Sunday, May 23, 2010

Whitaker's Disputations: A Refutation of Stapleton's Arguments on the Authority of the Church (Part 1)

Preliminary Remarks

(For those with limited time, I suggest skipping down to "Whitaker's Refutation of Stapleton's First Supporting Argument" near the bottom of this post. Future entries will likely be significantly shorter.)

We live in an age where Roman Catholic apologists aggressively attempt to convert Protestants to Catholicism. Not only are Protestants in general targeted, but some groups, such as Called to Communion, work to bring Reformed Protestants in particular into submission to Rome.1

Whitaker lived in a similar age. The Catholic Church, reeling as it did from the initial blast of the Reformation, eventually rallied and issued, among other courses of action, an intellectual response to Protestantism through the Counter-Reformation. As far as Whitaker is concerned, Bellarmine and Stapleton are useful representatives of this effort. Their works set out to refute the distinctive Protestant beliefs and doctrines that Luther and Calvin had developed and refined, and to defend and promote the authority and authenticity of the Magisterium of Rome to define the limits of the canon and to officially interpret Scripture.

It must be noted that the debate has changed in some respects since Whitaker, Stapleton and Bellarmine. There have been a series of Catholic ecumenical councils and authoritative documents produced since the sixteenth century and these have some bearing on the official position of Catholicism since the Counter-Reformation. I do not wish to suggest that Disputations serves as a definitive work on contemporary challenges to Sola Scriptura, even if some of its arguments and discussions will be rather instructive and helpful in addressing them. (Indeed, it seems a variety of the Catholic arguments of the Counter-Reformation have merely been recycled, instead of improved or reformulated in any meaningful sense.)

Yet far from rendering Disputations obsolete in any way, these differences serve an unique purpose in critiquing modern Catholicism. Catholics like to claim a continuous succession from the Apostolic tradition of the Scriptures and early church, yet those readers intimately familiar with the post-Vatican II theological landscape might notice some significant differences between modern, liberal Catholicism and the rather conservative positions of Stapleton and Bellarmine as expressed in Disputations.

With that said, let us look at a dispute Whitaker considers to be not only "difficult and perplexed," but so critical that he does not "know whether there is any other controversy between [Papists and Protestants] of greater importance."2

(Readers will discover that clicking the previous footnote hyperlink will direct them to the location of this quote in the Google version of Disputations. I have endeavored to do this with all relevant footnotes. I hope this will encourage both Protestants and Catholics alike to further research this work of Whitaker.)

The First Controversy: Concerning the Authority of Scripture

The whole of the third section of Disputations deals with the single question of whether the church or Scripture enjoys more authority. This question finds itself fleshed out in whether we need the church to know the canon. If we do, then the Papists will be free to claim that Protestants need the Catholic Church, and specifically the Magisterium, to identify the source of all doctrine. Whitaker summarizes all of this as follows:

The state of the controversy, therefore, is this: Whether we should believe that these scriptures which we now have are sacred and canonical merely on account of the church's testimony, or rather on account of the internal persuasion of the Holy Spirit; which, as it makes the scripture canonical and authentic in itself, makes it also appear such to us, and without which the testimony of the church is dumb and inefficacious.3

As to which document or apologist best represents Catholicism on this point, Whitaker selects Stapleton4 and summarizes his assertion as follows:

To have a certain canon of scripture is most necessary to faith and religion. But without the authority of the church it is impossible to have a certain canon of scripture; since it cannot be clear and certain to us what book is legitimate, what supposititious, unless the church teach us.5

Stapleton is referring here to the difficulty Christians might have in knowing the canon of Scripture without reference to some body identifying it for them. There is some power in this argument. Indeed, forms of Stapleton's argument are still popular, although its particulars and consequences are drawn out in greater detail in our present day than by either Stapleton or Whitaker. While our contenders seem content to merely discuss the truthfulness of the question rather than what effects it has on the Christian (perhaps because all parties already understood what was at stake), modern Catholic apologists assert or suggest that the identification of the canon by the Catholic Church carries with it a validation of the Magisterium as the official interpreter of that canon:

I can show you plenty of [required extra-scriptural traditions which refute Sola Scriptura], but the one that's most likely to get your attention is the canon of the New Testament. That's part of God's revelation to the Church that comes down to us entirely outside of the Bible...Think about it: You must rely on that Tradition to know what the New Testament itself is, and you do accept it, by virtue of the fact that you have a Bible...And remember, too, that those epistles and Gospels are inspired by God himself and were given to the Church through revelation...The Church did not make those books [of the canon] inspired; God did. Similarly, the Catholic Church did not make them 'canonical'; God did, by the very fact that He revealed them. But it's no less true that the Catholic Church received this revelation from God and that the Church – which, don't forget, had been commissioned by Christ to authoritatively teach the meaning of the Inspired Scriptures – was charged with the twofold task of both interpreting Scripture as well as organizing and perpetuating its existence...under the sola scriptura rubric, Scripture exists in an absolute epistemological vacuum, since it and the veracity of its contents 'dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church.' If that's true, how then can anyone know with certitude what belongs in Scripture in the first place? The answer is you can't. Without recognizing the trustworthiness of the magisterium, endowed with Christ's own teaching authority, and the living apostolic Tradition of the Church (1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Thes. 2:15; 2 Tim. 2:2), there is no way to know for certain which books belong in Scripture and which do not.6

So the argument has some serious consequences. The claimed conclusion is no less than admitting the Magisterium of Rome is the valid interpreter of Scripture.

Whitaker's Refutation of Stapleton's First Supporting Argument

Stapleton adduces three arguments to support his assertion that we need the church to identify the canon, and thus the authority of the church is greater than the authority of the Scriptures. We will look at the first of these three here, and leave the other two for future posts. The first argument can be written as follows7:

P1 Nothing is more authoritative than God's teaching.
P2 God teaches only through the church.

Therefore,

C1 There is nothing more authoritative than the teaching of the church.

(It should be noted that Stapleton equates the church with the Magisterium.8)

Whitaker makes a variety of responses, some of which will be noted here (these are not in order as they appear in the text):

1. The only way Stapleton's argument can be truly successful is if he proves that "God and the church are the same thing." (It seems this can't be done without some kind of serious doctrinal error, so Stapleton's argument is rendered fallacious.)

2. Whitaker states an obvious truth--"that the authority of him who teaches is greater than that of him through whom one is taught"--and applies it to Stapleton's argument: Since the church is taught by God, the authority of the church is less than the authority of God. Therefore, there is something more authoritative than than the church. The conclusion is shown to be false.

3. And "it will more correctly follow from this reasoning, that nothing is more certain than the word of God and the scriptures, because it is God who addresses us in his word, and teaches us through his word." Not only is there something more authoritative than the church, but this Authority speaks to us directly through the Scriptures.

4. From this it follows that "we are not bound absolutely to receive whatever the church may teach us, but only whatever it proves itself to have been commanded by God to teach us, and with divine authority." In other words, the church is never free to claim that its doctrinal conclusions are absolute by virtue of its authority. It must demonstrate that it has successfully related the doctrine of God.

And how else could it do this but through Scripture?

Whitaker's counter-argument may be summed as follows:

P1 The one who teaches is greater in authority than the one who is taught.
P2 God instructs the church through Scripture.

C1 Therefore, Scripture is more authoritative than the church.

Here Whitaker accomplishes what Stapleton could not. Stapleton wished, in some sense, to equate the authority of God with the authority of the church. Yet if that relationship belongs to anything, it belongs first and foremost to Scripture. Scripture is God-breathed; the church enjoys no such status.

I suspect this can be considered a critical underlying aspect of any defense of Sola Scriptura: The source of God's specific and explicit instructions to His people is the God-breathed Scripture, not the church.

_____________________________

1. "Our aim is to effect reconciliation and reunion between Catholics and Protestants, particularly those of the Reformed tradition." Called to Communion, "What is the Purpose of Called to Communion?", http://www.calledtocommunion.com/about/ (accessed May 22, 2010).

2. William Whitaker,
Disputations on Holy Scripture (Cambridge: Parker Society, 1894; reprint, Orlando: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2005), 275. Readers will find that the pagination of this version matches the Google books version.

3. Ibid., 280.

4. Ibid. Whitaker remarks, "Of all the popish authors, Stapleton hath treated this question with greatest acuteness: we shall, therefore, examine him specially in this debate."

5. Ibid., 285.

6. Patrick Madrid, Answer Me This (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2003), 127.

7. Whitaker, Disputations on Holy Scripture, 285-286. Unless otherwise noted, all of the material in this section is drawn from these pages.

8. "Meanwhile let us see what they mean by this word, the 'church.' Now, under the name of the church the papists understand not only that church which was in the times of the apostles (for Thomas of Walden is blamed on that account by Canus, Loc. Comm. Lib. n. c. 8, and also by Stapleton, Doctrin. Princip. Lib. ix. c. 12, 13), but the succeeding, and therefore the present church; yet not the whole people, but the pastors only. Canus, when he handles this question, understands by the church sometimes the pastors, sometimes councils, sometimes the Roman pontiff. Stapleton, Lib. ix. c. 1, applies this distinction: The church, as that term denotes the rulers and pastors of the faithful people, not only reveres the scripture, but also by its testimony commends, delivers down, and consigns it, that is to say, with reference to the people subject to them : but, as the church denotes the people or the pastors, as members and private persons, it only reveres the scripture. And when the church consigns the scripture, it 'does not make it authentic from being doubtful absolutely, but only in respect of us, nor does it make it authentic absolutely, but only in respect of us.' Hence we see what they understand by the term the church, and how they determine that the scripture is consigned and approved by the church." Ibid., 279.

34 comments:

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Thanks for the post, Matthew.

1. The only way Stapleton's argument can be truly successful is if he proves that "God and the church are the same thing."

This brings some clarity to an issue I dealt with recently. I argued with my online Catholic friends against this idea that the Church, by which they mean the RCC, of course, as a "pillar of the truth," must by necessity be perfect as Christ is perfect. In fact, their argument was that the Church, as the bride of Christ, is not in any way separated but the two now only exist as one since they have "become one flesh." They told me that they are literally the same thing. I pointed out that even a human married couple, though spiritually one flesh nonetheless retain individualism in that they are each independently accountable to God. I was mostly unsuccessful in getting my friends to acknowledge even this point, though there was a little bit of waffling at one point during the back and forth argumentation.

I did not know previous to this exchange how important it was in RCC thinking that the Church be "perfect" so that its pronouncements must also be perfect. There really can be no flexibility, no room for change, no reformation, under that constricting premise.

Carrie said...

This is a great series, Matthew. Thanks!

John Bugay said...

1. The only way Stapleton's argument can be truly successful is if he proves that "God and the church are the same thing." (It seems this can't be done without some kind of serious doctrinal error, so Stapleton's argument is rendered fallacious.)

Matthew -- this type of thing is at the heart of Catholic ecclesiology. It is present in the "The Church is the ongoing incarnation of Christ" theology, which is available here to us in the form of some of "The Church is Christ" comments that we've seen here.

From a contemporary point of view, Michael Horton addresses this in both "Covenant and Salvation" and "People and Place." (More of a "theosis" emphasis in "Covenant and Salvation" and from an ecclesiastical point of view in "People and Place."

This is really why Catholic doctrine is all said to be "of a whole cloth": pull a thread out here, it unravels over there, etc.

John Bugay said...

Tim, I guess I should have read your comment here before posting my own. Yes, they apply Paul's "one flesh," "body of Christ" language to the perfection of the pronouncements of the heirarchy. This is one of the things that Protestants at all levels seem to miss (unless, like you, they've interacted on this point).

Viisaus said...

"The Church is the ongoing incarnation of Christ"

To me, this sounds like a really idolatrous notion (if taken literally). The RC church would be worshipping itself.

Nick said...

Here are my thoughts:

You said: "Indeed, it seems a variety of the Catholic arguments of the Counter-Reformation have merely been recycled, instead of improved or reformulated in any meaningful sense."

A recycled argument is not necessarily a defective argument. I'd say much of today's apologetics (of both Catholics and Protestants) is not substantially new, though can sometimes be improved or repackaged.

A good example of this is your first quote from Whitaker, claiming a true believer knows the canon ultimately by the "internal persuasion of the Holy Spirit." This is expressly stated in the Westminster and widely proclaimed today; it's nothing new. The standard Catholic response, in the words of Pat Madrid, that Protestant approach to the canon is "pure Mormonism" (i.e. 'burning in the bosom').

But I would build on this: where does the Bible itself instruct Christians to derive the canon the way Whitaker states? If nowhere, Whitaker has fallen into a self-refuting proposition.

Now I will examine the three answers put forth:

1. The only way Stapleton's argument can be truly successful is if he proves that "God and the church are the same thing." (It seems this can't be done without some kind of serious doctrinal error, so Stapleton's argument is rendered fallacious.)

I deny "God" and "Church" must be said to be synonymous, though there is a clear link between the two: St Paul expressly says Christ (and Apostles and Prophets) is the "cornerstone" of the Church, and elsewhere expressly says the Church is Christ's Body. Thus the Church is indeed "God" in a very real (though not synonymous) sense and thus Whitaker is refuted.


2. Whitaker states an obvious truth--"that the authority of him who teaches is greater than that of him through whom one is taught"--and applies it to Stapleton's argument: Since the church is taught by God, the authority of the church is less than the authority of God. Therefore, there is something more authoritative than than the church. The conclusion is shown to be false.

This is a distortion of the original premise. The issue never was "more authoritative than God." To expose this distortion, take this example: Let's say Einstein wanted to share his scientific discoveries with the world, and in doing so taught and appointed an official professor and issued a textbook along with the professor's lectures. Would it make any sense or even be logically true to say the professor is superior to the textbook or vice versa? No. Does this in any way involve making the professor greater than Einstein? No.


3. And "it will more correctly follow from this reasoning, that nothing is more certain than the word of God and the scriptures, because it is God who addresses us in his word, and teaches us through his word." Not only is there something more authoritative than the church, but this Authority speaks to us directly through the Scriptures.

This is neither here nor there, though introduces a new difficulty for Whitaker: showing how the "Word of God" was confined wholly unto writing.

John Bugay said...

Nick -- I deny "God" and "Church" must be said to be synonymous, though there is a clear link between the two: St Paul expressly says Christ (and Apostles and Prophets) is the "cornerstone" of the Church, and elsewhere expressly says the Church is Christ's Body. Thus the Church is indeed "God" in a very real (though not synonymous) sense and thus Whitaker is refuted.

St. Paul also expressly says what "Christ's Body" is.

Harold Hoehner, in his commentary on Ephesians (which scours the Greek text) describes what this means: “The prepositional phrase ‘in his flesh’ refers to the crucified Christ and is parallel with the phrase ‘by the blood of Christ’ in verse 2:13 and ‘through the cross’ in verse 2:16…It was only in his flesh that the law was rendered inoperative. It shows the locale of this accomplishment.” (374)

“In the present context kainos (“new”, v. 15) is used to show that Christ has created a whole new person entirely different from the two former persons, namely, Jews and Gentiles. It is not that Gentiles become Jews as Gentile proselytes did in pre-NT times, nor that Jews become Gentiles, but both become “one new person” or “one new humanity,” a third entity” (378-379).

“The new corporate person, who is called “one body” in verse 16, refers to the church… Later in 4:13, Paul does picture the two groups, Jews and Gentiles, as a single individual of a mature person… [The phrase “the fullness of Christ” in this verse means “maturity,” a concept which is also found in other places in the New Testament, notably Hebrews 6.] This is a new body of Christians who make up the church. This creates unity among believers in the church, for they are in Christ. It is this community to which Jesus made reference when he said to Peter, “I will build my church” (Matt 16:18)” (379-380).

Those who want to suggest that “the Church” is somehow the “ongoing incarnation of Christ” ignore the fact that Christ ascended. Having “Christ everywhere” (whether in the Thomistic view of the “sacramental” presence of Christ in the Eucharist” or in some kind of “ongoing incarnation”) ignore, in Calvin’s words, his “specificity as a particular man. “Christ everywhere really means that Jesus of Nazareth is nowhere.”

Michael Horton describes this further: “In other words, just when the gospel has taught us to think of salvation in the most concrete terms, as an act of God in the flesh and for the flesh, the story of Jesus is turned against itself. His humanity is betrayed and marginalized after all. (People and Place 7-8).

“It is the church’s recurring temptation to look away from the absence—toward a false presence, often substituting itself as an extension of Christ’s incarnation and reconciling work—that distracts it from directing the world’s attention to the Parousia in the future. Yet a church that does not acknowledge Christ’s absence is no longer focused on Christ but is tempted to idolatrous substations,” namely, considering that “Christ IS the Church.”

Christ is still God, and that God that he is puts him, even though he has the flesh of a man, so infinitely far above us that for anything human to consider itself “Christ” is nothing other than an idolatrous substitution.

“The force of Christ’s completed work “is simply lost” in the inflated talk of the church’s redemptive activity.” (Horton 167).

Thus the Church is in no way "God," in any sense besides the idolatrous one, and thus Nick is refuted.

Viisaus said...

I believe that this "deification of the Church" received major impetus with the advent of the Constantinian era.

In the 4th century, Christians suddenly ascended from social pariahs into rulers of the world-empire. It is no wonder that when Christians tasted the sweetness of worldly success it rose to their heads.

Very predictably and oh-so-humanly, the church writers in the post-Constantinian times began to congratulate and praise themselves (collectively, in "we the church" sense) in ever more self-important manner. Errare humanum est.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Nick writes:

I deny "God" and "Church" must be said to be synonymous, though there is a clear link between the two: St Paul expressly says Christ (and Apostles and Prophets) is the "cornerstone" of the Church, and elsewhere expressly says the Church is Christ's Body. Thus the Church is indeed "God" in a very real (though not synonymous) sense and thus Whitaker is refuted.

You're not making an argument, Nick. Noting that the "Church" is a "cornerstone" and is "Christ's body" is just an observation. You need to draw out the specific implications of these labels and apply them to either Stapleton's argument to salvage it or to Whitaker's counter-argument to refute it.

This is especially the case when we consider that Whitaker uses similar descriptors; for example, he considers the Church the "spouse" of Christ:

You have heard how much these men attribute to the church. It now follows that we consider how much ought really to be attributed to it. We do not indeed ascribe as much to the church as they do (for we could not do so lawfully); but yet we recognise distinguished offices which the church hath to perform in respect of scripture, and which may be reduced to four heads...The second office of the church is, to distinguish and discern the true, sincere, and genuine scriptures from the spurious, false, and supposititious...it knows the voice of the spouse; it is enduded with the highest prudence, and is able to try the spirits. (Disputations, 283-284)

So it's not enough to merely mention these Biblical descriptors when Whitaker seems well-enough aware of them. You need to make supporting arguments for why these descriptors are sufficient to salvage Stapleton's argument or refute Whitaker's replies.

As for Whitaker's reply itself, he is noting that, by the rules of logic, in order for Stapleton's argument to succeed, Stapleton needs to somehow prove that God and the Church are the same thing. Otherwise, God is clearly more authoritative than the Church, or, worse, Stapleton must say that the Church is greater than God. You response so far does not interact with his reasoning.

This is a distortion of the original premise.

That's certainly possible. But you need to prove that from Whitaker or Stapleton.

The issue never was "more authoritative than God."

I don't know what you mean by that. Where does Whitaker say Stapleton has argued that the authority of the Church is greater than the authority of God? Remember, Stapleton wants to argue that the authority of God is expressed through the authority of the Church, rather than through Scripture. You response at this point is confusing, and your analogy does little to alleviate this problem.

This is neither here nor there,

To the contrary, Whitaker here demonstrates that Scripture has more authority than the Church. So Stapleton's argument is refuted. It also serves as a good modern argument in favor of Sola Scriptura.

though introduces a new difficulty for Whitaker: showing how the "Word of God" was confined wholly unto writing.

Whitaker's particular refutations of this argument do not stand or fall on whether Scripture contains the entirety of the Word of God available (to us or to him). So when you speak of "a new difficulty" you are really changing the subject. That might be fine in another context, but we're dealing with the particular canon/authority argument of Stapleton with a fairly strict application to its modern forms. I don't see how your observation is all that relevant.

Richard Froggatt said...

"Meanwhile let us see what they mean by this word, the 'church"

Exactly where we should look. How can the church be defined in Roman terms when it looks nothing like what it did in the first few centuries.

"1. The only way Stapleton's argument can be truly successful is if he proves that "God and the church are the same thing."

Even if it could be proved that God and the church are the same thing, it would only undercut the argument for a need for a magisterium since we are all a part of the church, the body of Christ.

Dozie said...

"Harold Hoehner, in his commentary on Ephesians (which scours the Greek text) describes what this means:"

The argument is that without Harold Hoehner, John Bu Gay or anyone else would not know what "this means". So much for sola scriptura and how pitiful are those who do not have Harold Hoehner as their magisterium!

John Bugay said...

Dozie, before you can know what a text means, you have to know what it actually says.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Matthew writes:

You're not making an argument, Nick.

What he was responding to was no argument either. He was responding to this, from the post:

1. The only way Stapleton's argument can be truly successful is if he proves that "God and the church are the same thing." (It seems this can't be done without some kind of serious doctrinal error, so Stapleton's argument is rendered fallacious.)

That's not an argument. It's an assertion. Nick is not obliged to counter an assertion with an argument.

As for Whitaker's reply itself, he is noting that, by the rules of logic, in order for Stapleton's argument to succeed, Stapleton needs to somehow prove that God and the Church are the same thing.

No, he doesn't. All that needs to be established is whether the Church teaches with the authority of Christ. One analogy might be power of attorney: the one who possesses this is able to act with the authority of the one who has given him power of attorney, and yet the two people are certainly not the same.

That's certainly possible. But you need to prove that from Whitaker or Stapleton.

No he doesn't. All he has to do is show that the original premises had to do with the authority of the teaching of the Church, not the authority of the Church generally compared to God's authority generally. And that is beyond dispute from the post itself. But in the post, Whitaker begins with a discussion of the general authority of God in comparison to the general authority of the Church - about which no one argues that God's authority is greater - and moves from there to a conclusion about a specific that is unwarranted. It is certainly a distortion as Nick claimed. If God teaches only through the Church (P2), then it is impossible for God to be more authoritative than Himself, and Whitaker's refutation fails.

Lastly, even if Whitaker succeeds against Stapleton's first argument, it does nothing whatsoever to establish that the Church is unnecessary for knowing the canon of Scripture: the notion that Scripture (as an undefined collection of books) might have more authority than the Church in no way implies that the Scripture can (or does) define its own canon, or that the canon may be known in any objective sense apart from the Church.

Well done, Nick.

RdP

Ben M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Viisaus said...

"Not only do the Fathers teach that the Church is Christ, that she is the prolongation of the Incarnation, but they teach as well that she is the prolongation of the Passion!"

I do not believe in your dogmatic claims about "the Fathers" collectively teaching this or that. You are artificially trying to make them sound more united in doctrine they they actually were, as you are an uncritical, mechanically slogan-spouting RC-bot.

In any case, fathers often used exaggerating rhetoric that they often did not mean to be taken with full literalness. Only the later RC generations no longer "understood the joke" and began to take the patristic rhetoric with wooden literalism, ignoring the caveats they had issued.

Transubstantiation is a good example of this - the writers of early centuries did NOT mean to endorse such materialistic scholastic doctrine that medieval RCs adopted, no matter how florid manner they might have spoken about Eucharist being "Christ's body."

Nick said...

John,

If I'm reading your entire response to me correctly, you've somehow managed to miss the cardinal text regarding the Mystical Body of Christ. I see no references to Ephesians 5:22ff, which explicitly says

"Christ is the head of the church, his body;"

and "we are members of his body;"

and "a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church."

Your response is essentially that of the most extreme (normal?) form of (anti-sacramental) Baptists. The last text really flies in the face of that long attempt to downplay Christ's Mystical Body and render it a mere title - St Paul says Christ's Mystical Body is "a profound mystery" and roots this all the way back to Genesis 1. (Some Fathers have even speculated that this Gen 1 reference implies Christ would have become Incarnate even if Adam never fell, but I say this only to emphasize the fact the Fathers held a very "Catholic Sacramental" view here.)

This has nothing to do with confusing Christ's humanity and everything to do with the profound concept of the Christians personal Union with Christ. Not a forensic union (obliterating any attempt to frame Eph 2 as imputed righteousness), but an ontological, yet mystical Union.

Your response is a total misunderstanding of the Ancient and Apostolic notion of the Church as Christ's Mystical Body, attacking a phantom problem.

If the Church is not in some real sense an extension of Christ, the description of the Church being Christ's Body would be utter blasphemy and illogical - and the fact the term "Body" is used indicates this is an extension of the Incarnation as well, since Christ's Body only came about at the Incarnation.

Nick said...

Matthew,

As RdP points out, Whitaker's original claim was mere assertion, especially the part where he says "this can't be done without some kind of serious doctrinal error."
I'd say that my position is vindicated on two fronts: (1) The Church is explicitly said to be the Body of God the Son, without necessitating Christological heresy and (2) any attempts to strip this of any ontological meaning will force one to strip the believer of any grounds for a true Union with Christ (which is a manifest error).

And the same thing goes with notions such as Christ being the "cornerstone" of the Church, which is the most critical and foundational point of a structure. Christ is literally a part of the structure, rendering it "God" in some real sense. The only option is to say Christ is so by mere Title, in which I unfortunately wont be surprised if such is conceded.


As for the second point, the argument (but not logic) seems plain:

(A) Whitaker states an obvious truth--"that the authority of him who teaches is greater than that of him through whom one is taught"--and applies it to Stapleton's argument:
[i.e. the Teacher is more authoritative than the Student]

(B) Since the church is taught by God, the authority of the church is less than the authority of God.
[i.e. God is more authoritative than the Church - which is a non-issue.]

(C) Therefore, there is something more authoritative than than the church. The conclusion is shown to be false.
[i.e. God is more authoritative than the Church]

The argument here is of no value, for nobody is trying to argue an authority above God. Now, if one is attempting to say something cannot act with God's very authority (without being God), they've just demolished any grounds for Inspired Apostolic Teaching, be it Oral or Written - for that is precisely the authority the Apostles exercised.

Viisaus said...

If the idea of Church being the body of Christ should be accepted with wooden literalism, then the believers would become the fourth member of the Godhead. Trinity would turn into Quaternity.

Or saints would become pantheistically assimilated into divinity, losing their creaturely limitations. (A notion that RC saint-worship implicitly supports, btw.)

Such blasphemous conclusions cannot be true.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Viisaus wrote:

If the idea of Church being the body of Christ should be accepted with wooden literalism, then the believers would become the fourth member of the Godhead. Trinity would turn into Quaternity.

Or saints would become pantheistically assimilated into divinity, losing their creaturely limitations. (A notion that RC saint-worship implicitly supports, btw.)

Such blasphemous conclusions cannot be true.


Union with Christ does not imply (nor does the Catholic Church teach) that we cease being human, nor that we become divine in the sense of having the same nature as God.

The Bible says that when a man and woman marry, they become "one flesh." No one disputes this, yet no one says that the two have the same DNA after the wedding ceremony either.

Peace,

RdP

Viisaus said...

"The Bible says that when a man and woman marry, they become "one flesh." No one disputes this, yet no one says that the two have the same DNA after the wedding ceremony either."

Indeed, and likewise the idea of church being the body of Christ (or the Eucharist being the body of Christ) must be understood in a symbolical, non-materialist sense - even if those notions might be "real" in another sense.

Dozie said...

"Dozie, before you can know what a text means, you have to know what it actually says."

The question is whether you get what the bible says solely from the bible (as a way of maintaining the purity of the principle of sola scriptura) or from the discordant voices of Protestant theologians? It seems to me you are saying that resort to the works of “theologians” is integral to understanding the texts of the bible. If this is the case, I suggest that a vast majority of Protestants are still pagans.

John Bugay said...

Union with Christ does not imply (nor does the Catholic Church teach) that we cease being human, nor that we become divine in the sense of having the same nature as God.

The Bible says that when a man and woman marry, they become "one flesh." No one disputes this, yet no one says that the two have the same DNA after the wedding ceremony either.


But Ratzinger does say, and make a big deal, out of an "ontological" change in the believer. Further, Rome uses this kind of notion to support itself in some sort of "sacramental succession" that just simply did not exist in the early church (or in the Scriptures, as I've outlined a bit in these comments, and hope to do further and in a more complete way).

Calvin had a fairly complete and thorough teaching about the biblical "Union with Christ" and we should not shy away and say that individual believers do not share in these benefits.

But if you Catholics want to use Ephesians to define what "the Church" is, you should recognize what Paul was saying and be prepared to say, in a consistent way, how Paul's language in any way (other than by the loose kind of association you are making) leads to the type of doctrine you are espousing.

In fact, Paul identifies the church, at its granular level, not with the Roman heirarchical structure, but merely as "us who believe" (Eph 1:19). This is clearly how Reformed doctrines view the church.

I've provided a great deal of information above, that has simply been ignored, in the face of these mere assertions. Further, I'm prepared to go a lot farther in this direction, defining "body" "flesh" "head" and other terminology, and how they relate together to yield, not the Catholic doctrine of "the Church," but what the Protestants have been saying all along.

John Bugay said...

Dozie -- What I am saying is that, before there was one Protestant, that Catholic doctrines had gotten far out of line because of multiple misunderstandings of words. Because of mistranslations. Because fictions and forgeries got passed along as if they were true. Before there was one Protestant, you have to look at what the church was doing and honestly, you have to conclude, they had really messed some things up.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Reginald de Piperno writes:

That's not an argument. It's an assertion. Nick is not obliged to counter an assertion with an argument.

It's not an assertion in that sense. If you're familiar with the tenants of logic, you'll see how Whitaker's response is reasonable. The conclusion only flows from the premises if they are modified or changed so that, somehow, God equals the Church.

No, he doesn't. All that needs to be established is whether the Church teaches with the authority of Christ.

Then go ahead and show as much. Salvage Stapleton's argument with the appropriate modifications.

No he doesn't.

So Nick is free to assert that there has been a misrepresentation, but is not obligated to show why this is the case.

All he has to do is show that the original premises had to do with the authority of the teaching of the Church, not the authority of the Church generally compared to God's authority generally.

This is really a bit too muddled to issue any kind of a response.

Lastly, even if Whitaker succeeds against Stapleton's first argument, it does nothing whatsoever to establish that the Church is unnecessary for knowing the canon of Scripture:

That would be interesting if it were relevant to the truthfulness of either Stapleton's argument or Whitaker's rebuttal.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Nick,

Did you read Whitaker? The parenthetical I added to the summary of his first rebuttal are not his words. He does not specifically say that "this can't be done without some kind of serious doctrinal error."

Perhaps I assumed too much to think you'd you'd read two or three pages of Whitaker before issuing a response to his arguments.

Whitaker's first response, as I said, is just a matter of following the rules of logic. Both Whitaker and Stapleton seemed well versed in these rules, and I suspect they expected their readers to be as well. Perhaps today we need to spell out obvious fallacies in syllogistic reasoning, but I doubt that was the case between disputants and their followers as educated and sophisticated as Whitaker and Stapleton.

I'd say that my position is vindicated on two fronts: (1) The Church is explicitly said to be the Body of God the Son, without necessitating Christological heresy and (2) any attempts to strip this of any ontological meaning will force one to strip the believer of any grounds for a true Union with Christ (which is a manifest error).

That's all fine and well, but you need to demonstrate how that's reasonable and salvages Stapleton's argument for reasons I've explained--Whitaker seems familiar with this kind of language, so it is necessary for you to demonstrate that these figures carry the weight you'd like them to in terms of how you understand the authority of the Church; at best, your appeal to these kinds of descriptions are asserted against Whitaker's appeal to similar descriptions without anything to recommend the definitions you apply to yours over the definitions he applies to his.

The argument here is of no value, for nobody is trying to argue an authority above God.

Whitaker never said Stapleton's argument was that the authority of the Church was above God. The question for Stapleton, if we can make it this simple without rendering it confusing or terribly problematic, is whether they are equal. Whitaker says they are not equal and demonstrates as much.

Reginald de Piperno said...

I do not have much time right now, so, briefly…

I said (among other things): "All that needs to be established is whether the Church teaches with the authority of Christ" (contra Whitaker's claim that the Church must be shown to be "the same thing").

Matthew writes, in response:

Then go ahead and show as much. Salvage Stapleton's argument with the appropriate modifications.

Is this a concession that my statement contradicting Whitaker is correct, and that consequently Whitaker is wrong in saying that the two must be shown to be "the same thing"? If so, then I will try to briefly demonstrate that the Church teaches with the authority of Christ as soon as I can (which may not be today, or at least not until much much later today).

If, however, you deny that this is all that must be shown (rather than the identity of the two), then I would suggest that since you, with Whitaker, have made the contrary claim without argument in the post, I see no reason to do more than you in reply to the post (especially since my time is unfortunately limited).

This is really a bit too muddled to issue any kind of a response.

I apologize for being unclear. I think Nick has said things better anyway in his reply, so I defer to him.

That would be interesting if it were relevant to the truthfulness of either Stapleton's argument or Whitaker's rebuttal.

Sorry, I thought that you said Stapleton's argument was in support of the claim that we need the Church in order to know the canon. You said in the post: "This question finds itself fleshed out in whether we need the church to know the canon." If you meant something else, please explain. I apologize if I misunderstood.

Peace,

RdP

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Is this a concession that my statement contradicting Whitaker is correct,

It is not, as I had hoped my other remarks communicated.

It is, however, my interest in seeing you flesh this idea out.

If, however, you deny that this is all that must be shown (rather than the identity of the two), then I would suggest that since you, with Whitaker, have made the contrary claim without argument in the post, I see no reason to do more than you in reply to the post (especially since my time is unfortunately limited).

Here is the summary of the argument again:

P1 Nothing is more authoritative than God's teaching.
P2 God teaches only through the church.

Therefore,

C1 There is nothing more authoritative than the teaching of the church.

But it's not clear how P1 and P2 lead to the conclusion. The best these premises accomplish is to show that God's authority is ultimate and is expressed only through the Church, not that the Church's authority is ultimate.

Now, you might, like Nick (as far as I understand him), think this a distinction without consequence, but it is necessary for Whitaker to make in order for him to introduce God as another authority and to then explain how God expresses his ultimate authority in ways beside the Church.

You also might seem to think, as Nick has, that this is some kind of misrepresentation of Stapleton. But, as far as I can tell, that is Stapleton's rejoinder at that point in the debate:

But (says he) nothing is more certain than God's teaching: therefore nothing more certain than the authority of the church, since God teaches through the church. Now where is the consequence of this ? We confess indeed that nothing is more certain than God's teaching, and this is the very thing which we maintain, and hence conclude that the authority of the church is not the highest: but his consequence meanwhile is weak, until he prove that God and the church are the same thing.(Disputations, 286).

If you want to reject this argument, that's fine. But don't claim it is a misrepresentation of Stapleton. We are dealing with Stapleton and Whitaker as they are, and only when we accurately reproduce their positions--with whatever errors they may have--can we go ahead and make the modifications we see fit.

Sorry, I thought that you said Stapleton's argument was in support of the claim that we need the Church in order to know the canon.

I did. The Church can still give the canon without it carrying the consequences Stapleton wishes to attach to such a fact. Whitaker does spend time arguing that we can know the canon by means outside of the Church's brute testimony, but although that is relevant later, it is not required at this specific juncture.

If you still think your comment here is relevant, spell it out in more detail so I can see what you're trying to get at.

Gojira said...

Ben M,

"Well, this just demonstrates again the abject depth of Protestant ignorance about Christ and his Mystical Body, the Church. Not only do the Fathers teach that the Church is Christ, that she is the prolongation of the Incarnation, but they teach as well that she is the prolongation of the Passion!"

In the same breath you called ***the*** body of Christ, and then called the Church a She.....that is messed up dude

Nick said...

Matthew said: That's all fine and well, but you need to demonstrate how that's reasonable and salvages Stapleton's argument for reasons I've explained--Whitaker seems familiar with this kind of language, so it is necessary for you to demonstrate that these figures carry the weight you'd like them to in terms of how you understand the authority of the Church; at best, your appeal to these kinds of descriptions are asserted against Whitaker's appeal to similar descriptions without anything to recommend the definitions you apply to yours over the definitions he applies to his.

It's clear we're speaking two different languages. You're asking/demanding me show why my comments are 'reasonable' and 'salvage' Stapleton when in my mind I have already demonstrated this in the very words you're responding to. I can't be anymore clear with my logic: The Bible says the Church is the Body of God the Son. Your options are two: either claim this is a mere title with no ontological reality, or else claim there is some ontological truth to it. Claim the former (which you're free to do) and sever any soteriological Union with Christ, or claim the latter and admit the Mystical Body is Divine in some real sense.


You also said: Whitaker never said Stapleton's argument was that the authority of the Church was above God.

Again, we're speaking totally past eachother. The quote of Whitaker is plain to me: "Therefore, there is something more authoritative than than the church." In more plain English: Therefore, God is above the Church. Why is he setting out to prove God is more authoritative than the Church? Was Stapleton ever calling that into question, somehow suggesting God is not Supreme in all things?

I'm really at a loss of what else to say.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Nick writes:

The Bible says the Church is the Body of God the Son. Your options are two: either claim this is a mere title with no ontological reality, or else claim there is some ontological truth to it. Claim the former (which you're free to do) and sever any soteriological Union with Christ, or claim the latter and admit the Mystical Body is Divine in some real sense.

You need to explain why the latter is problematic for Whitaker and/or helpful to Stapleton. So the body is "Divine" in "some real sense." What does that mean? How does that specifically deal with the argument from authority, either with respect to Stapleton's argument or Whitaker's reply?

It's not obvious, even if you claim it is; if you want to impale me on the horns of a dilemma, it would be helpful to actually make the dilemma plausible. Right now you have yet to explain why taking the latter option is some kind of defeater.

Why is he setting out to prove God is more authoritative than the Church?

You could trying reading Whitaker himself, although that might involve taking seriously those arguments you dismissed as "neither here nor there" earlier.

Was Stapleton ever calling that into question, somehow suggesting God is not Supreme in all things?

If we see his wording as careless, then his argument could imply such a thing. More charitably, we could say he means that the Church is the ultimate authority equal to God.

Now, if Stapleton seems to be saying that the Church is equal to God in authority, then it's fair for Whitaker to argue and present evidence that says, no, the Church is not equal in authority to God, that God expresses Himself in authoritative ways that render that proposition false (e.g. such as speaking outside of the Church via Scripture), and that show the Church is subordinate to God's authority (e.g. that the Scripture is God-breathed and that the Church is not).

But all of this has been explained at length throughout this thread.

I'm really at a loss of what else to say.

It would help if you reread (or read for the first time) the material and tried a bit harder to grasp Stapleton's argument and Whitaker's responses. This also applies to those arguments of his you earlier dismissed with nothing more than a hand-waiving gesture.

Nick said...

When I say the Church is Divine in some real sense, it means the sharp Creator-Creature distinction Whitaker builds on is bogus. The Church being Christ's Body is Divine, thus there's nothing wrong with asserting it acts with God's authority (He being the Head no less). It would be akin to noting how the words of Scripture are Divine in a real sense, yet are at the same time paper and ink. And this goes back to my (solid) example of the Apostles preaching with God's very authority (directly guided by the Holy Spirit), despite the fact they were also men.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Nick writes:

The Church being Christ's Body is Divine, thus there's nothing wrong with asserting it acts with God's authority (He being the Head no less).

What do you mean "acts with God's authority"? In what sense? Even Whitaker admits the Church has authority from God, as has been quoted to you earlier in this thread.

Nick said...

It acts with God's authority in protecting and propagating the Truth. The Council of Jerusalem is a prime example, as is Mat 18:17f, among others (but you already know all these texts Catholics cite).

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Not generally, Nick, but with respect to the metaphorical imagery you've invoked, imagery that you think somehow forces me to choose between the Church acting with authority equal to God or severing "any soteriological Union with Christ." You have acted as if the mere image of Christ's Body being "Divine" and "the Church" demonstrates the Church has authority equal to God, vindicating Stapleton and refuting Whitaker in some manner.

But if you're unwilling to defend your appeal from specifically where "The Bible says the Church is the Body of God the Son," but now must move to texts that don't explicitly address that imagery, you are admitting that the imagery itself is insufficient to demonstrate your position. There's really no other way to interpret that other than an admission of defeat; you've been forced to change your argument because the imagery doesn't carry the weight you'd like it to.