Monday, February 18, 2013

Dialogue on the Immaculate Conception, with Lutheran Chuck Wiese

 
 
Chuck Wiese (Lutheran) wrote an article on his blog (The Lamb on the Altar), entitled, "Dave Armstrong's Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception" (17 February 2013). I  shall cite it in its entirety below and reply to it, point-by-point. His words will be in blue.

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The Roman church teaches that when Mary was conceived in the womb she was kept free from original sin and filled with sanctifying grace. It wasn't until 1854 that this doctrine became an official teaching of the Roman church. 

It is never sufficient to simply cite a "late date" and leave it at that. It's great polemics and propaganda, but lousy historical argumentation. First of all, it isn't as if the doctrine came out of thin air in 1854. It was believed, by and large, for many centuries. 1854 simply made it dogma at the very highest levels: de fide or ex cathedra (as the Catholic Church has many levels of authority of dogmas).

What must be determined is if doctrines that are defined at much later dates are consistent developments or truly innovative novelties, that have no legitimate historical precursors. The Immaculate Conception is the former, and is a straightforward development of the belief in the sinlessness of Mary, that was the consensus of the Church fathers.

To find doctrinal novelties and corruptions one must go to folks like the so-called "reformers": people like Martin Luther, who introduced (as I have documented) at least 50 novel doctrines in his treatises of 1520, even before he was excommunicated.  One can also point to sola Scriptura: the Protestant rule of faith, that was not taught by the Church fathers at all, as I have demonstrated numerous times. Nor can it be proven at all from Scripture. I've written two books about that (one / two). St. Augustine's teachings were Catholic, not proto-Protestant. I devoted an entire book to documenting that fact, too.

This teaching was not established by appealing to the Scriptures but rather by appealing to "implicit" teachings in the church fathers. 

To some extent that is true, but biblical arguments were also utilized, as in all Catholic argumentation in favor of particular doctrines. It was largely an argument from tradition, but then, this is perfectly permissible on the biblical, apostolic, patristic, and medieval assumption that sola Scriptura is not the rule of faith in Christianity. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas both noted many times that a doctrine can legitimately develop from tradition alone, or primarily.

Unlike the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary which is not contradicted by the Scriptures and which is very strongly and unanimously taught by the church fathers, the immaculate conception contradicts the Scriptures and has very weak support among the church fathers. 

It doesn't contradict the Bible at all. Nothing in the Bible denies that Mary was or could have been sinless (like Adam and Eve were before the fall, and like the angels are), nor that she could have been conceived without original sin. It's one thing to assert that there is not explicit evidence of it in Scripture, or perhaps not even much implicit or indirect evidence; quite another to assert contradiction, which is a far greater claim, in need of demonstration.

As for the fathers, well, yes and no. It's not explicitly asserted, but its developmental kernels: Mary as sinless, the new ark of the covenant, and second Eve, all are repeatedly asserted by the fathers. Thus, this question goes back to the issue of development of doctrine.

Even in the middle ages significant theologians like Bernard of Clairvaux and Thomas Aquinas denied the immaculate conception. 

We always hear about this . . . First of all, St. Thomas didn't believe that the soul was united to the human body until 40-80 days after conception. He had a deficient understanding of biology and did not hold to the Church's current beliefs about ensoulment (i.e., a soul is supernaturally created by God at the moment of conception). Therefore, he could not have held to the Immaculate Conception as the Church does today, based on this false premise.

Secondly, Thomas believed that Mary was extraordinarily sanctified in the womb: just not at conception, per the above, and particularly sanctified at the time of the conception of Jesus.

Thirdly, he believed that she committed no actual sin. In all these things he was followed by Martin Luther, as I have documented (one / two / three). But none of these things are held by Lutherans today. Thus, St. Thomas was far closer to present Catholicism in this (and Luther) than to Lutherans or Protestants generally. I recently completed my book, The Quotable Summa Theologica, and devoted almost six pages to his teaching in these matters. I won't cite his teaching here, but if this debate intensifies, I'd be happy to produce them.

The doctrine most likely developed as an attempt to safeguard the doctrine of the sinlessness of Christ but as Thomas Aquinas points out, if Mary were sinless Christ could not be her redeemer.

The Catholic Church wholeheartedly agrees that Mary was in need of a redeemer, like all human beings since the fall. She herself calls God her savior in the magnificat. We contend that she was saved by being prevented (by an act of God's grace at her conception) from falling into the "pit" of sin, rather than rescued out of it, as the rest of us are, if we are saved. St. Thomas neglected to draw this distinction, therefore made a fallacious argument (even he could do that on occasion). In this way, the Immaculate Conception is perfectly consistent with Mary's need of a savior, and to be rescued (in a special and unique act of God's grace) from the original sin she would have inherited, like every other human being.

But more recent Roman apologists in an attempt to win over evangelicals have tried to defend the doctrine immaculate conception from the Scriptures. On page 178 of  A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, Dave Armstrong discusses the use of the term "full of grace" and says:


It is permissible, on Greek grammatical and linguistic grounds, to paraphrase kecharitomene as completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace.
In the book, Armstrong does not treat the above as a direct quotation from any particular source but he does provide a footnote that says


Blass and DeBrunner, Greek Grammar of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 166; H.W. Smyth, Greek Grammar (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968), sect 1852:b.
The book does not cite Blass and DeBrunner as a direct quotation . . .

All correct so far . . . 

. . . but if you search the internet, you'll find plenty of people quoting this as if it were a direct quotation from Blass and DeBrunner including Dave Armstrong on his blog. 

Sometimes folks utilize my materials incorrectly. I checked out Chuck's assertion that I myself cited it wrongly as well. I did find one 2011 paper where I made this mistake (my book above was completed in 1996).  I promptly corrected that and thank Chuck for directing my attention to it. Human errors can happen when one has written almost 2,500 blog posts.

But page 166 doesn't say anything that resembles what Armstrong is saying here. Blass and DeBrunner simply mention that the perfect stem is used to denote "a condition or state as the result of a past action." The passage cited by Smyth says, "Completed action with permanent result is denoted by the perfect stem." None of this sounds anything like what Armstrong is saying. The passage clearly says that God graced Mary but it's rather insane to try to derive the doctrine of the immaculate conception from that.

I love the use of exaggerated, dramatic rhetoric ("insane"). It is also important to note "what Armstrong is saying" in the first place. In my book, I didn't claim that Luke 1:28 and kecharitomene "proved" the Immaculate Conception. Immediately after my words above, that Chuck cited, I wrote:



Thus, in just this one verse, pregnant with meaning and far-reaching implications, the uniqueness of Mary is strongly indicated, and the Immaculate Conception can rightly be deemed entirely consistent with the meaning of this passage.

The Bible speaks only implicitly of many things that Protestants strongly believe, such as the proper mode of Baptism  (immersion, sprinkling, or pouring?). The Immaculate Conception is entirely possible within scriptural presuppositions.

The words "consistent" and "entirely possible" are obviously not the same as assertion of outright proof, or demonstration. Since my first book (written over 16 years ago) I have made additional scriptural arguments that are based on explicit texts, having to do with grace and sin. I would love for Chuck to take these on, if he is looking to have a biblically-based discussion of the Immaculate Conception. See:

A Straightforward Biblical Argument For the Sinlessness of Mary

Luke 1:28 (Full of Grace) and the Immaculate Conception: Linguistic and Exegetical Considerations

Dialogue on the Exegesis of Luke 1:28 ("Full of Grace"), and the Immaculate Conception (vs. Ken Temple)

The Annunciation: Does it Indicate that the Blessed Virgin Mary is an Extraordinary Human Being, Chosen by God, and Already in a Sublime State of Grace? (Dialogue with a Lutheran, . . .)

Mary as Ark of the Covenant, in the Church Fathers and the Bible (Steve Ray, Pat Madrid, and Others) [Links Page]

Biblical Evidence for the Patristic Analogy of Mary as the Ark of the (New) Covenant
 
The ever-virgin Mary can truly be called the Queen of Heaven. She was given the most important position of any human being by being chosen by God to be the Mother of God. 

Quite true.

But Mary was a sinner who needed Christ to suffer and die for her just as well all do. 

The second thing is not denied by Catholics. The first clause is an unproven assertion derived from mere traditions of men, and neither from the Bible nor the consensus of patristic teachings.


[cross-posted to my Facebook page, where further discussion may take place]


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16 comments:

Chuck Wiese said...

You say there was a consensus on the doctrine of the sinlessness of Mary but as the Catholic Encylopedia even points out Origen, Basil, and Chrysostom all say that Mary sinnned. I could list off quotations from others as well if you need me to. In various places Mary stands as representative of the church and serves as a wondeful example of humble submission to God but the Scriptures also speak of her sin. She is among all those who were inheritors of original sin. There is nothing in the Scriptures that excludes her and if she had no original or actual sin she would not need a redeemer as Thomas Aquinas points out. But of course you are more "Catholic" than he is and perhaps the Catholic colleges will start naming themselves after you. No matter how many church fathers I quote you're still going to claim a consensus even if none of them teach what you are teaching. And the fact still remains that the grammars you cite provide no basis for your grammatical and linguistic claims and I highly doubt you could find a single honest Greek scholar that would agree with your paraphrase. When I have time I will respond to some your statements regarding Luther's "innovations."

Dave Armstrong said...

You say there was a consensus on the doctrine of the sinlessness of Mary but as the Catholic Encylopedia even points out Origen, Basil, and Chrysostom all say that Mary sinnned.

Exactly. "Consensus" does not mean "unanimous." Certainly you could have figured that out. Hence, Dictionary.com:

"1. majority of opinion: The consensus of the group was that they should meet twice a month.
2. general agreement or concord; harmony."

I could list off quotations from others as well if you need me to.

No need, since it is a non sequitur, and irrelevant to the discussion.

In various places Mary stands as representative of the church and serves as a wonderful example of humble submission to God but the Scriptures also speak of her sin.

Where?

She is among all those who were inheritors of original sin.

Yes, she would have, had God not acted in an extraordinary way.

There is nothing in the Scriptures that excludes her

"Full of grace" does. You need to interact with the other papers of mine that develop the argument far more extensively and with lots of cross-references.

and if she had no original or actual sin she would not need a redeemer as Thomas Aquinas points out.

Already answered. St. Thomas himself holds that she committed no actual sin. Now you aren't even interacting with my arguments. It's mutual monologue. Very common . . .

But of course you are more "Catholic" than he is and perhaps the Catholic colleges will start naming themselves after you.

Right. It's tempting not to reply at all to such an asinine, ridiculous statement. But in any event, the Catholic Church holds that no person (even the greatest Catholic theologian: St. Thomas) is infallible. I am stating what the Church has said about this matter vis-a-vis Thomas, not merely my own opinion, which counts for nothing (in terms of authority) on its own.

No matter how many church fathers I quote you're still going to claim a consensus even if none of them teach what you are teaching.

This is wearisome. There is a consensus on this matter. The issue of development is a separate one.

And the fact still remains that the grammars you cite provide no basis for your grammatical and linguistic claims

First, you have to understand exactly what I claimed, and what I think any given verse "proves" or suggests. Secondly, my larger biblical case involves cross-exegesis, not just Luke 1:28 by itself.

and I highly doubt you could find a single honest Greek scholar that would agree with your paraphrase.

"Full of grace" is not controversial, seeing that many Bible translations have used it or acknowledged that it is a permissible rendering.

When I have time I will respond to some your statements regarding Luther's "innovations."

I hope you do a far better job than you did here. You interacted with exactly none of my various arguments.

Dave Armstrong said...

I should add that St. Thomas taught that she was freed entirely from original sin; he just places it at a different time than her conception (i.e., at Christ's conception). Luther later believed exactly the same thing. Hence, St. Thomas:

. . . the Blessed Virgin, who in her birth was immune from original sin. (ST 3, q. 27, a. 2, ad 2)

Afterwards, however, at the conception of Christ's flesh, in which for the first time immunity from sin was to be conspicuous, it is to be believed that entire freedom from the fomes [the weak form of concupiscence] redounded from the Child to the Mother. (ST 3, q. 27, a. 3c)

The second purification effected in her by the Holy Ghost was by means of the conception of Christ which was the operation of the Holy Ghost. And in respect of this, it may be said that He purified her entirely from the fomes. (ST 3, q. 27, a. 3, ad 3)

For at first in her sanctification she was delivered from original sin: afterwards, in the conception of the Son of God, she was entirely cleansed from the fomes: lastly, in her glorification she was also delivered from all affliction whatever. It appears (2) from the point of view of ordering to good. For at first in her sanctification she received grace inclining her to good: in the conception of the Son of God she received consummate grace confirming her in good; and in her glorification her grace was further consummated so as to perfect her in the enjoyment of all good. (ST 3, q. 27, a. 5, ad 2)

And he holds that she is without actual sin during her earthly life. I have six quotes to that effect in my Quotable Summa Theologica.

romishgraffiti said...

He had a deficient understanding of biology and did not hold to the Church's current beliefs about ensoulment (i.e., a soul is supernaturally created by God at the moment of conception).

I of course affirm the IC, but is it correct about ensoulment? I'm thinking of the Declaration on Procured Abortion (my emphasis)

19. This declaration expressly leaves aside the question of the moment when the spiritual soul is infused. There is not a unanimous tradition on this point and authors are as yet in disagreement. For some it dates from the first instant; for others it could not at least precede nidation. It is not within the competence of science to decide between these views, because the existence of an immortal soul is not a question in its field. It is a philosophical problem from which our moral affirmation remains independent for two reasons: (1) supposing a belated animation, there is still nothing less than a human life, preparing for and calling for a soul in which the nature received from parents is completed, (2) on the other hand, it suffices that this presence of the soul be probable (and one can never prove the contrary) in order that the taking of life involve accepting the risk of killing a man, not only waiting for, but already in possession of his soul.

Dave Armstrong said...

Ludwig Ott states:

"Modern Christian philosophy generally holds that the creation and infusion of the spiritual soul coincides with the moment of conception. Cf. D 1185."

(Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 100)

This makes perfect sense from reason, seeing that we know from modern biology that everything necessary for physical development is present at conception, in the DNA.

If everything is there from the start for physical development, it stands to reason also that the soul is present from the outset as well, though it is not proof.

Dave Armstrong said...

Aquinas' view was based on Aristotelian biology, and differentiated between male and female fetuses: hardly an up-to-date analysis, given what we know now about fetal development.

Chuck Wiese said...

I understand what a consensus is but I don't think you do. You can't find anyone in the early church who taught the immaculate conception and you can find a large number of statements that negate it. The consensus is in the opposite direction. The same fathers who taught that Mary remained a virgin are the same one who claim she sinned. If the idea that Mary was sinless was Apostolic tradition the Apostles forgot to pass it on. If the immaculate conception is Apostolic tradition they were the worst communicators ever. In the church prior to Nicea you only find statements about Mary sinning. Tertullian very explicitly says that Mary sinned. Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Methodius, and Lactantius all very clearly state that Jesus is the only one without sin. They make no exceptions for Mary. And there are no dissenters. Name a church father prior to Nicea that says that Mary was without sin. Like many of Rome's teachings, this is another that developed and gained popularity within the period of medieval scholasticism. The church of the Augsburg Confession is the true continuation of the Western Church while Rome is a sectarian group based on medieval fads. You should check out Chemnitz's Examination of the Council of Trent sometime.

I read your other articles on
"full of grace" but they show a lack of understanding of Greek language and grammar. Perfect tense has a number of different uses and I don't have any problem with the particular use you chose but you're reading it in a completely foreign way. To "endue" simply means to provide. God provided grace for Mary or probably better God graced Mary. The perfect indicates a completed action with present implications. It can mean the action continues but that doesn't mean it continue infinitely and just because it is a completed action doesn't mean it happened at the time of conception. God said that John the Baptist would be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother's womb but he doesn't say this about Mary and John was not sinless. You would end up with utter nonsense if you insisted that every time a perfect verb is used in the New Testament it is an action that continues on infinitely in the past and in the future. This is your argument:

1. The Bible teaches that we are saved by God's grace.

2. To be "full of" God's grace, then, is to be saved.

3. Therefore, Mary is saved (Luke 1:28).

4. The Bible teaches that we need God's grace to live a holy life, free from sin.

5. To be "full of" God's grace is thus to be so holy that one is sinless.

6. Therefore, Mary is holy and sinless.

7. The essence of the Immaculate Conception is sinlessness.

8. Therefore, the Immaculate Conception, in its essence, can be directly deduced from Scripture.

5 does not follow from 4. Grace is God's favorable disposition towards us. You cannot inject grace into someone. We need God's grace to do good works but it does not follow from that to be full of grace means to be sinless especially since the Greek word does not mean full of grace but "graced." Take a look at BDAG some time.

And even if it could be proved that Mary was sinless because she was full of grace at that time it would not follow that she was sinless from the time of her conception.

Dave Armstrong said...

This is no dialogue, and so I am done after this. You don't seem to have the slightest understanding of development of doctrine, and without that, you'll never even comprehend my arguments.

You should check out Chemnitz's Examination of the Council of Trent sometime.

Yeah; I wrote five critiques of it, over five years ago now:

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2007/07/martin-chemnitz-is-man-for-lutherans.html

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2007/08/critique-of-martin-chemnitz-examination.html

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2007/08/critique-of-martin-chemnitz-examination_29.html

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2007/08/critique-of-martin-chemnitz-examination_31.html

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2007/09/critique-of-martin-chemnitz-examination.html

See also my extensive Luther and Lutheranism web pages:

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2006/11/luther-lutheranism-index-page.html

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2011/11/lutheranism-catholic-critique-index.html

Dave Armstrong said...

Just noticed yet another self-contradiction in your analysis (one of many, such as your take on St. Thomas Aquinas, which was atrocious):

Like many of Rome's teachings, this is another that developed and gained popularity within the period of medieval scholasticism.

First you demand proof for sinlessness of Mary prior to Nicaea, which isn't strictly necessary, because many doctrines were less defined in that period (even including the canon of Scripture and much of trinitarianism and Christology).

Then (here's where it gets really ridiculous), you entirely skip over the 4th and 5th centuries: the very height of the patristic period, and want to jump to the Middle ages. I already provided a link in the paper to the fathers on the sinlessness of Mary:

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2008/07/church-fathers-on-sinlessness-of-mary.html

True, these excerpts are 4th century on, but like I said, many doctrines were that way, including many that all Christians agree on. As Cardinal Newman noted, original sin wasn't even included in the Nicene Creed, and there are just a few Bible passages about it. Yet you and I hold that in common.

It won't do to selectively accept many teachings that were only slightly discussed or implicitly mentioned in the pre-Nicene fathers. If you're gonna play that game, you gotta play it consistently, and most Protestant apologists don't.

It's pick-and-choose, and ultra-selectivity.

Chuck Wiese said...

I have an understanding of the development of doctrine, I just reject departure from the Apostolic faith once and for all delivered. I'm an ex-Calvinist. Calvinist and Roman Catholics are very similar in theological method and both to one degree or the other are heavily dependent upon the medieval scholastic method. The Calvinist doesn't have any problem with the idea that the limited atonement and double predestination were rejected by everyone until the middle ages and the Roman Catholic doesn't have a problem with the idea that the consensus of the early church contradicts Roman Catholic doctrine. They are both continually "progressing" and what is orthodox in one generation becomes heresy in the next. There is no stability or certainty in such a system.

Paul Hoffer said...

Hi Mr. Wiese: To flesh out my perception on this matter. The dogma of the IC developed in response to heretical attackes on the nature of Jesus and on the notion of original sin itself which was something that arose in the 4th century. However, the dogma was implicit in the writings going back to the 2nd century when the ECF's, starting with folks like Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, started calling Mary the Second Eve. Since Eve was created without sin, it was a very small step to argue that as the Second Eve, Mary was preserved in a special way from it by the application of Jesus' salvific act prospectively.

God bless!

Chuck Wiese said...

Paul: To say that because the church fathers refer to Mary as the second Eve means that they believe that Mary was created without sin seems quite a stretch especially considering the fact that the church fathers from that era unanimously confess that Jesus is the only one without sin. If context and original consent is not considered there is no end to implications you could draw. Eve was naked while sinless, therefore Mary remained naked while sinless. Since Christ is the second Adam then he was created at a point in time since the first Adam was. Jesus fell into sin because the first Adam fell into sin. This is one of the things that I find the most absurd about Roman Catholicism. It reads its own implications into certain teachings of the church fathers that contradict what is explicitly said by them and then claims to have the church fathers on its side. You said "God bless!" so I'm going to assume you implied that you actually agree with everything I wrote even though you made an explicity statement to the contrary. And since I have been blessed by God and a blessing by God is required for me to be without sin, I must be without sin.

Paul Hoffer said...

Hello Chuck, please note that I said that the dogma was implicit in what they said about Mary being the Second Eve. Since it was not until the fourth and fifth centuries that the notion of original sin was challenged as well as nature of Jesus which was attacked because he was born of Mary. As a Catholic, I have no qualms about later fathers reading into what earlier ones said. That is how heresies are confronted and refuted.

BTW, when I say "God bless", it is not an affirmation that I agree with you; rather it is an affirmation that I consider you as a fellow child of God and a member of the mystical Body of Christ and offer that little ejaculation that the God who loves all of His children, give you grace to strengthen your faith, give you hope and enflame your love for Him and your neighbors.

God Bless!

Descriptive Grace said...

I was wondering whether or not you would agree with this post?

Dave Armstrong said...

Not sure. I'd have to look at it a lot more closely, and have neither the time nor desire at the moment.

Banshee said...

There's also the whole thing where both Jesus and Mary are called "virgin earth" and compared to the pure ground out of which Adam (and hence Eve) were made.

You can't get more "new creation" than the original matter of creation.