Sunday, July 04, 2010

Whitaker's Disputations: A Refutation of Stapleton's Arguments on the Authority of the Church (Part 5)

This is the last of Whitaker's responses to Stapleton's positive arguments for the authority of the Magisterium that we will review. (While there are more arguments than what we've addressed here, they did not seem relevant enough to discuss in their own posts. Interested readers can begin following these arguments on pages 316, 323 and 327, respectively.) After this post, we will begin looking at Whitaker's positive arguments for the authority of Scripture. As with any good theologian, Whitaker is not merely a reactionary. He does not define his views soley in relation to the errors of Catholicism, but carves out his own position on the scope and authority of the Scriptures.

An Appeal to Augustine

In this argument, Stapleton appeals to one of the most popular early church father quotations used by Catholics against Protestants today, where Augustine claims:

I would not believe the gospel, if the authority of the catholic church did not move me.1

Interestingly enough, it seems the quotation was quite popular in Whitaker's day as well (and in Calvin's, as we will see):

These words of Augustine, says Stapleton, have distressed the protestants. Doubtless they have, and no wonder, since, as he confesses, in the same place, they have deceived even some of the schoolmen also. They are indeed special favourites, and always in the mouths of the papists generally; so that a papist can scarce exchange three words with you without presently objecting this testimony of Augustine.2

(We would do well to remember Ecclesiastes 1:9. Many of the arguments we have with Roman Catholics today are merely recycled from earlier generations. This should remind us of the benefit of consulting historical theology; chances are that some far greater thinker has already considered the general form of any particular Roman Catholic argument we are trying to answer.)

Whitaker's response is to cite Calvin, who had already dealt with the same quotation in the Institutes. His citation leads to the following passage, where Calvin argues that Augustine is being ripped out of context:

I am aware it is usual to quote a sentence of Augustine in which he says that he would not believe the gospel, were he not moved by the authority of the Church, (Aug. Cont. Epist. Fundament.c. 5.) But it is easy to discover from the context, how inaccurate and unfair it is to give it such a meaning. He was reasoning against the Manichees, who insisted on being implicitly believed, alleging that they had the truth, though they did not show they had. But as they pretended to appeal to the gospel in support of Manes, he asks what they would do if they fell in with a man who did not even believe the gospel - what kind of argument they would use to bring him over to their opinion. He afterwards adds, "But I would not believe the gospel," &c.; meaning, that were he a stranger to the faith, the only thing which could induce him to embrace the gospel would be the authority of the Church. And is it any thing wonderful,that one who does not know Christ should pay respect to men?

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. cap. 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. At the same time, I deny not that he often presses the Manichees with the consent of the whole Church, while arguing in support of the Scriptures, which they rejected. Hence he upbraids Faustus (lib. 32) for not submitting to evangelical truth - truth so well founded, so firmly established, so gloriously renowned, and handed down by sure succession from the days of the apostles. But he nowhere insinuates that the authority which we give to the Scriptures depends on the definitions or devices of men. He only brings forward the universal judgement of the Church, as a point most pertinent to the cause, and one, moreover, in which he had the advantage of his opponents. Any one who desires to see this morefully proved may read his short treatises De Utilitate Credendi,(The Advantages of Believing,) where it will be found that the only facility of believing which he recommends is that which affords an introduction, and forms a fit commencement to inquiry; while he declares that we ought not to be satisfied with opinion, but to strive after substantial truth.3

David King also discusses this passage from Augustine. After quoting some of the same material from Calvin (although a different translation), King adds:

Augustine often spoke of the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit, revealing truth directly to human hearts independent of human aid:
...we may continue to know what we believe by the inward illumination and confirmation of our minds, due no longer to men, but to God Himself.4
So, then, it is the Reformed position, and not the Roman Catholic, that expresses the Augustinian perspective. Augustine's epistemology regarding spiritual truth is rooted in the immediate and eternal influence of light that only God can give. Yet, it is the practice of today's Roman apologists to dismiss the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in confirming the heart of believers, or say it was a novel concept initiated by the Reformers.

We acknowledge with Augustine that the Church is most often the initial and outward means by which men are called to faith in Christ. With respect to the above quote from Augustine, Heiko Oberman explains that he never exalted the authority of the Church over the Scriptures:5
While repeatedly asserting the primacy of Scripture, Augustine himself does not contrast this at all with the authority of the Catholic Church [as Roman apologists assert]: '...I would not believe the Gospel unless the authority of the Catholic Church moved me.' The Church has a practical priority; her authority as expressed in the direction-giving meaning of commovere, to move, is an instrumental authority, the door which leads to the fullness of the Word itself.6

_________________________

1. Whitaker cites contra Epist. Fund. c. 5. The equivalent passage can be found in Schaff's collection here.

2. William Whitaker, Disputations on Holy Scripture (Cambridge: Parker Society, 1894; reprint, Orlando: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2005), 319-320.

3. John Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion, 1.7.3.

4. NPNF1: Vol. IV, Against the Epistle of Manichaeus Called Fundamental, Chapter 14. King, in his footnote, cites a number of other passages from Augustine supporting his interpretation.

5. David T. King, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith Vol. 1 (Battle Ground, WA: Christian Resources, 2001), 80-81.

6. Heiko Oberman, "Quo Vadis? Tradition from Irenaeus to Humani Generis," Scottish Journal of Theology 16 (1963): 234-235.

9 comments:

Matthew Bellisario said...

I Find both Calvin's and King's explanations seriously lacking, since St. Augustine clearly speaks of the authority of the Church and the apostolic link back to the apostles which it has, which he claims that Manichæus does not have. You are going to have to have a better excuse than these to get around the Saint's appeal to the Church's authority, so clearly spelled out in the text.

"The consent of peoples and nations keeps me in the Church; so does her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, established by age. The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate."

"So when those on whose authority I have consented to believe in the gospel tell me not to believe in Manichæus, how can I but consent? Take your choice."

"If you say, Do not believe the Catholics: you cannot fairly use the gospel in bringing me to faith in Manichæus; for it was at the command of the Catholics that I believed the gospel;—Again, if you say, You were right in believing the Catholics when they praised the gospel, but wrong in believing their vituperation of Manichæus: do you think me such a fool as to believe or not to believe as you like or dislike, without any reason?"

I'll let St. Augustine speak for himself and take him at face value rather than twisting his words to mean something lessor than what he obviously stated so clearly in the text.

Constantine said...

Bellisario,

Augustine’s training as a rhetorician requires that you read this a little more fully and faithfully.

It’s helpful to unpack it carefully, which I have tried to do here. (https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=19795707&postID=2831637542180177670)

The Reader’s Digest version is that Augustine asks the Manicheans to provide proof for their claims. He warns them not to use Scripture because Augustine believes Scripture on the testimony of his Catholic friends. But…IF…the Manicheans could find a supportive Scripture, he would believe neither Scripture nor those Catholics who told him to believe the Scriptures because the Catholics are “liars” (his word, not mine.) If Augustine were neither to believe Scripture nor the Catholics, he would be a skeptic; Augustine was not a skeptic. So, how does he resolve this dilemma? If you are right, then he would go to the Catholics who have authority. But he can’t, because, in this case – the case where the Manicheans produced a supportive Scripture – the Catholics lied to him, and thereby negated their authority.

So let’s use your dictum and let Augustine speak for himself:

“...but far be it that I should not believe the gospel.

(http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf104.iv.viii.vi.html)

Augustine tells us that it is impossible for him not to believe the gospel and closes his argument like this:

Read me now, if you can, in the gospel where Manichæus is called an apostle, or in any other book in which I have professed to believe. Will you read the passage where the Lord promised the Holy Spirit as a Paraclete, to the apostles? Concerning which passage, behold how many and how great are the things that restrain and deter me from believing in Manichæus.

He cites the Scriptures, not the Catholic church.

So Augustine’s conclusion is that while it is possible for Catholics to be wrong (i.e. liars) it is not possible for the gospel to be wrong. Ergo, the only infallible rule of faith and practice for Augustine was the gospel.

It’s a tough passage and takes a little time to upack.

Have a Happy 4th!

James Swan said...

Matthew Bellisario said:
I'll let St. Augustine speak for himself and take him at face value rather than twisting his words to mean something lessor than what he obviously stated so clearly in the text.

Matthew,

Augustine goes on the in the same work to speak *clearly* of the internal testimony from God Himself:

"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."

NPNF1: Vol. IV, Against the Epistle of Manichaeus Called Fundamental, Chapter 14. Nihil aliud elegisti, nisi laudare quod credis, et irridere quod credo. Cum igitur etiam ego vicissim laudavero quod credo, et quod credis irrisero; quid putas nobis esse judicandum, quidve faciendum, nisi ut eos relinquamus, qui nos invitant certa cognoscere, et postea imperant ut incerta credamus; et eos sequamur, qui nos invitant prius credere, quod nondum valemus intueri, ut ipsa fide valentiores facti, quod credimus intelligere mereamur, non jam hominibus, sed ipso Deo intrinsecus mentem nostram illuminante atque firmante? Contra Epistolam Manichaei Quam vocant Fundamenti Liber Unus, Caput XIV, PL 42:183.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Read this.

He says, ""The consent of peoples and nations keeps me in the Church; so does her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, established by age. The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate."

Sounds like the Church has authority to me. It also looks like the priests have apostolic succession as well. In fact he says "it keeps him" and that this Church with this succession has the charge to feed the sheep. I'll go with his words and take them at face value. I do not have to explain them away as you folks do. If you feel you have to do this then have at it. It won't convince me or others who have the true faith, just as false statements did not convince St. Augustine to abandon the true faith.

James Swan said...

Mr. Bellisario, I think you haven't read Matthew's post closely. You're probably going to embarrass yourself again like you did recently on the issue of Chrysostom and purgatory.

Matthew Bellisario said...

"The consent of peoples and nations keeps me in the Church; so does her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, established by age. The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate."

I'm not embarrassed about anything I said on the Chrysostom post. In fact I am a more faithful Catholic because of what I learned about the Greek Fathers. I appreciate the opportunity to grow in my Catholic faith. The more you guys post on this stuff, the more it causes me to grow in my Catholics faith.

Dozie said...

"Augustine goes on the in the same work to speak *clearly* of the internal testimony from God Himself"

They do with Augustine what they do with the scriptures. It is a pity.

Constantine said...

The Catholic interpretation of Augustine’s letter under discussion leaves these questions unanswerable, and therefore, “lacking”:

1. If Catholic authority is required to rightly discern the Scriptures, why did Augustine even allow that the Manichaeans could do so without Catholic authority?
2. If the Catholics had such authority for Augustine, why is it possible, in his thinking, that they could ever be “liars”?
3. Given the possibility that someone could “weaken” Augustine’s “regard” for the authority of the Catholics, but nowhere does he allow for a “weakening” of his regard for Scripture, do you think Augustine thought it right to subject what cannot be weakened (i.e. Scripture) to that which might be weakened (i.e. Catholic authority)?

Peace.

Andrew Suttles said...

Clearly I'm not as well read on Augustine as you all are as I've only read his Confessions.

In his Confessions, however, it was the working of the Holy Spirit through the writings of the Apostle Paul that brought Augustine to faith in Christ, and then, after some study, to the Christian Church. By his own testimony, he did not submit to the Church, and then accept Christ on the Church's authority.