Saturday, March 01, 2008

Gems of Calvinism from the Early Church: Ignatius

CAVEAT: "Calvinistic" is an anachronism. Calvin wasn't born yet. The proper chronological way to describe the situation is to say that Calvin was being Ignatian -- or (better yet) that both Calvin and Ignatius were being Scriptural.

In my reading of the Apostolic Fathers, another gem from the Apostolic Fathers caught my eye, this one from the Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians (opening sentence):

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which is at Ephesus in Asia, deservedly thought happy, blessed in the greatness and fulness of God the Father, predestinated before the worlds to be for ever for a glory abiding, not to be overturned, united and elect in the true passion, by the will of the Father and of Jesus Christ our God, much joy in Jesus Christ and in blameless grace.

(source)

-Turretinfan

9 comments:

Matt said...

Ignatius is not saying anything distinctively Calvinistic here (unless I am mistaken). Thomas Aquinas would also say that God elected all those who would go to heaven in eternity, that the number of the elect is certain, that they would infallibly be saved.

God elected them not through any merits or foreseen faith. Their election is based only upon the incomprehensible will and desire of God. God desired to magnify His glory, so he elected some to salvation in order to show forth his mercy and willed not to elect others (reprobation, etc.), so that he might show forth His justice.

If you'd like references, I'd be glad to get them. But it is important to recognize that "The Common Doctor" of the Catholic Church had a very, very strong view of predestination (almost indistinguishable from Reformed views...something recognized widely by 17th century Reformed theologians, in fact).

It is also important to note that his views have never been repudiated or condemned by the Church, though his views are not in the majority these days. But they are orthodox.

Turretinfan said...

Matt,

Good points. Calvin's doctrines were not distinctively Calvinistic, in the sense of being the product of his own imagination. And Ignatius didn't invent it either: he got it from the same place that Calvin and Aquinas got it: the Scriptures.

-TurretinFan

Turretinfan said...

There's one point that I should address separately.

The standard of "orthodox" as being simply something that hasn't been explicitly condemned, is a pretty low standard. By that standard, something can be dead wrong, and still be "orthodox." Indeed, the majority you mention (Kimel, for example, comes to mind) seem to think that Thomism/Augustinianism is dead wrong.

In Reformed circles, when we speak about orthodoxy we mean "true doctrine" not merely "tolerable doctrine."

Assuming that you acknowledge truth to be absolute, I wonder whether a lower definition of "orthodoxy" gives you any ulcers? That's more a question for thought than for response ...

-Turretinfan

Matt said...

Fine. Orthodox means "right teaching." So I think that my view is "orthodox" in that sense. My point is that I am not prepared to cast the Molinists out of the Church. I certainly don't think that they are going to hell. I don't think they should be prevented from teaching or from worshiping next to me. Basically, what I was saying is that Thomism is not heterodox/not heretical. Admittedly, that is different than an full view of what positive orthodoxy is. I hope that helps...

Fr. Kimel would totally agree that Thomism, though he would disagree with it, is a significant and legitimate Catholic solution to the mysterious issue of God's sovereignty and human responsibility.

In terms of the "democracy of the dead," however, my position is in pretty good stead (it is not a minority). I have Augustine, Bernard, Thomas, Scotus, Bradwardine, Gregory of Rimini, Banez, Alvarez, Pascal, Garrigou-Lagrange, etc., etc. But, again, I am not against theologians thinking through these issues in new ways.

Fr. Kimel explains the idea of unity-in-diversity in Catholicism much more effectively than I do/can. But all of this doesn't, as you suggest, mitigate against my belief in absolute truth. It simply acknowledges human fallibility and the imperfection of our understanding of divine mysteries.

Pontificator said...

Actually, not only does a "lower" standard for orthodoxy, at least when compared, say, to confessional Calvinism, not give me ulcers but it encourages me. The Church sets the dogmatic boundaries but within those boundaries it permits reflection, discussion, and knock-down drag-out debate, all the while maintaining unity at the Table of the Lord. As Stanley Hauerwas has quipped, only Catholicism could keep the Dominicans, Franciscans, and Jesuits in one Church.

This "tolerance" does not indicate a lack of concern for truth but rather recognizes that at any given point in time our grasp and articulation of the truth is often partial, haphazard, and culturally-conditioned. Far better to stay together, in communion with the Bishop of Rome, than to needlessly divide the Church by premature dogmatic definition. This is what it means to be the Church Catholic rather than a sect.

Turretinfan said...

Pontificator:

P wrote: "Actually, not only does a "lower" standard for orthodoxy, at least when compared, say, to confessional Calvinism, not give me ulcers but it encourages me."

1) It is not a lower standard "for" orthodoxy, but a lower standard "of" orthodoxy that should trouble you. In other words, the thing that should give you ulcers is the standard that says: "this is orthodox," about something that is not true.

2) On the other hand, how confessional Calvinism (of either the Westminster or Heidelberg variety) could possibly be more ulcer-provoking on this issue is utterly mystifying. Perhaps you are assuming that because something is defined as orthodox in confessional Calvinism, it becomes a rule of faith, as in Catholicism when something is dogmatically defined, dissent is anathema?

P wrote: "The Church sets the dogmatic boundaries but within those boundaries it permits reflection, discussion, and knock-down drag-out debate, all the while maintaining unity at the Table of the Lord."

That's the same in any church.

The problem is, calling everything within the boundaries "orthodox" is to mistake "right doctrine" (truth) with "tolerable doctrine" (may or may not be truth).

P wrote: "As Stanley Hauerwas has quipped, only Catholicism could keep the Dominicans, Franciscans, and Jesuits in one Church."

ok

P wrote: "This "tolerance" does not indicate a lack of concern for truth but rather recognizes that at any given point in time our grasp and articulation of the truth is often partial, haphazard, and culturally-conditioned."

Are you admitting that the church itself does not know the answer to the questions that divide people into various opinions?

If so, then isn't it the ultimate arrogance for people within the church to insist that they know the truth on such issues when the church does not?

P wrote: "Far better to stay together, in communion with the Bishop of Rome, than to needlessly divide the Church by premature dogmatic definition."

Why on earth would dogmatic definition divide the church? Wouldn't the church members follow the teachings of the church?

P wrote: "This is what it means to be the Church Catholic rather than a sect."

It's a mistake to consider Roman Catholicism as if it were not sectarian.

There is a catholic church, which includes many sects.

-TurretinFan

Turretinfan said...

Matt,

M wrote: "Fine. Orthodox means "right teaching." So I think that my view is "orthodox" in that sense."

ok

M wrote: "My point is that I am not prepared to cast the Molinists out of the Church."

That's fine. I don't want to cast everyone out of the church that disagrees with me.

Query though: wouldn't you prefer that Rome would dogmatically define this issue so that the division between Thomists and Molinists would disappear?

Isn't the rule or providing dogmatic answers on divisive issues one of the supposed selling points of Catholicism?

We're always told be Catholic apologists that Scripture is not enough because people can disagree over doctrine while both appealing to Scripture. Does it turn out that the same is true in Catholicism of its rules of faith?

M wrote: "I certainly don't think that they are going to hell."

Presumably, consistent with Vatican 2, you don't even think that about the separated brethren who are cast out of the church via Trent etc.

M wrote: "I don't think they should be prevented from teaching or from worshiping next to me."

Presumably, though - you would agree that those condemned by the anathemas of Trent should be prevented from teaching or worshiping next to you.

So then, if the church would only dogmatize this issue in your favor, would your tolerance of false teaching dissipate?

M wrote: "Basically, what I was saying is that Thomism is not heterodox/not heretical."

ok

M wrote: "Admittedly, that is different than an full view of what positive orthodoxy is. I hope that helps..."

ok

M wrote: "Fr. Kimel would totally agree that Thomism, though he would disagree with it, is a significant and legitimate Catholic solution to the mysterious issue of God's sovereignty and human responsibility."

I think he went so far as to say that he does not believe in the god of Augustinianism. That doesn't sound to me to be consistent with saying that Augustinianism/Thomism is "a significant and legitimate Catholic solution ...."

M wrote: "In terms of the "democracy of the dead," however, my position is in pretty good stead (it is not a minority). I have Augustine, Bernard, Thomas, Scotus, Bradwardine, Gregory of Rimini, Banez, Alvarez, Pascal, Garrigou-Lagrange, etc., etc. But, again, I am not against theologians thinking through these issues in new ways."

I wonder what you think about the Vincentian Canon: "Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly 'Catholic,' as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally."

M wrote: "Fr. Kimel explains the idea of unity-in-diversity in Catholicism much more effectively than I do/can. But all of this doesn't, as you suggest, mitigate against my belief in absolute truth. It simply acknowledges human fallibility and the imperfection of our understanding of divine mysteries."

Tolerating error is not the same as endorsing error. Since you seem to be saying the former, the criticism about absolute truth wouldn't apply.

Nevertheless, how can you say that you know the truth, when the church hasn't spoken on the issue?

-Turretinfan

Matt said...

It seems that there are only three points where disagreement/confusion remains:

1) whether Thomism ought to be dogmatized

2) whether I would reject the Molinists from fellowship in the Church if they were to be anathemitized (HIGHLY unlikely, if not impossible, by the way)

3) how I "know" that Thomism is true despite the fact that the Church hasn't defined the teaching

ad 1) I don't really think so. My conviction in the truth of Thomism is somewhat tentative, not necessarily because the Church hasn't defined it but because I don't believe Scripture is sufficiently clear on the matter for me to be "dogmatic" about it. The Church's role is to be guardian of the deposit of faith (#86 in the Catechism). The deposit of faith says nothing about efficient grace, sufficient grace, prevenient grace, etc., etc., etc. Although these terms (I believe) successfully resolve many of the issues raised in the context of the Scriptural, esp. Pauline, teaching on salvation, I *suspect* (and I use that word advisedly) that the Church would be extending beyond its mandate simply to PRESERVE the truth revealed by Christ in defining so technical and nuanced a doctrinal system as Thomism (at least in the points wherein it is opposed to Molinism). I am NOT SAYING that the Church cannot dogmatize an extra-Scriptural way of thinking about a matter grounded in Scripture itself (like the Trinity, for example). What I am saying is that the debate between Thomism and Molinism avoids the clear heresies at each extreme (Manicheanism, fatalism, etc. on one side and semi-Pelagianism, on the other.) Please try to understand what I am trying to say here. The language I am using is admittedly not entirely precise but a charitable reading should be able to successfully divine my intentions.

ad 2) In the highly unlikely event of a condemnation of Molinism, I would reject those who were persistent in disobeying the Magisterium. Before I did that, however, I would make sure they were affirming the teaching in the precise sense in which the Church was condemning it. But, again, this is highly unlikely for the reasons I suggested above.

ad 3) Again, I find that I am always having to defend myself against the image of the Catholic Church painted by the internet apologists. Well, I don't believe that I need to be waiting for the Church to decide every doctrine before I can hold it. I don't buy into their views that we can't no anything without the Infallible Church giving ex cathedra statements (and that doesn't make me a liberal...read the Catechism! :). Now, I can't hold Thomism as an "article of faith" in the formal, ecclesiological sense. But I can believe that it is true based upon my admittedly fallible study of Sacred Scripture and the history of reflection on this issue. There was a whole lot of confident theologizing going on during the Middle Ages before many of the subjects for discussion were "formally defined." Again, please try to understand my intention here.

Turretinfan said...

Thanks for the clarifications, Matt.

I think you've come close to providing a fairly good explanation for how Sola Scriptura works.

1. There are clear things in Scripture, that everyone has to accept. If they do not, they cannot be treated as Christian brethren.

2. There are less clear things, about which we can be personally convinced, but over which we ought not to be too dogmatic.

3. On items in (2), we need to recognize our fallibility and exercise charity to those with whom we disagree.

-TurretinFan