Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Fr Alvin Kimel "The Pontificator" Misses The Point

I sometimes receive new comments on older blog entries. I recently received a comment on one of my blog articles on Alister McGrath. This time Fr Alvin Kimel (aka “Pontificator”) stopped by posting a link as a response. His link-comments can be found here. Now, I’ve never heard of this guy, but I have learned one thing about him: he read my entire post, and completely missed the point.

A few months back, I wrote a few blog entries on Alister McGrath’s book, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification:

Alister McGrath on Augustine and Justification- McGrath documents that Augustine misunderstood the biblical term “justification” and thus set the tone for the understanding of the Roman Catholic Church.

Response on McGrath’s Book Iustitia Dei- A look at Catholic usage of McGrath’s book on Justification. A response to the Catholic attempt to show that that the protestant understanding of justification was unknown in church history previous to the Reformation.

The Alleged Roman Catholic Tradition of Justification- An entry showing that there was not “one” tradition of justification before the Council of Trent made its declaration. Also included is a review of Catholic layman Apolonio Latar’s use of Alister McGrath’s book on Justification.

I wrote these entries because I found Roman Catholics love to quote this book as proof Luther introduced a “theological novum” into the history of the Western Church. I guess using McGrath is supposed to prove that the Reformers deviated from the historical Catholic understanding of justification, and a Protestant scholar admits it. Implied in this argument is the proposition that the Roman Catholic Church received their understanding of Justification from the Apostles, and subsequent Church history records the passing on of its understanding to the Church Fathers, and then ultimately to its dogmatic proclamation at the Council of Trent.

Now, I’m not going to re-write these entries here. The interested reader can see my work on McGrath’s book in the above links. Basically, I argued most of the Catholics I’ve come across quoting McGrath haven’t actually read McGrath. They’ve probably just swiped some of his quotes in the service of Mother Church. McGrath’s book is not easy reading, and the statements the Catholics selectively cite also come with a broader context that explains what McGrath means. I think that if a Roman Catholic actually read McGrath’s book, they wouldn’t cite him. He does not establish Rome’s view on justification, and his comments in context do not say what Catholics think they do.

Now, read through Fr Alvin Kimel’s comments. Do his words show that he grasped I was presenting McGrath’s material? No. Does he even attempt to answer or respond to the six questions/conclusions I posed in the blog post? No. Does he attempt to prove I’ve mis-cited McGrath, and Catholics quoting him are accurate? No. The Pontificator did not provide any meaningful response to my blog entry.

But then, I came home today to find the Pontificator’s blog entry now included comments from the peanut gallery. Sure, I realize that’s an uncharitable statement- but I can’t help but see a few more Catholics following along with Kimel in missing the point. Can’t somebody at least read with comprehension? One comment couldn’t even get my name right, calling me, “Swain”. But, my favorite was Jonathan Prejean:

“James Swan himself went to none other than Eric Svendsen and David T. King for help, admitting that he was out of his league in trying to follow McGrath: Augustine and Justification. A bit of “blind leading the blind,” to be sure, particularly given Svendsen’s recent admission that “Patristics is not my field of study, and only marginally an area of interest for me. I make no apologies for not ‘keeping up’ with that field.”

I have to immediately wonder if Mr. Prejean has ever read McGrath’s book on Justification. I’m tempted to say he hasn’t, because if he had, he would probably agree it is a difficult book. One needs to be familiar with Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, as McGrath provides no translations of many citations used throughout the book. I appealed to David King, Eric Svendsen, and others, hoping they had read McGrath’s book. If I had misunderstood McGrath, I wanted to be corrected, I still do. Prejean seems to miss that I actualy care about reading accurately, and interpreting accurately.

Prejean continues:

“The fact is that they don’t know anything about what the Fathers believed, and I wish we had more candid confessions by people like Swan that they more or less don’t know and don’t care. It would save the rest of us who DO know and DO care the bother of interacting with them, except as an example of what the true attitude behind Protestantism is, as was the case with Fr. Al’s post.”

Here it is again- Catholics read what they want to. My question on the Areopagus was about McGrath’s book, and whether or not I properly interpreted it. If Mr. Prejean would like to play in the “same ball field” as I, he could pick up McGrath’s book and let me know if I interpreted McGrath accurately. But no, he really just wanted an opportunity to bash Eric Svendsen on Patristics, so it’s probably best he doesn’t pick up McGrath’s book. I recall hearing Prejean’s call to James White’s Dividing Line Show, and after hearing his inability to answer simple questions, I really want nothing to do with him. I would’ve hung up on him five minutes before James White did.

14 comments:

MasterJedi said...

Well if Jonathen Prejean says so it must be true, he is the ultimate arbiter in any and all matters of any and everything - didn't you know that James.
Prejean says:

"The fact is that they don’t know anything about what the Fathers believed,..."

Yeah, that sounds about accurate - David King doesn't know anything about what the Fathers believed. What an absurd and embarrassing statement, for if anyone has read the King/Webster III Volume set on Holy Scripture, it would soon become obvious the Prejean is nothing more than a master at intellectual manipulation over the minds of those who would listen to his sophistry.
Dr. Svendsen last two posts over on the NTRmin Blog is a good demonstration of this.

http://www.ntrmin.org/

Pontificator said...

Mr. Swan, it wasn't my intention to address your article point by point, but simply to comment on what for me is the most interesting feature of your article, namely, your belief that you, or anyone, can determine the "true" meaning of Holy Scripture even in opposition to the consensual reading of the Church Fathers.

I might of course have gone on to argue that biblical scholars vigorously disagree on what Paul believed about justification, and these disagreements transcend denominational affiliation. There is no scholarly consensus on what Paul meant by "righteousness" and "justify." There is no scholarly consensus that Paul's use of the dikai- words was governed by a "Hebrew understanding," as if Paul's Gentile readers would have understood any of that. And as I pointed out, not even the Greek Fathers, who knew their Greek, read Paul along Protestant lines. And now with the publication of Chris VanLandingham's Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul, matters have become even more controverted.

I have written extensively on justification over the past three years. I think you will find that I have addressed all of the points you raise, though not, I'm sure, to your satisfaction.

Gojira said...

In my estimation, Prejean has been spanked so hard by Svendsen lately that he (Prejean) doesn't really know which way is up.

:-)

Pope_St_Peter said...

Fr. Kimel,

Congratulations on your recent reception of the Sacrament!

In case Mr. Swan has not already found your blog entry regarding your conversion, it may be beneficial to give him the link.

Mr. Swan, Pontificator is very well known in the blog world. Catholic philosopher Dr. Philip Blosser references Pontifications regularly. Dr. Christopher Malloy of the University of Dallas has also dialogued on Pontificator. I mention this to give you an idea of the intellectual character to Pontificator's blogs.

You've probably already gotten this by searching his blog site, but I thought I'd mention it just in case you haven't. You should take a look at his vast - and I do mean vast! - material on the issue of justification. He'll certainly give you more of a challenge than my paper did.

In Christ and His Bride,
Pope St. Peter

johnMark said...

James,

Hays posted some interesting quotes from Hans Kung.
http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2007/01/bridge-to-church-of-nowhere.html

And I thought I'd give you the link.

Mark

James Swan said...

Master Jedi-

Yeah, Protestants don't know anything... Yawn- I'm going to try the same line of reasoning- Catholics don't seem to know anything about Alister McGrath's book!

Blessings- JS

James Swan said...

Gorija-

I've been visiting your blog- you always give me smile-

JS

James Swan said...

Pope St Peter-

He'll certainly give you more of a challenge than my paper did.

Don't be silly- you're paper was very good, and i appreciated you actually tried to work ad fontes.

The Pontificator read one of my blog entries and missed the point- he picked out a few tidbits and left the meat.

James Swan said...

JM-

Thanks.

James Swan said...

Fr. Kimel-

Mr. Swan, it wasn't my intention to address your article point by point, but simply to comment on what for me is the most interesting feature of your article, namely, your belief that you, or anyone, can determine the "true" meaning of Holy Scripture even in opposition to the consensual reading of the Church Fathers.

First of all, you posted the wrong name of my blog entry. It was not, “Augustine and Justification”- rather, it was, “Alister McGrath on Augustine and Justification.”

Then you point out my “basic thesis is that the Catholic understanding of justification, grounded as it is on St Augustine, is wrong because Augustine didn’t know Greek and therefore did not read the New Testament rightly. He understood the Latin verb iustificare to mean “make righteous,” a meaning allegedlly incompatible with the Hebrew sense of justification. Because of Augustine’s massive influence in the Western Church, “the entire direction of the Church was redirected away from what the Bible means by justification.” But again, you missed the obvious that I was expounding McGrath’s position. In fact, throughout your entry, you completely miss McGrath, and that I was going through his position. The blog was an exercise in showing what happens when one refers to Alister McGrath on justifaction.

I might of course have gone on to argue that biblical scholars vigorously disagree on what Paul believed about justification, and these disagreements transcend denominational affiliation. There is no scholarly consensus on what Paul meant by "righteousness" and "justify." There is no scholarly consensus that Paul's use of the dikai- words was governed by a "Hebrew understanding," as if Paul's Gentile readers would have understood any of that.

And I would point out, this is irrelevant to my blog entry. Secondarily, I would point out, you’re arguing from the position of a relativist. That is, you assume by your comments truth doesn’t exist. Simply because scholars are not unified, doesn’t mean that all of them are possibly right, but one can never know- it means God has spoken, and some of them are probably wrong.

And as I pointed out, not even the Greek Fathers, who knew their Greek, read Paul along Protestant lines. And now with the publication of Chris VanLandingham's Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul, matters have become even more controverted.

McGrath begins his book by studying the Pre-Augustinian “tradition”. He states of this period that "For the first three hundred and fifty years of the history of the church, her teaching on justification was inchoate and ill-defined" [Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 23].

McGrath says of this period:

“The history of early Christian doctrine is basically the history of the emergence of the Christological and Trinitarian dogmas. Whilst the importance of soteriological considerations, both in the motivation of the development of early Christian doctrine and as a normative principle during the course of that development, is generally conceded, it is equally evident that the early Christian writers did not choose to express their soteriological convictions in terms of the concept of justification. This is not to say that the fathers avoid the term 'justification': their interest in the concept is, however, minimal, and the term generally occurs in their writings as a direct citation from, or a recognisable allusion to, the epistles of Paul, generally employed for some purpose other than a discussion of the concept of justification itself. Furthermore, the few occasions upon which a specific discussion of justification can be found generally involve no interpretation of the matter other than a mere paraphrase of a Pauline statement. Justification was simply not a theological issue in the pre-Augustinian tradition. The emerging patristic understanding of matters such as predestination, grace and free will is somewhat confused, and would remain so until controversy forced a full discussion of the issue upon the church. Indeed, by the end of the fourth century, the Greek fathers had formulated a teaching on human free will based upon philosophical rather than biblical foundations. Standing in the great Platonic tradition, heavily influenced by Philo, and reacting against the fatalisms of their day, they taught that man was utterly free in his choice of good or evil. It is with the Latin fathers that we observe the beginnings of speculation on the nature of original sin and corruption, and the implications which thismay have for man's moral faculties.

'It has always been a puzzling fact that Paul meant so relatively little for the thinking of the church during the first 350 years of its history. To be sure, he is honored and quoted, but - in the theological perspective of the west - it seems that Paul's great insight into justification by faith was forgotten.'” [Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 19].

I have written extensively on justification over the past three years. I think you will find that I have addressed all of the points you raise, though not, I'm sure, to your satisfaction.

Ok- I will take a look.

JS

Pontificator said...

Mr. Swan, I understand what you are saying. In your original piece you are asking folks to note the breadth of McGrath's book. All of us who engage in polemics use McGrath selectively. But that goes with teh apologetics territory.

But you appear to have missed the point of my piece--to offer critical comment on your statement:

"This might sound shocking, but in my opinion, it really ultimately doesn’t matter if I were to conclude that sola fide finds no support in any of the Early Church Fathers. Sola Fide is based on grammatical and exegetical work on the Biblical text, not on the testimony of history."

This is you speaking, not McGrath. I appreciate finding a person who is honest enough to say something like this.

James Swan said...

Fr Kimel-
Mr. Swan, I understand what you are saying. In your original piece you are asking folks to note the breadth of McGrath's book. All of us who engage in polemics use McGrath selectively. But that goes with teh apologetics territory.

Indeed.


But you appear to have missed the point of my piece--to offer critical comment on your statement: "This might sound shocking, but in my opinion, it really ultimately doesn’t matter if I were to conclude that sola fide finds no support in any of the Early Church Fathers. Sola Fide is based on grammatical and exegetical work on the Biblical text, not on the testimony of history." This is you speaking, not McGrath. I appreciate finding a person who is honest enough to say something like this.

Granted, this is my statement and not McGrath, and it is the point you discuss in the closing paragraph of your entry on me. Had you begun and ended with this, I could've given you the benefit of the doubt that you gripped my points. But you did not, for reasons I already mentioned.

That being said, my point is hypothetical. It doesn't mean I don't care about Church history. It doesn't mean I don't care about the work of biblical scholars. It doesn't mean "me and my Bible out in the woods". It doesn't mean I deny the teaching role of the Church.

What it means is an appeal to Biblical exegesis as the determiner of what the Bible says, rather than an appeal to Church History. Granted, historical studies are relevent and interesting, but the church must always Reform itself to conform to the Word.

JS

FM483 said...

James,

I find this exchange on Justification interesting and illustrative of the major conflict with the Reformers and the medieval Roman church. Perhaps the premiere Reformation treatise on the subject was Martin Chemnitz’ 4 volume “Examination of the Council of Trent”. Chemnitz devotes an entire section on the doctrine of Justification. His opening remark on the subject illustrates the Reformation perspective:

“First of all we must speak of the sophistry by which they shrewdly conceal the true issue of the controversy and in a hateful manner burden our teaching.”

Chemnitz goes to great lengths to dismantle the Tridentine decrees concerning Justification which are so formulated that they indirectly accuse the Reformers as if they taught that believers have only the forgiveness of sins but no regeneration of the Holy Spirit.

Even today as shown in your blog, people are kept in a state of confusion of Justification and Sanctification. The Roman church persists in confusing these two doctrines. Scripturally it is an easy concept: by Grace through faith in Christ a man is forensically declared righteous. As the Holy Spirit enlightens and renews the believer, through his adoption by God in baptism and the Word his love for his Father motivates his desire to please God. This obedience has absolutely nothing to do with the believer’s Justification but is instead the evidence of his faith.

Frank Marron

James Swan said...

Frank-

It would be interesting to find out if Fr. Kimel has read Chemnitz.

Blessings,
James