Saturday, December 05, 2009

Some Early Christian Writings on Justification

Clement of Rome on Justification:
And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever.
- Clement of Rome, (his, not Paul's) 1st Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter 32

Ignatius on Justification:
But to me Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient: His cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which is by Him, are undefiled monuments of antiquity; by which I desire, through your prayers, to be justified.
- Ignatius, Letter to the Philadelphians, Chapter VIII (Short Version)

To such persons I say that my archives are Jesus Christ, to disobey whom is manifest destruction. My authentic archives are His cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which bears on these things, by which I desire, through your prayers, to be justified.
- Ignatius, Letter to the Philadelphians, Chapter VIII (Long Version)

Mathetes on Justification:
But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!
- Mathetes, Letter to Diognetus, Chapter 9

Justin Martyr on Justification:
For if there was no need of circumcision before Abraham, or of the observance of Sabbaths, of feasts and sacrifices, before Moses; no more need is there of them now, after that, according to the will of God, Jesus Christ the Son of God has been born without sin, of a virgin sprung from the stock of Abraham. For when Abraham himself was in uncircumcision, he was justified and blessed by reason of the faith which he reposed in God, as the Scripture tells. Moreover, the Scriptures and the facts themselves compel us to admit that He received circumcision for a sign, and not for righteousness.
- Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 23

Irenaeus on Justification:
And again, confirming his former words, he says, “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore, that they which are of faith are the children of Abraham. But the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, declared to Abraham beforehand, That in thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which are of faith shall be blessed with faithful Abraham.”47304730 Gal. iii. 6, etc. Thus, then, they who are of faith shall be blessed with faithful Abraham, and these are the children of Abraham. Now God made promise of the earth to Abraham and his seed; yet neither Abraham nor his seed, that is, those who are justified by faith, do now receive any 562 inheritance in it; but they shall receive it at the resurrection of the just. For God is true and faithful; and on this account He said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 32, Section 2

For the Lord is the good man of the house, who rules the entire house of His Father; and who delivers a law suited both for slaves and those who are as yet undisciplined; and gives fitting precepts to those that are free, and have been justified by faith, as well as throws His own inheritance open to those that are sons.
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 9, Section 1

And that man was not justified by these things, but that they were given as a sign to the people, this fact shows,— that Abraham himself, without circumcision and without observance of Sabbaths, “believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God.” Then, again, Lot, without circumcision, was brought out from Sodom, receiving salvation from God. So also did Noah, pleasing God, although he was uncircumcised, receive the dimensions [of the ark], of the world of the second race [of men]. Enoch, too, pleasing God, without circumcision, discharged the office of God’s legate to the angels although he was a man, and was translated, and is preserved until now as a witness of the just judgment of God, because the angels when they had transgressed fell to the earth for judgment, but the man who pleased [God] was translated for salvation. Moreover, all the rest of the multitude of those righteous men who lived before Abraham, and of those patriarchs who preceded Moses, were justified independently of the things above mentioned, and without the law of Moses. As also Moses himself says to the people in Deuteronomy: “The Lord thy God formed a covenant in Horeb. The Lord formed not this covenant with your fathers, but for you.”
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 16, Section 2

The Lord, therefore, was not unknown to Abraham, whose day he desired to see; nor, again, was the Lord’s Father, for he had learned from the Word of the Lord, and believed Him; wherefore it was accounted to him by the Lord for righteousness. For faith towards God justifies a man; and therefore he said, “I will stretch forth my hand to the most high God, who made the heaven and the earth.”
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 5, Section 5

For “all men come short of the glory of God,”41834183 Rom. iii. 23. [Another testimony to the mercy of God in the judgment of the unevangelized. There must have been some reason for the secrecy with which “that presbyter’s” name is guarded. Irenæus may have scrupled to draw the wrath of the Gnostics upon any name but his own.] and are not justified of themselves, but by the advent of the Lord,—they who earnestly direct their eyes towards His light.
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 27, Section 2

And that the Lord did not abrogate the natural [precepts] of the law, by which man [Editor's footnote: That is, as Harvey observes, the natural man, as described in Rom. ii. 27.] is justified, which also those who were justified by faith, and who pleased God, did observe previous to the giving of the law, but that He extended and fulfilled them, is shown from His words. “For,” He remarks, “it has been said to them of old time, Do not commit adultery. But I say unto you, That every one who hath looked upon a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 13, Section 1


Arminius' Supposed Impact on Calvinism

Dan (aka GodIsMyJudge) has provided a post alleging another impact of Arminius on Calvinism (link to his post). The first part of his post I'll pass over, since I feel my previous post (link to my previous post) has adequately addressed that issue.

However, Dan states:
TF notes well the WCF is open to supra, but WCF is also open to unlimited atonement. It was written such that both 5 point Calvinists and 4 pointers would be satisfied. TF himself has noted Arminius' influence on Amyraldianism. So that's another way in which Arminius impacted Calvinism.
No, the WCF is not open to unlimited atonement. The WCF states:
To all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption, he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same; making intercession for them, and revealing unto them, in and by the Word, the mysteries of salvation; effectually persuading them by his Spirit to believe and obey; and governing their hearts by his Word and Spirit; overcoming all their enemies by his almighty power and wisdom, in such manner and ways as are most consonant to his wonderful and unsearchable dispensation.
- Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 8, Paragraph 8

Similarly, the Westminster Larger Catechism explains:
Q. 59. Who are made partakers of redemption through Christ?

A. Redemption is certainly applied, and effectually communicated, to all those for whom Christ hath purchased it; who are in time by the Holy Ghost enabled to believe in Christ according to the gospel.
- Westminster Larger Catechism, Question/Answer 59

So, no. While Arminius may have been an influence on Amyraut and the school of Saumur, the Amyraldian position is excluded by the Westminster Confession of Faith.


The real Francis Turretin on: Holy Days

Mark Horne has a re-post of an old post he had done on Christmas celebration and the Reformed tradition. Embedded within his post are some quotations from the real Francis Turretin on the subject of holidays (link to post). While Mark Horne takes the opportunity for some potshots at my Scottish Presbyterian brethren, Turretin does provide a generally balanced view of the subject, from a Reformed perspective.

Apollinarianism vs. Orthodoxy

One commenter on my blog requested an explanation of the difference between Apollinarianism and orthodoxy.

Apollinarianism is the view that Jesus had a true body and human soul, but not a rational human spirit/mind - instead he had (according to Apollinaris the younger) only a divine spirit/mind. In some ways this is similar to the monophysite position that alleged that Jesus had only one will, namely the divine will. By this, Apollinaris created a union that blended the human and divine natures. Thus, Apollinaris could speak of the crucifixion of the Logos and the worship of the flesh of Jesus, since there was only one nature of Jesus - a blended human/divine nature.

The Orthodox position is that Jesus was fully God and fully man. Thus, Jesus was one person who had both a true human nature and a divine nature. The proof of this doctrine, against the Apollinarian doctrine, can get somewhat nuanced. However, the basic argument might be summarized in this way: if the divine nature is changed in any way it is no longer the divine nature: similarly if the human nature is incomplete (such as by lacking a rational spirit/mind), then Jesus was not made in every way like us, yet without sin.


Friday, December 04, 2009

Visualizing the Flow of Communication and Ultimate Interpreters

The chart above shows the relationship of various parties with respect to a flow of communication. First, let's consider the left hand side of the chart. God spoke directly to Adam and Moses. Moses spoke directly to the people of Israel, but he also provided Scripture. Scripture speaks both to individual believers and the church, and the church speaks to individual believers.

On the other side, the Roman Catholic view with respect to public revelation is that it comes through the church, either directly from the church to Roman Catholics, or via Scripture, which Roman Catholics are not to read contrary to the teachings of their church.

It should be apparent, looking at a chart like this, that both Reformed believers and Roman Catholics claim that God is their ultimate authority. But here's a very odd thing we see sometimes in Roman Catholic arguments against Sola Scriptura. They make comments like this: “if the Holy Spirit directly and immediately [not through the Magisterium of the Church] guides my interpretation of Scripture (WCF I.10), then not only am I my own ultimate interpreter of Scripture, but I am my own ultimate interpreter of what the Holy Spirit is saying.” (Source, Comment by Bryan Cross - bracketed item in original)(Brought to my attention by Dr. White)

One thing, of course, is true: in any chain of communication, you interpret what you hear. So, if you are Adam, you interpret God's very voice. If you are people of Israel, you interpret God's voice as repeated by Moses. If you read the Scriptures, you interpret them. If you sit under a preacher, you interpret what the preacher tells you. Likewise, if you are a Roman Catholic, you interpret Scripture (assuming you read it) and your church.

You are always at the last link in the chain that ends with you, so you are always the "ultimate" interpreter, in some sense, of what you hear.

What is odd is the idea, apparently propounded by Mr. Cross, that it would be worse, not better, to be receiving communication directly from the Holy Spirit, as opposed to indirectly through the church. His rational as to why this would be bad is, that you would be the "ultimate interpreter" not only of Scripture but also of the Holy Spirit Himself. But who in their right mind doubts that it would be better to receive God's word directly from God rather than through some other intermediate mechanism? How does the inescapable reality that you will have to interpret what you hear change the fact that more direct revelation from God is preferable to less direct revelation from God?


Justin Martyr's Source of Apostolic Information - the Memoirs of the Apostles

Justin Martyr's biography is necessarily a bit uncertain. Nevertheless, according to our best guesses, Justin Martyr was born around the year of our Lord 100, only a few years after the last of the apostles, the Apostle John, died. Thus, one might imagine that Justin Martyr's knowledge of the Apostles' teachings would come primarily from oral sources. However, Justin actually appeals to the apostles' writings rather than an oral tradition when disputing with his Jewish opponent, Trypho.

For [Christ] called one of His disciples— previously known by the name of Simon—Peter; since he recognised Him to be Christ the Son of God, by the revelation of His Father: and since we find it recorded in the memoirs of His apostles that He is the Son of God, and since we call Him the Son, we have understood that He proceeded before all creatures from the Father by His power and will (for He is addressed in the writings of the prophets in one way or another as Wisdom, and the Day, and the East, and a Sword, and a Stone, and a Rod, and Jacob, and Israel); and that He became man by the Virgin, in order that the disobedience which proceeded from the serpent might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin.
- Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 100 (emphasis added, footnotes omitted)

For they that saw Him crucified shook their heads each one of them, and distorted their lips, and twisting their noses to each other, they spake in mockery the words which are recorded in the memoirs of His apostles: ‘He said he was the Son of God: let him come down; let God save him.’
- Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 101 (emphasis added, footnotes omitted)

For the power of His strong word, by which He always confuted the Pharisees and Scribes, and, in short, all your nation’s teachers that questioned Him, had a cessation like a plentiful and strong spring, the waters of which have been turned off, when He kept silence, and chose to return no answer to any one in the presence of Pilate; as has been declared in the memoirs of His apostles, in order that what is recorded by Isaiah might have efficacious fruit, where it is written, ‘The Lord gives me a tongue, that I may know when I ought to speak.’
- Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 102 (emphasis added, footnotes omitted)

For this devil, when [Jesus] went up from the river Jordan, at the time when the voice spake to Him, ‘Thou art my Son: this day have I begotten Thee,’ is recorded in the memoirs of the apostles to have come to Him and tempted Him, even so far as to say to Him, ‘Worship me;’ and Christ answered him, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan: thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.’
- Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 103 (emphasis added, footnotes omitted)

Moreover, the statement, ‘All my bones are poured and dispersed like water; my heart has become like wax, melting in the midst of my belly,’ was a prediction of that which happened to Him on that night when men came out against Him to the Mount of Olives to seize Him. For in the memoirs which I say were drawn up by His apostles and those who followed them, [it is recorded] that His sweat fell down like drops of blood while He was praying, and saying, ‘If it be possible, let this cup pass:’ His heart and also His bones trembling; His heart being like wax melting in His belly: in order that we may perceive that the Father wished His Son really to undergo such sufferings for our sakes, and may not say that He, being the Son of God, did not feel what was happening to Him and inflicted on Him.
- Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 103 (emphasis added, footnotes omitted)

And the statement, ‘Thou hast brought me into the dust of death; for many dogs have surrounded me: the assembly of the wicked have beset me round. They pierced my hands and my feet. They did tell all my bones. They did look and stare upon me. They parted my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture,’—was a prediction, as I said before, of the death to which the synagogue of the wicked would condemn Him, whom He calls both dogs and hunters, declaring that those who hunted Him were both gathered together and assiduously striving to condemn Him. And this is recorded to have happened in the memoirs of His apostles. And I have shown that, after His crucifixion, they who crucified Him parted His garments among them.
- Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 104 (emphasis added, footnotes omitted)

For I have already proved that He was the only-begotten of the Father of all things, being begotten in a peculiar manner Word and Power by Him, and having afterwards become man through the Virgin, as we have learned from the memoirs.
- Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 105 (emphasis added, footnotes omitted)

The remainder of the Psalm makes it manifest that He knew His Father would grant to Him all things which He asked, and would raise Him from the dead; and that He urged all who fear God to praise Him because He had compassion on all races of believing men, through the mystery of Him who was crucified; and that He stood in the midst of His brethren the apostles (who repented of their flight from Him when He was crucified, after He rose from the dead, and after they were persuaded by Himself that, before His passion He had mentioned to them that He must suffer these things, and that they were announced beforehand by the prophets), and when living with them sang praises to God, as is made evident in the memoirs of the apostles.
- Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 106 (emphasis added, footnotes omitted)

And that He would rise again on the third day after the crucifixion, it is written in the memoirs that some of your nation, questioning Him, said, ‘Show us a sign;’ and He replied to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and no sign shall be given them, save the sign of Jonah.’
- Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 107 (emphasis added, footnotes omitted)

As you can see from the nine examples above, Justin was not shy about appealing to the gospels, even when dialoguing with a non-Christian. Furthermore, note especially item (7) above, where Justin indicates that he learned this information from the memoirs. Notice that he doesn't say, "as the older Christians remember," but instead indicates that the Gospels themselves are his source of knowledge on this subject.

This is not surprising when we read, in Justin First Apology, about the weekly worship in Justin's church:
And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.
- Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 57 (emphasis added, footnotes omitted)

Finally, note that Justin actually indicates that the specific way that the Apostles delivered the tradition of the Eucharist was in the memoirs composed by them:
For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone.
- Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 66 (emphasis added, footnotes omitted)

- TurretinFan

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Didn't Augustine Say That He Wouldn't Believe the Gospel but for the Catholic Church?

I anticipate a response to my post on the Augustinian approach of seeking the Church through Scripture. The response is to provide the following quotation:
But should you meet with a person not yet believing the gospel, how would you reply to him were he to say, I do not believe? For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.
- Augustine, Against the Epistle of Manichaeus Called Fundamental, Chapter 5

Lots of folks have provided responses to this already:
Augustine, therefore, does not here say that the faith of the godly is founded on the authority of the Church; nor does he mean that the certainty of the gospel depends upon it; he merely says that unbelievers would have no certainty of the gospel, so as thereby to win Christ, were they not influenced by the consent of the Church. And he clearly shows this to be his meaning, by thus expressing himself a little before: “When I have praised my own creed, and ridiculed yours, who do you suppose is to judge between us; or what more is to be done than to quit those who, inviting us to certainty, afterwards command us to believe uncertainty, and follow those who invite us, in the first instance, to believe what we are not yet able to comprehend, that waxing stronger through faith itself, we may become able to understand what we believe—no longer men, but God himself internally strengthening and illuminating our minds? These unquestionably are the words of Augustine (August. Cont. Epist. Fundament. chap. 4); and the obvious inference from them is, that this holy man had no intention to suspend our faith in Scripture on the nod or decision of the Church, but only to intimate (what we too admit to be true) that those who are not yet enlightened by the Spirit of God, become teachable by reverence for the Church, and thus submit to learn the faith of Christ from the gospel. In this way, though the authority of the Church leads us on, and prepares us to believe in the gospel, it is plain that Augustine would have the certainty of the godly to rest on a very different foundation.
- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.7.3

Whenever Augustine speaks of the Church, Roman controversialists at once conclude that he refers to the local Roman Church. For instance, when he said " I should not have believed the Gospel except the authority of the Church had moved me thereunto,"[FN: Cont. Ep. Fund., c. v. Tom. viii. p. 154. Edit, as above.] they would have us believe that he looked to the Roman Church as that authority. What possible reference can these words have to the Roman Church more than to his own Church in Africa, to the Greek Church, or any other Church ? Augustine was arguing with a Manichee, who sought to enforce a gospel of his own without dispute. Augustine opposed that gospel as not acknowledged by the Universal Church. The Romish Bishop Canus has himself given the explanation. In this case he says Augustine puts the question : " What if you find one who doth not believe the Gospel ? What motive would you use to such a one to bring him to your belief ? I, for my part (he adds), should not have been brought to embrace the Gospel if the Church's authority had not swayed me to it." [FN: Canus, Loc. TbeoL, Lib. 2, c. 8, p. 52. Colon. 1605.] We have it sufficiently clear what Augustine meant by the Church from the extracts I have already given, and on that head lie adds the further testimony :—"By the mouth of God, which is the truth, I know the Church of God, which is partaker of the Truth."[FN: In Pslm. Ivii., p. 545, Tom. iv. Paris, 1681.] Let the Roman Church bring herself to that test!


I have already referred to the oft quoted saying that Augustine would not believe the Gospel, but that the authority of the Church moved him. Bellarmine quotes this also. Having the concurrent authority of the entire Christian world, Augustine believed, and such concurrent authority induced him to believe, the Gospel. He was converted to Christianity. Christianity was founded on the Gospel, which the entire Church accepted. What better motive could a man have, in passing from Paganism or other heresy to Christianity ? Religion is a matter of education, not a spontaneous inspiration. Bellarmine desired us to believe that Augustine pointed to the authority of the Roman Church as his inducement to accept the Gospel. Rome was but a small part of the whole of Christendom. Had the Roman Church never existed, Augustine would have had the same motives for belief in the Gospel.


It will now be my task to examine every single quotation as from Augustine's writings cited by Dr. Wiseman in these Lectures, and I venture to state that the reader will be satisfied that the appeal results in a lamentable failure.

I. The first passage quoted is in Lecture V., on " The Catholic Rule of Faith" (p. 140): — "Disputing with a Manichee — he says expressly, as it should be rendered from the peculiarity of the style — ' I should not have believed the Gospel if the authority of the Catholic Church had not led or moved me.' "

I have already fully examined this citation, and it is only necessary to add that Augustine nowhere gives us to understand that the Catholic Church was localized in the communion over which the Bishop of Rome presided, or that he derived his knowledge of, or belief in, the Gospel from that quarter.
- Charles Hastings Collette, Saint Augustine (Aurelius Augustinus, episcopus Hipponiensis), pp. 41, 103, and 106, respectively.

And this leads me to notice the famous passage so frequently objected to our views from Augustine. Writing against the Manichees, he says, "But I would not believe the Gospel, if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so."

But that "the authority of the Catholic Church" was not the sole motive that induced him to believe the Gospel, is evident from what we have already quoted above from his Confessions; nor does the passage imply as much, but only that "the authority of the Catholic Church" was one necessary ground upon which his belief rested; and that that "authority" was not absolute in his view, is evident, not only from other passages, but from the words that precede, where, after enumerating the motives which induced him to prefer the Catholic Church, and remarking that none of these were to be found with the Manichees, but only the promise of the truth, he adds,—"which indeed, if it is so manifestly exhibited as not to be doubtful, is to be preferred to all those things by which I am retained in the Catholic Church."

This passage, therefore, if explained so as to be consistent with Augustine's own statements elsewhere, means no more than that the witness of the Church to the Scriptures is an important and necessary part of the grounds upon which we believe the Scriptures. And if the construction of the argument seems to imply more, it is an inconsistency in which we must judge of Augustine's real sentiments by the general tenor of his statements, rather than by a casual argument in a controversial work, and an argument which, if I mistake not, savours more of the ingenuity of the sophist than the simplicity and force of truth.
- William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, pp. 437-48 of volume 2 the 1842 edition.

We could, of course, provide more (and perhaps, at a later date, we shall). For now, however, this collection should suffice.

And what is their reason in Augustine's writings? It is comments from Augustine like this one, from the same work as the first quotation above:
You can find nothing better than to praise your own faith and ridicule mine. So, after having in my turn praised my belief and ridiculed yours, what result do you think we shall arrive at as regards our judgment and our conduct, but to part company with those who promise the knowledge of indubitable things, and then demand from us faith in doubtful things? while we shall follow those who invite us to begin with believing what we cannot yet fully perceive, that, strengthened by this very faith, we may come into a position to know what we believe by the inward illumination and confirmation of our minds, due no longer to men, but to God Himself.
- Augustine, Against the Epistle of Manichaeus Called Fundamental, Chapter 14


Seeking the Church through the Scriptures - the Augustinian Approach

The following quotations, all of which are drawn from Augustine’s work entitled "On the Unity of the Church," help to show that Augustine made his appeal to the Scriptures alone. This, of course, is a striking difference from the approach suggested by many Roman Catholics today. Thanks to David King for his assistance in preparing this list. I should note that, of course, the "chapter" and "section" designations are the two alternative ways of locating the quotation. One problem in citing this work is that there is not, to my knowledge, any extant English translation of the entire work. Thus, one is somewhat at a disadvantage at determining the fairness of the quotation, if one does not know Latin. A copy of the Latin original may be found here (link to Latin). I have not given credit or blame to the translators in each case, partly because it may be misleading (for example, some of the translations are found in Turretin's works, which were actually translated by Giger and then edited by Dennison, Turretin himself quoting the Latin directly without translation).

The question is where the Church should be. ... What then shall we do? Shall we seek it in our words, or in the words of our Lord Jesus? In my judgment we ought rather to seek the Church in His own words, for that He is the Truth, and knoweth His own body.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 2, §2.

Alternative translation:
The question between us and the Donatists is, Where is the Church to be found ? What then shall we do ? Shall we seek it in our words, or in the words of its head, our Lord Jesus Christ ? I conceive that we ought to seek it in His words, who is the truth, and best knows His own body.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 2, §2.

Let us not hear, You say this, I say that; but let us hear Thus saith the Lord. There are the Dominical books, whose authority we both acknowledge, we both yield to, we both obey; there let us seek the Church, there let us discuss the question between us.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 3, §5.

Therefore let those testimonies which we mutually bring against each other, from any other quarter than the divine canonical books, be put out of sight.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 3, §5.

Longer alternative translation vis-a-vis 1&2:
Let not these words be heard between us, "I say," or "You say," but rather let us hear, "Thus saith the Lord;" for there are certain books of our Lord on whose authority both sides acquiesce; there let us seek our Church, there let us judge our cause. Take away, therefore, all those things which each alleges against the other, and which are derived from other sources than the canonical books of the Holy Scriptures. But, perhaps, some will ask, "Why take away such authorities?" Because I would have the Holy Church proved, not by human documents, but by the Word of God.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 3, §5.

I would not have the holy Church demonstrated by human testimonies, but by divine oracles.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 3, §6.

Whatever they may adduce, and wherever they may quote from, let us rather, if we are His sheep, hear the voice of our Shepherd. Therefore let us search for the church in the sacred canonical Scriptures.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 3, §6. (This comes shortly after the above, but the translation seems a little loose.)

Whoever dissents from the sacred Scriptures, even if they are found in all places in which the church is designated, are not the church.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 4, §7.

We adhere to this Church; against those divine declarations we admit no human cavils.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 11, §28.

I have the most manifest voice of my pastor commending to me, and without any hesitation setting forth the church, I will impute it to myself, if I shall wish to be seduced by the words of men and to wander from his flock, which is the church itself, since he specially admonished me saying, My sheep hear my voice and follow me; listen to his voice clear and open and heard; who does not follow, how will he dare to call himself his sheep? Let no one say to me, What hath Donatus said, what hath Parmenian said, or Pontius, or any of them. For we must not allow even Catholic bishops, if at any time, perchance, they are in error, to hold any opinion contrary to the Canonical Scriptures of God.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 11, §28.

Alternative Partial Translation:
Neither dare one agree with catholic bishops if by chance they err in anything, but the result that their opinion is against the canonical Scriptures of God.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 11, §28.

Alternative Partial Translation:
either must we agree with Catholic Bishops, if they err, or decide anything against God's canonical Scriptures.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 11, §28.

All such matters, therefore, being put out of sight, let them show their Church, if they can; not in the discourses and reports of Africans, not in the councils of their own bishops, not in the writings of any controversialists, not in fallacious signs and miracles, for even against these we are rendered by the word of the Lord prepared and cautious, but in the ordinances of the Law, in the predictions of the Prophets, in the songs of the Psalms, in the words of the very Shepherd himself, in the preachings and labours of the Evangelists, that is, in all the canonical authorities of sacred books. Nor so as to collect together and rehearse those things that are spoken obscurely, or ambiguously, or figuratively, such as each can interpret as he likes, according to his own views. For such testimonies cannot be rightly understood and expounded, unless those things that are most clearly spoken are first held by a firm faith.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 18, §47.

Alternative partial translation:
Let them show their church if they can, not by the speeches and mumblings of the Africans, not by the councils of their bishops, not by the writings of any of their champions, not by fraudulent signs and wonders, because we have been prepared and made cautious also against these things by the Word of the Lord; but [let them show their church] by a command of the Law, by the predictions of the prophets, by songs from the Psalms, by the words of the Shepherd Himself, by the preaching and labors of the evangelists; that is, by all the canonical authorities of the sacred books.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 18, §47.

Alternative partial translation:
Let the Donatists, if they can, show their Church, not in the rumours and speeches of the men of Africa, not in the councils of their Bishops, not in the discourses of any writers whatever, not in signs and miracles that may be forged, for we are forewarned by God's word, and therefore forearmed, against those things; but in the prescript of the law, in the predictions of the Prophets, in the verses of the Psalms, in the voice of the Shepherd himself, in the preachings and writings of the Evangelists, that are in all the canonical authorities of the sacred Scriptures.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 18, §47.

Alternative longer translation:
Benounce, therefore all such things, and show your Church, if you can, not in the sayings of Africa, not in the Councils of your Bishops, not in signs and lying wonders, but in the writings of the Law, the predictions of the Prophets, in the Psalms, in the words of the Shepherd Himself, in the preaching and labours of the Apostles—that is, by the authority of all books of the Canonical Scriptures. For we do not say that we ought to be believed because we are in the Church of Christ, or because that Church to which we belong, was commended to us by Optatus, Ambrose, or other innumerable Bishops of our communion; or because miracles are everywhere wrought in it. These things are indeed to be approved, because they are done in the Catholic Church, but it is not thence proved to be the Catholic Church, because such things are done in it. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, when He rose from the dead, and offered His body to be touched as well as seen by His disciples, lest there should be any fallacy in it, thought it proper to convince them, rather by the testimony of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, showing how all things were fulfilled which had been foretold; and so He commanded His Church, saying, that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name, among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. This He testified was written in the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms; this we hold, as commended from His mouth. These are the documents, these the foundations, these the strong grounds of our cause. We read in the Acts of the Apostles, of some believers, that they daily searched the Scriptures if these things were so. What Scriptures ? but the canonical books of the Law and the Prophets; to which are added the Gospels, the Apostolical Epistles, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Revelation of St. John. Search, then, all these, and bring forth something manifest, by which you may prove the Church to have remained only in Africa, or come out of Africa.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 18, §47.

We ought to find the Church, as the Head of the Church, in the Holy Canonical Scriptures, not to inquire for it in the various reports, and opinions, and deeds, and words, and visions of men.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 19, §49.

Whether they [i.e. the Donatists] hold the Church, they must show by the Canonical books of the Divine Scriptures alone; for we do not say, that we must be believed because we are in the Church of Christ, because Optatus of Milevi, or Ambrose of Milan, or innumerable other bishops of our communion, commended that Church to which we belong, or because it is extolled by the Councils of our colleagues, or because through the whole world in the holy places which those of our communion frequent such wonderful answers to prayers or cures happen.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 19, §50.

Whatever things of this kind take place in the Catholic Church, are therefore to be approved of because they take place in the Catholic Church; but it is not proved to be the Catholic Church, because these things happen in it. The Lord Jesus himself when he had risen from the dead . . . judged that his disciples were to be convinced by the testimonies of the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms . . . These are the proofs, these the foundations, these the supports for our cause. We read in the Acts of the Apostles of some who believed, that they searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so. What Scriptures but the Canonical Scriptures of the Law and the Prophets? To these have been added the Gospels, the Apostolical Epistles, the Acts of the Apostles, the Apocalypse of John.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 19, §50-51.

But if they do not choose to understand, it is sufficient for us that we adhere to that Church which is demonstrated by such extremely clear testimonies of the Holy and Canonical Scriptures.
- Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 19, §50-51.

Responding to Nathan from "Called to Communion"

Over at the Roman Catholic blog Called to Communion (the link was this, though it seems to be broken at the moment), a commenter going by the name "Nathan" provided the following comment:
Thus far your attempt to rebut the claims of this article seems to be simply a restatement of sola scriptura as including a recognition of “the true but subordinate authority of the church and the regula fidei.” The article addresses this by explaining that the proponent of sola scriptura reserves the right to determine from the scriptures what is or is not the Church prior to submitting to its "true but subordinate authority." This is the inconsistency of the sola scriptura proponent: submission to the interpretation of the church is wholly dependent upon an initial, overriding, non-submitting interpretation. If the identity of the Church cannot be discovered independently of scripture, one's submission is always predicated upon one's interpretation.
I answer:

1) It should be noted, of course, that the Sola Scriptura position is actually that the Scriptures themselves are the regula fidei. For example, the Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter 1, Section 2) state, after identifying the canonical books, "All which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life."

Similarly, the Westminster Larger Catechism, Question/Answer 3 states:
Question 3: What is the Word of God?

Answer: The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.

Article VI of the 39 Articles states this, albeit slightly clearly:
Holye Scripture conteyneth all thinges necessarie to saluation: so that whatsoeuer is not read therein, nor may be proued therby, is not to be required of anye man, that it shoulde be beleued as an article of the fayth, or be thought requisite as necessarie to saluation
And in more modernized spelling:
Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite as necessary to salvation.
Similarly, the Belgic confession similarly states:
Therefore we reject with all our hearts everything that does not agree with this infallible rule, as we are taught to do by the apostles when they say, "Test the spirits to see if they are of God," and also, "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house."
Finally, we may also point out the Formula Consensus Helvetica:
The Hebrew original of the OT ... forms, together with the Original of the NT the sole and complete rule of our faith and practice ... .
This is the Reformed position on Sola Scriptura and the regula fidei or "rule of faith." We are aware, of course, that sometimes the term regula fidei was used in connection with creeds even from an early time. However, properly speaking, that dignity belongs only to the Scriptures from which the orthodox creeds are rightly derived.

2) The idea of determining from the scriptures what is or is not the Church prior to submitting to its "true but subordinate authority" is not a bad thing. It is a noble thing.

Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

It's a bit puzzling to see a practiced praised in Scripture set forth as an objection to the apostolic doctrine of sola scriptura.

3) The idea that it is inconsistent to submit to the interpretation of the church dependent upon an initial, overriding, non-submitting interpretation is also a confused objection. It's necessarily the case that one's submission to any subordinate authority is contingent on submission to the higher authority.

If this doesn't make sense to you, put yourself in the place of the captain of a ship. If you give an order, and one of your subordinate officers gives a conflicting order, would you want the sailors under your command to follow your order or the subordinate officer's order? Or to put things in a different perspective, surely you are aware that "we were just following orders" is not considered a legitimate justification or excuse for committing atrocities in war time.

For yourself, as a Roman Catholic, if your bishop tells you to believe [X], and the pope tells you to believe the opposite, which one are you going to follow? I would presume that you'd follow the pope, and I trust that I do not presume too much.

In every one of the examples above, the person making their decision about who to obey has to interpret the commands both of their subordinate and ultimate authorities. The fact that they have to interpret is just a fact of human existence. It is the way that we work: we form judgments based on interpretations of the evidence.

4) What is really fascinating about your comment, though, is that you state: "If the identity of the Church cannot be discovered independently of scripture, one's submission is always predicated upon one's interpretation." This comment is fascinating, because it seems to suggest that if the identity of the church can be discovered independently of Scripture, one's submission might not be predicated upon one's interpretation.

That simply can't be, though. Even if one attempted to discover the identity of the church independently of Scripture, one is still going to have to interpret something. If one seeks the identity of the church by historical investigation, one must interpret the data of history: the ancient writings, archaeological evidence, etc.. One's interpretation is going to be involved.

Furthermore, regardless of what one picks as their way of identifying a true church, if they do not base it on Scripture, they will be basing it on something less sure than Scripture. Scripture is, after all, the Word of God. The writings of Irenaeus and Augustine are very interesting to read, but they are not the Word of God, and God has made no promise to preserve them. We can be sure that the Scriptures are infallible, but we can demonstrate the fallibility of the church fathers. Scriptures never lie, but sometimes historians do.

In short, by trying to identify the true church from some other source than Scripture, one is exchanging a more sure way for a less sure way.

Nathan continued:
All of this is explained in IV.A of the article, particularly under No Middle Ground: Solo Scriptura or Apostolic Succession. To say the church has authority begs the question: what is the church? If individuals have authority to define the church then the answer may be derived from scripture (or any other standard one might prefer, such as gnostic writings). But if they do not, the church has a self-understanding and identity which can be seen in history.
As a minor aside, one of my pet peeves is the use of "begs the question" for "raises the question," as here. The substance of this comment is addressed above, only now we are told what this alternative to Scripture is: history. There are two main responses:

1) History actually isn't Rome's friend on this. History shows Rome to be a false church that fell into apostasy and departed from the apostolic doctrines, as have many other churches.

2) We are told by God that the Scriptures are lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105). We are not given any similar assurance regarding "History." Furthermore, as difficult as it may be to interpret Scripture at times, interpreting history is at least an order of magnitude more difficult since it involves interpreting numerous documents rather than a single united one.

Nathan continued:
If the church's self-definition is, "one, holy, catholic, apostolic," there are a few avenues for refuting this definition. You could assert the novelty of the construct (300 years later than the apostles (381), adding the word "one," which was not asserted in 325), but you run up against the near-universal assent of Christendom to the first two ecumenical councils. This would mean that the church has been universally wrong in her self-understanding, for which reason many might be inclined to question the sanity of one who wants to be a part of such a group, even if one is only "reforming" it.
1) The objection begs the question by assuming that the church is already identified even while allegedly seeking to identify the church.

2) The interpretation of "one, holy, catholic, apostolic," is something that your comment assumes but doesn't establish. The term "catholic," for example, means "throughout the world," and the term "one" is a term of conceptual, not hierarchical unity. That is to say, it refers to a unity of faith, not a unity of human leadership. If, however, we assume that it referred to a unity of human leadership, there would be no church that qualified, for a long time, since the split between the Eastern sees and Rome by God's providence prevented there from being any single institution that could claim global coverage.

There's one more objection, which we'll see when we consider Nathan's penultimate comment:
You can claim that a particular group claiming to be the church is not one (witness the Great Schism, Nestorian schism, etc.), but those schisms have left groups that each claim to be one. You can claim that a particular group that claims to be the church is not holy, which could very well lead you to side with the Donatists. You can claim a lack of catholicity (getting back to the schisms here), however apostolic succession is undeniably catholic (universal) so that should help narrow the field in terms of which groups to evaluate. You could claim that a particular group is not apostolic by falsifying their claims to succession. Another route would be to claim that their ordained minsters somehow have invalid ordinations, but that also tends toward putting interpretation before submission.
The final objection is that "apostolic" does not eliminate the Donatists, the Nestorian, or the East-West Schism, or even the Reformation if the term "apostolic" refers to a "chain of ordinations." But, of course, the term "apostolic" probably was not intended to carry that sense.

Nathan's final comment anticipates some of the above and states:
If no group matches the historic self-definition of the church, one could easily conclude that the church does not exist (but then, how would I join any church? I would be starting my own). Of course the easiest route is to simply redefine what is meant by "one, holy, catholic, apostolic," such that it agrees with one's interpretation of scripture. But either option puts us back at the beginning, where the one who gets to define the criteria for authority really is the authority themselves. The church has her own criteria (one, holy, catholic, apostolic) and we either accept that definition (and not some redefined meaning for it) or we make our own definition, and ourselves the ultimate authority.
Well, saying that "The church has her own criteria" presupposes that one has identified the church, as noted above. Furthermore, calling an alternative interpretation of "one, holy, catholic, apostolic" a "redefinition" is unjustified. Before one applies the "one, holy, catholic, apostolic" standard one has to know what the standard means, which means that one has to interpret the standard. This is just the inescapable reality of using standards of this kind.

One can actually see what, for example, Cyril of Jerusalem, thought that "one holy catholic church" meant, and one will notice an absence of reference to the papacy or to any institutional unity (although Cyril does use the term "Catholic Church" as a sort of sectarian designation):
22. The Faith which we rehearse contains in order the following, "And in one Baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; and in one Holy Catholic Church; and in the resurrection of the flesh; and in eternal life." Now of Baptism and repentance I have spoken in the earliest Lectures; and my present remarks concerning the resurrection of the dead have been made with reference to the Article "In the resurrection of the flesh." Now then let me finish what still remains to be said for the Article, "In one Holy Catholic Church," on which, though one might say many things, we will speak but briefly.

23. It is called Catholic then because it extends over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other; and because it teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men's knowledge, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly; and because it brings into subjection to godliness the whole race of mankind, governors and governed, learned and unlearned; and because it universally treats and heals the whole class of sins, which are committed by soul or body, and possesses in itself every form of virtue which is named, both in deeds and words, and in every kind of spiritual gifts.

24. And it is rightly named (Ecclesia) because it calls forth and assembles together all men; according as the Lord says in Leviticus, And make an assembly for all the congregation at the door of the tabernacle of witness. And it is to be noted, that the word assemble, is used for the first time in the Scriptures here, at the time when the Lord puts Aaron into the High-priesthood. And in Deuteronomy also the Lord says to Moses, Assemble the people unto Me, and let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me. [Deuteronomy 4:10] And he again mentions the name of the Church, when he says concerning the Tables, And on them were written all the words which the Lord spoke with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the Assembly; as if he had said more plainly, in the day in which you were called and gathered together by God. The Psalmist also says, I will give thanks unto You, O Lord, in the great Congregation; I will praise You among much people.

25. Of old the Psalmist sang, Bless ye God in the congregations, even the Lord, (ye that are) from the fountains of Israel. But after the Jews for the plots which they made against the Saviour were cast away from His grace, the Saviour built out of the Gentiles a second Holy Church, the Church of us Christians, concerning which he said to Peter, And upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. [Matthew 16:18] And David prophesying of both these, said plainly of the first which was rejected, I have hated the Congregation of evil doers ; but of the second which is built up he says in the same Psalm, Lord, I have loved the beauty of Your house; and immediately afterwards, In the Congregations will I bless you, O Lord. For now that the one Church in Judæa is cast off, the Churches of Christ are increased over all the world; and of them it is said in the Psalms, Sing unto the Lord a new song, His praise in the Congregation of Saints. Agreeably to which the prophet also said to the Jews, I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord Almighty [Malachi 1:10]; and immediately afterwards, For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, My name is glorified among the Gentiles. Concerning this Holy Catholic Church Paul writes to Timothy, That you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the House of God, which is the Church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the truth [1 Timothy 3:15].

26. But since the word Ecclesia is applied to different things (as also it is written of the multitude in the theatre of the Ephesians, And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the Assembly [Acts 19:14]), and since one might properly and truly say that there is a Church of evil doers, I mean the meetings of the heretics, the Marcionists and Manichees, and the rest, for this cause the Faith has securely delivered to you now the Article, "And in one Holy Catholic Church;" that you may avoid their wretched meetings, and ever abide with the Holy Church Catholic in which you were regenerated. And if ever you are sojourning in cities, inquire not simply where the Lord's House is (for the other sects of the profane also attempt to call their own dens houses of the Lord), nor merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the peculiar name of this Holy Church, the mother of us all, which is the spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God (for it is written, As Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it [Ephesians 5:25], and all the rest,) and is a figure and copy of Jerusalem which is above, which is free, and the mother of us all [Galatians 4:26]; which before was barren, but now has many children.

27. For when the first Church was cast off, in the second, which is the Catholic Church, God has set, as Paul says, first Apostles, secondly Prophets, thirdly teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, various kinds of tongues [1 Corinthians 12:28], and every sort of virtue, I mean wisdom and understanding, temperance and justice, mercy and loving-kindness, and patience unconquerable in persecutions. She, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honour and dishonour [2 Corinthians 6:7-8], in former days amid persecutions and tribulations crowned the holy martyrs with the varied and blooming chaplets of patience, and now in times of peace by God's grace receives her due honours from kings and those who are in high place [1 Timothy 2:2], and from every sort and kindred of men. And while the kings of particular nations have bounds set to their authority, the Holy Church Catholic alone extends her power without limit over the whole world; for God, as it is written, has made her border peace. But I should need many more hours for my discourse, if I wished to speak of all things which concern her.
You will notice an almost complete lack of emphasis on "one," except to distinguish it as the second church, distinct from the church of the Jews, which has been cast off (Vatican II's ecumenism seems to undermine this a bit, but that's for another day).

I don't post Cyprian's view to say you must agree with it, but to give you an ancient perspective. After all, I don't necessarily agree with everything he says. My point is mostly to note that you shouldn't assume that the definitions that your church presently gives to the creed are the same definitions that those 1500 years ago did. Furthermore, of course, I've presented only one author's opinion as to the meaning of the creed - there may be several different views, and we'd expect that from the way that Cyprian gives several senses in which the church is "catholic," for example.


Hopefully this post has demonstrated that the objection that we must interpret Scripture to use it as an authority is a misplaced objection. It's simply a necessary consequence that we must interpret our authorities in order to use them. Incidentally, I've dealt with a similar objection previously, under the topic of the so-called "Spiral Argument" (link to my original post - link to my interaction with one objection to the original post).

UPDATE: Also note that one might wish to compare Nathan's proposed approach of finding the church by history, with Augustine's approach of finding the church by Scripture (link to post reflecting Augustine's view).

To the glory of God,


John Calvin and the Fathers on Baptism

I've been told that John Calvin invented a justification for infant baptism that was new. I'm not fully persuaded that, in its essence, Calvin's justification was new. My impression is that the main argument is that Calvin was departing from medieval Western tradition that viewed baptism essentially as regenerative by virtue of its operation. However, of course, I want to acknowledge up front that I haven't seen a precisely worded expression of the claim that Calvin's view of baptism was a theological novum. Perhaps, in the precisely worded expression of the claim, the point is that some of the details of Calvin's justification for infant baptism were new. In any event, I hope the following post will help at least to demonstrate what wasn't new to Calvin.

For example, Calvin writes:
Scripture gives us a still clearer knowledge of the truth. For it is most evident that the covenant, which the Lord once made with Abraham (cf. Gen. 17:14), is not less applicable to Christians now than it was anciently to the Jewish people, and, therefore, that word has no less reference to Christians than to Jews. Unless, indeed, we imagine that Christ, by his advent, diminished or curtailed the grace of the Father - an idea not free from execrable blasphemy. Wherefore, both the children of the Jews, because, when made heirs of that covenant, they were separated from the heathen, were called a holy seed (Ezra 9:2; Isaiah 6:13), and for the same reason the children of Christians, or those who have only one believing parent, are called holy, and, by the testimony of the apostle, differ from the impure seed of idolaters (I Cor. 7:14). Then, since the Lord, immediately after the covenant was made with Abraham ordered it to be sealed, infants by an outward sacrament (Gen. 17:12), how can it be said that Christians are not to attest it in the present day, and seal it in their children?
- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 4, Chapter 16, Section 6

Yet we see similar comments in the church fathers:
This sacrament the Lord Himself received in infancy, although He abrogated it when He was crucified. For these signs of spiritual blessings were not condemned, but gave place to others which were more suitable to the later dispensation. For as circumcision was abolished by the first coming of the Lord, so baptism shall be abolished by His second coming. For as now, since the liberty of faith has come, and the yoke of bondage has been removed, no Christian receives circumcision in the flesh; so then, when the just are reigning with the Lord, and the wicked have been condemned, no one shall be baptized, but the reality which both ordinances prefigure— namely, circumcision of the heart and cleansing of the conscience— shall be eternally abiding. If, therefore, I had been a Jew in the time of the former dispensation, and there had come to me a Samaritan who was willing to become a Jew, abandoning the error which the Lord Himself condemned when He said, "You worship ye know not what; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews;" [John 4:22] — if, I say, a Samaritan whom Samaritans had circumcised had expressed his willingness to become a Jew, there would have been no scope for the boldness which would have insisted on the repetition of the rite; and instead of this, we would have been compelled to approve of that which God had commanded, although it had been done by heretics. But if, in the flesh of a circumcised man, I could not find place for the repetition of the circumcision, because there is but one member which is circumcised, much less is place found in the one heart of man for the repetition of the baptism of Christ. You, therefore, who wish to baptize twice, must seek as subjects of such double baptism men who have double hearts.
- Augustine, Letter 23, Section 4

If the only meaning of baptism were the remission of sins, why would we baptize the newborn children who have not yet tasted of sin? But the mystery [of baptism] is not limited to this; it is a promise of greater and more perfect gifts. In it are the promises of future delights; it is a type of the future resurrection, a communion with the master’s passion, a participation in His resurrection, a mantle of salvation, a tunic of gladness, a garment of light, or, rather it is light itself.
- Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Compendium of Heretical Fables, Book 5, §18, Preface (courtesy of David King)

And if any one seek for divine authority in this matter, though what is held by the whole Church, and that not as instituted by Councils, but as a matter of invariable custom, is rightly held to have been handed down by authority, still we can form a true conjecture of the value of the sacrament of baptism in the case of infants, from the parallel of circumcision, which was received by God's earlier people, and before receiving which Abraham was justified, as Cornelius also was enriched with the gift of the Holy Spirit before he was baptized. Yet the apostle says of Abraham himself, that "he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith," having already believed in his heart, so that "it was counted unto him for righteousness." Why, therefore, was it commanded him that he should circumcise every male child in order on the eighth day, [Genesis 17:9-14] though it could not yet believe with the heart, that it should be counted unto it for righteousness, because the sacrament in itself was of great avail? And this was made manifest by the message of an angel in the case of Moses' son; for when he was carried by his mother, being yet uncircumcised, it was required, by manifest present peril, that he should be circumcised, [Exodus 4:24-26] and when this was done, the danger of death was removed. As therefore in Abraham the justification of faith came first, and circumcision was added afterwards as the seal of faith; so in Cornelius the spiritual sanctification came first in the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the sacrament of regeneration was added afterwards in the laver of baptism. And as in Isaac, who was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth, the seal of this righteousness of faith was given first, and afterwards, as he imitated the faith of his father, the righteousness itself followed as he grew up, of which the seal had been given before when he was an infant; so in infants, who are baptized, the sacrament of regeneration is given first, and if they maintain a Christian piety, conversion also in the heart will follow, of which the mysterious sign had gone before in the outward body. And as in the thief the gracious goodness of the Almighty supplied what had been wanting in the sacrament of baptism, because it had been missing not from pride or contempt, but from want of opportunity; so in infants who die baptized, we must believe that the same grace of the Almighty supplies the want, that, not from perversity of will, but from insufficiency of age, they can neither believe with the heart unto righteousness, nor make confession with the mouth unto salvation. Therefore, when others take the vows for them, that the celebration of the sacrament may be complete in their behalf, it is unquestionably of avail for their dedication to God, because they cannot answer for themselves. But if another were to answer for one who could answer for himself, it would not be of the same avail. In accordance with which rule, we find in the gospel what strikes every one as natural when he reads it, "He is of age, he shall speak for himself." John 9:21
- Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Book 4, Chapter, Chapter 24 (Section 32)

But in respect of the case of the infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man. For as the Lord says in His Gospel, "The Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them," [Luke 4:56] as far as we Can, We must strive that, if possible, no soul be lost. For what is wanting to him who has once been formed in the womb by the hand of God? To us, indeed, and to our eyes, according to the worldly course of days, they who are born appear to receive an increase. But whatever things are made by God, are completed by the majesty and work of God their Maker.
- Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 58, Section 2

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Devin Rose on Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and the Eucharist

Over in the over-flowing comment box at the Roman Catholic blog Called to Communion, Devin Rose has provided a comment that veers slightly off the stated topic for that box. I'm providing a response here instead of there both to keep that discussion on topic and because (for the moment) the CTC site is undergoing maintenance and the comment boxes are apparently all closed.

Devin Rose wrote (in part):
We were discussing the Eucharist: they both believe in the symbolic-only Eucharist (ala Zwingli and the Baptists) whereas I as a Catholic believe in transubstantiation. I asked them how can we know what the Apostles believed on this subject, given that we disagree with each other on how to interpret the Bible on this doctrine.

They said it comes down to their belief in the Bible and how clearly it teaches the symbolic-only Eucharist. I told them that, since we disagree on the interpretation, what if we looked at other sources, say, two of the early Christian leaders whose writings we know are authentic: St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Justin Martyr. I am sure you are familiar with what they wrote about the Eucharist. In short, they unequivocally speak of the bread and the wine becoming the body and blood of Christ. Even if one were to try to interpret their words in the most Baptist-leaning way possible, they fall much closer to the Catholic (and Lutheran and even Calvinist) belief on the Eucharist than the Zwinglian/Baptist symbolic belief.

I have four main responses:

1) Yes, your friends are right to go to the Scriptures. Since Scripture dates to the time of the apostles, is inspired, and (in many cases) was penned by an apostle, it is the best possible evidence as to what the Apostles believed. Going to an apostolic father (like Ignatius) or to a very early Christian writer (like Justin Martyr) is only second and third best (Ignatius was in an overlapping generation with the apostles and Justin Martyr was in one of the first generations that did not overlap with the apostles). Similarly, while we know the text of Scripture with high confidence for virtually all its verses, the text of Ignatius is actually open to significant doubt at many places. Not only are many of the letters attributed to him inauthentic, but the authentic letters have been variously interpolated over the years so that we have, in essence, two versions - a long version in which we have little confidence that it is fully authentic - and a short version in which we have higher confidence that it is authentic. The text of Justin Martyr is substantially less controversial, but again - the textual transmission of Justin Martyr is nowhere near as good as the textual transmission of the Scriptures, especially the New Testament.

2) In point of fact, the Scriptures are sufficient to resolve the matter as to what the Apostles believed. But if you will insist that the Scriptures are ambiguous or somehow lack sufficient authority, we can examine with you the historical record of tradition. Nevertheless, the historical record shows that the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation is something developed rather late. The term itself doesn't come around for about a thousand years or so. The concept without the word is also not found. In other words, we don't find the accidents/substance distinction being enunciated by the fathers of the church significantly prior to the development of the term.

3) As to the specific instances of Ignatius and Justin Martyr, they do use expressions that are frequently used in this sort of discussion. The two most popular quotations alleged from Ignatius are the following (taken from an article on the Real Presence at - link to the article):

"I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible" (Letter to the Romans 7:3 [A.D. 110]).

(I've previously demonstrated that this quotation doesn't teach transubstantiation.)

"Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes" (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1 [A.D. 110]).

(Similarly, I've also previously demonstrated that this quotation doesn't teach transubstantiation.)

As noted above, I've previously demonstrated that these quotations don't teach transubstantiation. However, I could have gone further. Note that Ignatius uses words that sound like a literal identification between the bread and the flesh. But consider that Ignatius elsewhere makes a similar identification:
Not that I know there is anything of this kind among you; but I put you on your guard, inasmuch as I love you greatly, and foresee the snares of the devil. Wherefore, clothing yourselves with meekness, be renewed in faith, that is the flesh of the Lord, and in love, that is the blood of Jesus Christ. Let no one of you cherish any grudge against his neighbour. Give no occasion to the Gentiles, lest by means of a few foolish men the whole multitude [of those that believe] in God be evil spoken of. For, "Woe to him by whose vanity my name is blasphemed among any." [Isaiah 52:5]
- Ignatius, Epistle to the Trallians, Chapter 8 (Short Version - both versions available here)

Notice how, in this passage, Ignatius calls "faith" the "flesh of the Lord" and calls "love" the "blood of Jesus Christ." If he had said this about the bread and the cup, you might have thought he intended a transubstantial sense to his words. Here, however, you can plainly see that he does not intend such a sense. Instead, is employing metaphor.

Similarly, with Justin, the typical quotation is this (using the same article identified above):

"We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus" (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).

(I've likewise previously demonstrated that this quotation doesn't teach transubstantiation.)

And again, I can do more than simply point out that the quotation used doesn't teach transubstantiation. I can show that Justin viewed the Eucharist as literally bread:
And the offering of fine flour, sirs, which was prescribed to be presented on behalf of those purified from leprosy, was a type of the bread of the Eucharist, the celebration of which our Lord Jesus Christ prescribed, in remembrance of the suffering which He endured on behalf of those who are purified in soul from all iniquity, in order that we may at the same time thank God for having created the world, with all things therein, for the sake of man, and for delivering us from the evil in which we were, and for utterly overthrowing principalities and powers by Him who suffered according to His will. Hence God speaks by the mouth of Malachi, one of the twelve [prophets], as I said before, about the sacrifices at that time presented by you: 'I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord; and I will not accept your sacrifices at your hands: for, from the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, My name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure offering: for My name is great among the Gentiles, says the Lord: but you profane it.' [Malachi 1:10-12] [So] He then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us, who in every place offer sacrifices to Him, i.e., the bread of the Eucharist, and also the cup of the Eucharist, affirming both that we glorify His name, and that you profane [it]. The command of circumcision, again, bidding [them] always circumcise the children on the eighth day, was a type of the true circumcision, by which we are circumcised from deceit and iniquity through Him who rose from the dead on the first day after the Sabbath, [namely through] our Lord Jesus Christ. For the first day after the Sabbath, remaining the first of all the days, is called, however, the eighth, according to the number of all the days of the cycle, and [yet] remains the first.
- Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 41 (link to source - most footnotes at source omitted above)

Notice how in this passage, Justin explains that the oblation of flour for the purification of leprosy pre-shadowed the bread of the Eucharist. And how the sacrifice of the bread and cup (for Justin) are a sacrifice of bread, similar to the oblation of fine flour in the Old Testament administration there. Notice as well that Justin views the sacrament as a "celebration ... in remembrance" but not a re-presentation.

In fact, we see this stated even more clearly in a later chapter:
But I must repeat to you the words of Isaiah referred to, in order that from them you may know that these things are so. They are these: "Hear, you that are far off, what I have done; those that are near shall know my might. The sinners in Zion are removed; trembling shall seize the impious. Who shall announce to you the everlasting place? The man who walks in righteousness, speaks in the right way, hates sin and unrighteousness, and keeps his hands pure from bribes, stops the ears from hearing the unjust judgment of blood closes the eyes from seeing unrighteousness: he shall dwell in the lofty cave of the strong rock. Bread shall be given to him, and his water [shall be] sure. You shall see the King with glory, and your eyes shall look far off. Your soul shall pursue diligently the fear of the Lord. Where is the scribe? Where are the counsellors? Where is he that numbers those who are nourished—the small and great people? With whom they did not take counsel, nor knew the depth of the voices, so that they heard not. The people who have become depreciated, and there is no understanding in him who hears." [Isaiah 33:13-19] Now it is evident, that in this prophecy [allusion is made] to the bread which our Christ gave us to eat, in remembrance of His being made flesh for the sake of His believers, for whom also He suffered; and to the cup which He gave us to drink, in remembrance of His own blood, with giving of thanks.
- Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 70 (link to source - most footnotes at source omitted)

Notice how Justin suggests that bread is given not as the flesh and blood as such, but rather in remembrance of those things.

4) Consider finally the absurdity of assuming that every time "[X] is [Y]" is used of things having two different substances, we should view this in a transubstantial sense.

1 Corinthians 10:4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.

Will Mr. Rose try to suggest that the Rock was Christ in substance under the accidents of Rock? Surely no one would be so foolish as to make such a suggestion. May I further suggest to you that the only reason that you view the statement "This is my body" in a transubstantial sense is that you have been taught this tradition. It is not something found in the text or learned from it. Furthermore, the tradition itself is not a tradition that comes from the apostles. The historical evidence shows us that not only the term "transubstantiation" but the idea behind it were later developments, not the original apostolic teaching.


Response to Bryan Cross at "Called to Communion"

The following is a detailed response to Bryan Cross' comment #441 here (link to the comment) at the Roman Catholic blog, Called to Communion.

Dear Bryan Cross:

Thanks for your thoughtful reply to my comments. I have a few rejoinders, which I'll try to group in some sort of organized way below - not necessarily keeping to the same outline as above (i.e. in the comment box), although with respect to the consequences, I'll maintain the [A]-[E] nomenclature. I realize that the response is a bit long, and so I've posted it on my own blog, rather than cluttering up the (ever growing) comment box with it. I realize sometimes overly long comments can be a drag on a thread. I've tried to use headings as well, to help the weary reader orient himself among the rejoinders offered.

I. Sola/Solo Leads to the Consequences by "Natural Necessity"

I appreciate this clarification to the article, because I did not detect this concept expressed in the article. Certainly it wasn't expressed in so many words, but - of course - perhaps it was an implication that I missed: I will present several examples from the article that perhaps should have alerted me. In any event, I have several objections to this approach.

a) The Concept of Natural Necessity is Incompatible with the World of Ideas

1) Describing Natural Necessity

You provided a classic example of natural necessity[Fn1] with the acorn => oak tree example. The nature of the acorn is to become an oak tree, although (of course) something like a squirrel, a fire, or a lad with a slingshot may intervene to prevent this natural progression. More precisely, it is the nature of an acorn to be a potential oak tree. Every normal acorn is a potential oak tree by natural necessity.

2) Nature of Ideas

While it is easy to speak of the nature of an acorn, it is more difficult to speak of the nature of ideas. Ideas lack, for example, interaction with the so-called laws of nature. When we speak of the nature of ideas, we are typically speaking of the definition of the idea. For example, if we say that it is in the nature of "red" that it is not blue or yellow, we are speaking essentially as to the definition of the idea.

Of course, we may also speak loosely of ideas using the term "nature." Thus, for example, in part I of your article, you write [Fn2]: (a)
... sola scriptura, no less than solo scriptura, entails that the individual Christian is the ultimate arbiter of the right interpretation of Scripture. This implies that what Mathison calls ’solo scriptura‘ is in fact a more clearly distilled manifestation over time of the true nature of sola scriptura.
(ellipsis mine)

I call this a loose use of the term "nature," because it does not appear to be referring either to the laws of nature, or to the definition of the idea, but rather to something else - something difficult to explain, though we will attempt to do so. Before we do so, it may help to see the other instances of your usage in the article.

(b) In section IV(A) you state:
But there are two ways to make oneself one’s own ultimate interpretive and magisterial authority. One is a direct way and the other is an indirect way. The direct way is to subject all theological questions directly to the final verdict of one’s own interpretation of Scripture. That is the solo scriptura position. Because it is direct, the nature of the position is quite transparent; we can see clearly in such a case that the individual is acting as his own ultimate interpretive authority.
(bold emphasis mine)

(c) In section V(A) you state:
Here we should say something about what it means to bind the conscience. It is of the very nature of law to bind the conscience. Law does not coerce the will, but law binds the conscience precisely insofar as reason grasps it as the standard or rule to which our beliefs, words and actions ought to conform.
(emphasis mine)

(d) Later in section V(A) you state:
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.

(e)And again in the same section:
Civil laws bind the conscience in that we are obligated to obey them, so long as they do not conflict with a higher law, whether that be the natural law, or the law of God as revealed through the Church. Hence the nature of genuine civil authority does not show that the Magisterium cannot bind the conscience of the faithful.

(f) And again immediately afterward:
In addition, the nature of the Church’s Magisterial authority is not rightly determined by determining what nature of authority is sufficient for civil government. Such a method would presuppose both that the Church is equivalent in nature to a civil society and that there is no existing ecclesial authority that provides the definitive answer to questions about the nature of the Church’s authority.

(g) And further (same section again):
For this reason, without apostolic succession, the Church would be a natural society providentially governed by God, another nation among the nations. Only by apostolic succession is she a divine society that does not compete with natural societies, because grace builds on nature. In short, civil authorities acquire their natural civic authority by God’s providence through lawful processes. Since the Church is a supernatural society, ecclesial authorities cannot acquire their authority naturally under providential guidance. Ecclesial authority is not natural authority, but supernatural authority, and therefore requires succession from a supernatural source.

(h) In Section V(B):
Moreover, our argument helps explain the rise over the last one hundred and fifty years of the explicit embrace of a solo scriptura approach within Protestantism. Philosophies and theologies more fully manifest their nature over time. If there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura, then we would expect the sola scriptura doctrine taught by the early Protestant to come to manifest its true nature over time as outright solo scriptura. Sola scriptura could temporarily conceal its true nature, as Protestantism lived on the inertial remnants of Catholic conceptions of sacramental authority. Sacramental magisterial authority is supernatural in origin, as we explained above, because the Church is a divine institution. The denial of sacramental magisterial authority closes a person off to the Church as supernatural, leaving only the possibility of democratic (bottom-up) man-made authority under providential guidance. As Protestants have come to understand more clearly the democratic nature of Protestant ecclesial authority, they have come to see that as Protestants, they themselves as individuals, hold final interpretive authority, and have come to live as such. This explains the widespread solo scriptura phenomenon within Protestantism that Mathison decries.
(bold emphasis is mine)

As you will note, (g) is an exception to the general use of "nature" in the article. In examples (a)-(f) and (h), the term "nature" is being used loosely to describe the idea [Fn3]. More specifically, examples (a), (b), and (h) deal with the "nature" of sola/solo scriptura:
- in example (a) it seems we are being told that the "nature" is "the individual Christian is the ultimate arbiter of the right interpretation of Scripture";
- in example (b) it seems we are being told that the "nature" is "... to subject all theological questions ... to the final verdict of one’s own interpretation of Scripture";
- in example (h) we seem to be told that solo scriptura is the true nature of sola scriptura; and
- again in the same example, it appears that the nature of sola/solo scriptura is being equated to "the democratic nature of Protestant ecclesial authority."

By way of comparison, examples (c)-(f) deal with the nature of other ideas and things:
- in example (c) we are told that "It is of the very nature of law to bind the conscience";
- in example (d) we are told that "A book by its very nature has a limited intrinsic potency for interpretive self-clarification";
- in the same example, we are told that "a person ... by his very nature has, in principle, an unlimited intrinsic potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification"
- in example (e) we can infer that it is in the nature of civil laws to "bind the conscience in that we are obligated to obey them"; and
- in example (f) we can infer that the nature of Ecclesial and Civil authority are capable of comparison and contrast.

We should note, before continuing, that the items in example (d) relate to the natures of things, rather than ideas. Furthermore, in examples (c) and (e) we are dealing, in essence, with the definition of the concept of laws.

What is interesting is that with respect to solo scriptura, it almost appears that the definition of solo scriptura is being used as its "nature." That is to say, the "nature" of solo scriptura (per the article) appears to be able to be summarized as: "the individual Christian is the ultimate arbiter of the right interpretation of Scripture" and consequently is entitled "... to subject all theological questions ... to the final verdict of one’s own interpretation of Scripture" with ecclesial authority (if any[Fn4]) being democratic.

Those things appear to be definitional of solo scriptura, at least as it is defined by Mathison, although it does not appear to be definitional of sola scriptura (again, as defined by Mathison). So, it appears that (at least with respect to sola scriptura) the article is not using the term "nature" in the sense of definition.

Possibly the best explanation for the loose use of the term "nature" is found in the comment: "Philosophies and theologies more fully manifest their nature over time." What this comment means [Fn5] is that the people who hold to a particular philosophy or theology (ideology, for short) reveal the practical consequences of that ideology in time.

Thus, for example, folks take the position that the Soviet Union revealed the practical consequences of Marxism. Likewise, some folks argued that the Peasants Revolt revealed the practical consequences of Lutheranism, and other folks argued that the Inquisition revealed the practical consequences of Roman Catholicism.

In short, such a claim is a claim about the people who hold the ideas, not about the ideas themselves. Consequently the claim isn't really about the nature of the ideas as such, but of the people who hold the ideas.

b) Analytical Problems with Mixing Ideas and People

There are a few main reasons why mixing ideas and people (under a claim of natural necessity) poses analytical and persuasive problems:

1) Free Will

Practically everyone ascribes some form of "free will" to men [Fn6]. This makes it hard to ascribe to a strict causal relation between an ideology and human behavior. To go back to the analogy, the human will is a very active Squirrel that may interfere quite easily with the "natural" progress of a particular ideology.

2) Multitude of Ideologies

In many cases, people subscribe to a variety of different ideologies on different subjects. For example, some people are cautious, other people are more risk-loving. Some people are frugal, others are spendthrifts. Some people are skeptical, some are superstitious. It can be difficult to pin behavior on a single ideology. For example, are Scottish Presbyterians notoriously frugal [Fn7] because of their Calvinism or because of a genetic predisposition toward frugality or perhaps does Calvinism appeal to them because they are frugal?

3) Identifying the End-point

It is hard to say what should be used as the end-point observation for determining the historical outworking of an ideology. It is tempting to use the present time, for obvious reasons. If, however, one was to judge "Christianity"[Fn8] at the time of the crusades by the crusades, or at the time of the Inquisition by the Inquisition, one would get a different result than either before those periods or after those periods. Same goes for "Christianity" before, during, and after Constantine.

4) Properly Characterizing Trends

Associated with (3), there is a problem in determining whether something is a trend or a deviation from a norm. If one took the graph of a heart beat and stopped one's observation at the right place, it could look like the heart is either ready to explode (on the increasing pressure part of the beat) or implode (on the decreasing part of the beat).

5) Shifts in Ideology / Impurity in Ideology / Categorizing an Ideology

One frequent objection one hears from Marxists is that the Soviet Union is not a fair representation of Marxism because it did not embody "true Marxism." Likewise, we are told that the Peasant's Revolt was not genuine Lutheranism, and that the Inquisitors were acting out of accord with their church's theology and/or moral teaching. Whether we accept these items or not, it becomes difficult to persuade someone that (for example) "torture is the natural outworking of Roman Catholicism" if the person will not acknowledge the torturer as a faithful Roman Catholic.

c) Attempted Application of Natural Necessity to Sola/Solo Scriptura Fails to Prove/Persuade

Calling solo scriptura the "true nature"[Fn9] of sola scriptura in the sense of being the practical outworking of it, runs into the problems above. To the extent that people accept "free will" it is tough to ascribe the outworking to the ideology apart from the people. The revitalization of sola scriptura during the time of the Reformation [Fn10] was also accompanied by a number of other sociological factors and the rise of a number of ideologies (such as views on personal liberty and equality) and influences (increased affluence and literacy) that are hard to link to specific causes.

We don't have to stick to general handwaving. The combination of a collapse of feudalism in favor of more democratic forms of government, together with a rise in literacy, can at least intuitively explain a general increase both in lack of respect for authority (both civil and eccelisial) and an increase in confidence in one's own abilities (if one is an illiterate serf one may not feel as qualified to interpret Scripture as if one is a merchant who can read and write in three languages).

In fact, while it is difficult to attribute weight to various forces, those forces on their face have more explanatory power with respect to the changes seen in the Reformation and post-Reformation period in terms of attitude toward authority than does sola scriptura, as such - since sola scriptura has to do with infallible authority, not authority in general.

II. “Hermeneutical chaos and anarchy” is not a characteristic of the sola position.

Your response, Bryan, in this regard was to argue that by considering only a single church that practices this method, I have created an artificial abstraction. However, of course, if disagreement among churches that allege adherence to the sola position are counted as "hermeneutical chaos and anarchy" then the disagreement among churches that allege adherence to the "apostolic succession" position should be counted the same way. Furthermore, of course, grouping many churches together is no less (and perhaps is more) of an artificial abstraction than examining a single church.

III. “Multiplication of schisms” – this allegation is counter-intuitive.

Your response to this allegation is to claim that although it may be counter-intuitive it is reality. You state: "The existence of all these (thousands) of different Protestant sects is indisputably true." No one denied that there are many different denominations of "Protestants." What is counter-intuitive is that this is characteristic of an ideology that is (by nature) relativistic. Relativism promotes unity, in that it promotes tolerance of different views, since no one's view is any better than anyone else's view. It is an absolute view of truth that promotes schisms.

You noted that sometimes churches split over things like the color of the carpeting. That may well be, and that has nothing to do with faith or morals. Such a split is not a split that relates to the subject matter of sola scriptura and consequently simply serves to demonstrate that other factors than sola scriptura are at play in the multiplication of schisms. In short, your example is undermining evidence with respect to your contention.

IV. The claim that “the creeds have no 'real authority,'” is logically impossible

Your response, Bryan, in this regard was to allege, in essence[Fn11], to say that you don't view the authority as "authentic" if its authority grounded in a particular way and/or if submission is conditioned in a particular way. There are two responses:

1) Insisting that authority isn't authentic unless it is grounded in particular way etc. appears simply to beg the question. One might paraphrase your objection as, "the creeds lack real authority because their authority is not strong enough." However, that's not a valid objection unless the creeds (or confessions, or whatever) must have stronger authority than they do in sola scriptura churches.

2) Your characterization of authority in sola scriptura churches isn't accurate. The idea that "a so-called authority that has as its basis of authority that it agrees with me" is an unrecognizable caricature of the sola scriptura position.

3) Your reasoning could be applied to argue that a bishop in Roman Catholicism lacks any "real authority." Why? Because the same reductionism to "my interpretation of" applies to the teachings of the Church, which are a greater authority than the authority of an individual bishop. In fact, your reasoning amounts to saying that no authority is a "real authority" unless it is - in essence - the ultimate authority.

4) Your reasoning further implies a radical sola eccelesia position. That is to say, you deny the Scripture any "real authority" (by your definition) because in the event that you conclude that there is an apparent difference between (your interpretation of) the teachings of Scripture and (your interpretation of) the teachings of your church, you accept (your interpretation of) the teachings of your church.

V. “A practical relativism concerning the content of Scripture” Conflates Proper and Improper Flexibility

As noted in my previous comment, it is proper to have charity in the non-essentials. Since the objection doesn't differentiate, it only creates confusion.

VI. "“Destroys” the authority of Scripture “by making the meaning of Scripture dependent upon the judgment of each individual,”" misrepresents the Sola position

I am thankful for the clarification provided in your comment. However, when you say things like, "In other words, each person is his own pope," you are seriously mischaracterizing the sola scriptura position.

Your comparison to a land without judges is not persuasive. The reason it is not persuasive is that even in a land where we have judges that interpret the laws, we don't feel compelled to agree with their interpretations. Sometimes we openly (more or less, depending on the land) state that the judges misinterpreted the law. We live with the consequences of the decisions of the judges, but we don't (always) agree with them. We abide by their decisions for the sake of keeping the peace, because of threat of force for disobedience, or simply because they must be obeyed as long as conscience permits it.

Your analogy fails to persuade, in short, because it compares submission to judicial orders with belief about truth. I realize that I run the risk of falling foul of a counter-objection that I am conflating the objection with the antetype. Nevertheless, the comparison made was to the fact that we need judges to keep order rather than each just interpreting the laws as we see fit. Thus, the comparison was laws=> Scripture and judges => church. Nevertheless, we are supposed to agree (in your proposed world) with the church, whereas we need only obey the judges.

VI. If Sola Scriptura Should be Blamed for Solo Scriptura, then Apostolic Succession Should be Blamed for Sola Scriptura

Your response here is to rebut the idea that a good thing should be blamed for an evil thing that comes from it. I don't necessarily disagree with your argument. In fact, I'll reproduce it here:
That would be like saying that since God made Lucifer, therefore God is to blame for Lucifer’s sin. But while Lucifer’s being comes from God, Lucifer’s sin does not come from God, even though Lucifer’s sin depends upon Lucifer’s being. All evil comes from good in this way, as Aquinas explains in Summa Theologica I Q.49 a.1. Protestantism came out of the Catholic Church not by an essential continuity with its intrinsic principles, but as a discontinuity, a rupture with the principles of sacramental authority and apostolic succession that had been operative in the Church from the first century.
But your argument is also a rebuttal to the use of historical progression to blame sola for the solo position. I realize that in your final sentence you attempt to argue that Sola Scriptura is continuous with Solo Scriptura, but the difference between subordinate authority and no authority is a real difference (not withstanding the discussion you've made above to the effect that a subordinate authority is not an authentic authority).

VII. It is not fair to pitch inconsistently practiced [X] against consistently practiced [Y]

You answered my question about whether you agree that it is unfair to pitch inconsistently practiced [X] against consistently practiced [Y] with a "no." That's perplexing to me, since I can't see how it is fair for you to make such a comparison.

Perhaps you intended your "no" to mean that you don't think you're making a comparison between inconsistently practiced [X] and consistently practiced [Y]. However, with due respect, I think you'll find that you are making such a comparison. You refuse, from what I can see, to permit me to abstract a group of consistent practitioners of sola scriptura, but you insist on abstracting a group of consistent practitioners of apostolic succession.

VIII. There Are Other Ways to Avoid Anarchy / Many Schisms / etc. without Either Apostolic Succession or Sola Scriptura

I had noted that there are other ways to avoid alleged consequences [A]-[E] besides either sola scriptura or apostolic succession. Your response doesn't really seem to address this objection. Instead, it tries to blame the JWs and Mormons on "Protestantism." Whether or "Protestantism" should be blamed for their existence[Fn12], they provide other ways to avoid the supposed problems. The point is that whether or not something avoids particular problems is not determinative of the worth of the ideology. It's unclear whether you missed this objection entirely or not.

The attempt to blame the JWs and Mormons on "Protestantism" while plainly not blaming them on sola scriptura gets us back up to Section I(b)(2) of this response. There are other ideologies besides sola scriptura at play within "Protestantism" making it difficult to demonstrate that the historical progression is the result of natural necessity as opposed to historical accident.

IX. The Cost of "Apostolic Succession" May Not be Worth the Benefit of Solving the Problems

You responded to my criticism that "Apostolic Succession" may solve the alleged consequences at too high a price with two responses:

Your first response was that "speculation is cheap and easy." But my comment is not simply idle speculation. The existence of trade-offs is simply an aspect of any decision-making event. Your article attempts to identify the negatives of an alternative to sola scriptura but does not address the negatives to "apostolic succession."

Your second response was that "authority is not control or force." This response seems absurd on its face. The "Catholic Encyclopedia," for example, speaking of the laity in Roman Catholicism states:
Consequently they are not allowed to preach in church, or to undertake to defend the Catholic doctrine in public discussions with heretics. But in their private capacity, they may most lawfully defend and teach their religion by word and writing, while submitting themselves to the control and guidance of ecclesiastical authority.
Similarly, under the topic of "Acceptance," the encyclopedia states:
Acceptance by the faithful is not required for the binding force of ecclesiastical laws. The Apostles received from Christ the power of binding and loosing, and the hierarchy (i.e. the Pope, bishops and other prelates) have inherited this power, as has always been recognized in the Church.
The rigidity of the Roman Catholic system may be thought to be a strength in terms of avoiding alleged consequences [A]-[E], but there are tradeoffs to rigidity - tradeoffs that the article seems to refuse to recognize [Fn13].

X. Conclusion

I hope the above discussion has demonstrated what I think are some of the weaknesses in the approach of the article. The assertion that solo scriptura proceeds by natural necessity from sola scriptura hasn't been established but merely asserted. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to demonstrate nature necessity with respect to an ideology, particularly because it involves mixing human beings and the ideas.

The alleged consequences don't actually seem to be tied to sola scriptura in any concrete way. In fact, it seems that to tie the consequences to sola scriptura the deck must be stacked against sola scriptura by creating a multi-church abstraction to compare to a single church. Similarly, the arguments presented to deny that the creeds (or whatever) have any real authority are demonstrably wrong in that they would imply that any subordinate authority is not a real authority.

With respect, most of the criticisms of the article seem to be missed, such as the criticism that the article fails to address the trade-offs of the Roman Catholic system. The cost of avoiding anarchy to Hobbes was tyranny. He thought it was worth it, but most folks today disagree. At any rate, one must at least consider the trade-offs before one can conclude in favor of an alternative.

Consequently, I continue to think the article has a significant number of holes at critical points.



1. Of course, there are other varieties (or at least nuances) of "natural necessity" in the literature. For example, as used in Jonathan Edwards, natural necessity refers to the necessity imposed by natural causes: "Thus men, placed in certain circumstances, are the subjects of particular sensations by Necessity: they feel pain when their bodies are wounded; they see the objects presented before them in a clear light, when their eyes are opened: so they assent to the truth of certain propositions, as soon as the terms are understood; as that two and two make four, that black is not white, that two parallel lines can never cross one another; so by a natural Necessity men's bodies move downwards, when there is nothing to support them."

2. There are a bunch of examples, so I'm designating them with small Roman letters.

3. I'm tempted here to say that the terms "spirit" or "essence" could be interchanged with "nature" in most places in examples (a)-(f) and (h). I'm not sure whether that truly does justice to the usage, however.

4. There seems to be some tension in the article as to whether the ecclesial authority in "Protestantism" is properly characterized as democratic or anarchical. Possibly the authors of the article view the two as equivalent, though, of course most democracies (whether broadly or narrowly defined) would beg to differ. The article never says that anarchy itself is in the nature of solo scriptura, though perhaps we should infer that from the explanation that "natural necessity" is what leads to anarchy. If so, one wonders whether the article's authors think that democracy in the civil sphere also naturally proceeds to anarchy, or whether this observation is limited to the ecclesial sphere.

5. If I may be so bold as to claim to know the meaning that was intended by the authors!

6. There are different formulations of free will among different groups. In Calvinism, for example, a person makes choices according to the person's nature and circumstances. In other views, man acts with absolute or curbed autonomy. A full discussion of the difference between Calvinistic Free Will and Libertarian Free Will is beyond the scope of this post.

7. Hopefully this example is an inoffensive stereotype. No offense to my Scottish brethren is intended.

8. I'm using the term "Christianity" here as it is typically used in sociological circles, not with theological connotations.

9. Quotation here is not necessarily a quotation of something Bryan Cross wrote, but rather what I take the gist of the article's point to be.

10. For the reasons set forth by Webster and King in their 3-volume series, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of the Faith, I view the Reformation as a revitalization of the ancient practice of sola scriptura not a theological innovation. That debate is also beyond the scope of this response.

11. I am boiling things down quite a bit here, but it seems to me a fair characterization. I hope you don't disagree.

12. Certainly, it would be unfair to try to blame sola scriptura for their existence. It is good that Bryan does not attempt to make that accusation, but his accusation is even less relevant in view of the fact that he blames some other alleged aspect of "Protestantism."

13. For example, one of the tradeoffs is that error once promulgated as a definition is irreformable.