Saturday, January 23, 2010

Unloading 35 Loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" 14/35

Steve Ray has a list of 35 loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" (quotation marks his)(link to the whole list). This is number 14/35. I'm trying to provide the answers in a common format, for easy reference.

14) Most of the books of the New Testament were written to address very specific problems in the early Church, and none of them are a systematic presentation of Christian faith and theology. On what biblical basis do Protestants think that everything that the apostles taught is captured in the New Testament writings?

Simple Answer(s):

We don't necessarily think that everything that the apostles taught is captured in the New Testament writings.

Important Qualification(s):

1) But everything that we know the apostles taught, we know from Scripture.

2) The apostles, being human beings, may have sometimes taught something that was an error. They were not guaranteed always to be infallible whenever they taught.

3) Furthermore, the gospels do present the Christian faith in an orderly way (though not arranged like a textbook).

4) And the point of the gospels being written is told to us, and it is so that we might believe and be saved:

John 20:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

5) The characterization "[m]ost of the books of the New Testament were written to address very specific problems in the early Church," is very misleading at best. While the books do sometimes correct specific problems (sometimes very specific problems), virtually the entire body of Christian writings from the earliest generations through the Reformation era understood that point of Scripture was not simply to correct specific problems at the time.

6) Indeed, Scripture itself explains:

2 Timothy 3:16-17
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

- TurretinFan

Friday, January 22, 2010

Meaning of Papal Descriptions

Here's the challenge to Roman Catholics. State what the following expressions (I-IV) mean, preferably from some sort of authoritative source. Try to do so positively. (Please note, this post is a carry-over from a previous comment box discussion between Louis and Sean Patrick - I've slightly expanded on the original challenge there).

I realize that this is a big challenge, and that it is much easier sometimes to explain what an expression does not mean than to explain what an expression does mean. So, for those unable (or unwilling) to meet the primary challenge, I offer a secondary challenge of explaining why these titles cannot be understood as a fulfillment of 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, bearing in mind that the passage doesn't say that the man of sin (the son of perdition) is not specifically described as calling himself God.

I. "Christ on Earth"

John Paul II:
Against this background of love towards Holy Church, "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15), we readily understand the devotion of Saint Francis of Assisi for "the Lord Pope",the daughterly outspokenness of Saint Catherine of Siena towards the one whom she called "sweet Christ on earth",the apostolic obedience and the sentire cum Ecclesia of Saint Ignatius Loyola,and the joyful profession of faith made by Saint Teresa of Avila: "I am a daughter of the Church".We can also understand the deep desire of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus: "In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love".These testimonies are representative of the full ecclesial communion which the Saints, founders and foundresses, have shared in diverse and often difficult times and circumstances. They are examples which consecrated persons need constantly to recall if they are to resist the particularly strong centrifugal and disruptive forces at work today.A distinctive aspect of ecclesial communion is allegiance of mind and heart to the Magisterium of the Bishops, an allegiance which must be lived honestly and clearly testified to before the People of God by all consecrated persons, especially those involved in theological research, teaching, publishing, catechesis and the use of the means of social communication.Because consecrated persons have a special place in the Church, their attitude in this regard is of immense importance for the whole People of God. Their witness of filial love will give power and forcefulness to their apostolic activity which, in the context of the prophetic mission of all the baptized, is generally distinguished by special forms of cooperation with the Hierarchy.In a specific way, through the richness of their charisms, consecrated persons help the Church to reveal ever more deeply her nature as the sacrament "of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind".
- John Paul II, Vita Consecreta, Chapter II, Section 46 (25 March 1996)

John Paul II:
With the same vigour, Catherine addressed Churchmen of every rank, demanding of them the most exacting integrity in their personal lives and their pastoral ministry. The uninhibited, powerful and incisive tone in which she admonished priests, Bishops and Cardinals is quite striking. It is essential—she would say—to root out from the garden of the Church the rotten plants and to put in their place “new plants” which are fresh and fragrant. And strengthened by her intimacy with Christ, the Saint of Siena was not afraid to point out frankly even to the Pope, whom she loved dearly as her “sweet Christ on earth”, that the will of God demanded that he should abandon the hesitation born of earthly prudence and worldly interests, and return from Avignon to Rome, to the Tomb of Peter.
- John Paul II, Proclamation of the Co-Patronesses of Europe, Section 7 (1 October 1999)

Tarcisio Bertone, SDB (Archbishop Emeritus of Vercelli):
The twentieth century was one of the most crucial in human history, with its tragic and cruel events culminating in the assassination attempt on the “sweet Christ on earth”. Now a veil is drawn back on a series of events which make history and interpret it in depth, in a spiritual perspective alien to present-day attitudes, often tainted with rationalism.
- Bertone, Introduction to The Message of Fatima (apparently 26 June 2000)

Professor Maria Antonietta Falchi Pellegrini:
Your Eminencies, Excellencies, reverend and dear priests, I feel especially honoured to provide this small service to you, whom St. Catherine of Siena defines as "Ministers of the Blood of Christ", in this patriarchal Basilica, centre of Catholicism, housing the Chair of he who is the "Sweet Christ on earth".


Only the Pope could correct the defects of the priests, and not the laity who should always revere them, since Christ left to the Apostle Peter and his successors the key of His Blood, from which all the Sacraments gain life. The Pope, with ardent faith recognised by Catherine as "sweet Christ on earth" and called with tender affection "My kindest daddy" is asked to work strongly for the reform of the Church. "Intervene to eliminate the stink of the ministers of the Holy Church; pull out the stinking flowers and plant scented plants, virtuous men who fear God".
- Pellegrini, St. Catherine and the Priests: a Message for the Church of the Third Millennium (17 May 2000)

II. "Christ and His Vicar constitute one only Head" (Unum solummodo Caput constituere Christum eiusque Vicarium)

Pius XII:
But we must not think that He rules only in a hidden or extraordinary manner. On the contrary, our Redeemer also governs His Mystical Body in a visible and normal way through His Vicar on earth. You know, Venerable Brethren, that after He had ruled the "little flock" Himself during His mortal pilgrimage, Christ our Lord, when about to leave this world and return to the Father, entrusted to the Chief of the Apostles the visible government of the entire community He had founded. Since He was all wise He could not leave the body of the Church He had founded as a human society without a visible head. Nor against this may one argue that the primacy of jurisdiction established in the Church gives such a Mystical Body two heads. For Peter in view of his primacy is only Christ's Vicar; so that there is only one chief Head of this Body, namely Christ, who never ceases Himself to guide the Church invisibly, though at the same time He rules it visibly, through him who is His representative on earth. After His glorious Ascension into Heaven this Church rested not on Him alone, but on Peter, too, its visible foundation stone. That Christ and His Vicar constitute one only Head is the solemn teaching of Our predecessor of immortal memory Boniface VIII in the Apostolic Letter Unam Sanctam; and his successors have never ceased to repeat the same.

They, therefore, walk in the path of dangerous error who believe that they can accept Christ as the Head of the Church, while not adhering loyally to His Vicar on earth. They have taken away the visible head, broken the visible bonds of unity and left the Mystical Body of the Redeemer so obscured and so maimed, that those who are seeking the haven of eternal salvation can neither see it nor find it.
- Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi, Sections 40-41 (29 June 1943)

III. In Persona Christi as a Specific Sacramental Identification of the Priest with Christ

John Paul II:
The priest offers the holy Sacrifice in persona Christi; this means more than offering 'in the name of' or 'in place of' Christ. In persona means in specific sacramental identification with 'the eternal High Priest' who is the author and principal subject of this sacrifice of His, a sacrifice in which, in truth, nobody can take His place.
- John Paul II, Letter titled "Dominicae Cenae" (24 February 1980)

IV. "Lord Pope"

See the first item from Section I above. And additionally:

Pius XII:
The Seraphic Father commanded that the Rule and the Life of the Friars Minor should be the following: to observe the "holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ" living in obedience, without possessing any property, and in all chastity, and this not according to one's own whims or individual interpretation of the Rule, but according to the commands of the Roman Pontiffs, canonically elected. For those who eagerly longed "to follow this manner of life. . . they had to be, first, diligently examined by the Father Ministers concerning their Catholic Faith and their reception of the sacraments of the Church; whether they believed all these things and were firm in their intention to profess them until death." Those who had already become members of the Order must for no reason leave except it be "by order of Our Lord, the Pope." To the clerics of the Order it is prescribed that they celebrate "the divine office according to the calendar of the Roman Church"; to the friars in general it was commanded that they should not preach in the territory of a bishop without his permission, and that they should not enter, not even for reasons of their ministry, the convents of sisters without a special faculty from the Apostolic See. No less reverence and docility towards the Apostolic See is shown by the words which St. Francis uses in commanding that a Cardinal Protector should be appointed for the Order: "In obedience, I enjoin the Ministers to ask the Lord Pope for one of the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church to be the guide, protector and corrector of this Brotherhood; so that subordinate at all times and submissive, at the feet of the same Holy Roman Church, and thus firm in the Catholic Faith, . . . we shall observe, as we have faithfully promised to do, the holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rule of Friars Minor, passim)
- Pius XII, Rite Expiatis, Section 25 (30 April 1926)

Benedict XVI:
I welcome you with great joy at this happy and historical event which has gathered you: the eighth centenary of the approval of the "Protorule" of St Francis by Pope Innocent III. Eight hundred years have passed and that dozen Friars has become a multitude, scattered across every part of the world and today here, is worthily represented by you. In the past few days you have been meeting in Assisi for what you have chosen to call the "Chapter of Mats", to recall your origins. And at the end of this extraordinary experience you have come together to see the "Lord Pope", as your Seraphic Founder would have said.
- Benedict XVI, Address to the Franciscan Family (18 April 2009)


So, there you go. As to each of the four descriptions you can either explain what they mean or explain why these titles cannot be understood as a fulfillment of 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, bearing in mind what is noted above. Thus, there are tons of ways to respond (ranging from responding to just one explanation of one of the four descriptions to both explanations of all four, about 2,481 permutations of possible responses). People who are not Roman Catholics are also welcome to chime in, though the challenge is primarily for Roman Catholics.

Hard to Preach to the "Saved"

That's the point of this interesting and disturbing post (link) from defending contending. But you can imagine that if evangelizing those who are nominal or non-adherents to religion is difficult, evangelizing those who are zealous adherents of a false religion is impossible, humanly speaking.

Matthew 19:23-26
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

Mark 10:23-27
And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.

Luke 18:24-27
And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.

Praise be to God that the salvation of any man is possible for our great and Sovereign Lord God! May God use this blog as an instrument to the end of camel-threading the needle, as it were.


N.B. Thanks to Carrie for bringing the DefendingContending post to my attention.

Unloading 35 Loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" 13/35

Steve Ray has a list of 35 loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" (quotation marks his)(link to the whole list). This is number 13/35. I'm trying to provide the answers in a common format, for easy reference.

13) Where does the Bible claim to be the sole authority for Christians in matters of faith and morals?

Simple Answer(s):

Nowhere that we know of.

Important Qualification(s):

1) The reason for the "nowhere" answer is the misleading/loaded wording of the question. There was a similar problem with the first question (1) Where did Jesus give instructions that the Christian faith should be based exclusively on a book?). These are questions like the question asked in the garden by the serpent about the prohibition on eating fruit.

2) The Holy Spirit, after all, is an authority for Christian in matters of faith and morals, and the Holy Spirit speaks not only through the Scripture but also through general revelation and the conscience.

3) Additionally, while they are not infallible authorities, the church are nevertheless authorities.

- TurretinFan

1 Timothy 4:7-10 - A Brief Exegesis

1 Timothy 4:7-10

But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.

Notice that there are a set of parallels that build up to verse 10.

1) refuse profane and old wives' fables || exercise thyself rather unto godliness.

2) For bodily exercise profiteth little || but godliness is profitable unto all things,

3) [Implied that bodily exercise has a promise in this life] || [godliness has] promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God,

4) who is the Saviour of all men || specially of those that believe

The point then from that we get in the fourth parallel, utilizing the contextual indications, is that the living God (the God of Life) is both the Savior with respect to preserving the physical lives of his creatures but with respect to believers their Savior in the special sense of giving them eternal life. All life comes from God, both our physical life and eternal life as well.

This is confirmed from later in the text when Paul tells Timothy:

1 Timothy 6:17-19
Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.

Notice that the living God gives us both the riches of this life, but also of the life to come. Notice indeed the similarity between being more concerned about doing good and laying up for the life to come, rather than on this life.

I realize that's a short exegesis, but I think that it commends itself over any exegesis that argues that "Saviour of all men" should be understood as being a savior in a potential way. That sense leaves the phrase like a fish out of water, with no ties to the context.


Arminianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Wes White, and the real Francis Turretin

Pastor Wes White has an interesting post entitled, "Calvinism and Arminianism: A Middle Way?" He points out that one supposed "middle way" between Calvinism and Arminianism is just a restatement of Arminianism (and he provides a quotation from the real Francis Turretin to make his point). Although (like Pastor White) I'm a fan of Turretin and although he's right in noting that the argument of the classical Arminians is what these supposed "middle way" folks are making, I want to take the opportunity to point out that it is even an older error than that. It is the error of the semi-Pelagian opponents of Augustinians such as Prosper of Aquitaine, as one can see from the passage below in which Prosper is writing to Augustine regarding his semi-Pelagian opponents and their arguments. Read carefully and see if you

Prosper of Aquitaine:
The opinion they hold is as follows: Every man has sinned in Adam, and no one is reborn and saved by his own works but by God's grace. Yet, all men without exception are offered the reconciliation which Christ merited by the mystery of his death, in such manner that whosoever wish to come to the faith and to receive baptism can be saved. God has foreknown before the creation of the world who they are who will accept the faith and with the help of further grace persevere in it. He has predestined for his kingdom those who, called without any merit of their own, He foreknew would be worthy of their election and depart from this life by a good death. Accordingly, every man is urged by the teachings of Holy Scripture to believe and to work, and no one should despair of attaining eternal life, the reward prepared for those who serve God freely. But as to the decree of God's special call by which He is said to have separated the elect and reprobate, either before the creation of the world or at the very creation of the human race, and according to His own good pleasure, so that some are born vessels of honor, others vessels of dishonor, this, they say, takes away from sinners an incentive for conversion and gives the pious occasion for lukewarmness. For both of them, exertion becomes superfluous if neither diligence can save a reprobate nor negligence ruin an elect. Whatever way they behave, nothing can happen to them except what God has decreed. With such doubtful prospects no man can follow a steady course of action, since all pains a man takes one way or another are of no avail if God's predestination has decreed otherwise. To teach that the decree of God anticipates the wills of men is to invite them to cast aside all diligence and give up the effort for virtue; it is, under cover of predestination, to set up a sort of fatal necessity, or to say that the Lord has made men of different natures, if it is true that no one can change his condition of elect or reprobate in which he was created. To put their opinions more briefly and fully: the very objections which in your book On Admonition and Grace you took from the idea of your opponents and proposed to yourself, and the objections of Julian also which in your books against him you relate in this matter and which you answered fully, exactly these our good Christians greet with loud approval. When we show them the writings of Your Holiness which abound in countless unanswerable proofs from Holy Scripture, when we ourselves try, after the pattern of your tracts, to construct some new argument to counter them, they take cover for their obstinacy by appealing to the ancient teaching. The text of the Apostle Paul to the Romans, which you quote to prove that divine grace precedes the merits of the elect, they say was never understood by any of the churchmen in the sense in which you take it now. And when we ask them to explain it themselves according to the meaning given by the authors they prefer, they answer that they have found there nothing which satisfies them, and they ask us not to speak about things whose depth no one is able to fathom. Finally, in their obstinacy they go to such length as to assert that what we teach as being of faith is harmful to the spiritual good of those who come to hear of it; and even if it were true, we should not come out with it, because it does harm to preach what will not be well received, and there is no harm in not speaking of what no one can understand.
- Prosper of Aquitaine, Letter to Augustine, Section 3, translation by P. De Letter, S.J., Ph.D., S.T.D. in "Prosper of Aquitaine: Defense of St. Augustine," pp. 39-41 (Newman Press, New York: 1963).

Notice, for instance, the allegations of universal prevenient grace, and the allegations that Augustinian theology will hurt evangelism. The answers from the real Turretin that Pastor White brings to bear are right on the money.

It's also interesting to note that Prosper is relying on the authority of Scripture over against semi-Pelagian attempts to say that Augustine's view was a theological novelty. We sometimes hear the same allegations about our views today - but ultimately we agree with Prosper that Scripture (not the forerunners of Augustine or even Augustine himself) is our rule of faith.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Some Patristic Views of 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.

Ver. 3, 4. "Let no man beguile you in any wise: for it will not be, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, he that opposes and exalts himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he sits in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God."

Here he discourses concerning the Antichrist, and reveals great mysteries. What is "the falling away?" He calls him Apostasy, as being about to destroy many, and make them fall away. So that if it were possible, He says, the very Elect should be offended. From Matthew 24:24 And he calls him "the man of sin." For he shall do numberless mischiefs, and shall cause others to do them. But he calls him "the son of perdition," because he is also to be destroyed. But who is he? Is it then Satan? By no means; but some man, that admits his fully working in him. For he is a man. "And exalts himself against all that is called God or is worshipped." For he will not introduce idolatry, but will be a kind of opponent to God; he will abolish all the gods, and will order men to worship him instead of God, and he will be seated in the temple of God, not that in Jerusalem only, but also in every Church. "Setting himself forth," he says; he does not say, saying it, but endeavoring to show it. For he will perform great works, and will show wonderful signs.
- Chrysostom, Homilies on 2 Thessalonians, Homily 3, at 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4

Jerome explains:
Let us not follow the opinion of some commentators and suppose him to be either the Devil or some demon, but rather, one of the human race, in whom Satan will wholly take up his residence in bodily form. ". . .and a mouth uttering overweening boasts..." (cf. II Thess. 2). For this is the man of sin, the son of perdition, and that too to such a degree that he dares to sit in the temple of God, making himself out to be like God.
- Jerome, Commentary on Daniel, at Daniel 7:8

Cyril of Jerusalem:
And what comes to pass after this? He says next, When therefore you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the Prophet, standing in the Holy Place, let him that reads understand. And again, Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is the Christ, or, Lo, there; believe it not. Hatred of the brethren makes room next for Antichrist; for the devil prepares beforehand the divisions among the people, that he who is to come may be acceptable to them. But God forbid that any of Christ's servants here, or elsewhere, should run over to the enemy! Writing concerning this matter, the Apostle Paul gave a manifest sign, saying, For that day shall not come, except there came first the falling away, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he sits in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now you know that which restrains, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season. For the mystery of iniquity does already work, only there is one that restrains now, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall the lawless one be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming. Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that are perishing. [2 Thessalonians 2:3-10] Thus wrote Paul, and now is the falling away. For men have fallen away from the right faith; and some preach the identity of the Son with the Father, and others dare to say that Christ was brought into being out of nothing. And formerly the heretics were manifest; but now the Church is filled with heretics in disguise. For men have fallen away from the truth, and have itching ears. [2 Timothy 4:3] Is it a plausible discourse? All listen to it gladly. Is it a word of correction? All turn away from it. Most have departed from right words, and rather choose the evil, than desire the good. This therefore is the falling away, and the enemy is soon to be looked for: and meanwhile he has in part begun to send forth his own forerunners, that he may then come prepared upon the prey. Look therefore to yourself, O man, and make safe your soul. The Church now charges you before the Living God; she declares to you the things concerning Antichrist before they arrive. Whether they will happen in your time we know not, or whether they will happen after you we know not; but it is well that, knowing these things, you should make yourself secure beforehand.
- Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 15, Section 9

Unloading 35 Loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" 12/35

Steve Ray has a list of 35 loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" (quotation marks his)(link to the whole list). This is number 12/35. I'm trying to provide the answers in a common format, for easy reference.

12) How do we know, from the Bible alone, that the letters of St. Paul, who wrote to first century congregations and individuals, are meant to be read by us as Scripture 2000 years later?

Simple Answer(s):

2 Peter 3:16 As also in all his [Paul's] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

Important Qualification(s):

This is simply another way of phrasing the canon question that we've already addressed several times.

- TurretinFan

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Unloading 35 Loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" 11/35

Steve Ray has a list of 35 loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" (quotation marks his)(link to the whole list). This is number 11/35. I'm trying to provide the answers in a common format, for easy reference.

11) How do we know, from the Bible alone, that the individual books of the New Testament are inspired, even when they make no claim to be inspired?

Simple Answer(s):

We accept them on faith.

Important Qualification(s):

1) We know that the whole Old Testament was inspired, even though many of those individual books don't make any such claim.

2) And, of course, it is sufficient for us that 2 Timothy tells us that all Scripture is inspired (and note that 2 Timothy doesn't seem to think that it is necessary to attach an infallible and inspired table of contents of Scripture).

2 Timothy 3:16-17
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

3) The fact that we accept them on faith doesn't mean that our faith is irrational. Thus, for example, the following are also the case.

a) The Holy Spirit testifies to the inspiration His word.

b) We have historical evidence that also supports our conclusion that a particular book or passage is inspired Scripture.

c) But ultimately, "my sheep hear my voice" is the governing principle.

- TurretinFan

Beckwith's Bait and Switch

Francis Beckwith has a recent blog post entitled, "Sola Scriptura and the canon of Scripture: a philosophical reflection" (link). Let's take a look at his reflection.

Beckwith begins:
Because the list of canonical books is itself not found in Scripture—as one can find the Ten Commandments or the names of Christ’s Apostles—any such list, whether Protestant or Catholic, would be an item of extra-Biblical theological knowledge.
There is a rather obvious problem with this claim. Given Scripture (as Beckwith does for the Ten Commandments or the names of Christ's apostles) a list of canonical books is readily derivable from the Scriptures. As a thought experiment, one could imagine receiving a Bible with the table of contents accidentally smudged beyond recognition. That table of contents could be easily restored from the text in a matter of moments. Given Scripture the list of canonical books, while not found as such, is easily derived.

Of course, if one doesn't grant that we already have the Scriptures, as such, the matter of creating a list becomes more difficult. But that's not a challenge facing sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura begins with the reader possessing the Scriptures. It is a given of the system.

After his initial reflection, Beckwith provides an historical anecdote:
Take for example a portion of the revised and expanded Evangelical Theological Society statement of faith suggested by the two ETS members following my return to the Catholic Church. (The proposed change failed to garner enough votes for passage, losing by a 2-1 margin). It states that “this written word of God consists of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments and is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behavior.”
I think we all understand the intent behind this sort of amendment, whether or not it was needed for the ETS statement of faith. But let's see what Beckwith's reflection on this anecdote is:
But the belief that the Bible consists only of 66 books is not a claim of Scripture—since one cannot find the list in it—but a claim about Scripture as a whole.
One cannot find the list in it, only in the sense that one cannot find the list of Psalms in the book of Psalms. In other words, the list is not given as such. However, a list may readily be generated from the Bible or from the book of Psalms.

Beckwith continued:
That is, the whole has a property—“consisting of 66 books”—that is not found in any of the parts.
At this point, Beckwith is actually discussing something different than his initial claim. Even if Revelation stated, "And by this book I mean these sixty-six books," and then proceeded to list them, it would still be the case that the book of Revelation would not have the property consisting of sixty-six books.

In fact, it is frequently the case that the whole set of anything has a property relating to multiplicity that the parts individually lack. Thus, for example, the set of all breeds of cats has the property "consisting of X number of breeds" whereas no individual breed has that property.

To take a more topical example, "consisting of 150 psalms" is a property of the Psalter, but not of any individual psalm. This reflection of Beckwith's may be an interesting pastime for his students. On the other hand, for the reasons explained above (i.e. since it would be true even if the Bible had an explicit table of contents) it is actually irrelevant.

Beckwith concluded:
In other words, if the 66 books are the supreme authority on matters of belief, and the number of books is a belief, and one cannot find that belief in any of the books, then the belief that Scripture consists of 66 particular books is an extra-biblical belief, an item of theological knowledge that is prima facie non-Biblical.
This has essentially been addressed above. Given the Bible, we can easily sit down and count the number of books. The fact that it is not explicitly part of the text of the Bible is actually a quite trivial point, if we are given the Bible.

What Beckwith's argument essentially asks the reader to do is to derive the belief about the number of books of Bible without the Bible. Then having taken away the Bible, Beckwith claims that the number of books can't be determined. But this is simply a game of bait and switch. Beckwith lures the reader in with a proposal to derive something from the Bible but then takes away the Bible.

Finally Beckwith asks:
Where have I gone wrong in this reasoning?
To which we may reply that he went wrong when he made the switch from letting us have the Bible to taking it away from us. If we have the Bible, we can easily tell you the number of books, even if the table of contents is missing. If we don't have the Bible, we're not dealing with Sola Scriptura any more.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Unloading 35 Loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" 10/35

Steve Ray has a list of 35 loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" (quotation marks his)(link to the whole list). This is number 10/35. I'm trying to provide the answers in a common format, for easy reference.

10) Where in the Bible do we find an inspired and infallible list of books that should belong in the Bible? (e.g., Is the Bible’s Table of Contents inspired?)

Simple Answer(s):

We don't find such a list, and the Table of Contents of our Bibles, while derived from the titles of the books of the Bible, is not itself a separately inspired document.

Important Qualification(s):

1) It is baffling why anyone thinks that it would be necessary for Christians to have an infallible list. Until the 16th century, no one claimed to have an inspired and infallible list, and the only people who claimed it then were Roman Catholics.

2) But if such a list is necessary for the Scripture, why isn't it also necessary for the rest of tradition? Why is Scripture singled out for this criticism by Roman Catholics? If the canon of Scripture is problem for "Bible Christians" the canon of Tradition is a much bigger problem for Roman Catholics.

- TurretinFan

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Acorn Falls Far from the Tree - A Response to Dave Armstrong

Jason Engwer is a blogger at the Reformed blog Triablogue. Mr. Engwer had posted (in 2008) some discussion related to the rule(s) of faith in the Early Church Fathers and Rome's claims for the church and the papacy (link to article). Dave Armstrong is a layman in the Roman Catholic church, but has recently been promoted by Roman Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid. Dave has posted a lengthy response to Mr. Engwer in four parts (first, second, third, fourth, with more apparently to come). While I was preparing this response, Jason Engwer already provided two responses (first and second). Other brethren have already responded to Dave's post as well, such as Steve Hays (first and second). I should clarify that I am mostly responding to what Dave is saying, rather than trying to defend Mr. Engwer. Mr. Engwer is more than capable of defending himself.

1. Lack of Resemblance and Low Expectations

The weakness of Dave's case can be seen from the very law bar that he sets for himself in terms of confirming the hypothesis of development of doctrine with respect to the church/papacy as a rule of faith. Parroting the usual developmental party line, Dave describes the similarity between the views of the early church and the view of contemporary Rome as: "just as an oak tree has little outward resemblance to an acorn, even though it is organically derived from it." Notice what a low bar that is: there can be almost no resemblance ("outward" is simply redundant) between the views of the early church and the view of Rome.

Notice the implicit concession: the early church looked (doctrinally as well as liturgically and ecclesiastically) nothing like modern Roman Catholicism. This concession is really necessary, because even if previous generations believed that the distinctive doctrines of Roman Catholicism had been taught since the days of the apostles, no one who studies history can take that sort of claim seriously.

Naturally, there is some attempt at damage control from Dave's side. Dave insists, for example, "We wouldn't expect to find such a detailed understanding early on" and refers to what is found in history as being "exactly what Cardinal Newman would predict in a theologian of the second century." Notice that the lack of resemblance leads to low expectations, and then it is alleged that the finding of a church that lacks resemblance to Rome is confirmation of the expectations! Dave's characterization of the matter is sophistical. Newman's hypothesis is the product and result of his study of history. It's not as though Newman generated his hypothesis from somewhere else (such as Scripture) and then found historical confirmation of it. Instead, Newman's hypothesis is a last-ditch attempt to explain away the many theological differences between the Rome of his day and the early church.

Indeed, Newman ends up making the same implicit concession when responding to his critics as follows: "They seem to me to expect from History more than History can furnish." (Newman, Letter to the Duke of Norfolk) Newman even concedes:
No Catholic doctrine could be fully proved (or, for that matter, disproved) by historical evidence -- 'in all cases there is a margin left for the exercise of faith in the word of the Church.' Indeed, anyone 'who believes the dogmas of the Church only because he has reasoned them out of History, is scarcely a Catholic'.
- Newman, Letter to the Duke of Norfolk

History is truly unable to furnish proof of the Roman position, but the best explanation is that Rome teaches different doctrines than the early church did, because Rome has strayed from the apostolic faith.

2. Fatherless Assumptions

Dave treats "development," for the most part, as though it could simply be taken for granted. That is to say, as though he could simply assume that it is legitimate to appeal to "development" as a solution for the problem of lack of resemblance between the early church and modern Rome. We are not given a reason to accept this assumption, nor are we are told who came up with this idea.

In the fourth part, Dave finally provides an appeal to Vincent of Lerins as allegedly supporting the idea of development. However, when one reads what Lerins has to say, we find that he describes the kind of development he is talking about as a development of expression, not progressive revelation of additional doctrines, as will be discussed below.

I found Dave's appeal to Vincent of Lerins to be rather amusing. Dave has been fond of mocking me for using a pseudonym, but Vincent of Lerins wrote his Commonitory under the pseudonym "Peregrinus." Likewise, Dave ties Augustine and Vincent together ("Philip Schaff also understood that both St. Augustine and St. Vincent espoused an explicit notion of doctrinal development") but as the editor's introduction to the Commonitory in Schaff's collection indicates:
Vincentius has been charged with Semipelagianism. Whether he actually held the doctrine which was afterwards called by that name is not clear. Certainly the express enunciation of it is nowhere to be found in the Commonitory. But it is extremely probable that at least his sympathies were with those who held it. For not only does he omit the name of St. Augustine, who was especially obnoxious to them, when making honorable mention at any time of the champions of the faith, but he denounces his doctrine, though under a misrepresentation of it, as one of the forms of that novel error which he reprobates.

Indeed, there are remarks in the Commonitory that seem to be directly aimed at trying to argue that is ok to reconsider Augustine's teachings:
It behoves us, then, to give heed to these instances from Church History, so many and so great, and others of the same description, and to understand distinctly, in accordance with the rule laid down in Deuteronomy, that if at any time a Doctor in the Church have erred from the faith, Divine Providence permits it in order to make trial of us, whether or not we love God with all our heart and with all our mind.
- Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chapter 19 (Section 47)

But what about Vincent's view of development? Vincent suggests that advancement is possible, while denying that change is possible. Vincent writes:
But some one will say, perhaps, Shall there, then, be no progress in Christ’s Church? Certainly; all possible progress. For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it? Yet on condition that it be real progress, not alteration of the faith. For progress requires that the subject be enlarged in itself, alteration, that it be transformed into something else. The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress; but yet only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same meaning.
- Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chapter 23 (Section 54)

Dave notes some similarities between Vincent's view of advancement and his own view of development, but fails to address the crucial differences. For Vincent, the doctrine must always be the same doctrine in the same sens and in the same meaning: the progress must be real progress not alteration. It cannot be a transformation of one thing into something else.

Vincent continues:
The growth of religion in the soul must be analogous to the growth of the body, which, though in process of years it is developed and attains its full size, yet remains still the same. There is a wide difference between the flower of youth and the maturity of age; yet they who were once young are still the same now that they have become old, insomuch that though the stature and outward form of the individual are changed, yet his nature is one and the same, his person is one and the same. An infant’s limbs are small, a young man’s large, yet the infant and the young man are the same. Men when full grown have the same number of joints that they had when children; and if there be any to which maturer age has given birth these were already present in embryo, so that nothing new is produced in them when old which was not already latent in them when children. This, then, is undoubtedly the true and legitimate rule of progress, this the established and most beautiful order of growth, that mature age ever develops in the man those parts and forms which the wisdom of the Creator had already framed beforehand in the infant. Whereas, if the human form were changed into some shape belonging to another kind, or at any rate, if the number of its limbs were increased or diminished, the result would be that the whole body would become either a wreck or a monster, or, at the least, would be impaired and enfeebled.
- Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chapter 23 (Section 55)

Notice that the point is that the parts are all framed beforehand and nothing new is added. In fact, for Vincent, if new things are added the body of doctrine becomes monstrous or at least crippled. This important principle becomes even more apparent when Vincent continues:
In like manner, it behooves Christian doctrine to follow the same laws of progress, so as to be consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age, and yet, withal, to continue uncorrupt and unadulterate, complete and perfect in all the measurement of its parts, and, so to speak, in all its proper members and senses, admitting no change, no waste of its distinctive property, no variation in its limits.
- Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chapter 23 (Section 56)

Again, we see that for Vincent the progress never permits change or variation in the limits of the believed doctrine. Contrary to the acorn/tree analogy in which there is no resemblance between the original state and the later state, the analogy for Vincent is of a child growing into a man, where all the parts remain the same throughout the development (as we saw above: "Men when full grown have the same number of joints that they had when children ...").

Thus, after some examples, Vincent comes to the role of the Church of Christ. Read carefully what Vincent alleges regarding the Church:
But the Church of Christ, the careful and watchful guardian of the doctrines deposited in her charge, never changes anything in them, never diminishes, never adds, does not cut off what is necessary, does not add what is superfluous, does not lose her own, does not appropriate what is another’s, but while dealing faithfully and judiciously with ancient doctrine, keeps this one object carefully in view,—if there be anything which antiquity has left shapeless and rudimentary, to fashion and polish it, if anything already reduced to shape and developed, to consolidate and strengthen it, if any already ratified and defined, to keep and guard it. Finally, what other object have Councils ever aimed at in their decrees, than to provide that what was before believed in simplicity should in future be believed intelligently, that what was before preached coldly should in future be preached earnestly, that what was before practised negligently should thenceforward be practised with double solicitude? This, I say, is what the Catholic Church, roused by the novelties of heretics, has accomplished by the decrees of her Councils,—this, and nothing else,—she has thenceforward consigned to posterity in writing what she had received from those of olden times only by tradition, comprising a great amount of matter in a few words, and often, for the better understanding, designating an old article of the faith by the characteristic of a new name.
- Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chapter 23 (Section 59)

Notice that Vincent notes that the Church is a guardian. She "never adds" according to Vincent. In fact, Vincent claims that all that the Church does by Councils ("this, and nothing else")is to hand down what she previously received, summarizing much material in few words and designating an old article of the faith by a new name. Nothing else than that, is Vincent's assessment of the Church's guardian role. There is no definition of new articles of faith. There is no development in the sense of change for Vincent - though there is tremendous change in the case of an acorn.

In short, Dave's appeal to Vincent (the apparently semi-pelagian opponent of Augustine) falls short of establishing that Dave idea of development is itself an ancient view. As a result, we're still left wondering who the father of Dave's hypothesis is. Is it Newman in the 19th century? If so, why should anyone accept it? Dave hasn't given reasons for us to accept it.

3. History and Scripture vs. Romanism

The difference between Dave and Vincent becomes even more apparent when Vincent asks and answer a question on the issue of novelty in the church:
But some one will ask, How is it then, that certain excellent persons, and of position in the Church, are often permitted by God to preach novel doctrines to Catholics


The reason is clearer than day why Divine Providence sometimes permits certain doctors of the Churches to preach new doctrines—“That the Lord your God may try you;” he says.
- Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chapter 10 (Sections 27-28)

Notice that the reason, which Vincent has argued from appeal to Scripture, is not just perspicuous (according to Vincent) but "clearer than day." That reason is to permit testing of the individual person. That individual person is not only permitted to exercise private judgment with respect to the orthodoxy of the particular teachings of doctors of the church, but even commanded to do so. Vincent views his readers as fully competent to make that evaluation from an examination of history and Scripture. What about Dave?

At a few points, Dave seems to act as though his readers are competent judges of history and Scripture. At one point in response to a "how can we know" question, Dave states: "Well, by looking at the history! Its not rocket science. But there is also the biblical evidence ... ."

Dave, however, quotes with approval from Newman who indicates that "private judgment" is "unlawful in interpreting Scripture against the voice of authority," and similarly cannot be "lawful in the interpretation of history" against authority. In other words, you can examine history and Scripture so long as you don't conclude from history or Scripture that the Roman Catholic church is wrong about anything.

This phenomenon is not new.
When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition.


But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth.


It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition. Such are the adversaries with whom we have to deal, my very dear friend, endeavouring like slippery serpents to escape at all points.
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 2

The same basic thing is happening here. At first there is an appeal to Scripture, but when we show that the Scriptures don't support their contention they turn to history/tradition. Then, when we show that their contentions are not supported by tradition/history, they object that they are wiser than those men (like Vincent of Lerins) that we quote, at least in that they have (by appeal to their contemporary magisterium) discovered the unadulterated truth. So we can see that they follow neither Scripture nor history/tradition.

As Newman puts it, "in all cases there is a margin left for the exercise of faith in the word of the Church." (Newman, Letter to the Duke of Norfolk) Margin indeed! The whole matter turns on whether one exercises faith in the word of the modern Roman church. If so, then one will necessarily not hear the arguments to contrary.

4. Evasions and Sophistry in Defense of Rome

The positional weakness of Rome can lead to various evasions and sophistry in her defense. We sadly see these crop up time and time again in Dave's series. Here are a few examples.

a) Argument from Inapplicable Reasons

Mr. Engwer had pointed out that some of the early church fathers suggest that a particular church, such as Rome, or the churches in general are reliable. However, they did not just say that the church or churches were reliable, but also stated why the churches are reliable. Mr. Engwer observed that when the factual basis for this reliability changes, there is no basis for continuing to judge the church or churches as reliable. Look at Mr. Engwer's comment and Dave's response:
[Mr. Engwer wrote:]Irenaeus does refer to the current reliability of the apostolic churches. But he gives reasons for their reliability that could change with the passing of time.
[Dave replied:] Passing down an unbroken tradition or set of truths does not change over time. It either has happened and can be verified or it hasn't.
Notice that Dave does not address the issue that Mr. Engwer posed. He simply insists that things don't change. In other words, while he does not explicitly say so, Dave is forced to take the position that it doesn't matter why Irenaeus thought that the apostolic churches were reliable, simply that he thought they were reliable. But ignoring why Irenaeus thought what he thought amounts (in this discussion) to make pretextual use of Irenaeus. To phrase it in Vincentian terms, Dave's position is an alteration of Irenaeus' position, not an advancement of Irenaeus' position.

[UPDATE] A friend pointed out that I would be remiss to mention here Newman's own thoughts on the Vincentian canon that Dave has attempted to rely upon:
It does not seem possible, then, to avoid the conclusion that, whatever be the proper key for harmonizing the records and documents of the early and later Church, and true as the dictum of Vincentius must be considered in the abstract, and possible as its application might be in his own age, when he might almost ask the primitive centuries for their testimony, it is hardly available now, or effective of any satisfactory result. The solution it offers is as difficult as the original problem.
- John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., LTD., 1927), p. 27.

b) Argument from Comparison to "Protestantism"

When Mr. Engwer points out that even until Augustine's time there are positions among the church fathers that are not consistent with the position of the modern Roman Catholic church. As we'll see, Dave's response is to say that Augustine was somehow closer to the Roman Catholic position than to the "Protestant" position. However, that's really irrelevant to the discussion unless Jason Engwer is attempting to adopt Dave's premise of "development" and claim that "Protestantism" is the authentic development rather than the Roman Catholic position. But Mr. Engwer does not appear to be making such an argument. Accordingly, Dave's attempted recusal is hollow. It misses the point that Mr. Engwer has raised:
[Mr. Engwer wrote:]Even long after the time of Irenaeus, we find sources like Augustine making comments about church authority that are inconsistent with a Catholic or Orthodox view (On Baptism, Against The Donatists, 2:2-4).
[Dave responded:]To the contrary, On Baptism, 2:2-4 contradicts Protestant notions more than it does the Catholic rule of faith.
(Dave makes a similar claim in another place: "There were differences, of course, but the fathers were far closer overall to the Catholic position than anything resembling a Protestant one." and in further place: "It's quite amusing for a Protestant to even quibble about real or alleged differences in the early Church on ecclesiology, when one looks at what Protestantism did to [the] same ...")

Even if Dave's claim were true about it contradicting "Protestant notions" more than it contradicts the Roman Catholic rule, that wouldn't change the fact that it makes statements that are inconsistent with the Roman Catholic position.

c) Ignoring the Historical Aspect of Sola Scriptura

Mr. Engwer points out (in a comment with which I might disagree, but I digress) that if he were in the position of a very early church father, such as Papias, he would not hold to sola Scriptura. Dave ignores the historically conditioned aspect of sola Scriptura (namely the fact that sola Scriptura is a claim that the only infallible rule of faith we have right now is the Scriptures) and goes on to mockingly misrepresent Mr. Engwer:
[Mr. Engwer wrote:]I've said before that if I were in the position of somebody like Papias, I wouldn't adhere to sola scriptura. But we aren't in his position. We're in a much different position. If sola scriptura had been widely or universally rejected early on, it wouldn't follow that it couldn't be appropriate later, under different circumstances.

[Dave responded:] ... So now he "gets" it. Assuming that sola Scriptura was "widely or universally rejected early on" (as in fact it was), it doesn't matter, you see, because (hallelujah!) it can be "appropriate later, under different circumstances." Why are we having this discussion at all, then, if it doesn't matter a hill of beans what the fathers en masse thought? The rule of faith is as variable as the weather and President Obama's latest opinion on war policy.
But Dave is missing the point. It matters what the fathers thought and why they thought what they thought. Those who are present when the prophetic gift of the Lord comes can hear and follow the teachings of the prophet. Under such circumstances sola Scriptura as such is not applicable - because at that time the Word of the Lord is not speaking only through Scripture but also through the prophet. But when the prophet dies or the gift ceases, the Scriptures are again the only voice of God (although those who were living when the prophet is around may still bring to mind the Word given to him). Thus, we may divide history into five epochs:

i) Pre-Scripture

God spoke directly with Adam, with Noah, with Job, and with the Patriarchs until the time of Moses.

ii) Scripture

From the time of Moses until the last word of Scripture was penned, God spoke through Scripture and also often directly to and through living prophets, although there were apparently times that the prophetic gift was suspended in Israel.

iii) Immediately Post-Scripture

For some time after the Scripture was complete there was at least a memory among some of the believers regarding what the living prophets of their day had spoken to them.

iv) The Present Era

The present era began as the prophetic gift ceased and those who had heard the prophets died. Scripture remained, and remained as the only Word of God that was available in a reliable form.

v) The Ages to Come

Whatever one thinks of eschatology, Christ will return and we will be with Him. At that time, of course, we will not rely only on Scripture but on any further revelation that Christ gives.

The idea of Sola Scriptura as such is an idea that is relevant only to the present era. It is a factual statement that Scripture is all we have by way of an infallible rule of faith. Dave's response suggesting relativism misses the essence of what Sola Scriptura is, and demonstrates that either Dave is unwilling or unable to address Mr. Engwer's position for what it is.

d) Ignoring the Dispute over Ecumenical Councils

In another case, Mr. Engwer pointed out that the idea of infallible ecumenical councils may sound nice in theory, but there is dispute over what councils and what parts of which councils are infallible. Dave, apparently oblivious to these issues, blows off Mr. Engwer with mockery:
[Mr. Engwer wrote:] The ecumenical councils are the most popularly accepted examples of an exercise of alleged church infallibility. Yet, there have been many disagreements, and continue to be many, regarding which councils are ecumenical and which portions of the ecumenical councils are to be accepted.
[Dave responded:] Like what? Again, we have mere vague statements. Does anyone think this sort of method of "amateur apologist sez whatever slogan comes into his head and expects it to be accepted as Gospel Truth" is impressive?
The "vague statements" that are made are mostly vague to those unfamiliar with the issues. Engwer is referring, for instance, to the position of Quinisext Council and perhaps as well to portions of the decrees of Council of Constance, as well as generally to whether things like the reasoning applied by the Council of Florence needs to be given dogmatic weight. There are lots of these issues, which is why Mr. Engwer is able to point at them generally, and hope that folks who are at least moderately familiar with the issues (apparently unlike Dave) will be able to get it.

e) Pretending that we Think the Fathers were Protestants

One of Dave's more base tactics is to suggest that we claim that the church fathers were "Protestants." We don't, and Mr. Engwer certainly doesn't in anything of what he's written that I've seen. But Dave repeatedly makes statements such as: "the ostensible Protestant project to co-opt the Church fathers and make them out to be Protestant" or "The way Jason presents the situation, it sounds as if it is almost an even battle between the proto-Protestant fathers and the Catholic ones, with the latter hopelessly divided amongst themselves." However, Dave ought to know better. We are quite willing to let the fathers be the fathers without trying to make them in our own image.

In fact, in other places Dave seems to recognize this, since he quotes with approval from some guy named Nick who accuses Mr. Engwer of "using the typical Protestant stealth tactics," in which "he can call them "Christian" on one hand while affirming they weren't promoting a true Gospel on the other ... ." Actually, we note that it is actually Roman Catholics these days who have become fond of referring to heretics as "Christians." I can't speak for Mr. Engwer, but most of the Reformed authors I've read regard at least most of the church fathers as Christians rather than as heretics: as those who did believe the true gospel, even if they (like us) made some mistakes.

f) Ignoring the distinction between Infallibility and Inerrancy

It's unclear if Dave really thinks there is no important difference between inerrancy and infallibility, but he devotes a long section that appears to attempt to obfuscate the difference between the two. He even states:
Is there really all that much of a difference, and does it have any significant effect on this discussion? No. There certainly is not much difference in English.
Without the ability to distinguish between the two (even in English) Dave is unable to handle Engwer's arguments that explain (perhaps in terms too complex for Dave) that something can be without error without being without the ability to err. The distinction is, of course, highly significant. The fact that a church hasn't erred (yet) is quite a different claim from saying that a church is constitutionally unable to err. Yet Dave (for whatever reason) glosses over the distinction, rendering his response worse than useless.

g) Frequent Substitution of ad hominem for argumentation

Of course, there are bound to be things critical of one's opponent in one's writings. I've been critical of Dave above, but Dave employs ad hominem as a substitute for argumentation on various points. One example is this:
[Mr. Engwer wrote:]I see no reason to assume that the views of somebody like Irenaeus were equivalent to those of Catholics or Orthodox,
[Dave responded:]I know; this is the problem. Tunnel vision and historical revisionism have this blunting effect after so many years of doing that. By this I mean "equivalent" in terms of being consistent with Catholicism in kernel form, and inconsistent with Protestantism. It's not equivalent in terms of his views being as fully developed as they were later on. But that is our view, so it is no problem for us.
Notice that the entire substance of Dave's response is to simply claim that Irenaeus is "consistent with Catholicism in kernel form" and that he accompanies this bald assertion with allegations that Jason doesn't see the consistency because of years of tunnel vision and historical revisionism! Dave also brings in the irrelevant claim that Irenaeus is "inconsistent with Protestantism," which is one of the tactics we've already discussed above.

h) Outright Laziness

Dave complains at the outset that Mr. Engwer makes "general statements of a sweeping negative nature" but when Dave comes to very specific claims, Dave doesn't bother to examine them carefully. For example, Mr. Engwer points to an article on Papias from Richard Bauckham, but Dave states: "I'm not gonna go read all that. I've spent enough time on this as it is."

i) Double Standards

At one point, Dave accuses Mr. Engwer of misrepresenting Athanasius' position. Dave states:
To the extent that Athanasius supposedly believed in sola Scriptura, just like Protestants do (or closer to them than to Catholics), I myself believe it in exactly the same way. In fact, I got so sick and tired of Protestants playing this game with fathers (even in direct opposition to the consensus of their own historians), that I proved that I believe it too (!): with many "prooftexts" from my own words through the years.
The problem is that Dave didn't take the next step (which gets us back to item (h) above) and demonstrate from Athanasius and from his own words that he does not believe in sola Scriptura. If he did so, he would see what sort of evidence he could find of his own rejection of that idea, whereas there is nothing remotely close to that kind of evidence with respect to Athanasius. The reason is that Athanasius hasn't been misrepresented.

5. The Myth of Sola Scriptura as an Heretical Distinctive (Alternative Title: Augustine Was Quite Happy to Agree with the Arians Regarding Sola Scriptura)

Although Dave refuses to acknowledge the fact (established by many Reformed authors) that many of the church fathers held to Scripture as their only infallible rule of faith, Dave is quick to allege that the "heretics" accepted Sola Scriptura. As we've noted above, regarding Irenaeus, the early heretics with whom he dealt said that Scripture was not enough, that tradition was not enough, and that consequently one needed knowledge one could only get from them (quite parallel, in may respects, to the practical application of the "three-legged stool" that Rome uses).

Dave claims, however:
That was Arius' method, because it was precisely the heretics who adopted sola Scriptura. Arius agreed with the Protestant rule of faith, and he did so for the same exact reason: if one can't trace his beliefs back through an unbroken chain of apostolic succession and tradition (Arius, being a denier of the Trinity clearly couldn't dop [sic] that), then one must become a-historical and pretend to arrive at one's heresies by Scripture Alone.
What is interesting here, however, is that Dave's argument has proved too much. If the Arians really employed sola Scriptura and if sola Scriptura is an invalid rule of faith during our era, then we ought to see the fathers who opposed the Arians pointing out the error of the Arians with respect to their rule of faith. But we do not.

Of course, part of the reason is that the Arians did have apostolic succession in the sense that they were lawfully ordained priests and bishops. Arius himself had been ordained as a priest by an orthodox bishop in Alexandria - so if Arius lacked apostolic succession in that sense, then so did the whole Alexandrian church, including Athanasius, a successor (several ecclesiastical generations after) of the bishop that ordained Arius. So, if simply having a chain of ordination ensured orthodoxy, the Arians would have been orthodox. No one of that era appears to have been so foolish.

In point of fact, we don't see anyone contesting the fact that the Scriptures are the only rule of faith. In fact, we see Augustine saying:
I should not, however, introduce the Council of Nicea to prejudice the case in my favor, nor should you introduce the Council of Ariminum that way. I am not bound by the authority of Ariminum, and you are not bound by that of Nicea. By the authority of the scriptures that are not the property of anyone, but the common witness for both of us, let position do battle with position, case with case, reason with reason.
- See WSA, Answer to Maximinus, Part I, Vol. 18, ed. John Rotelle, O.S.A., trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (New York: New City Press, 1995), p. 282.

6. Conclusion

Much more could be said, though perhaps the quotation from Augustine immediately above says all that needs to be said in terms of whether Dave has correctly imagined the early church. As noted above, I don't mean to speak for either Engwer or Hays or anyone else who may have provided a response to Dave. I hope that the above response may, however, assist the reader who wishes to see some of the holes in Dave's arguments and flaws in the position that Dave feels compelled to try to defend.

- TurretinFan

Unloading 35 Loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" 9/35

Steve Ray has a list of 35 loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" (quotation marks his)(link to the whole list). This is number 9/35. I'm trying to provide the answers in a common format, for easy reference.

9) On what authority, or on what principle, would we accept as Scripture books that we know were not written by one of the twelve apostles?

Simple Answer(s):

We accept them on faith.

Important Qualification(s):

1) We know that the whole Old Testament was not written by one of the twelve apostles. We also accept them on faith.

2) The fact that we accept them on faith doesn't mean that our faith is irrational. Thus, for example, the following are also the case.

a) The Holy Spirit testifies to His word.

b) We have historical evidence that also supports our conclusion that a particular book or passage is Scripture.

c) But ultimately, "my sheep hear my voice" is the governing principle.

- TurretinFan

Necessity of Scripture Reading - Whitaker and the Fathers

William Whitaker:
Nay, the fathers also confess, that a knowledge of, and acquaintance with, the scriptures is necessary for all Christians. Jerome in his commentary upon the Colossians, iii. 16, says: " Hence we see that the laity ought to have not only a sufficient, but an abundant knowledge of the scriptures, and also to instruct each other [FN2]." Chrysostom, in his ninth homily upon the Colossians, writing upon the same passage, remarks that the apostle requires the people to know the word of God, not simply, but in great abundance, οὐχ απλῶς, ἀλλὰ μετὰ πολλῆς τῆς περιουσίας; and adds: "Attend, all ye that are secular (κοσμικοὶ), and have wives and families depending upon you, how he (the apostle) specially commands you to read the scripture; and not merely to read it in a perfunctory manner, but with great diligence," ἀλλὰ μετὰ πολλῆς σπουδῆς. Chrysostom observes in that same place, that the apostle does not say, let the word of God be in you; but, let it dwell in you; and that, πλουσίως, richly [FN3].

OEcumenius too observes upon the same passage, that the doctrine of Christ should dwell in us ὐν πολλῆ δαψιλεία, most abundantly. Now, how are we to obtain so full a knowledge of it as this implies? OEcumenius informs us by subjoining, διὰ τῆς τῶν γραφῶν ἐρεύνης, by searching the scriptures. So Thomas Aquinas in his third lecture upon this chapter: "Some," says he, " are satisfied with a very small portion of the word of God; but the apostle desires we should have much of it [FN1]."

[FN2 Hinc perspicimus non tantum sufficienter, sed etiam abundantur debere lacios scripturarum cognitionem habere, et se invicem docere.—T. xi. 1029. But this Commentary is not Jerome's.]

[FN3 T. xi. p. 391.]

[FN1 Quibusdam sufficit modicum quid de verbo Dei: sed apostolus vult quod habeamus multum, p. 164. 2. T. xvi. Opp. Venet. 1593.]
- William Whitaker, A disputation on Holy Scripture: against the papists, especially Bellarmine and Stapleton, First Controversy, Second Question, Chapter 15 (pp. 239-40 in the Parker 1849 edition)

William Whitaker provides this brief reference to the teachings of fathers after his main argument. I don't want anyone to get the idea that he was trying to argue for the necessity of reading Scripture simply because he thought the church fathers taught it.

As to the necessity of Scripture (not simply of reading it, but of Scripture in general) recall that Whitaker carefully qualified the kind of necessity involved:
Our opponent disputes thus: Scripture is not absolutely necessary; therefore it is not necessary at all. But here lies the Jesuit's error: for it is not every necessity that is absolute; some is only Hypothetical. God could teach us without the holy scriptures, and lead us to eternal life; but he chose to propound his teaching to us in the scriptures. This, therefore, being supposed, it is necessary that we learn and derive the will and doctrine of God from the scriptures. Thus, not even food is simply necessary, because God could easily nourish us without food; but only hypothetically. God indeed formerly shewed himself familiarly to our fathers, and, in a manner, conversed constantly with some distinguished men, to whom he immediately disclosed his will; and then I confess that the scriptures were not necessary: but afterwards he changed this method of teaching his church, and chose that his will should be committed to writing; and then scripture began to be necessary.
- William Whitaker, A disputation on Holy Scripture: against the papists, especially Bellarmine and Stapleton, First Controversy, Sixth Question, Chapter 7 (p. 517 in the Parker 1849 edition)

We see similar sentiments from Caesarius of Arles:

Caesarius, bishop of Arles (470-543):
Similarly, one who refuses to read the sacred writings which have been transmitted from the eternal country should fear that he perhaps will not receive eternal rewards and even not escape endless punishment. So dangerous is it not to read the divine precepts that the Prophet mournfully exclaims: ‘Therefore is my people led away captive, because they had not knowledge.’ ‘If anyone ignores this, he shall be ignored.’ Doubtless, if a man fails to seek God in this world through the sacred lessons, God will refuse to recognize him in eternal bliss. . . . A man should first be willing to listen to God, if he wants to be heard by Him. Indeed, with what boldness does he want God to hear him when he despises God so much that he refuses to read His precepts?
Citation: FC, Vol. 31, Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermons (1-80), Sermon 7.3 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956), pp. 47-48.

Caesarius, bishop of Arles (470-543):
I beseech you, beloved brethren, be eager to engage in divine reading whatever hours you can. Moreover, since what a man procures in this life by reading or good works will be food of his soul forever, let no one try to excuse himself by saying he has not learned letters at all. If those who are illiterate love God in truth, they look for learned people who can read the sacred Scriptures to them.
Citation: FC, Vol. 31, Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermons (1-80), Sermon 8.1 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956), p. 49.

Caesarius, bishop of Arles (470-543):
Therefore consider at once, brethren, and carefully notice that the man who frequently reads or listens to sacred Scripture speaks with God. See, then, whether the Devil can overtake him when he perceives him in constant conversation with God. However, if a man neglects to do this, with what boldness or with what feelings does he believe God will grant him an eternal reward, when he refuses to speak with Him in this world through the divine text?
Citation: FC, Vol. 31, Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermons (1-80), Sermon 8.3 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956), p. 52.

Caesarius, bishop of Arles (470-543):
For this reason I beseech you with fatherly solicitude, equally admonishing and exhorting you, as was already said, to endeavor continually to read the sacred lessons yourselves or willingly to listen to others read them. By thus always thinking over in the treasury of your heart what is just and holy, you may prepare for your souls an eternal spiritual food that will bring you endless bliss.
Citation: FC, Vol. 31, Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermons (1-80), Sermon 8.4 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956), p. 54.

And from Chrysostom.

Chrysostom (about A.D. 349-407):
Never deem it an unnecessary thing that he should be a diligent hearer of the divine Scriptures. For there the first thing he hears will be this, “Honor thy father and thy mother”; so that this makes for thee. Never say, this is the business of monks. Am I making a monk of him? No. There is no need he should become a monk. Why be so afraid of a thing so replete with so much advantage? Make him a Christian. For it is of all things necessary for laymen to be acquainted with the lessons derived from this source; but especially for children. For theirs is an age full of folly; and to this folly are super added the bad examples derived from the heathen tales, where they are made acquainted with those heroes so admired amongst them, slaves of their passions, and cowards with regard to death; as, for example, Achilles, when he relents, when he dies for his concubine, when another gets drunk, and many other things of the sort. He requires therefore the remedies against these things. How is it not absurd to send children out to trades, and to school, and to do all you can for these objects, and yet, not to “bring them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord”? And for this reason truly we are the first to reap the fruits, because we bring up our children to be insolent and profligate, disobedient, and mere vulgar fellows. Let us not then do this; no, let us listen to this blessed Apostle’s admonition. “Let us bring them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord.” Let us give them a pattern. Let us make them from the earliest age apply themselves to the reading of the Scriptures. Alas, that so constantly as I repeat this, I am looked upon as trifling! Still, I shall not cease to do my duty.
- Chrysostom, NPNF1: Vol. XIII, Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, Homily 21.

Notice that here even young children are being commended to the reading of Scripture. Jerome also similarly exhorts a woman, Demetrias, to make reading the Scripture her first priority.

Jerome (about A.D. 347–420):
In what remains of my letter I shall direct all my words to Demetrias herself, whose holiness ennobles her as much as her rank, and of whom it may be said that the higher she climbs the more terrible will be her fall. For the rest, this one thing, child of God, I lay on thee; yea before all, and urge it many times: love to occupy your mind with the reading of scripture.
- Jerome, Letter 130 (to Demetrias), Section 7

- TurretinFan

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Unloading 35 Loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" 8/35

Steve Ray has a list of 35 loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" (quotation marks his)(link to the whole list). This is number 8/35. I'm trying to provide the answers in a common format, for easy reference.

8) How do we know who wrote the books that we call Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Hebrews, and 1, 2, and 3 John?

Simple Answer(s):

We don't.

Important Qualification(s):

1) We don't know, but we have good historical reasons to assign authorship for all of those books besides Hebrews. We don't know who wrote Hebrews, and we're mostly guessing about who the author is.

2) It doesn't really matter who wrote those books. We also don't know who wrote Esther, the books of the kings and Chronicles, and many of the psalms. We still accept them as the Word of God.

- TurretinFan

Magisterium More Sufficient than Scripture? (Part 3)

[Cont'd from previous section]

Is the Roman Catholic Magisterium More Sufficient than Sacred Scripture?
Bryan Cross answered on the subject of the ability of the Scripture to interpret Scripture sufficiently, from Scripture, reason, and tradition.
(Part 3)

Augustine (about A.D. 354-430):
The divine scriptures, which have lifted us up from their earthly and human meaning to one that is divine and heavenly, have stooped down to a language that is current even among the most unlearned.
- Augustine, John Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Responses to Miscellaneous Questions, Miscellany of Eighty-Three Questions, LII, Part I, Vol. 12, trans. Boniface Ramsey, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2008), p. 65.

This statement from Augustine speaks to the fact that the Scriptures are expressed, in many places, in language that is simple and easy to understand. Similarly, Augustine goes on to explain that the clear parts of Scripture are given to help us understand the less clear parts, though he does not mean to suggest that the less clear parts could not be understood by a careful and devout reader.

Augustine (about A.D. 354-430):
For in certain places in the scriptures a clearer explanation is given of something that a careful and devout reader might understand as well in other places where it is less clear. For our God has, by the Holy Spirit, set up the divine books for the salvation of souls in such a way that he wishes not only to nourish us with what is obvious but also to exercise us with what is obscure.
- Augustine, John Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Responses to Miscellaneous Questions, Miscellany of Eighty-Three Questions, LIII.2, Part I, Vol. 12, trans. Boniface Ramsey, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2008), p. 68.

These descriptions of the Scripture well summarize much of the preceding discussion. Let's continue, however, with Bryan's argument. After asserting that the need for something to tell us what is clear in Scripture, Bryan suggests we might respond "Scripture," which he claims then would simply regress the question to the previous point - how do we properly interpret the Scriptures that tell us which ones are clear, so that we can interpret the others and so on. He then asserts:
If there were something in Scripture itself that prevented the regress, then all truth-loving and adequately intelligent persons who come to Scripture would all arrive at all the same conclusions regarding its interpretation. But obviously they do not.
This statement amounts to an interesting ad hominem. Apparently if something did stop the regress would be that "all truth-loving and adequately intelligent persons who come to [X] would all arrive at all the same conclusions regarding its interpretation," but there are internal disagreements within Roman Catholicism over various teachings of the Magisterium. So, Bryan is left in one of three positions: he can accuse at least half of those who disagree as not being truth-loving or not being adequately intelligent (the ad hominem approach); he can maintain his claim about regress and agreement and claim that the RC position also doesn't avoid the regress; or he can acknowledge what we already know, namely that the test of universal agreement is a bogus test.

Part of the problem with Bryan's criticism (one he may be trying to avoid by adding "truthloving") is that there are a variety of reasons for people disagreeing about Scripture, sometimes the reason being the person himself.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):
And it is obvious that these dissensions concerning the faith result from a distorted mind, which twists the words of Scripture into conformity with its opinion, instead of adjusting that opinion to the words of Scripture.
- Hilary of Poiters, NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book VII, §4.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):
If any man propose to express what is known in other words than those supplied by God [namely the Scriptures], he must inevitably either display his own ignorance, or else leave his readers’ minds in utter perplexity.
- Hilary of Poiters, NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book VII, §38.

Bryan's next comment is similar:
Hence, Scripture does not provide its own self-evident hermeneutical foundation that by necessary inferences closes off all false interpretive alternatives, leaving only the one correct interpretation of Scripture.
This claim is in many ways similar to Bryan's previous claim. It's additionally notable that there doesn't have to be only one correct interpretation of Scripture. Both Reformed and Roman Catholic theology recognizes that there can be both literal and spiritual senses to the same passage. Additionally, God is able to use (and sometimes does use) word plays such as double entendres, in which two senses are simultaneously intended.

Aquinas (about A.D. 1225–1274):
The author of Holy Writ is God, in whose power it is to signify His meaning, not by words only (as man also can do), but also by things themselves. So, whereas in every other science things are signified by words, this science has the property, that the things signified by the words have themselves also a signification. Therefore that first signification whereby words signify things belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal. That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it. Now this spiritual sense has a threefold division. For as the Apostle says (Hebrews 10:1) the Old Law is a figure of the New Law, and Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. i) "the New Law itself is a figure of future glory." Again, in the New Law, whatever our Head has done is a type of what we ought to do. Therefore, so far as the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law, there is the allegorical sense; so far as the things done in Christ, or so far as the things which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do, there is the moral sense. But so far as they signify what relates to eternal glory, there is the anagogical sense. Since the literal sense is that which the author intends, and since the author of Holy Writ is God, Who by one act comprehends all things by His intellect, it is not unfitting, as Augustine says (Confess. xii), if, even according to the literal sense, one word in Holy Writ should have several senses.
- Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, First Part, Question 1, Article 10

Nevertheless, let's continue with Bryan's argument:
So, without such a hermeneutical foundation, the position (that Scripture alone has interpretive authority) is left with the regress problem. There are only two ways to avoid this regress. Either deny that Scripture needs to be interpreted, and thus abandon the claim that Scripture interprets Scripture, or locate a regress-stopping point in human persons holding interpretive authority.
The first portion of this argument has been addressed above. The second part of this argument is to suggest that the supposed regression problem can be avoided if the interpreter is not Scripture but instead "human persons." It should be immediately obvious that none of the arguments against Scripture being its own interpreter above were actually in any way unique to Scripture. In other words, we could swap in "Magisterium" for Scripture in Bryan's critique and if it stands against Scripture it also stands against the Magisterium.

Bryan seems to anticipate this objection, as he continues the argument thus:
Denying that Scripture needs to be interpreted at all, is sufficiently naive and self-evidently false so as to be self-refuting. What about the human alternative? You might think that if human beings have interpretive authority that would not avoid the regress problem. But it does. That's because there is a relevant ontological difference between a person and a book.
We're about to let Bryan attempt to demonstrate his supposedly relevant ontological difference between a person and a book. However, before we do, we should address his initial point about Scripture not needing interpretation. As noted above, there is an important difference between saying that some obscure parts of Scripture need interpretation and saying that the clear parts require interpretation. Bryan's comments ignore this difference which results in the various absurdities already set forth above.

At this point Bryan quoted himself from his article:
The problem with this dilemma is that it ignores the qualitative ontological distinction between persons and books, and so it falsely assumes that if a book needs an authoritative interpreter in order to function as an ecclesial authority, so must a living person.
There is a subtle shift taking place here. Instead of arguing that the book needs an authoritative interpreter in order to act as an authority, there is a change from "authority" to "ecclesial authority." The change appears to be an attempt to avoid the original contention, namely that the Scriptures can be our final authority in matters of faith and morals.

For context, it is necessary to see what dilemma the article is referring to. The dilemma is:
Either the individual needs the guidance of an interpretive authority when interpreting Scripture, or not. If the individual needs the guidance of an interpretive authority when interpreting Scripture, then he will need the guidance of another interpretive authority when interpreting the first interpretive authority. And he will need the guidance of third interpretive authority when interpreting the second interpretive authority. That would lead to an infinite regress. But there cannot be an infinite regress, hence the individual does not need the guidance of an interpretive authority when interpreting Scripture.
As noted above, the alleged escape from this regress is to substitute "a living person" as the second (or third, or whatever) authority. Bryan attempts to explain why this matters, as follows:
A book contains a monologue with respect to the reader. An author can often anticipate the thoughts and questions that might arise in the mind of the reader. But a book cannot hear the reader’s questions here and now, and answer them.
There are two aspects to which may respond here. The first is that a merely human writer can frequently anticipate most of the reader's possible questions, yet the Scriptures are not the product of mere men. Holy Scripture is inspired by God, and God both can anticipate every possible human question and already knows all the questions that will be asked. Additionally, God can answer (in advance, in the Scriptures themselves) those questions he wishes to answer.

Augustine (about A.D. 354-430):
In the same way, therefore, the heretic shall not stand in the face of the Catholic, who made no account of his labors, when the laws of the Catholic emperors were put in force; but the Catholic shall stand in the face of the heretic, who made no account of his labors when the madness of the ungodly Circumcelliones was allowed to have its way. For the passage of Scripture decides the question in itself, seeing that it does not say, Then shall men stand, but "Then shall the righteous stand;" and they shall stand "in great boldness" because they stand in the power of a good conscience.
- Augustine, Letter 185, Chapter 8, Section 41

Origen (about A.D. 185–254):
Let us see, then, briefly what holy Scripture has to say regarding good and evil, and what answer we are to return to the questions, "How is it that God created evil?" and, "How is He incapable of persuading and admonishing men?"
- Origen, Contra Celsus, Book IV, Chapter 54

In fact, of course, that's why scripture is sometimes referred as oracles: Acts 7:38 This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us: Romans 3:2 Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. And why Scripture can provide us with answers to those who question us. Psalm 119:42 So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me: for I trust in thy word.

The second aspect is that the magisterium of the Roman Catholic church is not a living person to whom one can go and ask questions -- at any rate the extraordinary magisterium is not.

The article continued:
A living person, however, can do so. A living person can engage in genuine dialogue with the reader, whereas a book cannot.
The magisterium of the Roman Catholic church does not typically engage in dialogs with the readers of Scripture in its extraordinary function. It may in its ordinary function (i.e. one's local bishop may sit down with one and talk about Scriptural interpretation), but that ordinary function is not a comparable authority to that of Scripture. Think about it: there have been about 21 allegedly ecumenical councils and (depending who you ask) about half that number of ex cathedra papal definitions.

The article again:
Fr. Kimel talks about that here when he quotes Chesterton as saying that though we can put a living person in the dock, we cannot put a book in the dock.
You can't cross-examine the council of Nicaea or even the Second Vatican Council. You can't cross-examine any of the popes who have given ex cathedra definitions. In theory one could put Benedict XVI in the dock, but in practice one cannot. One certainly can't put the whole "magisterium" in the dock.

And again the article:
In this respect, a person can do what a book cannot; a person can correct global misunderstandings and answer comprehensive interpretive questions.
Did you notice how Bryan added in "global" and "comprehensive"? The reason is the obvious futility of hoping that the Roman magisterium would answer any individual misunderstanding or particular interpretive question. Bryan appears essentially to have conceded this. This problem with Bryan's article has a feedback effect, however. While a merely human book may not be able to anticipate every single misunderstanding, it can anticipate global misunderstandings and comprehensive interpretive questions. Furthermore, such tasks are even easier for God: the true author of Scripture.

Nevertheless, let us continue reading the article:
A book by its very nature has a limited intrinsic potency for interpretive self-clarification; a person, on the other hand, by his very nature has, in principle, an unlimited intrinsic potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification.
Again, this characterizes the question oddly. The proper question is not whether the book (or person) has limited or unlimited interpretive self-clarification, but simply whether it has sufficient. Furthermore, of course, self-clarification is not possible for the 21 supposedly ecumenical councils, or for any of the popes who issued ex cathedra statements. The only way that further clarification in the Roman system can occur is if there is some new statement by some new generation of the magisterium. The only way in which this is "self-clarification" is when we treat the magisterium anthropomorphically as though it were a person. Still, even when we do so, if every statement that is made must be interpreted, and consequently requires a further statement by the magisterium, the theoretically limitless ability of the magisterium to issue new clarification doesn't actually stop the regress, it just continues the regress. When we further consider how rarely the extraordinary magisterium acts to define dogma (or to interpret Scripture), the practical reality is that the Roman extraordinary magisterium does not clarify itself on any sort of regular basis that would be helpful to the average person.

Nevertheless, let's continue with the article:
This unlimited potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification ensures that the hermeneutical spiral may reach its end. A book cannot speak more about itself than it does at the moment at which it is completed. A person, by contrast, remains perpetually capable of clarifying further any of his previous speech-acts.
Most of this has already been addressed above. The person at the present time is never enough, if the concept of infinite regression is workable in the first place (as noted above, it is not). In other words, if there are no statements so clear that they do not require further interpretation, even the magisterium at the present time requires further interpretation - and it always will, even if it is always willing to do so.

That ended Bryan's quotation from his own article. He then concluded:
If the possession of interpretive authority by persons did not avoid the regress problem, then this problem would continue in heaven, since we would need an interpretive authority to interpret the interpretive authority, etc. etc. But that's obviously false. So the possession by persons of interpretive authority does avoid the regress problem. In short, some humans having interpretive authority is the only real option.
Bryan's argument here is flawed. First, infinite regress could be solved another way in heaven: namely by giving the elect an innate knowledge of everything that God wants them to know. Second, infinite regress may simply not be a problem at all. That would explain why it is not going to be a problem in heaven. In short, the fact that this is not going to be a problem in heaven may simply be viewed as evidence that infinite regress is not actually a problem in general - whether for Scripture or for people.

[to be continued in section 4]