Thursday, October 14, 2010

Rank Individualism and Sola Scriptura

Abstract

It is often asserted that sola Scriptura devolves into rank individualism. Once the right to judge Church tradition by Scripture is given to individuals, rampant doctrinal confusion is the inevitable result. This criticism, however, is often based on a fallacious conflation of a post-Enlightenment individualism imbued in some modern Evangelicals and the doctrine of the Magisterial Reformers and their intellectual successors. Credible attempts to critique the doctrine of sola Scriptura must first aim to properly represent it.

(This post contains some extended quotations. For those with limited time, I have done my best to highlight their essential content through bolding.)

Asserting the Fallibility of Councils Produces a Regular Objection

Anticipating the Reformed approach to church councils, Calvin argues in the Institutes that councils are not infallible (and, therefore, to be judged by the higher standard of Scripture). Calvin summarizes his position as follows:

Wherefore, we cannot on any account admit that the Church consists in a meeting of pastors [at a council], as to whom the Lord has nowhere promised that they would always be good, but has sometimes foretold that they would be wicked. When he warns us of danger, it is to make us use greater caution.1


I suspect, however, that the articulation of this position in other contexts had produced a regular objection from Catholics—that this kind of judgment reduces to rank individualism. Perhaps that is why Calvin immediately proceeds to write (bold mine):

What, then, you will say, is there no authority in the definitions of councils? Yes, indeed; for I do not contend that all councils are to be condemned, and all their acts rescinded, or, as it is said, made one complete erasure. But you are bringing them all (it will be said) under subordination, and so leaving every one at liberty to receive or reject the decrees of councils as he pleases. By no means; but whenever the decree of a council is produced, the first thing I would wish to be done is, to examine at what time it was held, on what occasion, with what intention, and who were present at it; next I would bring the subject discussed to the standard of Scripture. And this I would do in such a way that the decision of the council should have its weight, and be regarded in the light of a prior judgment, yet not so as to prevent the application of test which I have mentioned. I wish all had observed the method which Augustine prescribes in his Third Book against Maximinus, when he wished to silence the cavils of this heretic against the decrees of councils, "I ought not to oppose the Council of Nice to you, nor ought you to oppose that of Ariminum to me, as prejudging the question. I am not bound by the authority of the latter, nor you by that of the former. Let thing contend with thing, cause with cause, reason with reason, on the authority of Scripture, an authority not peculiar to either, but common to all." In this way, councils would be duly respected, and yet the highest place would be given to Scripture, everything being brought to it as a test. Thus those ancient Councils of Nice, Constantinople, the first of Ephesus, Chalcedon, and the like, which were held for refuting errors, we willingly embrace, and reverence as sacred, in so far as relates to doctrines of faith, for they contain nothing but the pure and genuine interpretation of Scripture, which the holy Fathers with spiritual prudence adopted to crush the enemies of religion who had then arisen. In some later councils, also, we see displayed a true zeal for religion, and moreover unequivocal marks of genius, learning, and prudence. But as matters usually become worse and worse, it is easy to see in more modern councils how much the Church gradually degenerated from the purity of that golden age.2


The Charge of Individualism Today

The substance of the objection Calvin addressed has not changed since the Reformation; only its form has been altered. Take two modern examples by Catholic apologists who assert that the right to judge the merits of tradition through Scriptural interpretation (which is the broader issue through which councils act as a particular lens) reduces to rank individualism (bolding mine):

The most scandalous fruit of Luther's linear lie has been the ballooning of over thirty-three thousand different Protestant denominations, as the due result of private interpretations apart from the true teachings of the Magisterium. The reason why there are over three-three [sic] thousand different denominations is because definitive and authoritative truths cannot be known through sola-scriptura.

The first fruit of sola-scriptura is not denominations or division, but is actually Christian relativism. Because sola-scriptura empowers its adherents to discover the truth according to their own light, the truth of sacred Scripture remains elusive to them and it proves to be the gateway to Christian secularism and the rejection of the authority of sacred Scripture all together. This is not hyperbolic rhetoric; the proof is [sic] these statements are all around us.

...

It is an odd thing indeed to suggest that a Christian can be guilty of being a relativist or an individualist, but such is the case in the Protestant religion, which is the seed of the so-called 'age of enlightenment'...it is their praxis [i.e. the natural outworking of their theological position, as opposed to their stated position] of sola-scriptura that Protestants hold that the definitive truth of God is unknowable.

...

In individualism, the human person exists as an isolated individual who has himself as his own moral arbiter and who enters into relationship with others only if he so chooses. Sola-scriptura inevitably leads to Individualism because through Scripture-alone each Christian can arrive at his or her own interpretation of the truth, relative to themselves. Sola-scriptura does not require a prayerful community effort.3


And:

Sadly, for the last 2,000 years, many have followed that tragic course of ignoring the teaching authority of the Church. Notice also that Christ shows the Church as being the court of final appeal, the last resort, the place whence the final decision on an issue would emanate. This clearly shows that the Church was established with a teaching authority that supersedes that of the individual. And Christ did not arrange things in such a way to hinder or "straightjacket" the individual believer, but to protect him from the dangers of heresy, disunity, and sin. By establishing the Church's Magisterium as the "court of final appeal" on doctrinal issues, and endowing the Magisterium with his own authority to preach and teach in his name (cf. Luke 10:16), believers are safeguarded from the theological and moral vagaries that arise when the principle of "private interpretation" of Scripture and Tradition (i.e., when dissociated from Church teaching) are put into play.4


A Respect for Councils and a Community-Oriented Approach to Doctrinal Truth

As with a number of Catholic objections to Protestantism, these only seem applicable to those Protestants who reject all tradition and/or hold to the post-Enlightenment value of the supreme autonomy of the individual to determine his own beliefs and identity. But that isn't what Calvin promoted, and neither is it what the modern children of the Reformation promote; these kinds of arguments fail to address the positions put forward by the confessional Protestantism born out of the Magisterial Reformation. Consider how irreconcilable these criticisms are with the following perspectives:

A. Here is another excerpt from Calvin:

Having proved that no power was given to the Church to set up any new doctrine, let us now treat of the power attributed to them in the interpretation of Scripture. We readily admit, that when any doctrine is brought under discussion, there is not a better or surer remedy than for a council of true bishops to meet and discuss the controverted point. There will be much more weight in a decision of this kind, to which the pastors of churches have agreed in common after invoking the Spirit of Christ, than if each, adopting it for himself, should deliver it to his people, or a few individuals should meet in private and decide.5


B. I've previously discussed how Berkhof describes Scriptural interpretation as a community-oriented task. I'd like to add the following with respect to the validity of councils:

The Roman Catholic Church ascribes to its dogmas absolute authority, not only because they are revealed truths, but even more particularly because they are infallibly apprehended and proposed by the Church for the belief of the faithful...

The Churches of the Reformation broke with this view. While they maintain that a doctrine does not become a dogma, and does not acquire ecclesiastical authority, until it is officially defined and accepted by the Church, they ascribe authority to it only because, and in so far as, it is founded on the Word of God. Their view of the matter can perhaps be best stated as follows. Materially (that is, as to contents) dogmas derive their authority exclusively from the infallible Word of God, but formally (as to form) they derive it from the Church...Church proclamation is an approximation to the original revelation, and not a perfect reproduction of it; but in so far as it does agree with it and is therefore really God speaking to sinners in the present, it is clothed with divine authority. The dogmas so conceived should be distinguished from the dogmas (plural), in which it is not God who speaks, but the Church, and which for that reason have only relative authority.6


C. Consider Whitaker's remarks:

We do not say that each individual should acquiesce in that interpretation which his own private spirit frames and dictates to him; for this would be to open a door to fanatical tempers and spirits: but we say that that Spirit should be the judge, who speaks openly and expressly in the scriptures, and whom all may hear; by him we desire that all other spirits, that is, all doctrines, (for so the word is to be taken in this place,) should be examined. We recognise no public judge save scripture, and the Spirit teaching us in scripture: yet this man speaks as if we made the spirit within the judge of others; which should never be done. For we are not so mad or foolish as to deal thus: You ought to acquiesce in this doctrine, because my spirit judges it to be true; but we say, You should receive this doctrine because the Holy Spirit in the scriptures hath taught us thus to think and to believe...For we allow that it is a highly convenient way of finding the true sense of scripture, for devout and learned men to assemble, examine the cause diligently, and investigate the truth; yet with this proviso, that they govern their decision wholly by the scriptures. Such a proceeding we, for our parts, have long wished for; for it is attended with a twofold advantage: first, that what is sought by many is found the more readily; second, that errors, and heretics the patrons of errors, are the more easily repressed, when they are condemned by the common consent and judgment of a great number.7


D. Consider the WCF as well:

For the better government, and further edification of the Church, there ought to be such assemblies as are commonly called synods or councils.

As magistrates may lawfully call a synod of ministers, and other fit persons, to consult and advise with, about matters of religion; so, if magistrates be open enemies to the Church, the ministers of Christ, of themselves, by virtue of their office, or they, with other fit persons upon delegation from their Churches, may meet together in such assemblies.

It belongs to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his Church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same; which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in His Word.8


E. And, finally, Mathison:

Instead of being defined as the sole infallible authority, the Bible is said to be the “sole basis of authority” Tradition is not allowed in any sense; the ecumenical creeds are virtually dismissed; and the Church is denied any real authority. On the surface it would seem that this modern Evangelical doctrine would have nothing in common with the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox doctrines of authority. But despite the very real differences, the modern Evangelical position shares one major flaw with both the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox positions. Each results in autonomy. Each results in final authority being placed somewhere other than God and His Word. Unlike the Roman Catholic position and the Eastern Orthodox position, however, which invariably result in the autonomy of the Church, the modern Evangelical position inevitably results in the autonomy of the individual believer.

...

The Bible nowhere gives any hint of wanting every individual believer to decide for himself and by himself what is and is not the true meaning of Scripture. The classical Reformed doctrine of sola scriptura meant that Scripture is the sole final and infallible authority. It does not mean that the lone individual is the one to determine what that Scripture means. Scripture was given to the Church within a certain pre-existing doctrinal context that had been preached by the Apostles for decades. Solo scriptura denies the necessity of that context, and it denies the necessity of that Church. In doing so it denies Christ who established that Church and who taught that doctrine to His disciples. It is rebellion in the name of God against the authority of God for the sake of preserving the authority of man.9


Considerations

When Roman Catholic apologists produce this dichotomy between rank individualism and the authority of the Magisterium, they assert a false dilemma. Reformed Protestants do not promote the authority of the individual to decide matters of doctrine in the same manner secular society promotes individualism. Rather, they stake out a position in which the Church still has real and functional authority. Subordinating the Church to Scripture is not the same as subordinating the Church to rank individualism, and rejecting the Roman Catholic view of authority does not entail a rejection of all authority outside of the individual.

Perhaps a detailed argument could be made that even the more sophisticated and nuanced version of sola Scriptura entails radical individualism. But I'm not aware of what a successful version of that argument would look like.

And, of course, even if there are proposed arguments like this, the critical problem is how little sola Scriptura is properly engaged in published literature or distinguished between the approach used by some radically individualistic Evangelical Protestants.10 This is neither honest nor intelligent, and deserves to be dismissed for what it is.

____________

1. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV.9.7. Supporting arguments are developed (rather well) in the previous sections of the chapter.

2. Ibid., IV.9.8.


3. David, L. Gray, Dead on Arrival: The Seven Fatal Errors of Sola-Scriptura, Vol. I, (Xenia, Ohio: Erehmai Uoyevoli, 2010), 75-77.

4. Patrick Madrid, Where is That In the Bible? (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2001), 20-21.

5. Calvin, Institutes, IV.9.13


6. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, New Combined Edition (Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 1996), 25.

7. William Whitaker, Disputations on Holy Scripture (Cambridge: Parker Society, 1894; reprint, Orlando: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2005), 433-434.

8. Westminster Confession of Faith, XXXI/i-iii.

9. Keith Mathison, "A Critique of the Evangelical Doctrine of Solo Scriptura." http://www.the-highway.com/Sola_Scriptura_Mathison.html (accessed 8/13/10).

10. I haven't kept up with all of the most recent literature, so it's possible the polemical landscape has changed in recent years to reflect a more nuanced approach to sola Scriptura. My experience in both reading Roman Catholic literature and engaging the fruits of the teachings of popular Catholic apologetic ministries and resources (via discussions on blogs, online boards, in person, etc.) strongly suggests otherwise. However, it is an area in which I hope my conclusions turn out to be false; it would be much better to have a proper representation of sola Scriptura in discussions of the subject.

55 comments:

John Bugay said...

Matthew, thanks for posting this. It's such a clear articulation of the mis-information that Catholics present on an ongoing basis. (I'm looking at the David Gray work, published just this year). Bryan Cross was just whining in the Green Baggins thread that wants people to take a "charitable" view of their opponents in these discussions. But he himself is a prime promoter of the "false dichotomy" you presented. And what Gray wrote was either ignorant or dishonest. What are these folks thinking? What an incredible double standard.

These statements of yours should especially be noted:

Credible attempts to critique the doctrine of sola Scriptura must first aim to properly represent it.

When Roman Catholic apologists produce this dichotomy between rank individualism and the authority of the Magisterium, they assert a false dilemma. … Subordinating the Church to Scripture is not the same as subordinating the Church to rank individualism, and rejecting the Roman Catholic view of authority does not entail a rejection of all authority outside of the individual.

steelikat said...

Solo scriptura always devolves into rank individualism, sola scriptura does not have to do so.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

John,

In addition to the pantheon of Catholicism, David Gray's work is dedicated to Ezekiel G. Hasbrook, his "friend and favorite Calvinist, whose passionate (and sometimes fanatically honest) defense of sola-scriptura inspired me to complete this book." I'd be interested to see how Hasbrook articulates sola Scriptura in light of the criticisms Gray has issued.

Tim Enloe said...

Yes, Calvin, Whitaker, Turretin, prominent members of the Westminster Assembly, and many other 1st and 2nd generation Reformed men were thoroughgoing conciliarists. This is a forgotten aspect of our heritage as Protestants, and I thank you, Matthew, for calling our attention to it.

The Medieval evidence also tells against the simplistic Catholic caricature you mention here, Matthew. It is true that for a few centuries after the collapse of imperial authority in the West, Christians went into a sort of "preservation mode" regarding tradition (and all of culture, really), and this soon became an uncritical reliance on anything that was found in those most sacred and venerable of "relics," BOOKS. Early Medieval people would, almost literally, believe anything if they read it in a book.

However, things did not stay this way. In the 11th century, a serious "renaissance" of sorts began to take place, and it was not long before men such as Peter Abelard were writing - with appeal to Augustine and other fathers - that if we could not critically examine the contents of books (and traditions), posterity would be deprived of the noble exercise of true opinions clashing with false ones so that everyone could be illuminated. The Scholastics developed this method of weighing tradition (not merely counting it, as Catholic apologists today do), and when the capital-R Renaissance came in the late 14th century, the "ad fontes" method of critically examining sources really took off.

And so we get fantastic books like Marsilius of Padua's Defensor pacis in the 14th century and Nicholas of Cusa's Catholic Concordance in the mid 15th century, which critically examine numerous parts of the papalist theory of authority and find them wanting. Then Wessel Gansfort comes along at the close of the 15th century with his works on authority, which Luther later read and profited from. Not to mention Jacques Almain and John Major in the early 16th century, who debated Cajetan on the false claims of papal authority just prior to the outbreak of the Reformation.

John Bugay said...

fantastic books like Marsilius of Padua's Defensor pacis in the 14th century and Nicholas of Cusa's Catholic Concordance

Tim, are these available anywhere online? (Are they even in English?)

There are brief snippets online, like this:

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/marsiglio1.html

But I'd love to see some of his thought process as well.

Tim Enloe said...

John, you can get both volumes of Wessel Gansfort free from Google Books (at least, you could as of a year ago). It looks like they also have large portions of Marsilis of Padua's Defenders of the Peace (http://books.google.com/books?id=q6XBF9J8jjYC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Marsilius+of+Padua&hl=en&ei=BB23TJ86hrixA5rh5fUI&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCoQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false). Marsilius is a bit tough to read, I'll warn you, but he's well worth it.

The tracts against Cajetan by Almain and Major are found excerpted here (http://books.google.com/books?id=mC-I3inCYOIC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Conciliarism+and+Papalism&hl=en&ei=Th23TIeXEIzSsAPyoaS1CQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false). It is important to realize that Major was a teacher of Calvin, and so when one reads Calvin's high view of councils in Book IV of the Institutes, one should see Major and Scottish conciliarism behind Calvin's words. Chapter 31 of the Westminster Confession, also, was written largely for the Scottish conciliarist contingent at the Assembly, who brought forward very weighty arguments from Scripture and history as to why councils were to be given more respect than individual private judgment.

John Bugay said...

Thanks Tim!

Tim Enloe said...

I should have said, just in case you follow up on Wessel Gansfort, since he's two volumes, that the main thing you want to look at is "On Ecclesiastical Dignity and Power" in Volume 2. There are some other passages in the book the references to which I can't seem to locate right now. In particular, he says some very interesting things about "the boat of Peter," and how when the "captain" goes metaphorically insane (as the popes of his day were), it is the duty of the passengers to take over the helm of the ship rather than allow the ship to be destroyed. Contrast this with Cajetan, who in the Conciliarism and Papalism volume I linked above, argues against the conciliarists that if the pope goes insane, oh well, it's our duty to just pray and hope God removes him before he wrecks the ship.

Nick said...

Calvin's theory simply doesn't work in practice. Period. Everything collapses as soon as the slightest pressure is applied. Protestants do not give the Early Ecumenical Councils any more weight than the individual Protestant wants to give them. And the (individual) Protestant always retains the right to reject any part of any Council.

This can be easily seen when quotes from those councils are produced and immediately disregarded. One famous example is when Ephesus decreed as dogma that it is orthodox to call Mary "Mother of God," to which folks like Eric Svendsen (and many others) have openly rejected. Another big one is Councils declaring Mary "Ever Virgin," which an even larger number of Protestants reject.

And an even worse problem is that Protestants divorce the Ecumenical Councils' teaching with the context in which they were taught. For example, the Ecumenical Councils were headed by groups of Bishops, not mere laymen with the (which is what Calvin was). This is also seen when Protestants disregard the canons of these Councils, which results in revisionist history and cherry picking.

And it's no secret that of the various historical denominations, none of them is bound to the Confessions of the opposing denominations, such that the Confession becomes nothing more than a banner for which various parties join under and not something that settles the issue for the Church.

I challenge anyone here to make a claim that any Ecumenical Council was free from error and I'll produce quotes from that same council that will cause them to drop it like a hot potato.

Nick said...

And I know folks like Tim Enloe can bad mouth Catholics but would never dare stand by any Ecumenical Council, because he knows he'll be thoroughly embarrassed when we take a look at the Council's documents.

And if any side adheres to "ad fontes," it is the Catholic side. The notion of "ad fontes" is utterly mocked when folks keep turning to this or that pet scholar who says what they want to hear.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Nick writes:

Calvin's theory simply doesn't work in practice. Period. Everything collapses as soon as the slightest pressure is applied. Protestants do not give the Early Ecumenical Councils any more weight than the individual Protestant wants to give them. And the (individual) Protestant always retains the right to reject any part of any Council.

The analysis of councils is best done in a community of Christians. To assert the authority given to councils by Protestants is limited to what any one individual gives it is to assert a kind of lowest common denominator alien to the texts I quoted above. And it's not obvious how that conflation follows even if your challenge succeeds.

However, since your argument turns on your challenge, let's take it up:

I challenge anyone here to make a claim that any Ecumenical Council was free from error and I'll produce quotes from that same council that will cause them to drop it like a hot potato.

1. What quotations would you provide from the Council of Nicea (325 AD) that would cause a Reformed Protestant to drop it "like a hot potato"? Interaction with Reformed scholarship on the council would bring your statement more credibility.

2. And I think you need to be a bit more specific about all this; as it stands, the success of your challenge is defined by an idiom. That's too vague to be useful as an evaluation of your argument.

3. If a Protestant decides that one or two phrases from the Council of Nicea aren't valid, how does that overturn the authority of the rest of the decrees of the council, or suggest that the council doesn't carry weight? More importantly, how does it follow from this that Calvin's approach "collapses"?

Tim Enloe said...

Nick, I have no problem with Calvin's view of General Councils. Matthew has already pressed you for clarification of your claim, so I'll just sit and wait to see if you can make good on it, or if you are, perhaps ironically, just "badmouthing" Protestants.

Nick said...

Matthew,

Your notion of "best done in a community of Christians" would have to boil down to "whatever Christians I find that agree with me" - which is functionally no different from Luther's "here I stand" comment. Again, Calvin wasn't even a bishop (nor was Luther), so right there we see the "lowest common denominator" (i.e. the layman) proceeding as he sees fit.


You said we should take a look at the Council of Nicaea. Good. Here are some things regarding the context from which Nicaea was convened and what the Council taught that I believe are incompatible with Protestant thought, teaching and/or practice:

1) It was run by (ordained) Bishops, not self-appointed men, much less laymen.

2) It explicitly lays out the three classes of ordained clergy, bishop, priest, deacon. (Canon 3)

3) It teaches the historical precedence for a Bishop of Rome, including Papal Supremacy. (Canon 6)

4) Canon 12, speaks of saved individuals losing salvation and needing to do Penance.

5) Canon 13 teaches the Eucharist is "most necessary," and talks about Viaticum (Eucharist given as part of the Last Rites). This suggests the Eucharist is far more than a symbol, and even efficacious. (cf Canon 18)

6) Canon 14 teaches the notion of the Catechumenate, in which a person must go through training before becoming Christian.

7) Canon 16 speaks about how priests and deacons cannot just run around as they please but must remain in their assigned areas and obedience. (cf Canon 18)

All these, and other details, don't paint any sort of Protestant picture.

natamllc said...

The most scandalous fruit of Luther's linear lie has been the ballooning of over thirty-three thousand different Protestant denominations, as the due result of private interpretations apart from the true teachings of the Magisterium. The reason why there are over three-three [sic] thousand different denominations is because definitive and authoritative truths cannot be known through sola-scriptura.

Last I checked, Christ in complete union with God Our Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit is most favorable to being the Head of many many many Saints.

The problem of the reduction the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic faith produces is ironic!

Here's the difference:

Rev 19:6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.

1Co 12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
1Co 12:5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;
1Co 12:6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
1Co 12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

steelikat said...

canon 6 does not talk about papal supremacy from what I can tell.

Your use of "penance" in regards to 12 is a loaded term. It seems to describe a disciplinary process (it's pretty harsh but maybe it wouldn't hurt to go back to that or better yet find a happy medium). A disciplinary process is not something you could call "true" or false and the same can be said about 16.

As for the rest of your hot potatoes they don't seem so bad to me. I won't drop them.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Nick writes:

Your notion of "best done in a community of Christians" would have to boil down to "whatever Christians I find that agree with me" - which is functionally no different from Luther's "here I stand" comment.

It seems you're trading on different senses of "agree with me." You still want to suggest that the interpretive authority of a council is limited for all Protestants by the lower limit of what one Protestant believes. I honestly have a great deal of difficulty seeing how this logically follows from what I've quoted above or what you've asserted here. Either we acknowledge there will be outliers, but the general consensus of an interpretive community remains, and, therefore, your conflation fails, or we simply do what your communion does and excommunicate those who disagree with us. If we happen to engage in the latter, then we are no better or worse than you with respect to your proffered criticism, rendering it moot.

Again, Calvin wasn't even a bishop (nor was Luther), so right there we see the "lowest common denominator" (i.e. the layman) proceeding as he sees fit.

That's not the sense I was using for "lowest common denominator." If you're going to try and use my words against me, at least use them in the same sense I use them.

You're also engaging in weasel wording; "proceeding as he sees fit" does not do justice to the careful and anti-individualistic deliberation in which both Luther and Calvin engaged as they considered the issue of Scriptural interpretation and the judgment of councils. Which works of Luther and Calvin have you read on their understanding of the authority and nature of councils?

As for your challenge:

1. You first claimed the challenge would be based on quotes from the council. Now you include elements outside of just what the canons say. Is that because the number of issues within the council to which a Protestant would object are exceptionally small?

2. You've cited issues peripheral to the primary theological issue discussed at the council. Even if a Protestant accepted your interpretation of all of your examples and decided to reject all these examples as incompatible with Protestantism, I don't see how it follows in any serious sense that a Protestant would have to "drop" the council like a "hot potato."

3. You've cited no Reformed scholars on the issue. Is that because no Reformed scholars treat the Council of Nicea as a "hot potato"?

4. You still haven't described the specific parameters under which your challenge succeeds. Perhaps that is because, like much of Catholic apologetics, your rhetoric only succeeds if it is left intentionally vague.

Tim Enloe said...

Which works of Luther and Calvin have you read on their understanding of the authority and nature of councils?

Always an important question - if not the most important question - to ask any Catholic engaged in apologetics. Too many have read too little of the Reformers, as is continually shown, e.g., by James Swan's work on Luther.

I think the first question is to be followed up shortly thereafter by, "What intellectual preparation have you done to understand what you have read in Calvin and Luther?" Too many simply baptize a Fundamentalist-like "literal interpretation" view of texts and imagine that just because they can decode the letters of the English words on the Internet-scanned text of Calvin, this means they actually grasp the nature and meaning of Calvin's thought in its many-faceted complexity.

Rhology said...

Nick said:
Your notion of "best done in a community of Christians" would have to boil down to "whatever Christians I find that agree with me" - which is functionally no different from Luther's "here I stand" comment.

Uh oh, pettle calling kot black! When will you people get it through your heads that this argument is a waste of time for everyone?

Nick said...

Steelikat,

Canon 6 sounds nothing like Protestant eccelesiology, and if you follow the link I gave you will see the Catholic interpretation is the only one that makes any sense.

Canon 12 is speaking of folks who came to grace and then abandoned it (ie were saved and fell away), needing Penance to be fully reconciled.

You said you don't see any problems with the rest of what I commented on, but I'm not sure you're seeing the problems. For example, do you believe in a three class ordained heirarchy of Bishop, Priest, and Deacon? I don't see how if you're Protestant (except Anglican).

Nick said...

Matthew,

Your first quote comes down to what these words of yours mean: "the general consensus of an interpretive community".

If this is not tied to Apostolic Succession or some other objective standard, it boils down into "the general consensus of those who more or less agree with me". And if someone finds they have to be in the minority (or even lone ranger), they have every "right" to. Your only other option is to say whatever the majority says is right - but we all know that's not how things go.


Your also said: "or we simply do what your communion does and excommunicate those who disagree with us."

Excommunication is precisely the model of the Ecumenical Councils, including Nicaea. Excommunication comes from the notion there is a single visible Church with visible authority and anyone desiring the name Christian must submit.


You said: "If we happen to engage in the latter, then we are no better or worse than you with respect to your proffered criticism, rendering it moot."

I would say if you would engage in the latter with consistency, then the stage would be set for two visible churches vying for the title of "One True Church" - which the Catholic side is happy to take on.


You said: "That's not the sense I was using for "lowest common denominator." If you're going to try and use my words against me, at least use them in the same sense I use them."

Your original words were: "To assert the authority given to councils by Protestants is limited to what any one individual gives it is to assert a kind of lowest common denominator"
I don't see how I misrepresented you at all. What else is "here I stand" other than the authority of that council and communion of bishops was utterly trumped and brushed off by the individual (Luther)?

This also touches upon the notion of hierarchy, which is just as decisive as the other issues. If you assert a genuine hierarchy, you're self-condemned since Luther and Calvin (and others) weren't hierarchy. If you assert no hierarchy, then each man's authority to judge/interpret is by *definition* equal.


You said: You're also engaging in weasel wording; "proceeding as he sees fit" does not do justice to the careful and anti-individualistic deliberation in which both Luther and Calvin engaged as they considered the issue of Scriptural interpretation and the judgment of councils.

The irony here is that the anti-individualistic tag you're trying to get away from is the very thing Luther and Calvin engaged in, including when they set themselves up as effectively the head of their respective bodies. Proceeding as they see fit is accurate in that they submit to no person or council with any consistency except for the fact the final call is up to them.


You asked: Which works of Luther and Calvin have you read on their understanding of the authority and nature of councils?

I've not read much, but I've read enough. For example, the "Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope" is the "official" Lutheran stance on how the Pope and Bishops *used to* have authority, but now no longer due since Luther and his followers don't feel like they should have authority any more.

And Luther's ultimate "middle finger" was when he said: "Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils" How is this not individualism at it's bedrock?

As for Calvin, I've read Institutes 4.9, and he clearly reserves the right to object or toss out anything he thinks doesn't conform to (his interpretation) of Scripture. I've also read where he went line by line on the Council of Trent (especially on Justification) and single-handedly rejected anything he didn't agree with.

Nick said...

(2 of 2)



You said:
As for your challenge:
1. You first claimed the challenge would be based on quotes from the council. Now you include elements outside of just what the canons say. Is that because the number of issues within the council to which a Protestant would object are exceptionally small?

I quoted the canons from Nicaea, which are "quotes from the Council." Granted, Nicaea didn't say much overall, nor is Protestant theology opposed to the main point (dogmatizing "homoousios"), but the divergence becomes more clear the further on in history one looks. And the notion that the canons (even if just disciplinary) are dispensable or irrelevant to getting an accurate look at the situation is a form of revisionist history and cherry-picking. The point is Nicaea looked and spoke nothing like what we see in Protestantism.


You said: 2. You've cited issues peripheral to the primary theological issue discussed at the council. Even if a Protestant accepted your interpretation of all of your examples and decided to reject all these examples as incompatible with Protestantism, I don't see how it follows in any serious sense that a Protestant would have to "drop" the council like a "hot potato."

Because the Protestant is reading the Council selectively and totally ripped from it's historical context. It's incongruent to say the Council got the primary theological issue "correct" but that they none the less got a bunch of other religious issues "wrong". For example, you can't say Nicaea is good and valuable because it was Biblical on the issue of Christ's Divinity, but that it was also unbiblical in other matters (e.g. the hierarchy of bishop, priest, deacon; Roman Bishop Primacy, etc). It's equivalent to saying the Bible is only inerrant on issues of faith, but all other matters are not inerrant and can even contain historical and scientific errors.

You said: "3. You've cited no Reformed scholars on the issue.

The most I've ever seen Protestants venerate Nicaea is in terms of the main decree on Christ's Divinity. Otherwise the Canons are wholly ignored and treated as irrelevant.

You said: 4. You still haven't described the specific parameters under which your challenge succeeds.

My challenge succeeds in showing that the Protestant end will dispense with a Council either outright or through rendering it effectively null by cherry picking what parts of it they feel are biblical and ignoring the rest. And as I said, Nicaea didn't say much overall, but as soon as you continue to examine the following Councils the truth of my claim becomes more clear.

Tim Enloe said...

Nick,

Unfortunately your polemical construction of Luther and Calvin is simplistic. Both were steeped in the ancient classics and in biblical scholarship, and both followed many sources outside of themselves as often, if not more often, than they rejected them. What we see in the Reformers is not "mere individualistic" cherry-picking of sources outside of themselves, but broadly-informed, deeply reflective critical engagement with sources outside of themselves.

No one is literally an island unto himself, and the Reformers certainly did not believe that they were. Luther's "Here I stand" was a commonplace of Late Medieval thought about conscience - even Aquinas says that it is a general rule that we should not violate our individual conscience. This is not some kind of anarchistic principle, but a well-recognized Catholic one (well recognized, anyway, outside of the romanticized portrayal of what Catholic "authority" does for one that converts promote.)

Even those contemporary Protestants who verbally pretend to have no authority other than Scripture have numerous influences upon themselves that do not come from Scripture. R.C. Sproul, who is about as Reformed and sola Scripturist as one can get, has argued in this light that the simple fact that we have to learn to read before we can read the Scriptures (let alone try to interpret them) exposes us to all kinds of biases that don't come from the Scriptures.

The Cartesian myth of a person who has literally rejected all thoughts and categories that he himself has not first rigorously verified without reference to anything outside of his own reason is exactly that - a myth. It is the "Enligtenment" myth of which Matthew's post on the McGrath post mentioned, and it is this myth that the argument you are promoting here relies upon. There are many Protestants who are Cartesians in their basic outlook toward the relationship between the mind and truth, but none can ever be fully consistent with it.

steelikat said...

Nick,

I couldn't follow your argument about canon 6 but I probably didn't try hard enough. It sure looks on the surface like you are not interpreting it in the clear and obvious sense.

Canon 12 is clearly talking about infamous sinners and public discipline. There is no good reason to think that it refers to anything else.

Of course it is well known that the threefold office already existed long before Nicaea. I think there's wisdom and practicality in it, though it doesn't seem necessary to me. The NT does not seem to distinguish between presbyters and bishops, treating them as one thing.

The office of deacon has become moribund in the Western church, but that is not the fault of Protestants. I think it happened before the Reformation. It seems that many Protestant denominations have tried to revive it.

Seriously your hot potatoes didn't seem devastating or impressive to me. You should look at councils post-great-schism I bet you can find some real hot potatoes there. Try Trent.

steelikat said...

"And Luther's ultimate "middle finger" was when he said: "Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils" How is this not individualism at it's bedrock?"

Luther said lots of things and he didn't hesitate to vent his spleen. I would say we should have moved to a more moderate position after the tumult and discord of the reformation and Rome's reaction to it rather than moving toward a more extreme position. We should beware of sola scriptura being misunderstood as or devolving to solo scriptura.

Rhology said...

And Luther's ultimate "middle finger" was when he said: "Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils"

Right, b/c it's so much better to accept SOME words of SOME Popes and SOME councils, and for the Magisterium to claim the authority to tell us which... and then be neglected by the same when we ask which SOME is which.

RCs never seem to ask themselves the same questions they ask Sola Scripturists, and it's sad to see.

Tim Enloe said...

This myth of the Reformers as Modern individualists is a chief cause of much of the mischief done in these conversations. It is true to note that the Renaissance championed the rise of the "individual" both in terms of the education of ordinary people (and so their ability to evaluate things "for themselves") and in terms of whole local cultures (i.e., vernacular literature accessible to all rather than all literature being inaccessible in Latin). It's also true that there were substantial movements of Late Medieval piety, such as the Brethren of the Common Life, that sought to free the ordinary individual man from the tyrannical shackles of a hierarchical mode of spirituality that had that ordinary man being just a mindless cog in a soteriological machine.

What isn't true is that this complicated rise of the "individual" necessarily entails a sort of Cartesia "individualism" - the idea that individual people are rational and cultural islands unto themselves. Properly construed, the Late Medieval / Renaissance ideal of the individual is that of a thoroughly educated man or woman (and "education" means something different to us than it meant to them) who lives in community with others and strives toward a common good - a good that the whole community recognizes and seeks together.

This is the matrix of the Reformation, and it is why the Magisterial Reformers always held that they were only purifying the Church catholic that had always existed, not destroying it and starting over from scratch. Unfortunately, this matrix isn't well understood by most who carry on these apologetic clashes online, and so a great deal of simplistic nonsense is bandied about as if it were indubitable fact.

Nick said...

Tim,

Explain how Luther being steeped in the ancients is of any relevance when he couldn't find his notion of imputed righteousness of Christ in the Fathers. Explain how being steeped in the ancients matters at all when the Reformers were free to disregard any portion of any ECF or Council.

Being steeped in the ancients ultimately doesn't matter if later followers can "come to their own conclusions" and further cherry pick as they see fit.

You're ultimately confusing issues. The issue is not level of education, or how well informed or biased we are, the issue is that the "final call" rests on the shoulders of the individual.

Lastly, I'm not convinced at all that the Reformers were operating with accurate knowledge of basic Greek, and I say this on the grounds I see a glaring problem with a key Protestant term "Impute" which I see almost no Protestant apologists ever address.

Nick said...

Steelikat,

There isn't much I can say to you regarding Canon 6 if you don't understand what I said in that link. The argument seemed pretty basic to me:

Does the Bishop of Alexandria hold jurisdication over Egypt because:

(a) the Bishop of Rome is a Patriarch with jurisdiction over Italy?

OR

(b) the Bishop of Rome has traditionally granted this jurisdiction to the Bishop of Alexandria?

The Protestant interpretation, Option-A, is nonsense.

As for the three-fold distinction of bishops, priest, and deacons. You clearly concede my point when you outright reject the distinction without even blinking.


As for Luther's comment. As far as I can see, he never retracted that sentiment - NOR HAS ANY PROTESTANT BODY. The sentiment expressed is the bedrock of Luther's revolt, otherwise he has nothing to stand on.

Tim Enloe said...

Nick,

You seem to imagine that the critical use of one's rational faculties to examine texts is necessarily "cherry-picking as they see fit." If anything is confusing the issue, THAT is. I don't know anything about you, so I won't assume anything about your level of education, your profession, or your motives in all of this. However, this basic assumption of yours seems indicative of a lack of careful thought about the nature and purpose of human rational ability when it comes to interpreting texts - especially old texts.

NO ONE can get away from this thing you, like so many other Catholics, seem so disturbed about - the duty of the individual to make decisions. You can't get away from it as a Catholic, I can't get away from it as a Protestant, and neither can anyone else get away from it.

The issue is precisely "education" in the sense of the basic intellectual formation of one's mind as one approaches a text in order to interpret it. "How does being steeped in the ancients of relevance to Luther when he couldn't find imputation in the Fathers?" is the wrong question to ask. If anything would be "cherry-picking," it would be approaching an ancient text with some pre-formed idea of what one wanted to find in it, and then, lo and behold, either finding that thing in it or being disappointed at not finding that thing in it. When one knows a few things about the shape of early Medieval theology, which was done in LATIN, it's no mystery that sophisticated discussions about imputation are not found in the Fathers. But just because something isn't found in the Fathers does not mean it can't be in the Bible. One should not idolize the Fathers, as if they penetrated to all truth, leaving nothing for subsequent ages save Official Commentary Upon the Fathers.

Texts say what they say (though sometimes there is legitimate disagreement about WHAT exactly they say), and the only way to get at that meaning is to have a mind that has been properly formed so that it is able to grapple with a text and extract its meaning. That's the importance of the classical training of the Reformers: their minds were shaped and formed in such a way as to allow them to critically approach texts, to first get at them in their original languages, and then to weigh them, evaluate them, and issue intellectually respectable interpretations of them. You may certainly feel free to disagree with their interpretations, but you may not simplistically claim that they simply "cherrypicked" their way through the texts. Especially since you have admitted to Matthew that you haven't read much of their work firsthand. Know your limitations, friend.

Anyway, it's precisely the lack of classical training in most modern readers of the Reformers that leads to so much nonsense being propagated as indubitable truth. As for your last, I've had two years of Koine Greek, but thanks to years of non-use, it's too rusty to allow me to engage with whatever is at your link. I will have to leave that to those who are more qualified in Greek than I.

Tim Enloe said...

Nick,

You seem to imagine that the critical use of one's rational faculties to examine texts is necessarily "cherry-picking as they see fit." If anything is confusing the issue, THAT is. I don't know anything about you, so I won't assume anything about your level of education, your profession, or your motives in all of this. However, this basic assumption of yours seems indicative of a lack of careful thought about the nature and purpose of human rational ability when it comes to interpreting texts - especially old texts.

NO ONE can get away from this thing you, like so many other Catholics, seem so disturbed about - the duty of the individual to make decisions. You can't get away from it as a Catholic, I can't get away from it as a Protestant, and neither can anyone else get away from it.

The issue is precisely "education" in the sense of the basic intellectual formation of one's mind as one approaches a text in order to interpret it. "How does being steeped in the ancients of relevance to Luther when he couldn't find imputation in the Fathers?" is the wrong question to ask. If anything would be "cherry-picking," it would be approaching an ancient text with some pre-formed idea of what one wanted to find in it, and then, lo and behold, either finding that thing in it or being disappointed at not finding that thing in it. When one knows a few things about the shape of early Medieval theology, which was done in LATIN, it's no mystery that sophisticated discussions about imputation are not found in the Fathers. But just because something isn't found in the Fathers does not mean it can't be in the Bible. One should not idolize the Fathers, as if they penetrated to all truth, leaving nothing for subsequent ages save Official Commentary Upon the Fathers.

[cont]

Tim Enloe said...

[cont]

Texts say what they say (though sometimes there is legitimate disagreement about WHAT exactly they say), and the only way to get at that meaning is to have a mind that has been properly formed so that it is able to grapple with a text and extract its meaning. That's the importance of the classical training of the Reformers: their minds were shaped and formed in such a way as to allow them to critically approach texts, to first get at them in their original languages, and then to weigh them, evaluate them, and issue intellectually respectable interpretations of them.

Now you may certainly feel free to disagree with their interpretations, but you may not baldly claim that they simply "cherrypicked" their way through the texts. Especially since you have admitted to Matthew that you haven't read much of their work firsthand. What formation does your mind have that has prepared you for interpreting 500 year old texts - let alone 1,500 year old texts? Perhaps you have such a formation, I don't know. But if so, you need to display it, and not ask simplistic questions and make bald statements that make it look like you've been reading pop-apologetics rags and websites as your preparation to have important conversations such as this.

Anyway, it's precisely the lack of classical training in most modern readers of the Reformers that leads to so much nonsense being propagated as indubitable truth. As for your last, I've had two years of Koine Greek, but thanks to years of non-use, it's too rusty to allow me to engage with whatever is at your link. I will have to leave that to those who are more qualified in Greek than I.

steelikat said...

Tim,

That's interesting. Are you saying that it is difficult for latin speakers to talk about imputation because of something like the Sapir Whorf hypothesis?

steelikat said...

Nick,

I've told you that the threefold ministry is not a hot potato that I need to drop. Don't you believe me? I even called it "wise" and "practical."

All I did was say that it was the medieval pre-reformation church that dropped it and you shouldn't blame Protestantism for that.

I take back, to a degree, what I said about canon 12. Yes it was about disciplining infamous sinners but it probably was connected also to absolution properly speaking, what you call "penance."

I do think you may be reading back later medieval ideas about "penance," anachronis tically.

Tim Enloe said...

I don't know anything about Sapir Whorf, steelikat. What I do know is that Latin is a very legally precise language, adapted especially to deal with legal-political-social discourse. I also know that the early Fathers were like any other human beings that have ever lived or ever will live: they automatically interpreted their experience of the world in the categories that were familiar to them by reason of living in a particular culture. This for them was a culture of "Romanitas," or "Romanness." It colored everything they did, thought, and said in ways that are very difficult for us, living 2,000 years later, to grasp unless we first spend significant time trying to "get into" that culture by means of intensively studying its artifacts. (This is why "Wikipedia apologetics" and "apologetics" done by people who had never heard of the Fathers until 6 months ago when they chanced upon "Surprised By Truth" and subsequently converted are such ludicrous ideas.)

At any rate, obviously, the New Testament was not written in Latin, and at least for the first few centuries, all educated people had both Latin and Greek as part of their basic mental formation. But as time wore on and knowledge of Greek was lost in the West, the native "legalism" of Latin almost totally took over Western theological and political thought. Others are much better with the Fathers than I am (and I am loathe to tread on ground for which I am not substantially prepared), but this is the place to mention the tremendous influence of Augustine's apparent confusion about imputation and infusion.

The upshot is that Nick's question about Luther's classical training relative to finding imputation in the Fathers is simply misplaced. That's not the point at all relative to his claim that the Reformers "cherrypicked texts as they wished." That isn't true, and only someone not all that familiar with the complex process of wrestling with and interpreting ancient texts could make such a remark, let alone imply that somehow Catholics, who supposedly uniquely possess "authority," are exempt from the vagaries of this process.

Nick said...

Tim,

Nothing I've written indicates Catholics (or anyone else) are not capable of rational thought or decision making.

The issue is "authority," not "education." Well educated and upright Protestants disagree with each other on various doctrinal matters.


Steelikat,

How do you explain the fact Protestantism doesn't carry this three fold office and no valid holy orders even if they wanted to? Many Protestants are content with rejecting the distinction as "unbiblical".

Tim Enloe said...

Well, Nick, you need to be clearer then. You seem to be against critically interpreting texts, and you seem to equate this with "cherrypicking as they wish." If you see a place for critical engagement with texts, whether by Catholics or Protestants, you need to make this aspect of your argument more clear. And I again exhort you to know your limitations, since you have admitted you have not read much of the Reformers. One would think it would be hard to sustain an argument that the Reformers "cherrypicked" their way through texts if one has not actually read a large amount of the Reformers and reflected upon them in the light of much other knowledge.

Also, I don't believe you understand what I mean by "education." I'm not referring to the modern process of stuffing brains full of information. That isn't "education." I'm talking about intellectual formation, which allows one to weigh "authority" claims rather than simply blindly submit to them upon the alleged pain of "anarchy."

steelikat said...

Nick,

The office of deacon was eliminated in the western church except as the last step on the way to presbyterial ordination many centuries before the reformation. Protestantism inherited that state of affairs.

1. Some Protestant churches have tried to restore the office of deacon, in fact.

2. Some Protestant churches have merged the offices of presbyter and bishop because the NT does not seem to distinguish between them.

Any protestant church where 1 has not occurred and 2 has occurred will have pastors only, it will not distinguish ordained men hierarchically.

Any Protestant church where neither 1 nor 2 has occurred will look similar in structure to the Roman Catholic Church.

Any Protestant church where both 1 and 2 has occurred will will have elders and deacons.

Any church where 1 has occurred and 2 has not occurred will have a full threefold distinction, as the Eastern Orthodox Church does.

Some Protestant Churches have abandoned the idea of an ordained clergy altogether.

Constantine said...

Nick is hopelessly lost and here especially with regards to Nicaea.

The Council was not “run by (ordained) Bishops” but rather a secular emperor. Constantine called the meeting, oversaw its functioning and directed its outcome. It is fascinating to note that it was the Alexandrian view – not any view of Rome's – which became orthodoxy. That fact alone, speaks volumes against the papists. Secondly, it was Constantine's confidant, Bishop Hosius of Cordoba, who suggested that Constantine have the term “homousious” added to the Nicene formula. So the input of one bishop, not of Rome, ended the stalemate between the Arians and Alexandrians in favor of the latter. And the decision was made by a secular emperor and not the bishop of Rome. In fact, Rome was nowhere to be seen. Further, it was decided that the Bishop of Alexandria would thereafter determine the date for Easter. An odd choice if Rome was in the ascendancy.

But Nick's problem with Canon 6 gets much stickier than that when he says of it,

It teaches the historical precedence for a Bishop of Rome, including Papal Supremacy.

Here he is acknowledging his disregard for history. For shortly before Nicaea, in the case of two Spanish bishops - Basilides and Martialis – we see that neither the Bishop of Rome nor any other bishop had any idea of “Papal Supremacy”.

The facts are quickly these: B&M apostasized and were removed by their local churches. The local churches consecrated their successors who were ordained – without the knowledge of Rome – and installed. The two apostates appealed to Pope Stephen of Rome to be reinstated, in which he acquiesced. A presbyter named Felix along with the laity appealed the matter to Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage. Cyprian convenes a synod of bishops which sends a letter to that local church telling them to disregard the Bishop of Rome, which the local church does.

Now maybe Nick can tell us exactly where this “historical precedence” is when neither the laity or bishops in Spain recognized it; Cyprian, as bishop of Carthage did not recognize it; and an entire synod of bishops in concert with Cyprian didn't know of it? And all of this only 60 years before Nicaea.


And in a similarly short period after Nicaea we find another problematic example for Nick.

Whereas Pope Innocent I had condemned Pelagius, his successor Zosimus endorsed him. Which of those two is “supreme” in the matter? And it must be noted that Augustine himself, and the African bishops in concert with him opposed Zosimus showing, again, the mythological nature of the modern notion of papal supremacy. Interestingly, just as at Nicaea, it was here that a secular Roman emperor was used by God to guide His church - and not the pope of Rome.

So history proves that the first choice of Nick's simplistic dichotomy is nearer the truth. In other words, because other bishops clearly exercised their authority independently of and sometimes in opposition to the bishop of Rome, it is not possible that Alexandria derived her authority from Rome. Much more could be said about Nick's source from 1880, but that will have to wait.

“If the Nicene fathers had recognized what is called the ‘papal supremacy,’ they could not but have noticed it in this canon. [e,g, 6th canon of Nicaea, “Let the ancient customs prevail.”] For they were considering the subject of authority, and of such authority as was held, in different areas, by Rome and Alexandria alike…The omission is a proof, if proof were wanted, that the First Ecumenical Council knew nothing of the doctrine of papal supremacy.”
(Quoting W. Bright, Notes on the Canons: Nic. 6. in Kidd, B. J. The Roman Primacy to A.D. 461. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1936., p. 41)

Peace.

Turretinfan said...

"Canon 6 sounds nothing like Protestant eccelesiology, and if you follow the link I gave you will see the Catholic interpretation is the only one that makes any sense. "

ROFL

No and no. No, it doesn't sound like "Protestant ecclesiology" (which is what exactly? Episcopalean, Presbyterian, Congregational, Brethren?). But it certainly is not papal. That's the problem for Rome. History is not her friend.

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

Nick, to your point that Protestants disagree about all kinds of things, so it's all about "authority" - you would be right IF you construed your argument as "It's all about different ways of WEIGHING authority claims." All Protestants read the same Bible verses, and in many disputes, both sides quote the same verses. But this is NOT about "authority" in the ultimate sense, for all sides agree that the Scriptures are the ultimate authority. Where they disagree is in their formulations of results from the very complicated process of weighing what this verse says relative to what that verse says.

A lot of things go into how different people weigh arguments, and it is simply not possible to reduce all of this to "The fact that Protestants disagree proves that sola Scriptura does not work, and proves that we need an 'authority' to resolve disagreements." It is not true that Protestants have "no authority." What is true is that Protestants don't have "authority" the way that Catholics define it. Big deal. The Christian tradition is diverse, and nobody except the popes and their creatures have ever said that only the pope gets to define "authority."

Sola Scriptura is not a guarantee that all people who read the Bible will agree as to its meaning, so any argument that says the standard is false because it does not produce agreement is an argument that does not understand what the term "sola Scriptura" means.

Further, your argument trades on vagueness in the term "authority" which is proposed as the answer to the disagreements. Again, all Protestants agree that the Scriptures are the ultimate authority - where they disagree is on how to weigh various parts of the Scriptures and come up with a fully consistent position.

[cont]

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

Further complicating matters, it is very true that there are Protestants who pretend no external authority of any kind can have any say-so in biblical interpretation: they imagine that the Reformation doctrine of the "perspicuity" of Scripture refers to the Cartesian concept of "clear and evident" truth, which is arrived at by individual persons using skeptical methods to eliminate all options that they cannot square with their own personal reasoning process.

This is not the Magisterial Reformation's understanding of biblical interpretation, as Matthew has begun to show by citing Reformed sources advocating the use of General Councils. The Westminster Confession even goes so far as to state that it “belongs” to Councils to determine not only doctrinal controversies, but also the resolution of issues of conscience. Numerous other Reformed witnesses can be brought forward to bolster this view.

So, the method of individualistic biblical interpretation cannot be imputed to Calvin and Luther, for the historical record is pretty clear that they rejected it. 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.

Another important related issue is the intra-mural Protestant debate over what “tradition” is and what, if any, role it should have in biblical interpretation. Protestants disagree with each other on this, and if you were really a person who believed that old “thousands of denominations” saw, you’d adapt your argument forms to take account of particular Protestant disagreements rather than trying to catch up all Protestants in one big reductionistic net.

Tim Enloe said...

At any rate, since you have not read much of the Reformers, I exhort you again to mollify your claims in accordance with the actual state of your knowledge. Better to admit ignorance of certain things and try to learn from those who are not ignorant on the same things than to pretend you know things that you actually don’t know.

Irritatio Perpetua said...

Tim,

Which council decided that an episcopal, three-tier leadership structure was optional, and did that council happen before or after the reformers rejected said structure?

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Irritatio Perpetua,

What's the purpose of your question?

Tim Enloe said...

That's an irrelevant question to Protestant conciliarism, because in Protestant conciliarism, councils are not infallible.

Irritatio Perpetua said...

It belongs to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith... and government of [God's] Church... which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission... - WCF 31.3

No, the question is not irrelevant, unless you wish to claim there are no controversies over the government of God's Church.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Irritatio Perpetua writes:

No, the question is not irrelevant, unless you wish to claim there are no controversies over the government of God's Church.

Are you aware of any commentary on the WCF that agrees with the scope of "controversies" you've imputed to the text? How about Reformed writers who believe that church government is a controversy of faith needing to be settled by a council?

steelikat said...

Tim Enloe,

That is a non-sequitur on your part, and not an answer to Irritatio's question,

In fact, implying "because councils are fallible, they are irrelevant" is an attack on Matthew's thesis, which implies among other things that we can take councils as authoritative without considering them infallible or abandoning the principle that scripture is our ultimate authority.

You are inviting Nick to reply:
"You are right, fallible councils are irrelevant, that is one of the reasons Sola Scriptura is ultimately nothing more than solo scripture and necessarily devolves into rank individualism."

Nick is wrong but unfortunately he is right about much of Protestantism which has replaced the "sola" with "solo."

steelikat said...

Did the 15th century church really have a 3-tier leadership structure, btw?

Let's say Pope, archbishops, bishops.

What about cardinals, then? Were they not leaders, and wouldn't that make it 4 tiers? What about secular rulers? didn't they still have some amount of power in the church?

Tim Enloe said...

Steelikat,

I am aware of the "sola" / "solo" distinction, and I agree that it is an accurate assessment of the divergence between Magisterial Protestantism and much of modern Protestantism.

I don't follow your accusation of non-sequitur, or how what I said attacks Matthew's thesis. Perhaps my coffee hasn't kicked in yet, and thus I'm thinking in a fog, but one does not have to consider councils infallible in order to consider them authoritative. There are many fallible authorities in our lives - teachers, parents, friends - and we do not require any of them to be infallible in order for us to respect them as having real, though circumscribed authority.

Also, echoing Matthew, although the mode of church government is controversial in Protestantism, it is not clear that it is the type of controversy that needs to be solved by a General Council. Speaking generally (recognizing that there are exceptions, such as, e.g., de iure divino Presbyterians), Protestants do not believe that the mode of church government is of the esse of the Church, but only of its bene esse. That's why I said Irratio's question is irrelevant: Irritatio seemed to be assuming that Protestants can't respect councils because historically councils have had a "three-tier" authority structure, and no council decreed that structure optional. The objection is easily removed by critically weighing the decrees of councils and concluding that if mode of government isn't of the esse of the faith, then the assumption of a three-tier system by previous councils is not a matter of the substance of the faith.

I'm open to your further thoughts, as I don't believe that I know it all on any of these things.

steelikat said...

"one does not have to consider councils infallible in order to consider them authoritative. There are many fallible authorities in our lives - teachers, parents, friends - and we do not require any of them to be infallible in order for us to respect them as having real, though circumscribed authority."

Well, yeah. I agree with that 100%.

I must have misunderstood you. I am sorry.

" Irritatio seemed to be assuming that Protestants can't respect councils because historically councils have had a "three-tier" authority structure, and no council decreed that structure optional. The objection is easily removed by critically weighing the decrees of councils and concluding that if mode of government isn't of the esse of the faith, then the assumption of a three-tier system by previous councils is not a matter of the substance of the faith."

Well said. I'm sure you're right. Again, I'm sorry.

Tim Enloe said...

Myself, I see episcopal government as an adaptation of Christian politics to the existing norms of the Late Antique Roman imperial system.

This is beyond doubt the historical moorings of the system: from the Church's use of Diocletian's diocesan system to the gradual accretion of power in the office of the bishop as the "patron" responsible for "clients," the whole system is clearly an adaptation of a unique historical circumstance, read by Christians through the lens of the Scriptures as translated into Latin.

The New Testament, in my view, anyway, doesn't specify a single universal mode of government for the Church. Hence, questions about respecting councils that featured episcopal government as their mode of doing business are irrelevant to Protestant conciliarism.

steelikat said...

"This is beyond doubt the historical moorings of the system: from the Church's use of Diocletian's diocesan system to the gradual accretion of power in the office of the bishop as the "patron" responsible for "clients," the whole system is clearly an adaptation of a unique historical circumstance, read by Christians through the lens of the Scriptures as translated into Latin."

As you say this is undoubtedly true, yet the bare distinction between bishop and presbyter began to occur quite early. If Irritatio is talking about the tripartite distinction in the clergy, bishop, presbyter, and deacon, someone should point out to him that it wasn't the reformers who "rejected" that, rather, the western church rejected the office of deacon (except as a formative stage for seminarians) many centuries BEFORE the reformation and the reformers inherited that state of affairs.