Tuesday, March 08, 2011

“Ooh, ooh, he said ‘chair’” – “Florilegia” (“assertions of authority”) vs. the Reformation discipline of Textual Criticism

When you’ve been involved with the sort of Protestant-vs-Roman-Catholic argumentation that we deal with on a daily basis, it’s easy to discern some patterns. As Turretin noted in the 17th century, the Roman Catholic method of defending itself is to make a claim of over-arching authority; this claim is asserted and re-asserted, as if the re-assertion carries more weight than the original assertion.

This method of argument-by-authority was very common in the early medieval years. In fact, the long lists of patristic citations that we often see have their origin in the medieval “florilegia,” which actually were books, or lists of patristics citations. The one whose list of citations was more authoritative carried the day. Peter Lombard’s “Sentences” was just such a book of citations. And once Lombard’s “Sentences” was established as authoritative, then every theologian had to “comment” on Lombard’s “Sentences”. This is just how the business was practiced back then.

The Medieval Historian Jacques Le Goff describes this practice:
Some of the sureties were especially favoured and referred to as ‘authorities’. Obviously it was in theology, the highest branch of learning, that the use of authorities found its greatest glory, and, since it was the basis of spiritual and intellectual life, it was subjected to strict regulation. The supreme authority was Scripture, and, with it, the Fathers of the Church. However, this general authority tended to take the form of quotations. In practice these became ‘authentic’ opinions and, in the end, the ‘authorities’ themselves. Since these authorities were often difficult and obscure, they were explained by glosses which themselves had to come from an ‘authentic author’ [or, an “authentic interpreter” who could “tell us what this means.”]

Very often the glosses replaced the original text.
Of all the florilegia [collections of quotations] which conveyed the results of intellectual activity in the Middle Ages, the anthologies of glosses were consulted and ransacked the most. Learning was a mosaic of quotations or ‘flowers’ which, in the twelfth century, were called ‘sentences’ (sententiae or opinions). The collections or summae of sentences were collections of authorities. Robert of Melun was already protesting in the middle of the twelfth century against according credit to glosses in these sentences, but in vain. [The 20th century Dominican theologian] Pere [Marie-Domenique] Chenu acknowledged that the sentences of the inferior thinker Peter Lombard, which was to be the theology textbook in universities in the thirteenth century, was a collection of glosses “whose sources can only be discovered with difficulty”, and furthermore that, even in the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, “one can see a largish number of texts acting as authorities which can only be identified through the distortions of the glossae.”

Of course the men who used authorities stretched their meanings to the point where they barely impeded personal opinions. Alain of Lille, in a saying which was to become proverbial, stated ‘the authority has a wax nose which can be pushed in all directions’… (Jacques Le Goff, “Medieval Civilization,” (First published in France as La Civilisation de l’Occident Medieval, © 1964 by B. Arthaud, Paris) English Translation, © 1988, 1990, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, pgs. 325-326.)
So as we can see, Roman Catholics have been historically conditioned to swallow, unquestioningly, long, untrue assertions of authority. It wasn’t until the rise of the Reformation-era discipline of textual criticism that such things were found out and able to be catalogued.

Bryan Cross’s article on The Chair of St. Peter is not the first place where he’s listed a long string of patristic quotes to support the idea that there was some sort of notion that there was anything like an early papacy in place.

In a previous discussion when Bryan had done this, Turretinfan worked through the entire list (a) tracking down sources, (b) providing greater context, and (c) providing some much-too-kind analysis. The bottom line is that virtually none of these “patristics citations” meant what Bryan thought they did, and if they did say what he was saying, they turned out to be forgeries in some way.

Pastor David King pointed this out to Bryan Cross; in fact, in doing so, he cited the Roman Catholic theologian Yves Congar. Keep in mind who Congar was, and his importance. According to Avery Dulles, “Vatican II could almost be called Congar’s Council”. Here, in short, is the Congar quote that Bryan disagreed with. (Again, I’ll refer you to Turretinfan’s much-too-kind article and also the original source of the quote at Green Baggins for context):
it does sometimes happen that some Fathers understood a passage in a way which does not agree with later Church teaching. One example: the interpretation of Peter’s confession in Matthew 16.16-19. Except at Rome, this passage was not applied by the Fathers to the papal primacy (from Yves M.-J. Congar, Tradition and Traditions: An Historical and a Theological Essay (London: Burns & Oats, 1966), pp. 398-399).

So Rome, and Rome alone, is said to have asserted its own authority. In response to this, Bryan posted a long series of citations, which seemed to have been showing that the early church – in all places, outside of Rome, somehow thought that there was an early papacy.

Let’s look at how Bryan’s first set of citations ended up. I’ll just reproduce Turretinfan’s conclusions here, but the reader may feel free to look at T-fan’s explanations for each one of these. The cumulative effect is quite impressive:

I. In General - it is important to note up front that Bryan’s thesis itself does not contradict what Congar said....Secondly, this list is obviously cut-and-paste....Also, perhaps as an artifact of the cut-and-paste, Bryan has Hilary writing something that’s actually an amalgamation of different items, cobbled together by some editor (Bryan?).

II. Ephraim the Syrian - In short, this work is probably not a work written by Ephraim the Syrian....this work does not appear to exist in a complete English translation. This suggests to me, though obviously it does not prove it, that Mr. Cross is reliant on a secondary source that has provided him only with the quotation itself, and not with the context.

III. Hilary of Poitiers - the alleged quotation from Hilary is actually an amalgamation of various quotations, cobbled together by some editor (Bryan?)....this particular sentence has been identified as questionable - a possible later interpolation, because of its terrible Latin....So, we are at a dead end here. Is this really Hilary? Who knows! I would be surprised if it were Hilary, but it may be. Even if we assume that it is Hilary, all it shows is that Peter had some sort of primacy of honor above that of Paul (that’s not what Galatians teaches, but that’s another story). It doesn’t suggest that Peter had universal jurisdiction, nor that his superiority (of whatever kind) to Paul was passed on to someone else.

IV. Jerome - Bryan Cross provides a single quotation from Jerome .... Jerome explains himself this way ....Jerome views Damasus as leader of the church of Rome, the Roman church, not the leader of the universal church .... Moreover, Jerome acknowledges that pope Liberius likewise fell into heresy, which does not fit the modern day paradigm of Roman primacy.... “The sword of God, which is the living Word of God, strikes through the things which men of their own accord, without the authority and testimonies of Scripture, invent and think up, pretending that it is apostolic tradition.”

V. Macarius of Egypt - (a relatively obscure 4th century “saint”), .... Macarius clearly thinks that Peter is someone important (“in spite of being what he was”), but at the same time he does not paint an unrealistic picture of him.....I should point out that there is some question about the authenticity of these homilies....

VI. Cyril of Jerusalem - Bryan provided the following quotation from Cyril of Jerusalem....Let’s set aside the fact that Cyril is relating to us the fictional account of Peter’s and Paul’s showdown with Simon Magus, the first heretic. What does the text say? It gives Peter and Paul equal billing as “chief rulers of the church,” and it says Peter carries the keys of heaven....Let’s set aside the fact that Cyril is relating to us the fictional account of Peter’s and Paul’s showdown with Simon Magus, the first heretic. What does the text say? It gives Peter and Paul equal billing as “chief rulers of the church,” and it says Peter carries the keys of heaven.

VII. Basil the Great aka Basil of Caesarea - For Basil, Bryan again combined quotations.....This is one example that Basil is giving regarding the fact that a name calls to mind a whole host of different details of a person. [One of these citations was not even Basil, but “pseudo-Basil”] .... Basil of Caesarea denied explicitly the headship of any man over Christ’s Church. Yet, Mr. Cross, apparently wholly unfamiliar with the history of eastern vs. western relations, cites Basil as a proponent of papal primacy that was utterly foreign to Basil’s ecclesiology. Basil did not apply Matthew 16 to the bishop of Rome, and Mr. Cross should be ashamed of his attempt to mislead others.

VIII. Eulogius of Alexandria - Bryan provides the following quotation from the 6th century Alexandrian Eulogius .... This quotation is quite far from contradicting anything that Congar said.

IX. Sergius, Metropolitan of “(A.D. 649 A.D.)”, writing to to Pope Theodore, says -A .D. “is redundant but because the date itself is not the right year” .... [this writer is] not someone I would think of as a church father. He is writing in the middle of the 7th century, and it appears that the only extant version of his writing is something preserved by Romans at Rome.

X. St. Maximus the Confessor “(c. 650)” of Constantinople - Two quotations were provided by Mr. Cross....Tracking this one down was a little harder than some of the others....The quotation is the first half of a selection “From a letter which was written to Rome,” PG 91:137-40. More specifically, these are extracts taken from a letter of Anastasius’s Letter to John the Deacon. John the Deacon (aka Johannes Hymonides) and Anastasius, librarian of the Roman church, are both Roman.

XI. Conclusion - Congar seems to be justified in stating, “Except at Rome, this passage was not applied by the Fathers to the papal primacy; they worked out exegesis at the level of their own ecclesiological thought, more anthropological and spiritual than judicial.” [This means, when they said something about Peter, they intended it to be describing Peter the man, not any “successor”].

This may seem like somewhat of an overkill in response to Mr. Cross’ string citation of Fathers. Indeed, in the interest of fairness to Mr. Cross, I should point out that after I and Pastor King had posted sections of the above into the comment box, Mr. Cross seemed to retreat from his original position .... Of course, even this limited position seems hard to defend, beyond a few fathers suggesting that Peter himself was the rock or that Peter himself personally held the keys. And, of course, such a view does not amount to papal primacy, and consequently does not contradict Cardinal Congar’s admission that “Except at Rome, this passage was not applied by the Fathers to the papal primacy ....”

I hope the reader will find this exploration of the fathers and their writings (both authentic and spurious) to be edifying.

Note again the shape of the argument: Bryan throws up long lists of patristics quotes; this is offered, without blushing, to be an impressive bit of evidence. And the typical Protestant response is to patiently go back to each and every one of those quotations, to provide more context, and to show that in each case, the original “supporting” quote is shown to be something quite different from what is originally asserted by the Roman Catholic.


Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"As Turretin noted in the 17th century, the Roman Catholic method of defending itself is to make a claim of over-arching authority; this claim is asserted and re-asserted, as if the re-assertion carries more weight than the original assertion."

When folks shout louder than their first scream, I then understand and agree with them because of their increased shouting.

Well, at least when my better half does it anyways.

Rhology said...

I love how the translator of the Le Goff quote used "largish". Hahaha.

Good article here.

John Bugay said...

I love how the translator of the Le Goff quote used "largish". Hahaha.

What do you suppose the original French word was?

Anonymous said...


besides the typos, (please correct them when you can), this article lays out a common catholic problem.

You write:

"Note again the shape of the argument: Bryan throws up long lists of patristics quotes; this is offered, without blushing, to be an impressive bit of evidence."

Without the aid of kind souls like TurretinFan or Ron Henzel or Pastor King or you and others too, one would believe Bryon is very polished and knowledgeable about what he proposes when he uses those lists of men from whence he draws in his defense when blogging to establish he is right and you are wrong. He most likely wouldn't be able to defend his justifications for such impropriety in a public debate format with very knowleable opponents like those three scholarly men, TurretinFan, Ron Henzel or Pastor King?

I am not certain what you frame above is a Roman Catholic problem only?

I see this problem with Bryon Cross as a natural problem within Adam's race, generally! And without the assistance of the God of Truth and by His Grace and Mercy led by the Spirit, sent to us, we are simply trapped in this natural problem, this catholicity of pride, this desire to show forth our best efforts to justify ourselves and our beliefs, why we believe and do what we do?

Myself being a good specimen of such in that I can easily be a dilution of the truth if I wanted to by continually hiding the problem among some audiences of unsuspecting souls, not realizing, as you have aptly provided evidences by the insertion of both TurretinFan's well established scholarship in taking apart Bryon's lists and Ron Henzel doing the same to Bryon Cross over at Green Baggins, that "God" or His emissaries are in the audience, too, who might just pull down your faux facade of truth with Truth.

I have traveled to a lot of countries, about 30. I can speak the surface language from most of these countries. I can speak more deeply general things from fewer of them. If I was not questioned by someone after giving the impression I knew how to speak many other tongues, by speaking them to prove my abilities, you would go away with the idea that I had "mastered" different languages and knew how to speak them fluently.

That is not the case. I can hardly speak English or think it or write it correctly let alone understand and speak other languages!

For me to foist on to the listeners that I can speak other languages simply is not so and all it would take to prove it is for someone who has to start talking to me "more" deeply in the language I had just spoken with causal phrases I learned while in country. They would certainly know just how shallow my understanding is to be able to speak in that Country's language.

As Rhology has just admitted, this is a "Good article here."

Thanks for the hard work and keep on publishing works like this!

Isa 2:1 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
Isa 2:2 It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it,
Isa 2:3 and many peoples shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
Isa 2:4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.
Isa 2:5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Paul said...

Hi John,

More interesting stuff. Thanks for all of it.

Funny thing, Congar's own "later church teaching" does not comport with Rome's!

“The primary duty of those whom the Holy Spirit has established bishops…or “shepherds” to feed the flock of Christ (Acts 20:28) is to remain steadfast in this position of supra-temporal witness to the Revelation made to the apostles, supremely in Jesus Christ. Peter received the title of rock (Kepha) primarily because of his confession of Christ, Son of the Living God (Mt. 16:16-19).”

Congar, Yves. The Meaning of Tradition. San Francisco. Ignatius Press, 2004. P. 64

Wasn't it Vatican I that anathematized anyone who didn't believe and profess that Peter was personally and directly given the title "rock"?

I don't know...this Magisterium thing is confusing!


John Bugay said...

Thanks Constantine. One of these days I'd like to pay-off the Kendrick quote and actually cite the five or six different "interpretations" of that verse.