Thursday, March 11, 2010

More discussion of the title of "heretic" for early writers

My opponent in my recently-concluded debate on Sola Scriptura, DavidW, has had some interesting things to say afterwards, and it has provoked some (what I hope are) helpful thoughts, which I'd like to share here.

I thought I'd sort of broken his spirit and will to debate any more, but it doesn't appear that is completely true, so oh well.
(That's mostly a joke, about me breaking his spirit, just FYI.)

OK, so DavidW likes to assert that I hold to some kind of great apostasy in the early church not long after the apostles died, and that I think the early church 'fathers' were heretics. I wrote this post to correct him, and then Viisaus made some very good comments in the combox and PilgrimsArbour a good one as well.
DavidW lastly left a thought-provoking comment, trying to bring the discussion to a concrete level and then accusing me of "distorting and ignoring the evidence and the historical facts".
So, here is my answer.

But were they points of controversy with respect to what the biblical position actually is? Was the biblical position represented? That's the big question.
As we've discussed numerous times before, I don't grant that "Augustinianism" didn't exist before Augustine. Paul, Peter, and Jesus all taught what I teach today with respect to soteriology, predestination, hamartiology, etc. But at least some of it was forgotten by at least some people in the early church. Since this is a difficult thing for you to remember, apparently, please note that "some" does not mean "all". Got that?

Now, as for your three:
1) A. So they were proto-monophysites, is what you're saying. That's a problem. (For you.)
B. I don't know why you think that I think that a sacramental understanding of the Eucharist is heresy. Do you think I consider Presbyterians or Lutherans heretical?
C. You know, there's plenty of reason not to grant that point to you at all. But even if I did grant it, I'd have to ask whether the writers whose writings are still extant ever wrestled with the issue as it is defined biblically. Did he have an opportunity to be corrected by someone correctly interpreting the Scripture? Remember how I made resistance to correction a big deal in the post?
D. To say nothing of the question-begging nature of such appeals to "the early church" on your part, as if you knew anything about said early church masses beyond what a handful of people said that they themselves believed and, less commonly, said what others of their time believed. If you want to substantiate your claims that "the early church" believed what you believe, show me the polling data.

2) James White has admitted that all of the Fathers held to Baptismal Regeneration

I'd like to see that quote, actually.
And obviously Clement of Rome didn't, as he held to sola fide. Further, there's reason to think that Mathetes, Polycarp, and Tertullian didn't hold to such.
It occurs to me that quoting these early writers against your assertion that they "all... held to Baptismal Regen" actually weakens my point in the post, though it's worth it as it is just one more example of how wrecked and untenable your "early church consensus" position is.

3) Not holding to Calvinistic predestination is not heresy.

OK, moving on:

and you still claim that Calvinism isn't Gnosticism?

Yes, I still claim that it is not, unless you're willing to claim that EOdoxy is Muslim, since both hold to monotheism, prophets and supernatural revelation, angels, etc. Just waiting for some non-fallacious inferences from you. Apparently I'll be waiting a while.

which would be that you are condemning yourself, your Scriptures, and the Apostles in the process?

The idea that you or I could "condemn" the Scripture or Apostles is laughable.
This further begs the question at hand, both that the early extant church writings do in fact represent unbroken and uncorrupted DOCTRINAL transmission from the apostles, and that the Scripture does a worse job than those other writings of teaching us apostolic doctrine.

The Fathers of the early Church largely sorted the Apostolic from the apocryphal in their collation of the New Testament by deciding based on whether or not it agreed with their Faith.

1) Taken in isolation, that's certainly quite commendable. Reminds me of some town in Acts 17 that begins with "Bere" and ends in "a".
2) This raises an interesting point.
Let's say I grant that the extant early church writings express more or less EO doctrine.
Given other facts, such as that the Scripture is God-inspired and sufficiently clear to communicate what it intends to communicate, and that the Scr does not teach more or less EO doctrine on these points of contention between us, I don't see why I wouldn't be fully justified in positing with certainty either that either the entire church of the time was in serious, serious error or that these men didn't properly represent the beliefs of the church at large. In the absence of any data to the contrary (such as polling data from the laity and other church leaders from the time periods in question which I've repeatedly requested and you've repeatedly been unable to provide), my position has logical consistency in affirming the latter.
Yes, I know you'd dispute the statements about the Scripture, but as we've seen over and over again, your position just can't get there, sorry. And I think you know that, which is why you slip in these little jabs at Scr's reliability, whether in affirming its errancy when you want to, or in moving away from it towards early church writers, or in doubting its clarity and ability to communicate sufficiently. Or I could be wrong; as we saw in our debate, your exegesis of most every Scr text you tried to deal with was horrific, so I guess that could be it too.

They did not have access to the same historical and archaeological methods as we do, and so this was the rule of which they made use.

1) And so much the worse for them. I thought you'd want to make arguments that help your position...
2) Though my own arguments for the Canon to which I subscribe are primarily theological.

If the Faith of the early Church was as deeply flawed as you allege that it is, your New Testament is also apparently deeply flawed.

Back to the old myth that I hold to some universal apostasy after the 1st century.

Error does not produce truth.

This is equivocation between the TEACHING and the TEACHER. We need to be more careful than that.


Stephen Weltz said...

quick question.

You said that you wouldn't consider a sacramental view of the Lord's supper to be heresy.

There would be a point that you would consider heresy, though, correct? I imagine that you would see the physical presence view to be heresy, since those who hold to it are calling the sacrament God. Roman Catholics, of course, are the most obvious examples (since RC's worship the eucharist), but I think some Lutherans and Anglicans hold to a physical presence view as well. Not sure about the EO, though...

Your thoughts?

Rhology said...

Yes, thanks for the chance to clarify.
I would probably say that transubstantiation is indeed heretical. Iffy, I suppose, but not if you work it out to its logical conclusion. Thing is, with wrong doctrine, most of the time when you do work it out to its logical conclusion, you end up in heresy, but the concept of blessed inconsistency is extremely important in such a case.

A great example of blessed inconsistency would be the belief that one can lose his salvation after being justified. Reduce it down enough, ask enough questions, and the lose-your-salvation proponent always ends up in some sort of self-works, some sort of self-righteousness, proposing that one can KEEP oneself saved by abstaining from sin that's bad enough and by doing enough good works. Notice also that he'd be proposing the equivalent of the mortal/venial sin distinction, reducing some sins to non-death-worthy and others to death-worthy.

Thing is, virtually nobody goes that far in their own thinking and in their own walk with God. They don't think that's true. They think they're saved by the grace of Jesus. They are inconsistent, but how glad I am for that inconsistency!

Anyway, you may have noticed the recent discussions of Real Presence and monophysitism on this very blog. Though our friend and brother Edward Reiss, a Lutheran, made alot of noise and stepped into a pile that was not directed at him, there are significant and substantive differences between the Lutheran view and the RC view.
The EO view is sacramental but not physical, AFAIK. "Mystical", is how they often put it. What I think is funny about that is that this seems to be pretty close to a Baptistic view, except for the sacramental part. Christ is really present (thus the "Real Presence") but it's 'mystical'. So ISTM I'd be justified in saying "So He's really present, but He's not really present." Such goes alot of EO theology, though.

Does that help?

Rhology said...


Stephen Weltz said...

Thank you very much. That clarified the issues well for me.

I'm RC, and I've often wondered recently how more ecumenical protestants can accept us as true Christians when we worship something that they don't consider God. Either we are worshiping Jesus Christ physically present, and they should become RC, or we are worshiping bread, and are idolaters. I suppose someone could say "well...they INTEND to worship Jesus, so its ok", but that doesn't sound like something the God of Israel would accept IMHO.

Anyway, thanks for answering my questions.

God bless

zipper778 said...

Stephen Weltz, I think you have a very good point of view on this subject. I have seen a couple of Roman Catholic apologists (Scott Hahn, John Martignoni) say that if the eucharist truly is Jesus, then everyone should be Roman Catholic, but if it's not Jesus then that is idolatry. It's a point that needs to be honestly considered and I think that you are doing that, which is a good thing.

As far as the Lutheran position is concerned, from what I understand they do believe that Jesus is physically there but they call it consubstantiation (long word, lol). Basically, Jesus is there but they do not worship the elements and they do not believe that Communion is the same as the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary.

I'm not very familiar with Anglican or Eastern Orthodox views on this, though I do believe Eastern Orthodox views are similar to Roman Catholic with their own unique perspective.

zipper778 said...

Also, I was always under the impression that the Baptist view is a very simple cut and dry symbolic view of the Lord's Supper, no physical or mystical presence at all. I believe the Reformed view of Communion is more of a Jesus is present but only spiritually point of view. The two (Reformed and Baptist) are similar but they both have their own points as well.

Viisaus said...

Old Protestant apologists used to remind us that due to the Tridentine dogma of "Intention", no RC who worships the Eucharist can EVER be 100 % sure that the priest who performed the ritual has been properly ordained, or "intended" to perform the ritual correctly.

In other words, no RC can ever be completely sure whether he is really worshipping truly present Christ or just a piece of bread. The potential danger of engaging in mere idolatry is ever present.

And this is so according to official RC doctrine, "playing by their rules."

See more here on the "Doctrine of Intention":

Stephen Weltz said...

If I may ask two further questions about your views...

First, did Martin Luther worship the eucharist? wikipedia says he defended eucharist adoration, but it could be wrong.

Just out of curiosity, how would this affect your view of him? Could he be an idolater?

Second, about Augustine. I've heard it argued that he believed in a spiritual, not physical, presence. But he seems to assert that we should adore the eucharist.

"...I turn to Christ, because it is He whom I seek here; and I discover how the earth is adored without impiety, how without impiety the footstool of His feet is adored. For He received earth from earth; because flesh is from the earth, and He took flesh from the flesh of Mary. He walked here in the same flesh, AND GAVE US THE SAME FLESH TO BE EATEN UNTO SALVATION. BUT NO ONE EATS THAT FLESH UNLESS FIRST HE ADORES IT; and thus it is discovered how such a footstool of the Lord's feet is adored; AND NOT ONLY DO WE NOT SIN BY ADORING, WE DO SIN BY NOT ADORING." (Psalms 98:9)

either my reading of this quote is wrong, or Augustine worshiped the sacrament. What do you think?

That is very interesting, albeit discomforting, information. I think I've heard something similar from "traditionalist" Catholic groups. Because they doubt so many rites of the "Vatican II Church", they recommend something along the lines of, "Jesus, I do adore you in the blessed sacrament IF you are present here." I don't really think that solves the problem, but there ya go.

Stephen Weltz said...

my questions above were directed at everyone in the conversation, btw.

Sorry if they're a bit off topic, these questions have been bugging me for a while.

Rhology said...


I'd probably prefer if James Swan, who's forgotten a lot more about Luther than I've ever known, would answer the first question.
As for your quotation of Augustine, it doesn't bother me either way whether he was telling us to adore the Eucharistic host - my standard of truth is the Bible, not Augustine. I would need to see the context of the psg you've cited, though, to know whether he was actually referring to the Eucharist. Just b/c he says "gave us the same flesh to be eaten UNTO SALVATION" doesn't mean it's Eucharistic - that's pretty much straight biblical language from John 6, and John 6 has clearly SPIRITUAL meaning, given the way Christ defines eating=believing and drinking=coming to Him at the beginning of His monologue, and of course, John 6 occurred way before the institution of the Lord's Table.

zipper778 said...

Hey James, could you answer Stephen Weltz's questions here? I'm kinda curious too about Luther's postion on whether he was okay with eucharistic adoration or not.

John said...

" I don't know why you think that I think that a sacramental understanding of the Eucharist is heresy."

You've claimed in the past a sacramental view of baptism is heresy.

"either that either the entire church of the time was in serious, serious error or that these men didn't properly represent the beliefs of the church at large."

Either way leaves David's objection unanswered: "Fathers of the early Church largely sorted the Apostolic from the apocryphal in their collation of the New Testament by deciding based on whether or not it agreed with their Faith. "

If they were in serious error, so is your canon. If the extant evidence of what they believed is lost, so is the true canon.

"Taken in isolation, that's certainly quite commendable"

It's commendable to take the church's faith as the starting point for determining the canon? Did you really mean to say that?

It would be kind of pointless to respond to every jab about the Church fathers to someone who self-professedly has read less than 1% of them. Every time we get into that, you end up having to say every church father contradicted themselves rather than granting the possibility they actually knew what they believed.

James Swan said...

Hey James, could you answer Stephen Weltz's questions here? I'm kinda curious too about Luther's postion on whether he was okay with eucharistic adoration or not.

Yes, see LW 36:269 "The Adoration of the Sacrament."

Sorry for the delay, I missed your question.

James Swan said...

One other point, I haven't done any detailed study into Luther's Eucharist adoration, but in a comment from 1522 he calls it a matter of "personal liberty." But then again, with Luther, it's always wise to look through his later writings to see if he still holds to this opinion.

zipper778 said...

I will do some looking then. Thank you James. I was wondering if it may have been from some of Luther's earlier writings that he viewed eucharistic adoration favorably. Still, it's an interesting topic to see what Luther's position on it was.