Friday, April 22, 2011

Steve Ray's Response to Michael Welton Critiqued

Steve Ray has posted a response to comments made by Michael Welton in Popes and Patriarchs. There is a lot of filler in the response, but Mr. Ray aims to address essentially two issues (1) Basil's words of dismissal of Rome and (2) Basil's failure to appeal to the Bishop of Rome as a supreme authority.

As to the first issue, Basil himself wrote:
I accuse no one; I pray that I may have love to all, and "especially unto them who are of the household of faith;" [Galatians 6:10] and therefore I congratulate those who have received the letter from Rome. And, although it is a grand testimony in their favour, I only hope it is true and confirmed by facts. But I shall never be able to persuade myself on these grounds to ignore Meletius, or to forget the Church which is under him, or to treat as small, and of little importance to the true religion, the questions which originated the division. I shall never consent to give in, merely because somebody is very much elated at receiving a letter from men. Even if it had come down from heaven itself, but he does not agree with the sound doctrine of the faith, I cannot look upon him as in communion with the saints.
Steve Ray cuts the mention of Rome out of the quotation, beginning at "And, although it is a grand testimony ..." but I have provided it to you, since it is significant to the question.

Steve Ray's response is that Basil's words must be understood as hyperbole. "Why? Because if Basil here denounces Rome, he denounces God as well." (p. 6) Of course, Mr. Ray's argument is empty: Romanism (the view that denouncing Rome is denouncing God) is not Basil's worldview. Steve Ray says we have to view Basil's words as hyperbole because if we don't they conflict with Romanism. The "begging the question" fallacy is aptly illustrated by his remarks.

Steve Ray goes on to complain that Basil could have been even more explicit in his denial of Rome's authority ("He could have easily said, 'I reject Rome's presumed authority which they have unlawfully arrogated to themselves.'" pp. 6-7). But Mr. Ray's example mistakenly assumes that in Basil's day Rome claimed universal authority.

In any event, "I shall never consent to give in, merely because somebody is very much elated at receiving a letter from men," is clear enough of a testimony that Basil doesn't view the letter from Rome as having supreme authority. Basil makes a direct appeal to a higher authority by stating, "Even if it had come down from heaven itself, but he does not agree with the sound doctrine of the faith, I cannot look upon him as in communion with the saints," in which he seemingly alludes to Galatians 1:8 "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." One is left in full agreement that while conceivably Basil could have used even stronger language than he did, the language he used is plenty strong.

It should be noted that this is not the only place where Basil criticizes the West. Basil wrote:
I am moved to say, as Diomede said,
“Would God, Atrides, thy request were yet to undertake;

…he’s proud enough.”
[Homer, Iliad ix.]

Really lofty souls, when they are courted, get haughtier than ever. If the Lord be propitious to us, what other thing do we need? If the anger of the Lord lasts on, what help can come to us from the frown of the West? Men who do not know the truth, and do not wish to learn it, but are prejudiced by false suspicions, are doing now as they did in the case of Marcellus, when they quarrelled with men who told them the truth, and by their own action strengthened the cause of heresy.
Basil of Caesarea, Letter 239 (to Eusebius of Samosata), Section 2

On the second point, the question of whether Basil never appealed to the bishop of Rome as the supreme authority, Steve Ray attempts to answer the question by quoting from Basil's Letter 70.

Mr. Ray writes:
Also, in Letter 70 Basil addresses Pope Damasus as "right honorable father" and admits that "nearly all the East . . . is being agitated" and concedes that the pope's authority is "the only possible solution to our difficulties."
Remarkably, Letter 70 is without address, although it is widely believed to have been written to Damasus of Rome, the addressee is identified only by various affectionate names such as: "right honourable father" and "your mercifulness."

Moreover, it should be noted that Basil uses this affectionate term for Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria in his letter 66 to Athanasius (the exact same Greek term: "τιμιώτατε Πάτερ") and similarly refers to Athanasius this way in letter 90 ("ὁ τιμιώτατος ἡμῶν πατὴρ"). I say this not to argue that Athanasius is the addressee, but simply to point out that at least equal dignity is given to Athanasius: this is not a proto-papalist speaking, but simply a bishop speaking to another esteemed bishop. It should be noted that Basil mentions that the addressee is in the same see as Dionysus, and while there were notable Dionysuses (Dionysi?) of both Alexandria and Rome, a references to "the East" (defined in the text as "Illyricum to Egypt") seems to weigh in favor of Rome as opposed to Alexandria.

But lets move along from the affectionate title to the actual request. His actual request to his addressee is this:
I have been constrained to beseech you by letter to be moved to help us, and to send some of those, who are like minded with us, either to conciliate the dissentient and bring back the Churches of God into friendly union, or at all events to make you see more plainly who are responsible for the unsettled state in which we are, that it may be obvious to you for the future with whom it befits you to be in communion.
There is not here any request for exercise of authority and power. Instead, the request is for aid and encouragement:
We are lamenting no mere overthrow of earthly buildings, but the capture of Churches; what we see before us is no mere bodily slavery, but a carrying away of souls into captivity, perpetrated day by day by the champions of heresy. Should you not, even now, be moved to succour us, ere long all will have fallen under the dominion of the heresy, and you will find none left to whom you may hold out your hand.
Without further commentary, I think it is worth pointing out the use here by Basil of "churches" (plural) as distinct from buildings. Basil may view communion as universal, but his ecclesiology is one in which there are many churches.


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