Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Deliberate Fiction

From Alister McGrath's The Genesis of Doctrine: A Study in the Foundation of Doctrinal Criticism:

Although it is often suggested that the reformers had no place for tradition in their theological deliberations, this judgment is clearly incorrect. While the notion of tradition as an extra-scriptural source of revelation is excluded, the classic concept of tradition as a particular way of reading and interpreting scripture is retained. Scripture, tradition and the kerygma are regarded as essentially coinherent, and as being transmitted, propagated and safeguarded by the community of faith. There is thus a strongly communal dimension to the magisterial reformers' understanding of the interpretation of scripture, which is to be interpreted and proclaimed within an ecclesiological matrix. It must be stressed that the suggestion that the Reformation represented the triumph of individualism and the total rejection of tradition is a deliberate fiction propagated by the image-makers of the Enlightenment.


McGrath makes a number of interesting remarks surrounding this passage, including contrasting the position of the Reformers with the radical elements of the Reformation. The above quotation and the surrounding remarks (as well as citation information) can be viewed here.

Consider in particular the nuanced approach McGrath takes to analyzing the issue of the "authority of the past" beginning on page 103. Compare this with the trite methodology many lay-Catholic apologists bring to their critiques of the Reformation.

47 comments:

natamllc said...

Matt,

is it #103 or #130? Which page number is it then?

Matthew D. Schultz said...

The quotation I provided starts on the bottom of page 129. That's the page the link goes to. The chapter from which it is taken begins on page 103, and that's where McGrath begins to outline his methodology.

Does that help?

natamllc said...

scroll up in other words? :( or :) depending on which side you stand?

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Yes, or follow this link.

natamllc said...

I figured it out and already scrolled up! Thanks for making it easier!

Maybe you have taken the lead from Jesus:

Mat 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Mat 11:30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
:)

Nick said...

I think you're misunderstanding the point Catholics are making.

Folks like Luther and Calvin did not want chaos. No Catholic should be suggesting such.

The *catch* is that the (pretend) Reformers' actions paved the way for radical individualism since in principle each layman could fall back on their own interpretation of Scripture, just as Luther and Calvin did when they disagreed with someone else.

This eventually led to watering down the Christian Gospel as a whole, and where the radical individualism really began to show - and eventually became so common that most Protestants see it as "normal" in Christianity.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Nick writes:

The *catch* is that the (pretend) Reformers' actions paved the way for radical individualism since in principle each layman could fall back on their own interpretation of Scripture, just as Luther and Calvin did when they disagreed with someone else.

In the sense you're using the concept, it seems everyone could "fall back on" whatever interpretation of Scripture they hold. I don't see how you connect that with the Reformers in a meaningful fashion; it's not as if people didn't engage in this kind of behavior before the Reformation.

Viisaus said...

"Later, people such as various extreme Anabaptists, anti-Trinitarians, the early Liberal theologians (e.g., Schleiermacher), and the founders of Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, all claimed to “continue” the work of the Reformation by adopting the individualistic principle of interpretation, but the errors of later generations cannot be fairly imputed to earlier ones."


This is quite comparable to the way that various Leftist extremists in the 20th century America claimed that they were "continuing the work of Founding Fathers", carrying the American Revolution onwards:

http://www.city-journal.org/html/15_3_urbanities-communist.html

"Seeger had composed one other such number. Written with Weavers bandmate Lee Hayes and first performed at a 1952 benefit for communists in legal trouble, “If I Had a Hammer” was an extraordinary anthem.

It pulled off, with great aplomb, the old Popular Front goal of linking the American revolutionary past with the communist revolutionary future, joining the Liberty Bell with the hammer and sickle, and extolling freedom and justice while implying that these quintessentially American qualities were the very virtues that American society lacked:"

Viisaus said...

I also understand that heresiarch Marcion already claimed that he was "continuing" apostle Paul's work in emphasizing the difference between Old Testament Law and the Gospel of Christ - to the point of teaching that they had issued from different deities...


False prophet Mani also claimed that he was "continuing" the work of Jesus (among others):

"Mani claimed to be the Paraclete promised in the New Testament, the Last Prophet or Seal of the Prophets. The other prophets included Seth, Noah, Abraham, Shem, Nikotheos, Enoch, Zoroaster, Buddha and Jesus.[9]"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mani_(prophet)#Teaching


And the ultimate false claimant of doctrinal succession was of course Muhammad, who claimed to be continuing the work of OT prophets and Christ.

Nick said...

Matthew,

There were folks long before the Reformation that acted in schismatic ways. The case of the Reformation is unique because many appealed to Luther's example and slogan "Sola Scriptura." This was also unique in that Luther had the help of many secular authorities to protect his movement, and the overall movement also had strong help from England with it's own parallel Protestant movement.

Catholics have never denied all heretics and schismatics share similar traits, but some movements get off stronger than others.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Nick,

You spoke of how the Reformers' actions paved the way for radical individualism since people could act just as Luther and Calvin did with respect to Scriptural interpretation. What I don't understand is how you justify the qualifier just as. It seems you want to retain some sort of individualism on the part of the Reformers while still acknowledging that their approach to Scripture and authority was fundamentally different than what the Radical Reformers practiced.

Nick said...

Matthew,

Folks like Luther didn't want to start a new church, they were very "Catholic" in their thinking except for the areas where they felt the Church went wrong. When push came to shove, they realized the matter was between their private interpretation versus the authority of the Church. It's this point where every Protestant reserves the right to pull away whenever their local church wont submit to their personal demands.

And as ever honest individual knows, nobody approaches the text unbiased, so while folks like Luther (again still very "catholic" in his thinking) saw no problem affirming Mary's Perpetual Virginity and no conflict between Baptism and Sola Fide, many Protestants who came afterwards would say they were unbiblical and that Luther held to them simply because he had not fully cast out all "Romish" thinking. And the further on the generations went from Luther, the more of Christian thought and teaching was questioned and even dropped.

Tim Enloe said...
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Tim Enloe said...

I don't "reserve the right to pull away whenever [my] local church wont submit to [my] personal demands." Neither do most people I know who call themselves "Protestants."

Guess we must not really be Protestants. Weird that we needed a Catholic apologist to tell us that.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Nick writes:

When push came to shove, they realized the matter was between their private interpretation versus the authority of the Church.

Do you mean how you would characterize their actions, or how the Reformers understood their own actions?

I ask because I don't understand what in Luther or Calvin's writings suggests that they "realized" that their actions were simply a matter of their own interpretations of Scripture vs. the authority of "the Church." I don't see how they framed the issue in those terms, especially when we consider, for example, the perception Calvin had of the Papacy.

Nick said...

Tim,

Which denomination are you a member of that you could say that?

I wouldn't think it would be a stretch to suggest you'll leave your current denomination should they ever propose something you consider contrary to Scripture - that's in essence what's been done since the time of Luther. And I don't see any way you or your denomination could stop anyone from breaking away and starting his own church with just as much authority as yours.

Most Protestants don't go around starting their own denomination because the thought that their pastor is being unbiblical is not a thought they would ever entertain. This is also due to the fact most Protestants don't know theology well enough to judge theological positions, nor do most positively subscribe to a statement of faith.

The multiplicity of denominations is proof enough that Protestants reserve the right to pull away.

Nick said...

Matthew,

Don't you remember Luther's famous "Unless I'm convinced by scripture and reason" comment? Or what about the Lutheran document on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, where the Lutherans first (a) affirm the recognition of the genuine authority of the existing pope and bishops, but later on (b) removal of that authority from those bishops and self-appointment of the Lutheran leadership.

Also, your comment betrays the fact Luther and Calvin saw themselves as divinely appointed super-popes in a sense, commanding a power a Pope could only dream of, in which their interpretation was final and their rule very authoritarian. Any time they were questioned, they came back thundering with the most bitter and tyrannical counter attacks. Just ask the Baptists.

Tim Enloe said...

Nick,

Before I answer further, the question I would put to you is: are you going to keep insisting on your narrative of these matters, or are you going to show yourself willing to be corrected? Frankly, I don't have time to invest in mere arguing - arguing that isn't going somewhere constructive, but which is only taking place for its own sake.

I understand that you believe your narrative about the Reformers and about modern Protestants, but you are being given significant opposition to your assertions. So far, you just keep repeating your assertions, and that in the face of your own admission that you haven't read much of the Reformers. If that's how it's going to be, I will bow out of this. My time is too valuable to argue just to be arguing.

Nick said...

Tim,

I've seen very little that I've needed correction on, especially since I've not seen many of my assertions overturned.

And as a side note, my inbox indicates that there were many more posts than this in this combox (including some of yours), but they're not appearing either because they got caught in the spam filter or were removed. So if there are relevant comments in those posts you want me to address or take "correction" from, they'll need to publicly appear first.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Nick writes:

I've seen very little that I've needed correction on, especially since I've not seen many of my assertions overturned.

As Tim pointed out, you don't seem to address the historical quotations and arguments raised against your assertions. Instead, you respond by essentially repeating your original position.

You are welcome to disagree with this assessment, but I make this observation for the sake of readers (whatever few there may be) in order that they understand our rationale for not always issuing a response to what you write.

And as a side note, my inbox indicates that there were many more posts than this in this combox (including some of yours), but they're not appearing either because they got caught in the spam filter or were removed. So if there are relevant comments in those posts you want me to address or take "correction" from, they'll need to publicly appear first.

Sometimes I'll delete a comment I make after posting it because I catch a significant typo which I didn't notice the first time around; I suspect Tim has done the same with some of his comments. AFAIK, these will still make it into a subscription.

If you insist, I can check with James to see if others were eaten by the spam filter, but that doesn't seem likely from the comments that have been added in the most recent threads. And what's available seems more than sufficient to raise credible objections to your characterization of the Magisterial Reformers with respect to individualism.

Tim Enloe said...

Nick, at the least you need to be willing to receive correction as to the Reformers, since you've said you haven't read much of them. Given that, don't you think it's possible that you don't understand their views on "private judgment"?

As for your questions to me, I belong to a Presbyterian denomination. I am not a professional theologian or a seminary-trained individual, so what I offer you here is my layman's understanding of how it works.

Presbyterian denominations are constitutional churches, meaning that they are governed by the application of written standards such as Confessions of Faith and "Books of Church Order." In such churches, the ordinary lay members have no direct say-so over the goings-on in the church, having delegated authority to the ministers operating in various capacities (such as Ruling Elder, Teaching Elder, and Pastor). Doctrinal tests for membership in Presbyterian churches are usually very minimal because the ministers are the ones charged with maintaining sound doctrine, not the laymen. This being the case, laymen generally do not take it upon themselves to fuss about sound doctrine. (Of course, much depends on the temperament and theological education of a given layman - some are more willing to judge their elders and pastors than others).

When issues of dispute arise in Presbyterian churches, a hierarchical structure of authority governs the resolution. First is the "session," made up of the pastor and elders of the local church. These meet to hash out the problem. If they can't solve it, the dispute rises to the next level, the "presbytery," a group of all the denomination's pastors and elders in a locality. If the presbytery can't solve the issue, it goes to "the General Assembly," a meeting of all the denomination's leaders, held once a year. Usually, the decision of the GA is final, though I am given to understand that sometimes appeal is possible under special circumstances.

[cont]

Tim Enloe said...

Now if I as an ordinary layman disagree with something taught from the pulpit, contrary to your simplistic assertion, I do not simply stand up and "demand" that the church accept my view or I will leave. I could do that, of course, but all that would show is that I was a very immature and arrogant individual unwilling to work with the established structure of church government to have my concerns heard. Rather, the first thing I would do is talk to my pastor about the problem. If he couldn't resolve it, the constitutional structure offers other options.

Ultimately, I might still decide that I have to leave the church, but again, contrary to your universal and simplistic portrayal, everything would depend on the importance of the issue, the relative maturity levels of myself and my leaders, and whether or not the authority structures had functioned the way they were designed to function. All of this tells fatally against your universal denunciation of Protestants as always reserving the right to leave a church if it doesn't meet their demands.

But let me be totally forthright. Presbyterian churches are famous for splitting over differing views (it's sarcastically called "the split P" phenomenon). The history of Presbyterianism is not very pretty in this regard, and a perusal of the “alphabet soup” of Presbyterian denominations - PCA, OPC, RPC, PCUSA, RPCNA, APC, ARPC, etc., may at first seem to support your thesis about division based on “private judgment.”

However, the history of Presbyterianism shows that there are different kinds of splits, not just one kind, and that “private judgment” is not always the cause. As the 17th century Reformed divine Turretin would say, “We need to distinguish.” I would divide Presbyterian splits into three basic classes.

[cont]

Tim Enloe said...
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Tim Enloe said...

First are splits that occur because a sub-group within a denomination literally takes over the denominational mechanisms and kicks out the group(s) that disagree with it. That sort of split is not due to "private judgment" as you have represented it, but to simple power politics. Most Presbyterians think of this type of split in terms of the Conservative-Liberal war of the early 1900s, when the Liberals basically captured the institutional structures of many Presbyterian churches and kicked out the Conservatives. Other times, though, this type of split occurs when one sub-group within a denomination decides another sub-group has “apostatized from the Gospel” and, gaining power over the authority structure, kicks out the “apostates.” These kinds of splits have to be taken on a case-by-case basis, and are not at all amenable to your simplistic “private judgment” narrative.

A second kind of split occurs for largely social and cultural reasons – i.e., Dutch Presbyterians withdrawing from Scots Presbyterians, or Northern Presbyterians dividing from Southern Presbyterians over matters of culture, not doctrine. This sort of split is bad in the sense that the Gospel is supposed to be trans-cultural, but it is also understandable entirely apart from your caricatures about "private judgment."

A third kind of split occurs over doctrinal matters, but even here we have to distinguish. Doctrinal splits can overlap with the first kind of split I mentioned, as when the Liberals (truly apostates) kicked out the Conservatives. Doctrinal splits can also overlap with the second kind of split, as when Northern Presbyterians in the early decades of the 19th century basically became Unitarian and Southern Presbyterians remained true to orthodox Reformed theology. This was both doctrinal and cultural, and also can’t be evaluated in terms of your simplistic “private judgment” thesis.

[concluded]so

Tim Enloe said...

A fourth kind of split, which also can overlap with the others, happens because ministers (not laymen - which tells against your thesis also) psychologically identify themselves with a Great Protestant Hero of the past, pretend that some issue of dispute in their day is just like the issue the Great Man went through, and basically excommunicate everyone else from their "One True Presbyterian Church." This is horrific, but it too, is not really a help for your thesis because it subverts the specified disciplinary mechanisms of the established Presbyterian constitutions.

I could go on at great length about this, but hopefully by now you see that the issues are nowhere near as simple as you have been portraying them. I have only been talking about Presbyterian denominations. We haven’t even started talking about Baptists (First, Second, Third, Fourth, Reformed, Particular, and so on), Methodists, Bible churches, Seventh Day Adventists, various types of Anglo-Reformed groups, and so on.

Nick said...

Matthew,

Have you read the Lutheran Tretiese on Power and Primacy of the Pope?

Here are two quotes that illustrate my point nicely:

#57 "Therefore, even though the bishop of Rome had the primacy by divine right, yet since he defends godless services and doctrine conflicting with the Gospel, obedience is not due him; yea, it is necessary to resist him as Antichrist."

Here the Lutherans admit the Pope had "primacy by divine right," but none the less could team up and over-throw him at their own whim. Obviously, as time went on, Protestants wouldn't even grant this much about the Pope, demonstrating the notion that history started to become more and more irrelevant to Protestantism.


#76 "Since, therefore, bishops have tyrannically transferred this jurisdiction to themselves alone, and have basely abused it, there is no need, because of this jurisdiction, to obey bishops. But since there are just reasons why we do not obey, it is right also to restore this jurisdiction to godly pastors [to whom, by Christ's command, it belongs], and to see to it that it is legitimately exercised for the reformation of morals and the glory of God."

Here we see a group of non-bishops overthrow the existing hierarchy and self-appoint themselves to those positions. The irony here shouldn't be missed: they do precisely what they allege and attack the existing hierarchy for doing.

While this isn't strict individualism (in the sense individuals are starting their own church), it's still happening but on a slightly larger scale. But the problem was this was a slippery slope: there was no way to prevent any number of individuals banding together and breaking off to do their own thing. And, in time, this eventually led to single individuals or families starting their own churches.

I'm not brushing off scholars, but I don't need them to affirm/confirm what primary sources like this official Lutheran document teach.

Nick said...

Tim,

While I appreciate the detailed response you gave, I'm ultimately flabbergasted since you confirm the fact there are numerous scandalous divisions in Presbyterianism. Ultimately, none of the 4 reasons you gave are good reasons to divide the church or start a new denomination, and in each case it was a disgruntled group that ripped away and started a new branch (taking all those under them along with them). Not all splits need to be over doctrine, yet a split is unjustified none the less since the Body of Christ is being ripped apart in any case.

While there isn't strict individualism (except case 4), there are still schisms/splits on levels a tier or two above strict individualism - which in *essence* are the same thing since there is no difference in *essence* between 1, 2, 5, 50, etc disgruntled folks "breaking away" (which they'd claim they are simply "reforming") from an existing structure. And again, the great majority of Protestants never dream of starting their own denomination - but as you said there are enough that consider this or that sufficiently unbiblical or wrong that they are determined to get their way at any cost, even starting a new church.

The "disciplinary mechanisms of the established Presbyterian constitutions" are ultimately arbitrary, of human rather than divine origin, and self-appointed, since whenever an individual or group feels attacked or misrepresented, they have no qualms about breaking away and setting up their own "chain of command" and "disciplinary mechanisms of the established Presbyterian constitutions". It ultimately comes down to various clubs who either share the same convictions as one another or in which the individual or family was born in and dont think of moving away from.

Tim Enloe said...

Nick,

It's clear to me that you're committed to your Grand Narrative about "Protestantism," and are unwilling to seriously consider an alternative way to view all the phenomena that you take as "obviously" supporting your Narrative. That's your decision, but it means I can't spare you any more time. I have too many duties at work and at home to engage in fruitless bickering.

Given your very superficial remarks about the Luther quotes you gave Matthew, if you ever do want to get past these prejudices of yours, you should do a study of "tyranny" in the Middle Ages leading up to the Reformation. You'll find, if you study deeply and soberly, that the general thrust of Medieval theological and political discussions (including some important figures among the papalists) holds that tyranny renders obedience to authority claims unnecessary for the reason that the tyrant abuses his God-given power and so loses it. This is what gave rise to the Reformation, and not some crass, rootless, rebellious individualism.

You will find, if you take care in your studies, that "Secession from the godless domains of tyrants" is not at all the same thing as "ungodly rebellion against legitimate authority," and this principle has enormous implications for the shallow way in which you responded to my lengthy exposition. As well, Matthew's citations from Calvin, Whitaker, and other Reformed sources remain untouched by you, save for mere repetitions of your Grand Narrative.

At least thoughtful people watching all this will profit from this exchange, even though you didn't.

Nick said...

Tim and Matthew,

In sincerity, I'm basing my conclusions on the way I see the evidence and situation.

Many people here probably know popular Reformed blogger PCA Pastor Jason Stellman. Well, look at what he posted today on his blog:

Quote: "The point I want to make is simply this: Protestants believe in Sola Scriptura last time I checked, which means that, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter to us all that much whether this or that church father espoused some doctrine that we are uncomfortable with."
http://www.creedcodecult.com/2010/10/pondering-prudence-of-patristic.html

This guy is no slouch, and yet what he's espousing is precisely what you two consider an abuse of the Reformer's intentions. Surely Stellman is not ignorant of the Reformer's teachings, and surely he's no crypto-Papist trying to smear SS. While I believe you two more accurately represent the Reformer's intentions, I still see Stellman's approach as the inevitable conclusion/result.

Tim Enloe said...

Nick,

I understand that you're viewing this the way that you're viewing this. Everybody does that. The problem is that you don't appear to be taking to heart substantial corrective remarks made to you, but instead remain stuck fast to your Grand Narrative about "Protestantism." That's why I say I don't have time to pursue this farther with you. There's no point in arguing with someone who isn't disposed to give the contrary a really just hearing. And for you to give the contrary a really just hearing would be for you to mute continual expression of your Grand Narrative and instead commit yourself to reading more of the primary sources than you have by your own admission read.

I don't know Stellman, but so what if "he's no slouch"? You no doubt know that Catholics don't always agree with you, even about matters of how best to articulate central Catholic doctrines. Stellman's quote as it stands would be disputed by many other Protestants who also are "no slouches." Just "not being a slouch" doesn't mean one is right. There is massive confusion in Protestant circles about what sola Scriptura means because there is massive confusion in Protestant circles about what the Reformation really was. In particular, many don't grasp the distinction between Magisterial and Radical, and this causes them to distort principles held by the Magisterials into imitations held by the Radicals. So, many use the same term "sola Scriptura," but impute different definitions to it.

This is again why one has to develop a faculty of critical analysis, and not merely count noses. And it's also why one must READ, READ, READ, widely and deeply before engaging in apologetics.

Tim Enloe said...

But since you're still paying attention, Nick, I reiterate, given your Luther quotes from yesterday, that you really need to study seriously the concept of "tyranny." Luther calls the pope a tyrant, and justifies disobedience to him on that basis. That is a major theme of the Western political tradition, predating the Reformation by, oh, about 2,000 years. It is no novelty at all, and was taken up by Christian thinkers from the earliest times and gradually expounded and modified into the doctrine that tyrants, by being tyrants, forfeit the right of obedience by their subjects and may be lawfully resisted.

One may feel free to disagree that disobeying a tyrant is proper, but one may not simply sling quotes around and say "See, this guy just wanted to do his own thing on his own authority" if one is not SUBSTANTIALLY familiar with the shape and scope of Western political discourse, especially as it was taken up by Christians.

The really pathetic thing about all of this, though, is that I've been trying to get Catholic apologists to examine all this for years, and all I ever get is huffing and puffing about Newman's theory of development and "being deep in history" and how I'm so mean and arrogant to ask people to read big books full of big words instead of just Googling for soundbites. But you wonder why I "badmouth" Catholics. Perhaps if most you of would simply put your money where your mouth is and do some serious work in primary texts, these discussions might actually go somewhere productive.

Nick said...

Tim,

The notion of "tyranny" is relative; any individual can call another individual a tyrant on various grounds.

When it comes to Church authority, I don't believe there is any legitimate grounds for Luther's approach in Church history or Scripture (the approach in which an individual can claim a bishop or pope is a "tyrant" and thus strip them of authority and place it on oneself).

There is a huge distinction between resisting tyrannical rule and stripping someone of authority. Jesus says, "do as they say, not as they do" - meaning their moral character doesn't invalidate their authority, any more than Peter's moral blunder at the Gentile table was grounds (or even a reality) to strip him of authority.

I might not be as historically astute as you, but I know facts such as Luther wasn't even a bishop, and the Christendom of history was a Church of bishops. If Luther's move cannot be called (ecclesiastic) "individualism" in some genuine sense, then nothing can be.

Tim Enloe said...

No, Nick, the notion of "tyranny" is not relative. My view is grounded deeply in Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, Plutarch, Herodotus, Thucydides, (Saint) Isidore of Seville, (Saint) Thomas Aquinas, Marsilius of Padua, William of Ockham, and many others, which all argue the same point that the definition of "tyrant" is clear and stable. On what texts you base your opinions that it is relative?

There is a huge distinction between resisting tyrannical rule and stripping someone of authority...

This shows that you don't understand the argument. In the thought matrix of which I am speaking, that is, Medieval catholic political thought, it is not OTHERS who strip a tyrant of his authority, but the TYRANT who strips HIMSELF of his authority, just by being a tyrant. This undercuts your contention against Luther, for it was not Luther who stripped the pope of his authority. The pope did that himself.

...I know facts such as Luther wasn't even a bishop, and the Christendom of history was a Church of bishops.

That's not in question at all. What is in question is whether episcopal government is de iure divino or de iure humana. Catholics say the former; Protestants say the latter. The first principles are different, and so it is no wonder that the arguments that spring from them are different.

And so we come back to the need of you apologists to exhibit critical thought about all this data you think backs up your mostly vague assertions. I'll be the first one to tell you that I don't know it all, and that I have made and still can make significant mistakes in my arguments. But I am still waiting for ANY Catholic apologist to show himself grounded enough in the primary texts of the Western tradition to mount a possibly destabilizing argument against my view. As a class of people, you people don't read anything serious, let alone seriously read. Why, then, should anyone take you seriously?

Nick said...

Tim,

The notion of "tyrant" is relative because it could be applied any time a person or group felt an authority coming down unfairly upon them. For Luther and the Lutherans, the Pope was a tyrant and the antichrist because he opposed their movement.

The notion that someone can strip themself of authority all depends on the situation. In case of Ecclesial authority, that's impossible, especially when one subsequently assumes that authority/role for themself (as Luther did).

I'm not sure what your comment on "episcopal government is de iure divino or de iure humana" is supposed to entail, but it seems to be whether the Bishop's authority is by divine appointment or human appointment.

You concluded with: "As a class of people, you people don't read anything serious, let alone seriously read. Why, then, should anyone take you seriously?"

Really, Tim, that can be said of any group. It's certainly not something you couldn't also apply to most Protestant apologist. Further, it's not the amount of reading one does, but the sort of reading. I strive to read primary sources of theology, and since I know that the words of Luther or Calvin are not authoritative in themself, I find it a far better use of my time to read 'authoritative' documents such as the Book of Concord, Westminster Standards, and similar texts. Also, I find that good quality apologetics arguments, particularly when it comes to exegesis, are more satisfying and decisive than bantering back and forth on history and/or holding quote wars with one's favorite scholars.

steelikat said...

That's a good point.

Another thing to keep in mind is that history, even religious history, cannot answer theological questions any more than theology can answer historical questions. So if what you are doing is examining the historical question of whether or not the papacy had become tyrannical, that may help you to understand, historically speaking, why the reformers and the RC leaders did what they did, but it won't tell you whether or not their various actions were correct.

To answer the latter question, you still need to look at the question theologically not historically.

Tim Enloe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Enloe said...

Nick,

The definition of "tyrant" is stable in that for 2,000 years prior to the Reformation, it meant "a ruler who seeks his own good rather than that of his subjects."

To meet you halfway, then, we would all have to examine particular instances in which subjects where saying that their ruler was being a tyrant on this classical definition. I’ve done this in great detail for the 11th century Gregorian reformation and for the 15th century conciliarist movement. I can show you my primary source-based arguments. Where are yours?

Contra your assertion, the way to solve this dispute over “tyranny” is not to privilege theology over history. It’s not that simple. Theology and history are wrapped up with each other inextricably, and it takes patient, careful analysis to ferret out anything that one could call a responsible interpretation from these interlocked fields.

James Swan has effectively answered many Catholic versions of the “Luther as Super-Pope” argument here, and I have done a good bit on that myself on my own blog. If you have not read those materials, you might want to do so before continuing to insist on your view as if it has not been (cannot be?) intelligently challenged.

[cont]

Tim Enloe said...

Engaging history is a form of exegesis as well, albeit exegesis of a story. Some stories are bad and some are good. This is somewhat more “subjective” than, say, applying rules for anarthrous articles, subjunctive clauses, or participle constructions in Greek, but it isn’t a relativistic task, either. When it comes to the story of history, the way one tells a bad story from a good one is by how much of the available material it takes responsible account of.

Theology is not an epistemically neutral discipline, standing aloof over all others and judging them imperiously. God commands us to examine things carefully and hold fast to the good. That means that the good is knowable, but it also means that we have to take care that we do not deceive ourselves into thinking we have figured it all out. Why else would James warn us that there are many who look into the perfect mirror of the Word and promptly go away forgetting what manner of men they are?

Theology doesn’t save you from making historical errors, nor can being a whiz kid with theology exempt you from responsible historical scholarship. After all, Catholicism doesn’t just claim to be theologically true – it claims to be historically true, too. History has a “say so” in evaluating the claims of Catholicism.

[cont]

Tim Enloe said...

Re: de iure divino or de iure humano government: the Reformers did not believe that church government was set up by God in a universal pattern. It matters that the Church held an episcopal form of government for 1500 years, but the duration of time that a thing is held does not equate to that thing being universally true.

God has allowed different cultures to flourish in this world, and it is rationally debatable whether one universal mode of government can address the needs of all these different cultures. The study of history amply supports this, and any theological argument about a mode of government has to take historical analysis very seriously. It also has to take philosophical concerns very seriously, as the Medievals recognized with their numerous treatises based on trying to fit Scripture into either Platonic or Aristotelian analyses of government.

There are different first principles between the Reformation and Catholics on this issue. I am not willing to say that Catholic first principles are simply irrational, but I am willing to say that they do not fit as much of the lived-experience of human beings as the Reformation ones do. This is a matter for reasonable debate among reasonable Christians, and if I have any complaint about most of the apologetics wars online, it is that it is often very difficult to have a reasonable debate because of all the unexamined prejudices flying across the table from both sides.

[cont.]

Tim Enloe said...

Last, of course one may apply my remark about serious reading to Protestants as well. Much of my work now (both professionally and in my free time) is aimed at trying to get more Protestants to be interested in serious studies outside of two or three issues of soteriology and authority in the context of anti-Romanist polemics.

I only made the point here because (1) this is a Protestant blog addressing Catholic apologists, and (2) it is beyond controversy that we Protestants engage history far more seriously than most of you apologists do. I’ve lost count of the apologists who have tried to “refute” some argument I have made from a primary text by spending an hour or three on the Internet, desperately poking around for soundbites they can string together into a “paper” that shows I’m just utterly full of nonsense.

After you deal with a few dozen people who claim to be “deep in history,” but who all refuse to obtain the necessary resources and skills to responsibly engage history, you become pessimistic about the lot of them. Sue me for being tired of little hacks telling me they don’t know anything about some guy I’ve just quoted from the original Latin text that I translated, but they’re going to give me their (worthless) opinion about the merits of my argument, anyway. If you’re really a serious reader yourself, maybe you should devote some of your energy to trying to get more of your fellows to do the same.

steelikat said...

What I just said was obviously false. Try this:

History, even religious history, will not usually help you much with doctrine, as the question of what doctrines are true and which are false is not a historical question. in particular, if you believe in the papacy in the sense RCs do there is no reason papal tyranny should upset that belief. If you have a more subjective belief in the papacy, history gives you no good reason to permanently reject the papacy (since tyrannical popes are succeeded and preceeded by non-tyrannical popes). And finally if you don't believe in the papacy an absence of papal tyranny would not give you a good reason to change your mind.

Tim Enloe said...

steelikat,

Is "Christ died on the cross and was raised from the dead three days later" a doctrine or a historical issue? Or is that a false dichotomy? (Yes, it is a false dichotomy.)

It is not unqualifiedly the case that whether a doctrine is true or false has nothing to do with history. The doctrine of the papacy is not just a theological proposition, but a proposition about the origin of a historical institution, its historical importance and its historical fate.

One should neither make history all-determinative nor divorce doctrine from history. This is where things get odd with the Catholics. On the one hand, they want all their doctrines to have substantial historical roots because substantial historical roots prove (they say) that their doctrines are normative for everyone. But on the other hand, whenever historical analysis militates against their doctrines, they chuck history out the window and claim that all the matters is "faith."

History without faith is positivism (only what history proves can be true) or skepticism (Lessing's "ugly ditch"). Faith without history is simple fideism. We need to avoid both extremes.

Tim Enloe said...

As for tyranny and the papacy, although you have a point that tyrannical and non-tyrannical popes have gone back and forth, the argument against the papacy is not as subjective as you seem to think it is. On the classical analysis of modes of government, monarchy is inherently biased toward becoming tyranny. Not every king will necessarily end up a tyrant, of course, but tyranny is the temptation that all kings face, and the moreso to the extent that their power is not significantly limited by other elements in the government.

One can certainly point out good popes here and there (the last 5 or 6 seem to have been more or less "good" politically speaking. But at most of the key points of church history from the patristic age to the Reformation age, the most influential popes were tyrants on the classical definition, because they had collapsed the quality "the good of the Church" into the quality "the good of the papal office."

Also, when one considers that the papacy only lost its temporal power in the late 19th century (interestingly, at the same time that papal infallibility was declared) and had to make concordats with the secular governments so that they would not simply overrun it by main force, the ability to positively construe the papalist theory of government wanes. The popes have not given up Gregory VII's Dictatus papae or Boniface VIII's Unam Sanctam - they have merely chosen not to try to press those claims in the present world situation. But they could press them if they wished, and in fact, it could be argued that the pope actually still is an absolutely uncheckable political sovereign - one whose territory is limited to a mere 110 acres, but whose potential political following numbers close to a billion people. That's a lot of clout, and since the theories that inspired Gregory and Boniface have never been rejected, the classic objections remain.

steelikat said...

Actually I would say the resurrection is a historical event and NOT a doctrine.

Of course you are right and we need history to understand doctrine. The gospels and acts are history and understanding the history of doctrines has helped us sort out out good doctrine from man-made inventions. But when push comes to shove I wouldn't subject biblical doctrine to history. Maybe I'm a bit of a fideist.

My point was basically what you said. The RCs will still believe in the papacy no matter what historical evidence of papal abuses you give them, since the doctrine doesn't depend on how good or bad the popes are (and that's not even fideism it's just how the papal doctrines are defined) and no matter how favorably a non-RC is impressed by some pope's sanctity (say John Paul, for example) he isn't likely to be won over to Roman Catholicism.

steelikat said...

And of course you have taught me some things about how and why papal doctrine did develop during the middle ages in the way it did, which is a way that history explains doctrine (in this case false doctrine).

Tim Enloe said...

Would you agree that the resurrection (event) is a historical occurrence, and the resurrection (belief) is a doctrine based on the historical occurrence? If so, we can't so rigorously separate history and doctrine as some would like. I don't hold that every item of belief has to have some historical fact or document behind it - that would be positivism. But when someone says, "This BELIEF that I have is rooted firmly in HISTORY," surely you see that history ought to be allowed to speak about the veracity of that doctrine.

When the papalists claim that their view was "always" held by the Church prior to the Reformers, surely we must allow historical reconstructions in as part of responsibly evaluating that claim - the claim is not just about "theology" but also "history."

I understand your point about the way the papalist doctrine is defined. I do not hold that the doctrine of the papacy is false because there were a lot of bad popes. That's how RCs who are ignorant of history interpret me, but that is NOT what I am saying. What I *am* saying is that on demonstrable historical criteria, the behavior of various popes at key junctures in history marks them as tyrants on the classical definition of the term, and so, on demonstrable historical criteria, they ceased to be due obedience from their inferiors. Thus, the Reformation was not a "rebellion" against "authority," for the popes had stripped themselves of their right to be obeyed.

Tim Enloe said...

RCs may try to redefine all the terms so that their precious papa never "really" makes a mistake of any consequence, and it's always other people's fault when bad things happen in the Church, but that sort of thing is a theological skyhook. It has nothing to do with sober-minded historical inquiry. And, since the papalist DOCTRINES are claimed to have HISTORICAL support, the input of sober-minded historical inquiry cannot be disallowed merely because it forces a re-evaluation of the definition of papal power.

The intersection of faith and reason is notoriously complex, and I do not claim there are any easy answers. But fideistic options, such as what my friend Frank calls "papal presuppositionalism," ought to be suspected because they DO seek easy answers to complicated questions.

Even a pagan like Aristotle undertsood that all reasoning must come to rest in first principles which are not demonstrable in terms of other principles. The question we all have to wrestle with is "What are these undemonstrable first principles?" Is the papacy one? Is the Bible one? Or are they more general than that, such as, say, the existence and knowability of Being and the Law of Noncontradiction? Predication is entirely possible if one does not believe in the papacy, and it is entirely possible if one does not believe in the Bible. So, the saying that we should not let history judge theology needs to be a lot more carefully explored than it usually is.