.

JOHN 5:17-21 But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. (18) Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. (19) Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. (20) For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel. (21) For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth {them}; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.

JOHN 10:30-33 I and {my} Father are one. (31) Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. (32) Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? (33) The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.

JOHN 10:38 But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father {is} in me, and I in him.

JOHN 12:44-45 Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. (45) And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me.

JOHN 14:7-10 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. (8) Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. (9) Jesus saith unto him, have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou {then}, Shew us the Father? (10) Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.

JOHN 15:23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also.

JOHN 17:10-11 And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. (11) And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we {are}.

Dave Armstrong said...

[cont.]

NT Apostolic Witness

JOHN 1:1-4 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) The same was in the beginning with God. (3) All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (4) In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

Monogenes ("Only Begotten") The phrase "only begotten (Son)" (also used in Jn 3:16,18 and 1 Jn 4:9) is the Greek monogenes, which means, according to any Greek lexicon, "unique, only member of a kind." It does not mean "created," as some (e.g., Jehovah's Witnesses) falsely interpret it. Christ is the eternal Son of God, and as such, possesses every attribute of pure Godhood, just as a human son partakes fully of humanness.

ACTS 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

COLOSSIANS 1:16-17 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether {they be} thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: (17) And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

COLOSSIANS 2:9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

TITUS 2:13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; {RSV,NIV: "our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ"}

2 PETER 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: {RSV, NIV: "our God and Saviour Jesus Christ"}

Thus, what the Bible does do is subordinate Christ to His Father and not comment on the relative equivalence or lack of equivalence of their –ousia.

It certainly does comment (a lot) on the latter, as shown above.

Jesus is not "subordinate" in the sense that He is inferior in any way, shape, or form. He obeyed the Father in His human nature, according to the "kenosis":

PHILIPPIANS 2:5-6 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: (6) Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

Dave Armstrong said...

[cont.]

Jesus' subjection to the Father is seen in such verses as John 14:28: ". . . for my Father is greater than I," 1 Corinthians 11:3: ". . .the head of Christ {is} God," and 1 Corinthians 15:28: "And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all."

John 14:28 is to be understood in light of passages such as Philippians 2:6-8, which show us that Christ in John 14:28 was speaking strictly in terms of his office as Messiah, which entailed a giving up, not of the Divine Nature, but of certain prerogatives of glory and Deity which are enjoyed by the Father. Christ subjected Himself to the Father in order to undertake His role as the Incarnate Son and Mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5). Similarly, one might say that "the President of the United States is a greater man than I am," but this would not mean he was necessarily a better man. In any event, he is still a man like us. Since Jesus is still God, even while "humbling" Himself (Phil 2:8), Scripture also indicates that the Father is, in a sense, "subject" to the Son:

JOHN 16:15 All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew {it} unto you.

JOHN 16:23 And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give {it} you.

When the Father is called the "head" of the Son (1 Cor 11:3), this also does not entail any lessening of the equality between the Son and the Father. The Bible also talks about wives being subject to their husbands (1 Pet 3:1,5), even while the two are equals (Gal 3:28, Eph 5:21-22), and indeed, "one flesh" (Mt 19:5-6). Likewise, one Person of the Godhead can be in subjection to another Person and remain God in essence and substance (Phil 2:6-8). Luke 2:51 says that Jesus was "subject" to Mary and Joseph. Yet no orthodox Christian of any stripe would hold that Jesus was lesser in essence than His earthly parents! The same Greek word for "subject" in Luke 2:51 (hupotasso) is used in 1 Cor 15:28, and in 1 Pet 2:18 below. Besides, submissiveness and servanthood is not presented as a sign of weakness in Scripture. Quite the contrary:

1 PETER 2:18 Servants, {be} subject to {your} masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

MATTHEW 23:11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.

The word for "greatest" here is meizon, the same word used in John 14:28. Thus, any notion that submissiveness is a lessening of equality is absolutely unscriptural.

Likewise, in 1 Cor 15:28, the subjection spoken of is that of the Son as incarnate, not the Son as Son in essence. While this verse tells us that God will be "all in all," Colossians 3:11 tells us that ". . . Christ {is} all, and in all." Thus, Jesus' office as Messiah and Mediator will cease in time, but not His Godhood, since Scripture teaches that He will be "all in all" just as His Father is.

Dave Armstrong said...

I personally believe that God is three and God is one and we are to become gods.

The Bible teaches that God is absolutely transcendent. He is eternal; He is the Creator; He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, and perfectly holy in and of Himself. None of these characteristics can ever apply to man. We are creatures, not eternal; we did not create the world, and lack all of the other characteristics above. We are fallen. We need a Savior. God doesn't need a savior because He is perfectly holy.

God was not once one of us, as Mormons teach. We will not be "one of Him" either, because of the essential differences outlined above. Scores of biblical passages spell all these things out.

The exact manner of aligning those three Biblical truths is not specified in the Bible such that there is little room for differing opinions.

I profoundly disagree, and I have the biblical passages all laid out in my two papers detailing biblical proofs for the Trinity ad Deity of Christ:

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2005/09/holy-trinity-biblical-proofs.html

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2007/01/jesus-is-god-biblical-proofs.html

Dave Armstrong said...

So, my point is that I think you are quite incorrect when you suggest that there is some straight forward way of developing Nicene orthodoxy to the exclusion of many other Trinity constructions from the Bible alone.

I've provided plenty of Scripture already, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. You are welcome to provide Scripture for your beliefs, if you are convinced that multiple "trinitarian" viewpoints can be found in the Bible.

Where does the Bible say it is not a “surfacey” document.

2 Peter 1:20 (RSV) First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation,

2 Peter 3:15b-16 . . . So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, [16] speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.

I guess if you walk a non-authority path (which you once did), you might demand that this is a Biblical teaching that teaches the Bible is not a surfacey document. I think that is far from clear.

I don't. Apart from explicit statements like the above, it is also quite obvious that Paul's writings in particular, are complex on many levels (as Peter says straight out), and require great study to properly comprehend.

Who is to judge which books are good.

Ultimately, the Catholic Church, when it comes to orthodoxy.

I think development is the strongest anti-Protestant argument available.

We agree there, because this was the primary reason I became a Catholic.

to overcompensate (IMO) and suggest that the Bible is far clearer than it really is can removes the strongest pro-Catholic case.

It can only be shown to be clear enough to resolve questions in actual examples. Above I had no problem presenting several dozen indications of the divinity of Jesus, directly contrary to your assertion that there was little or nothing along these lines in Scripture. As I have said, with Mariology and some other areas, it is a lot more difficult, but not for trinitarianism, where there are many hundreds of proof texts.

Now, I believe you do well to show that Catholic truth can be found in the Bible, but to speak as if it is the only REASONED position to be found in the Bible just does violence to Catholic and Protestant history.

There is only one truth in any given instance. If positions contradict each other, then someone is dead wrong. That is not an argument against the Bible, but against inadequate human reasoning.

Dave Armstrong said...

[cont.]

Whatever history teaches … this one thing is certain, the history of INTELIGENT REASONED positions that claim to rest upon the Bible shows convincingly that the Bible is not able to teach a single orthodoxy.

It shows no such thing. The Bible is quite able to do that, but for MEN, who distort it and don't take all of it into consideration. This is why we need a Church to interpret with finality: not because the Bible is not materially sufficient, but because men twist it: precisely as St. Peter stated.

Folks can be quite sincere, intelligent, and well-intentioned (as you are), while still being wrong about some things.

I think one of the clearest ways for a Catholic to decide who to apply the title “Christian” to is via the acceptance or rejection of the baptism of purported Christians. I am far more comfortable when a Catholic says that because of the way the magisterium has ruled on LDS baptism, I am not a Christian.

I have indeed used that argument, but also the one from Vatican II that presupposes belief in a Triune God, as part and parcel of being a Christian. And this precludes the radically unbiblical Mormon belief that God was once man, and man (men) will be God(s).

Correct baptism also presupposes a trinitarian formula, so the Trinity is key to the equation any way you look at it.

I am not sure if Art or Hans B. would suggest that Arius arrived at his position via a REASONED application of sola scriptura, but it seems like they lean that direction.

It's impossible to do, if by "reasoned" one means "internally consistent and coherent." If it means Arius was an intelligent, thoughtful guy; he likely was that; doesn't mean he will arrive at true conclusions.

On the surface there are scriptural assertions that appear to contradict one another.

And "appear" is the key word.

When trying to take scripture as a whole, there are decisions that must be made concerning how to address these apparent contradictions. God’s oneness, the divinity of Christ, and the distinction between the Father and the Son create an apparent contradiction that must be resolved for a reasoned theology.

I don't see any, in the way that orthodox trinitarianism ties everything together.

Nicene orthodoxy is one method that has some points in its favor,

No other schema is coherent, by a long shot.

but the biggest of which is not that it is the most sola scriptura option IMO.

It explains the Bible in a coherent, self-consistent manner and takes into account all of the biblical data, not just tiny portions of it: and those, misinterpreted.

TOm said...

Dave A,
Thanks for your response.
This passage:
2 Peter 3:15b-16 . . . So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, [16] speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.

Says nothing about requiring help in interpreting the Bible, but it is consistent with 2 Peter 1:20 and what I referenced concerning the Ethiopian eunuch. I lean towards recognizing that the Bible is best interpreted via authority for all three, but I suppose one of the caveats of such things seems to be that the Bible is not a surfacey document so I will concede such.

I am not sure how your long list of scriptures is supposed to move me from my Social Trinity model. I certainly recognize the statements where Christ claims some identity with His Father, but I do not believe such are incompatible with a Social Trinity model. Beyond this, the Augustinian Trinity still must preserve the truth that there are three persons.

What I did not see you respond to was my statement about –ousia. The Bible NEVER uses –ousia as it was used at Nicea. When the Bible claims that the Son and the Father are one, it never uses –ousia (or hints at –ousia) as the HOW of this oneness. When the Fathers were seeking Nicene language there was a proposal to use Biblical language, but it was rejected as not able to exclude Arian confessions.

Your long list of scriptures IMO did not reply to the –ousia issue or to the specific desire to import extra Biblical language to represent the Biblical truth. I have some reservations about the coherence of the Augustinian Trinity, but as an expression of the teachings present in the Bible, I think it is satisfactory. What I maintain is that it is far from the only satisfactory formula. And the Nicene formulation being specifically extra Biblical IMO renders it less than the most solo scriptura way of presenting the Trinity.
cont...

TOm said...

Dave A:
God was not once one of us, as Mormons teach. We will not be "one of Him" either, because of the essential differences outlined above. Scores of biblical passages spell all these things out.

TOm:
I suspect you are not well versed in the more scholarly presentations of LDS thought on these matters. If you want to have more than a “surfacey” understanding, I would recommend the Exploring Mormon Thought series.
I believe that God the Son was in fact once one of us. Do you disagree?
I believe that God the Son only did what He had seen God the Father do so, the EXTRA-Biblical ideas that exist within the LDS tradition with respect to God the Father I think should be interpreted in the same way the Biblical data concerning God the Son is interpreted.

Also, if –ousia is an extra Biblical concept embraced in the fourth century by an apostate authority, I do not see why I should be concerned with the –ousia gap between God and man.

Finally, the ECF regularly spoke of men becoming gods. If you are unfamiliar with the Biblical foundation or the teaching of the ECF, I recommend (from a Catholic perspective) Daniel A. Keating’s Deification and Grace.

The main difference between the LDS position I embrace and the pre-Athanasian teaching of deification is that Justin Martyr was the last ECF to reject creation ex nihilo. So the bulk of the deification teachings before Athanasius come from folks who believe men were created ex nihilo. Simultaneously however, before Athanasius they never limit the FINAL state of deified man. Athanasius and then Augustine do limit the FINAL state of deified man.

Where I Catholic, I would lean towards the belief that just as Christ became homoousian with men, we can become homoousian with Christ. Of course such is a pretty radical statement and it relies upon a definition of homoousian that is seldom embraced by those who condemn my version of the Trinity. Still, it is a wholly Catholic definition!

Anyway, I am more interested in your defending an –ousia based Trinity from the Bible. I looked at your http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2005/09/holy-trinity-biblical-proofs.html and didn’t see that there. I would also suggest that LDS thought is not surfacey and perhaps you shouldn’t introduce things like “God was not once one of us, as Mormons teach” least I respond with “call no man father!”

Charity, TOm

Dave Armstrong said...

What I did not see you respond to was my statement about –ousia. The Bible NEVER uses –ousia as it was used at Nicea. When the Bible claims that the Son and the Father are one, it never uses –ousia (or hints at –ousia) as the HOW of this oneness.

So what? How is that relevant to anything? Obviously, councils develop the original kernel of biblical revelation, and so different words are employed. Famously, the word "Trinity" is not in the Bible either. This is neither here nor there.

But you say they are apostate anyway, which is another huge issue.

What I demonstrated was that oneness of God the Father and Jesus is apparent in Scripture. All essential characteristics possessed by God the Father are also possessed by Jesus. The only difference are things like Jesus having a body / the Incarnation, which do not represent essential differences, but only difference of role or action.

Deification / theosis (which I am well familiar with) is not at all like the Mormon concept. it retains God's transcendence (and for that matter, monotheism) in a way that Mormon theology does not.

Unfortunately, I don't have the time at the moment to engage in a full-scale examination of the many serious errors of Mormonism (and many others could do a better job than myself at that, anyway, since my specialty in examination of heresies has been Jehovah's Witnesses, not Mormonism).

I'm already behind on several projects because of all this discussion swirling around David Waltz. I'm dialoguing with him, and with Rory, and a while back, with Jason Engwer, in order to try to assist David, and now you, while getting more and more behind on things I need to get done, of my own projects (about a month behind now). The longer I put those off, the more likely it is that I will be having financial problems in the next few months. I can't devote unrestricted time to these sorts of projects that have no relation to my income. I have to make a living, too, as I am a full-time writer / apologist.

I try to make time, despite all, for at least my present dialogue with David Waltz, but I can't justify now taking on Mormonism per se. That is too vast and involved of a project and I have always been careful at all times (even apart from the present time / financial conundrum) not to spread myself too thin in my activities, because whatever ones I am involved in, I always give 100% effort.