Saturday, October 10, 2009

Guilty Consciences at Trent?

I'm about to embark on a short series of posts on the topic Trent's canons and decrees regarding justification. It's worth noting that my series will be bringing me under the anathema of that council. I'll come under its anathema because I'll be taking the position that the the Roman Catholic doctrine on Justification derogates from the glory of God and the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ. I find it interesting that saying this about Trent's doctrine is itself under Trent's anathema. Here's the actual text (translated into English, of course, from the original Latin).

Trent, Sixth Session:
CANON XXXIII.-If any one saith, that, by the Catholic doctrine touching Justification, by this holy Synod inset forth in this present decree, the glory of God, or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ are in any way derogated from, and not rather that the truth of our faith, and the glory in fine of God and of Jesus Christ are rendered (more) illustrious; let him be anathema.
Perhaps it is only me, but it seems to me that the folks at Trent realized that what they were doing was dishonoring to God and to the glory of the merits of Christ. Canon 33 is the sort of canon that does not help to define dogma but is instead a sort of "shut up and don't criticize us." It is totally superfluous to the other canons. After all, one could not very well both accept Trent's teaching and simultaneously claim that the glory of God or the merits of Jesus Christ are derogated from by them.

In short, I think one would have to strain to find any positive value to this sort of canon. Instead, it seems that the denial of sola fide found in Trent was sufficiently plainly derogatory to the glory of God and the merits of Christ that they realized folks would criticize them along these lines. Accordingly, they have provided this canon as the final canon of the set to attempt to silence criticism. It does not address a heresy



Viisaus said...

You may well be onto something here.

Similar stuff occurred during the 787 AD 2nd Nicene Council (recognized by Rome as the 7th ecumenical one) where image-worship was formally established - guilty conscience was shining from their rabidly defensive anathemas:

"We salute the venerable images. We place under anathema those who do not do this. Anathema to them who presume to apply to the venerable images the things said in Holy Scripture about idols. Anathema to those who do not salute the holy and venerable images. Anathema to those who call the sacred images idols. Anathema to those who say that Christians resort to the sacred images as to gods. Anathema to those who say that any other delivered us from idols except Christ our God. Anathema to those who dare to say that at any time the Catholic Church received idols."

Viisaus said...

That earlier citation was from the final decree of the council, but one individual bishop has been recorded in the council acts using even more reckless language. This is downright Orwellian, he curses even those who dare to entertain mere critical thoughts about the cult of icons:

"To those who dare to attack and blaspheme the venerable images and call them idols, anathema! To the calumniators of Christianity, that is to say the Iconoclasts, anathema! To those who do not diligently teach all the Christ-loving people to venerate and salute the venerable and sacred and honourable images of all the Saints who pleased God in their several generations, anathema! To those who have a doubtful mind and do not confess with their whole hearts that they venerate the sacred images, anathema!"

Louis said...

That canon isn't superfluous; it concerns the very nature of RC teaching on biblical knowledge. They're saying that scripture means what they say it does, so that anyone who disagrees with them disagrees with scriptural teaching.

Turretinfan said...


Are you reading the same canon I'm reading? The one I'm reading doesn't even mention Scriptures.


Louis said...

Well it doesn't explicitly mention "scripture", but obviously the canon relates to the biblical teaching on justification. Behind this is their belief that they autoritatively interpret scripture. So to reject their teaching is to reject the truth of doctrine. Hence the anathema.

Turretinfan said...

They don't actually interpret Scripture in that session of Trent, though. I realize that Roman apologists today like to cast Rome in the light of an infallible interpreter of Scripture, and indeed she does claim that for herself. Nevertheless, that doesn't seem to be what Trent is doing in this session.

There are references to Scripture and to the interpretation of Scripture in the session, "By which words, a description of the Justification of the impious is indicated" (Chapter 4), "Whence, when it is said in the sacred writings" (Chapter 5), "Concerning this disposition it is written" (Chapter 6), "For which reason it is most truly said" (Chapter 7), "those words are to be understood in that sense which the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church hath held and expressed" (Chapter 8), and so forth. Nevertheless, the understanding of the council provided by Rome's apologists (especially today) is that these references relate to an explanation of the defined doctrine and are not themselves an infallible interpretation of the Scriptures. That is to say, unless there is a canon and an anathema for failing to accept a particularly interpretation of Scripture, then that interpretation has not been designated as "infallible."

None of the canons of this session specifically relate to interpretation of Scripture, though, of course, if one cannot speak contrary to each of the canons (or to the final "catch all" canon) then some interpretations of Scripture are ruled out.

This has been a convenient escape for some of Rome's apologists, particularly when it comes to Matthew 16:18. Recall that Trent stated, "For which cause, this council has thought good, that the Symbol of faith which the holy Roman Church makes use of,--as being that principle wherein all who profess the faith of Christ necessarily agree, and that firm and alone foundation against which the gates of hell shall never prevail,--be expressed in the very same words in which it is read in all the churches." This is an interpretation of Matthew 16:18 according to more of the traditional patristic view, namely that it is the confession of faith that is the foundation, not the person of Peter. Yet Vatican I attempted (so it seems) to interpret the verse as relating to the person of Peter. Such a contradiction would undermine infallibility of "ecumenical" councils, if not for the caveats and loopholes that Romanism provides for itself.