Friday, February 18, 2011

Taking Roman claims off the table

All too often, the argument is put forth in these discussions: “Protestantism has problems; therefore, the Roman Catholic Church is what it says it is.”

This question has certainly become one of them.

Some of the early objections to Keith Mathison’s article came up this way:
There are plenty of people who come see the lack of difference between sola and solo who never even dip a toe in the Tiber! Many of them embrace solo! The difference (principled difference) becomes invisible upon examination of the supposed differences. The differences do not do what they claim to do, namely to give an objective authority to the reader of scripture. I am not sure why Catholicism (or EO or whatever) even enters into the discussion at that point. The sola/solo differences are a distinction without a real difference on its own merits, judged within its own framework. I personally know men who saw this lack of difference and embraced SOLO scriptura. They were unconvinced of the claims of Catholicism but saw the fundamental problem with sola scriptura. Catholic “rosary” colored glasses are not needed to see the flaw in sola scriptura Keith.
* * *
I have not read the reply yet but I share the concern which everyone is bringing up. It is perfectly possible that the Catholic Church is wrong about her fundamental claims while sola scriptura reduces to solo scriptura. e.g. The Eastern Orthodox Church could be the true Church or perhaps Hinduism is true. Both of those scenarios would be compatible with sola reducing to solo. For that reason, attempts to show the Catholic Church are wrong are irrelevant and do not show Bryan and Neal’s argument to be false.
There is a major problem with this objection. This is not a philosophical question. The Reformation occurred in history. Roman claims were being made in history, and were rejected in history by the Reformers.

From my perspective, having grown up as a devout Roman Catholic, it was natural for me to try to find some way to understand whether or not Rome’s claims were true. I was being bound to them. And one method of conducting this investigation was precisely, like an investigation. And here is something that's a guiding rule:

How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, HOWEVER IMPROBABLE, must be the truth? -- (Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of Four, emphasis in original.)

Right now, I’m not going to take sides in the Protestant debates on this topic, nor am I going to say that sola Scriptura is improbable, however unlikely it seems to some of these Roman Catholics.

Rather, I believe Mathison was correct in his methodology to bring up the absolute, utter impossibility of Rome’s claims.

These are the claims that the early Reformers dealt with. And despite the differences that emerged among themselves, they all agreed upon one fundamental thing: Rome’s claims to authority must be rejected. (And this is another thing they had in common with eastern and farther eastern churches.)

The question that the Reformers had to ask in their time was not “what’s the most philosophically perfect system we can find,” (and I grant that Rome has had centuries-worth of time to craft its philosophical story – and it is a very pretty story -- but it is just that -- a fictional story); once Roman claims were rejected, the true question was became, “how then should we live?” Or it is a question of epistemology: “how can we truly know what God is saying, upon which we base our lives and our belief?”

Protestants don’t always agree on the answer to those questions. But one thing is in absolute agreement: The claims of Rome are impossible from both a Scriptural and a historical perspective.

Dr. Mathison does give this explanation as to why he proceeds the way he does:
I’m sorry all of you find it disappointing. When I started writing it over a year ago, it began with a response only to the criticisms of the solo/sola distinction. The farther I went and the more additional article by Bryan that I read, the more I realized, I couldn’t even address that issue without first addressing the primary underlying issue – namely the church. That assumption (that Rome is the Church Christ founded) underlies everything said in every paper Bryan has written that I looked at. I wouldn’t expect otherwise. But given that fact, it has to be addressed first.

This became especially clear to me after reading Bryan’s response to Michael Horton. He makes it perfectly clear that the issue of the church’s identity is everything in these discussions. Thus the 30 or so pages I had to spend looking at it.

For those who commented before finishing it, I do get to the solo/sola issue in the second half.
He is absolutely correct to reject Roman claims as impossible. They are impossible to reconcile with any historical and Scriptural evidence we have. God in his graciousness has given us the time and opportunity to work out some of the other questions.


John Bugay said...

Here's Devin Rose, comment #26:

I didn’t see from Keith’s response which Protestant denomination or church I should go to, assuming that sola Scriptura does not reduce to solo Scriptura. What denomination(s) have the elders/presbyters that I should submit to, and how do I know?

How about this:

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

Or this:

But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

John Bugay said...

Nick #32:

...the whole time I was wondering how he could come down so hard on Rome’s historical claims yet not demonstrate how the early Church was “Protestant” in the way Mathison suggests. He essentially left a vacuum in the early Church, not letting Rome’s appeals stand, yet himself not wanting to appeal to the early Church for his own Protestant outlook.

Mathison wasn't suggesting that the early Church was "Protestant" in any way.

But that's not to say that that the Reformers could not look to the early church for support for their ideas.

Constantine noted in comments to the original thread:

This is another case of Catholics “back casting” their current understanding into the past. Given that Nick means by “Protestant denomination” something that came into being after the 16th century, how is it that he would expect them to have a seat at the table in the first century?

... Calvin quotes Augustine over 400 times in the Institutes.

That's just for example.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Hi John, Have you seen this excerpt of Andrew Preslar's comment that Steve Hays posted:

"Of course, it is impossible to prove that the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded, preserved whole and intact for all time (inclusive of the 16th century). It is also impossible to prove that this Church, gathered in ecumenical council, is so divinely assisted in her definitions of doctrine that she cannot teach error. So, in a sense, it is impossible to prove that Trent 13, Canon 2 is true."

John Bugay said...

Hi Truth, yes, I've seen that. It's quite an admission. But I've also seen Michael Liccione, for example, give his backward kind of reasoning for why he accepts Rome's authority anyway.

Kim said...

Hi John, thanks for bringing such clarity to the mess of comments. I had to break away from reading them. It was getting stifling over there. I don't know how you guys do it. You see clearly in the mist of the fog.

Please keep up your great work. Some of us are silently receiving it, but we're here.

John Bugay said...

Hi Kim -- In this area, there are those individuals who are extremely intelligent, and others who are extraordinarily well-read, and still others who are combinations of both.

I'm in the category of knowing all of these things just from having spent a lifetime struggling with them. That I seem to know these things so well is more a function of my age than anything else.

(As far as understandability goes, it doesn't hurt that I have been a writer in the field of marketing for so many years.)

But just to put things into perspective, while you were saying such kind things about me, I was running out the door without my wallet and my name/security badge. So I'm at work but I can't go in and out of the doors without help, and I won't be able to buy lunch today. :-(

Rhology said...

I didn’t see from Keith’s response which Protestant denomination or church I should go to, assuming that sola Scriptura does not reduce to solo Scriptura. What denomination(s) have the elders/presbyters that I should submit to, and how do I know?

That's the wrong question to ask, and it demonstrates the screwed-up mindset of someone who's been lapping from the Tiber (or the Bosporus) too long.

It's not as if the question can't be turned right back on the Sola Ecclesia-ist anyway.

Kim said...

John, I would say that God is definitely working all things together for your (and our) good. Your experiences are a valuable part of what you do, as are mine. Were it not what I've gone through in the last 4 years I wouldn't have as great an appreciation for sola Scriptura as I do now. I thank God for letting me see behind the curtain and I am happy to be back in Kansas, if you get my drift.

Sorry about your troubles today! My hubby has had the same thing happen to him. That badge is gold!

Supper will taste good tonight, eh?

Viisaus said...

"Mathison wasn't suggesting that the early Church was "Protestant" in any way."

... partly simply because many of the worst forms of corruption that the 16th century Reformers "protested" against were not yet around to begin with!

No serious protest-movement was yet required against the worship of images until the 6th century, for example:

"To say that a saint’s bone, or a bit of cloth or oil that once touched a saint or the saint’s bones, conveyed saintly presence was a major step in itself; to extend that power to an object physically unconnected to the saint in anyway – the portrait painted by human hands – did indeed smack to many of idolatry, and was condemned as such by early churchmen. Images of pre-Christian gods and goddesses had to be long forgotten as real actors before the sacred portrait could first be admitted into the company of the holy through the medium of miraculous images not made by human hands, a shift which only occurred in the mid-sixth century."

Viisaus said...

And the Roman doctrine of Indulgences was of course a classic example of a novelty that opened the floodgates of Protestant indignation - a needle that finally broke the camel's back.

Indulgences were a Late-Medieval phenomenon: a Bavarian soldier Johann Schiltberger was taken to captivity by the Ottoman Turks around 1400 AD, and he describes his travels in the Middle East, mentioning how the (Monophysite) Armenian Christians he met did not know the RC doctrine of Indulgences:

p. 95

"They have no paintings on their altars, and their patriarchs and bishops grant no indulgence in their churches, and say, that pardon and remission belong to the living God, and if a man goes into the church with repentance and devotion, God, in his compassion, will grant him pardon and remission of his sins."

John Bugay said...

Viisaus, I'm convinced that if some of these Roman Catholics (or would-be RCs) were to trace "what the Church knew, and when they knew it," they'd be shocked to learn the processes which later became accounted for under "development".

Viisaus said...

1911 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica says:

"It must be noted that this theory of the "Treasure" was not formulated until some time after Indulgences in the modern sense had become established in practice. The doctrine first appeared with Alexander of Hales (c. 1230) and was at once adopted by the leading schoolmen. Clement VI. formally confirmed it in 1350, and Pius VI. still more definitely in 1794.

The first definite instance of a plenary Indulgence is that of Urban II. for the First Crusade (1095).

The rapid extension of these time-Indulgences is one of the most remarkable facts in the history of the subject. Innocent II., dedicating the great church of Cluny in 1132, granted as a great favour a forty days' Indulgence for the anniversary. A hundred years later, all churches of any importance had similar indulgences; yet Englishmen were glad even then to earn a pardon of forty days by the laborious journey to the nearest cathedral, and by making an offering there on one of a few privileged feast-days. A century later again, Wycliffe complains of Indulgences of two thousand years for a single prayer (ed. Arnold, i. 137).

In 1456, the recitation of a few prayers before a church crucifix earned a Pardon of 20,000 years for every such repetition (Glassberger in Analecta Franciscana, ii. 368): "and at last Indulgences were so freely given that there is now scarcely a devotion or good work of any kind for which they cannot be obtained" (Arnold & Addis, Catholic Dictionary, s.v.).