Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Anglican Church is Not the Heir of the Historic English Catholic Church

The Anglican Church often claims to be the continuation of the historic Catholic Church in England, but this claim is clearly belied by history.  The Anglican Church is a break-off church, founded in the sixteenth century as a new body by breaking off from the Catholic Church.  Previous to this break, the English Church had been, since its beginning, a loyal province of the Catholic Church in submission to the pope, the Bishop of Rome.

By breaking off from submission to Rome (and appointing the monarch of England as the new head of the Church of England on earth), a new church came into being, because the Church of England after the break with Rome had a fundamentally new constitution.  Certainly, she continued to hold many of the teachings she held when in union with Rome, but she rejected an essential component of the fundamental basis of her authority as a church--communion with and submission to the Bishop of Rome, her superior.  To use an analogy, imagine that your local Walmart decided that it would no longer submit to Walmart headquarters.  It refused any longer to recognize any directives coming from any Walmart authority higher than its own manager, and it designated its own manager as the supreme head of the store.  Of course, Walmart would at this point repudiate the store as being a legitimate branch of itself any longer.  If the local store continued to try to use the name "Walmart," Walmart would probably sue (successfully), arguing that, by altering its fundamental constitution without authorization from the parent company, the store had lost the right to identify itself by the name "Walmart" since it had become, in fact, a separate, independent store.  Similarly, the Church of England, by repudiating her former allegiance to Rome, undercut the previously-accepted foundation of her own authority and changed herself into a new, independent body, no longer remaining what she had been previously--a branch of the Catholic Church in England.


That the Church of England fundamentally altered her previously-accepted constitution and basis of authority is easy to show from history.  I am not going to attempt to reiterate all the evidence for this here, but I will lay out some basic points in outline and refer the reader to other sources that provide more specific evidence.

The Church of England traces itself back to the mission of St. Augustine of Canterbury, who was commissioned by Pope Gregory the Great to plant a church among the Anglo-Saxons of the British Isles.  St. Augustine, and all the subsequent English bishops, saw themselves as subordinate to the authority of the Apostolic See of Rome.  This is an uncontroversial claim among any with any serious familiarity with English church history.  The basics of this history can be found in Wikipedia articles here and here, for example.

One of the main sources of our knowledge of the early English church is the writings of the Venerable St. Bede, who wrote his Ecclesiastical History of the English People around 731 AD.  If you are interested in early English or British church history, you should read Bede's work.  Bede is a very accessible writer, and I found the book a delight in terms of its basic historical narrative as well as its accounts of the lives of various Celtic and English saints and the stories of various churches and communities during the early days of the Church in the British Isles.  Reading Bede will also give you a clear picture of the nature of the early English church, including its subordination to the Bishop of Rome.

Here are a few short snippets from Bede on St. Augustine's mission to the English from Pope Gregory I:

      IN the year of our Lord 582, Maurice, the fifty-fourth from Augustus, ascended the throne, and reigned twenty one years. In the tenth year of his reign, Gregory, a man eminent in learning and the conduct of affairs, was promoted to the Apostolic see of Rome, and presided over it thirteen years, six months and ten days. He, being moved by Divine inspiration, in the fourteenth year of the same emperor, and about the one hundred and fiftieth after the coming of the English into Britain, sent the servant of God, Augustine,and with him divers other monks, who feared the Lord, to preach the Word of God to the English nation.  (Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book I, Chapter 23) 
      IN the meantime, Augustine, the man of God, went to Aries, and, according to the orders received from the holy Father Gregory, was ordained archbishop of the English nation, by Aetherius, archbishop of that city. Then returning into Britain, he sent Laurentius the priest and Peter the monk to Rome, to acquaint Pope Gregory, that the English nation had received the faith of Christ, and that he was himself made their bishop.  (Bede, Book I, Chapter 27--editorial note removed) 
      Moreover, the same Pope Gregory, hearing from Bishop Augustine, that the harvest which he had was great and the labourers but few, sent to him, together with his aforesaid envoys, certain fellow labourers and ministers of the Word, of whom the chief and foremost were Mellitus, Justus, Paulinus, and Rufinianus, and by them all things in general that were necessary for the worship and service of the Church, to wit, sacred vessels and altar-cloths, also church-furniture, and vestments for the bishops and clerks, as likewise relics of the holy Apostles and martyrs; besides many manuscripts. He also sent a letter, wherein he signified that he had despatched the pall to him, and at the same time directed how he should constitute bishops in Britain. The letter was in these words:
      "To his most reverend and holy brother and fellow bishop, Augustine, Gregory, the servant of the servants of God. Though it be certain, that the unspeakable rewards of the eternal kingdom are reserved for those who labour for Almighty God, yet it is requisite that we bestow on them the benefit of honours, to the end that they may by this recompense be encouraged the more vigorously to apply themselves to the care of their spiritual work. And, seeing that the new Church of the English is, through the bounty of the Lord, and your labours, brought to the grace of God, we grant you the use of the pall in the same, only for the celebration of the solemn service of the Mass; that so you may ordain twelve bishops in different places, who shall be subject to your jurisdiction. But the bishop of London shall, for the future, be always consecrated by his own synod, and receive the pall, which is the token of his office, from this holy and Apostolic see, which I, by the grace of God, now serve. But we would have you send to the city of York such a bishop as you shall think fit to ordain; yet so, that if that city, with the places adjoining, shall receive the Word of God, that bishop shall also ordain twelve bishops, and enjoy the honour of a metropolitan; for we design, if we live, by the help of God, to bestow on him also the pall; and yet we would have him to be subject to your authority, my brother; but after your decease, he shall so preside over the bishops he shall have ordained, as to be in no way subject to the jurisdiction of the bishop of London. But for the future let there be this distinction as regards honour between the bishops of the cities of London and York, that he who has been first ordained have the precedence. But let them take counsel and act in concert and with one mind dispose whatsoever is to be done for zeal of Christ; let them judge rightly, and carry out their judgement without dissension.
      "But to you, my brother, shall, by the authority of our God and Lord Jesus Christ, be subject not only those bishops whom you shall ordain, and those that shall be ordained by the bishop of York, but also all the prelates in Britain; to the end that from the words and manner of life of your Holiness they may learn the rule of a right belief and a good life, and fulfilling their office in faith and righteousness, they may, when it shall please the Lord, attain to the kingdom of Heaven. God preserve you in safety, most reverend brother.
      "Given the 22nd of June, in the nineteenth year of the reign of our most religious lord, Mauritius Tiberius Augustus, the eighteenth year after the consulship of our said lord, and the fourth indiction."  (Bede, Book I, Chapter 29)

You may have noticed the mention of Pope Gregory giving St. Augustine the "pall" as a token of his authority.  The pall, or the pallium, is a vestment which has historically been given by the pope to newly appointed bishops to signify recognition of their authority by the pope and permission for them to exercise that authority.  It is a sign of the authority of the bishop to whom it is given, and it is a sign of the subordination of the bishop's authority to that of the Apostolic See of Rome.  The pallium was something required to be attained by all the Archbishops of Canterbury (St. Augustine's successors as leaders of the English church) throughout their history until the break at the time of Henry VIII.

I am tempted to quote the whole of Bede's work, but I will content myself with one more reference.  During the time of Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, around the year 680 AD, there was a controversy in the Catholic world over the question of whether or not Christ has only one will, a divine will, or two wills, a divine and a human will.  The Catholic Church decided in favor of the two-will doctrine, in order to preserve Christ's full humanity (for what could it mean to have a human nature if that nature were bereft of a will?).  The English church was anxious to put forward her orthodoxy on this matter, and the pope was anxious to be sure of the orthodoxy of the English church.  The pope thus sent a representative, "the venerable John, archchanter of the church of the holy Apostle Peter, and abbot of the monastery of the blessed Martin," to check up on the English church:

      Besides his task of singing and reading, he had also received a commission from the Apostolic Pope, carefully to inform himself concerning the faith of the English Church, and to give an account thereof on his return to Rome. For he also brought with him the decision of the synod of the blessed Pope Martin, held not long before at Rome, with the consent of one hundred and five bishops, chiefly to refute those who taught that there is but one operation and will in Christ, and he gave it to be transcribed in the aforesaid monastery of the most religious Abbot Benedict. The men who followed such opinion greatly perplexed the faith of the Church of Constantinople at that time; but by the help of God they were then discovered and overcome. Wherefore, Pope Agatho, being desirous to be informed concerning the state of the Church in Britain, as well as in other provinces, and to what extent it was clear from the contagion of heretics, gave this matter in charge to the most reverend Abbot John, then appointed to go to Britain.  (Bede, Book 4, Chapter 18)

After Abbot John had arrived, Archbishop Theodore held a synod to state clearly the Catholic orthodoxy of the English church:

      ABOUT this time, Theodore being informed that the faith of the Church at Constantinople was much perplexed by the heresy of Eutyches, and desiring that the Churches of the English, over which he presided, should remain free from all such taint, convened an assembly of venerable bishops and many learned men, and diligently inquired into the faith of each. He found them all of one mind in the Catholic faith, and this he caused to be committed to writing by the authority of the synod as a memorial, and for the instruction of succeeding generations; (Bede, Book 4, Chapter 17)

The result of the check-up was as follows:

The synod we have spoken of having been called for this purpose in Britain, the Catholic faith was found untainted in all, and a report of the proceedings of the same was given him to carry to Rome.
      But in his return to his own country, soon after crossing the sea, he fell sick and died; and his body, for the sake of St. Martin, in whose monastery he presided, was by his friends carried to Tours, and honourably buried; for he had been kindly entertained by the Church there on his way to Britain, and earnestly entreated by the brethren, that in his return to Rome he would take that road, and visit their Church, and moreover he was there supplied with men to conduct him on his way, and assist him in the work enjoined upon him. Though he died by the way, yet the testimony of the Catholic faith of the English nation was carried to Rome, and received with great joy by the Apostolic Pope, and all those, that heard or read it.  (Bede, Book 4, Chapter 17)

For a more detailed account of the history of the English church's communion with and subordination to the See of Rome, I would recommend a couple of sources (besides St. Bede).  One of them is the article in the Catholic Encyclopedia on "England (Before the Reformation)".  The other is chapter 9, "The Church of England," in The Primacy of the Apostolic See Vindicated, by Bishop Francis Patrick Kenrick.

So the English church was founded, explicitly, as a branch of the Catholic Church under the authority of the Bishop of Rome.  All the English bishops acknowledged that their authority was subordinate to and subject to and in a sense derived from the Bishop of Rome.  When the church in England broke from Rome, then, at the time of Henry VIII, she ceased to be what she had been previously and became a new body with a new constitution--a new church, the "Anglican church."


The Church of England was directly founded by Rome and directly acknowledged her subordination to Rome's authority.  But even apart from these specific characteristics of the church in England, the English church was certainly a part of the broader western Catholic Church.  She never saw herself as an independent body, but always held communion with the other churches of the world and particularly of the western world.  The Eastern churches, I would argue (but now is not the time for it), also understood themselves to be under the authority of the pope, but their relationship with the pope was certainly more distant.  They had their own patriarchs--the Patriarch of Constantinople, of Antioch, of Alexandria.  The western churches, however, were more directly under the authority of Rome not only as the mother church of the whole world but also more specifically as the patriarch of the western churches.

Also, as a part of the western church, when the Eastern churches grew more and more estranged from Rome and eventually ended up in schism with Rome (the schism that has given us today the Eastern Orthodox churches as separate from the Catholic Church), the English church remained loyal to Rome.  She accepted the ecumenical councils of the Church as these were understood by Rome.  One of these councils, for example, was the Fourth Lateran Council, held in 1215.  Canon 5 of this council reads thus:

Renewing the ancient privileges of the patriarchal sees, we decree with the approval of the holy and ecumenical council, that after the Roman Church, which by the will of God holds over all others pre-eminence of ordinary power as the mother and mistress of all the faithful, that of Constantinople shall hold first place, that of Alexandria second, that of Antioch third, and that of Jerusalem fourth, the dignity proper to each to be observed; so that after their bishops have received from the Roman pontiff the pallium, which is the distinguishing mark of the plenitude of the pontifical office, and have taken the oath of fidelity and obedience to him, they may also lawfully bestow the pallium upon their suffragans, receiving from them the canonical profession of faith for themselves, and for the Roman Church the pledge of obedience. They may have the standard of the cross borne before them everywhere, except in the city of Rome and wherever the supreme pontiff or his legate wearing the insignia of Apostolic dignity is present. In all provinces subject to their jurisdiction appeals may be taken to them when necessary, saving the appeals directed to the Apostolic See, which must be humbly respected.

Another of these ecumenical councils accepted by the whole of the western Catholic Church was the Council of Florence, held around 1438-1445.  In its sixth session, the Council gave this definition:

We also define that the holy apostolic see and the Roman pontiff holds the primacy over the whole world and the Roman pontiff is the successor of blessed Peter prince of the apostles, and that he is the true vicar of Christ, the head of the whole church and the father and teacher of all Christians, and to him was committed in blessed Peter the full power of tending, ruling and governing the whole church, as is contained also in the acts of ecumenical councils and in the sacred canons.

The Apostolic See was regarded as having power, as possessor of the keys given to St. Peter, to teach the truth and to confute heresies.  Communion with the Apostolic See, therefore, was seen as the same as communion with the true fullness of Catholic faith.  It is the cure for schism, as St. Jerome articulated:

[T]he Church was founded upon Peter: although elsewhere the same is attributed to all the Apostles, and they all receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the strength of the Church depends upon them all alike, yet one among the twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism.  (St Jerome, AD 393, Against Jovinianus [Book I], section 26--New Advent website)

In the early 6th century, at the resolution of a schism between Rome and the Eastern churches (the Acasian schism), as a requirement for return to communion with Rome all the estranged Eastern churches had to sign this statement:

     The first condition of salvation is to keep the norm of the true faith and in no way to deviate from the established doctrine of the Fathers.  For it is impossible that the words of our Lord Jesus Christ who said, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church" (Matt. 16:18), should not be verified.  And their truth has been proved by the course of history, for in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been kept unsullied.  From this hope and faith we by no means desire to be separated and, following the doctrine of the Fathers, we declare anathema all heresies . . .
     Following, as we have said before, the Apostolic See in all things and proclaiming all its decisions, we endorse and approve all the letters which Pope St. Leo wrote concerning the Christian religion.  And so I hope I may deserve to be associated with you in the one communion which the Apostolic See proclaims, in which the whole, true, and perfect security of the Christian religion resides.  I promise that from now on those who are separated from the communion of the Catholic Church, that is, who are not in agreement with the Apostolic See, will not have their names read during the sacred mysteries.  But if I attempt even the least deviation from my profession, I admit that, according to my own declaration, I am an accomplice to those whom I have condemned.  I have signed this my profession with my own hand and have directed it to you, Hormisdas, the holy and venerable pope of Rome.  (The Church Teaches: Documents of the Church in English Translation, tr. John F. Clarkson, et al. [Tan, 2009])

In the 7th century, St. Maximus the Confessor, an Eastern theologian (well-respected and considered a saint today by both the Catholic and the Orthodox churches), expressed the same ideas:

All the ends of the inhabited world, and those who anywhere on earth confess the Lord with a pure and orthodox faith, look directly to the most holy Church of the Romans and her confession and faith as to a sun of eternal light, receiving from her the radiant beam of the patristic and holy doctrines, just as the holy six synods, inspired and sacred, purely and with all devotion set them forth, uttering most clearly the symbol of faith. For, from the time of the descent to us of the incarnate Word of God, all the Churches of the Christians everywhere have held and possess this most great Church as the sole base and foundation, since, according to the very promise of the Saviour, it will never be overpowered by the gates of hell, but rather has the keys of the orthodox faith and confession in him, and to those who approach it with reverence it opens the genuine and unique piety, but shuts and stops every heretical mouth that speaks utter wickedness.  (Footnotes removed--the quotation is from "The Ecclesiology of St. Maximos the Confessor," by Andrew Louth, published in the International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church, Vol. 4, No. 2, July 2004, p. 116)

(For more on the recognition of papal authority in the early Church, East and West, see here and here.)

These ideas were fully accepted by the English church, and the whole western Catholic Church, before the split of Henry VIII.  Once again, we can see that in breaking with Rome and forming her own new Anglican theories of the foundations of her authority, the English church broke from her own acknowledged head and illegally (according to her own previously-accepted terms) revised her constitution fundamentally, and thus ceased to be the continuation of the same Catholic Church in England but instead became a new, hitherto non-existent entity, the Anglican Church.


1. The Anglican Church was not a new church; it was the continuation of the ancient Celtic Church that was supplanted by the English Church with the coming of St. Augustine and his successors.  That earlier Celtic Church was independent from Rome and didn't acknowledge Rome's authority.  The Anglican Church simply returned the British church to its previous ancient condition.

The main problem with this argument is simply that it is blatantly false in its basic historical claims.  First of all, whatever we think the "Celtic Church" was like, it is a simple historical fact that the Church of England is not a descendant of the ancient Celtic churches but of the English church founded by St. Augustine (of Canterbury!) and ruled by his successors.  So the Celtic churches' testimony in this regard is irrelevant.

Secondly, there is no evidence that there ever existed an independent Celtic church or churches that were not part of the broader community of western Christianity and which did not acknowledge the authority of the Bishop of Rome.  The evidence, instead, clearly suggests that the Celtic churches (British, Scottish, and Irish) that predated the English church acknowledged the basic authority structure of the western Catholic Church, including the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, just as much as English churches would.

I recommend this article, and also this Wikipedia article, to provide some basic historical evidence for my claim here.  Let me also refer to some testimony from one of the great Irish saints, St. Columban (not to be confused with another great Celtic saint, St. Columba).  St. Columban wrote a series of letters to a couple of popes of Rome about various issues, including the Celtic dating of the Feast of Easter (see below for more on this).  Around the year 612, as he was engaged in combatting Arianism, there were reported to him some suspicions that Pope Boniface might not be standing up for orthodoxy against Arianism as well as he ought, and St. Columban wrote to the pope, remonstrating with him to clear his name and stand up for the truth.  Here are some snippets (editorial additions to the text removed) from this letter (see the letter itself for full context) which reveal the relationship of the Irish church to the See of Rome:

To the most fair Head of all the Churches of the whole of Europe, estimable Pope, exalted Prelate, Shepherd of Shepherds, most reverend Bishop; the humblest to the highest, the least to the greatest, peasant to citizen, a prattler to one most eloquent, the last to the first, foreigner to native, a poor creature to a powerful lord, (strange to tell, a monstrosity, a rare bird) the Dove dares to write to Pope Boniface. . . . 
Watch, for water has now entered the vessel of the Church, and the vessel is in perilous straits. For all we Irish, inhabitants of the world's edge, are disciples of Saints Peter and Paul and of all the disciples who wrote the sacred canon by the Holy Ghost, and we accept nothing outside the evangelical and apostolic teaching; none has been a heretic, none a Judaizer, none a schismatic; but the Catholic Faith, as it was delivered by you first, who are the successors of the holy apostles, is maintained unbroken. Strengthened and almost goaded by this confidence, I have dared to arouse you against those who revile you and call you the partisans of heretics and describe you as schismatics, so that my boasting", in which I trusted when I spoke for you in answer to them, should not be in vain’’, and so that they, not us, might be dismayed. For I promised on your behalf (as the disciples should so feel for their master) that the Roman Church defends no heretic against the Catholic Faith. Therefore do you accept with willing mind and dutiful ears my necessarily presumptuous interference; for whatever I say that is useful or orthodox will redound to you; for the master's praise lies in the doctrine of his disciples; thus if a son [speaks] wisely his father will rejoice’’; and yours will be the credit, since, as I said, it was delivered by you; for purity is due, not to the river, but the spring. But if you find some thoughtless words of a zeal that seems excessive, either in this letter or in the other against Agrippinus, who provoked my pen, set it down to my tactlessness, not pride. . . . 
Watch therefore for the Church's peace, succour your sheep, who already tremble at what seem the terrors of the wolves, and who also fear yourselves with too much trembling as they are driven into various folds. Thus they are in doubt, partly coming, but partly going, and as they come so they return, and ever are in fear. Then use, dear Pope, the call and known voice of the true shepherd, and stand between sheep and wolves, so that, shedding their fear, they may then first fully acknowledge you as shepherd. . . . 
Therefore, that you may not lack apostolic honour, maintain the apostolic Faith, establish it by testimony, strengthen it by writing, defend it by a synod, that none may lawfully resist you. . . . 
Then, lest the old Enemy bind men with this very lengthy cord of error, let the cause of division, I beg, be cut off by you immediately, so to say with St. Peter's knife, that is, with a true and synodical confession of faith and with an abhorrence and utter condemnation of all heretics, so that you may cleanse the chair of Peter from every error, if any, as they say, has been introduced, and if not, so that its purity may be recognized by all. For it is a matter for grief and lamentation, if the Catholic Faith is not maintained in the Apostolic See. But, to speak my entire mind, lest I should seem to flatter even you beyond your due, it is also a matter for grief that you in zeal for the faith, as has long been your duty, have not first condemned outright or excommunicated the party withdrawing from you, after first demonstrating the purity of your own faith, seeing that you are the man who has the lawful power; and for this reason they even dare to defame the chief See of the orthodox faith. . . . 
For we, as I have said before, are bound to St. Peter's chair; for though Rome be great and famous, among us it is only on that chair that her greatness and her fame depend. . . 
Therefore, since these things are true and are accepted without any gainsaying by all who think truly, though it is known to all and there is none ignorant of how Our Saviour bestowed the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven upon St. Peter, and you perhaps on this account claim for yourself before all others some proud measure of greater authority and power in things divine; you ought to know that your power will be the less in the Lord's eyes, if you even think this in your heart, since the unity of faith has produced in the whole world a unity of power and privilege, in such wise that by all men everywhere freedom should be given to the truth, and the approach of error should be denied by all alike, since it was his right confession that privileged even the holy bearer of the keys, the common teacher of us all; it should be lawful even for your subordinates to entreat you for their zeal in the faith, for their love of peace, and for the unity of the Church our common mother, who is indeed torn asunder like Rebekah in her maternal womb, and grieves for the strife and civil warfare of her sons, and in sorrow bewails the discord of her dearest. . . 
But while I urge such considerations, like a man sluggish in action and speaking rather than doing (I am called Jonah in Hebrew, Peristera in Greek, Columba in Latin, yet so much is my birth-right in the idiom of your language, though I use the ancient Hebrew name of Jonah, whose shipwreck I have also almost undergone) I beg you, as I have often asked, to pardon me, since necessity rather than vainglory compels me to write, while a certain character in his letters, with which he greeted me almost on my arrival at the frontiers of this province, pointed you out to me as an object of suspicion, as if you were slipping into the sect of Nestorius. To this man in my astonishment I replied briefly, as I was able, not believing his charge; but lest I should in any way be an opponent of the truth, considering his letter and my own good opinion of you (for I believe that there is always a strong pillar of the Church at Rome) I have changed the tenor of my answer, and sent it you to read and controvert, if in any part it has attacked the truth; for I dare not claim to be amongst the faultless. . . .

We can see from St. Columban's letter that he considered the Irish churches to be under the authority of the Apostolic See of Rome just as much as the English churches were.  There is certainly no idea here, or in anything we have from the early Celtic church, of an independent church considering itself to be its own head and acknowledging no authority outside of itself or in the Bishop of Rome--which is what the modern Anglican Church is.  The Celtic churches, like the English church, considered themselves to be parts of the larger, worldwide Catholic Church and subject to the decisions of the larger church (such as in its ecumenical councils), and subject in particular to the Apostolic See of Rome.

It is true that the Celtic churches were intransigent for many years over the question of the date upon which Easter should be celebrated, and over a few other unique practices.  This controversy is discussed here and here.  St. Bede discusses it at length in his Ecclesiastical History.  The Celtic churches of Britain did not want to conform to the rest of the Catholic churches of the world over the dating of Easter and a few other customs, and this was a cause of great contention between the Celtic and the English churches for many years.  (You can tell from Bede's writing that it absolutely drove him nuts!)  Sometimes this controversy is alleged as evidence that the Celtic church was an independent church, rejecting submission to the broader church and to Rome.  In practice, at least on the matters controverted, the Celtic churches, for a time (for they all eventually gave in, various churches at various times, hundreds of years before Henry VIII), did resist what the broader Church was trying to get them to do.  But there is no indication, and every indication otherwise, that there was any kind of theory held by the Celtic churches that involved repudiation of the authority of Rome or of the broader Church.  It might be argued that their stance was inconsistent with how they ought to have acted if they truly accepted the authority of the broader Church.  That may be true, but only a person ignorant of human nature would argue that people's practices always match their own theories and ideals.  It is therefore very tenuous to argue from lack of practical perfect adherence to an ideal to the theoretical, conscious repudiation of that ideal.  More on this just below, however.

2. The English Church (and the Celtic Church) did not always obey the commands of the pope.  This shows that, at some points in her history, she rejected the authority of the papacy and held to something like the modern Anglican view of ecclesiastical authority.

It is true that various Catholics and Catholic leaders in England, as well as elsewhere in Europe and in all the world, refused to engage in proper (from a Catholic point of view) submission to the Apostolic See at various times during the past two thousand years.  Some of the most noteworthy examples of this have been political rulers who have tried to play the game of preserving their Catholic fidelity while also preserving their political ambitions, with varying degrees of success.  Some instances of this in England in particular are discussed here.  The Celtic churches' intransigence on the Easter question provides another example.

But what is the argument here?  That these instances prove that all of these people rejected the claims of the popes regarding their authority as the successors of St. Peter?  This is too great a leap.  For one thing, as I said earlier, it is all too painfully obvious from an observation of human history that people are quite capable of acting inconsistently with their own avowed ideals in certain circumstances.  Sometimes this is due to self-interested or political calculation; sometimes it may be owing to confusion; sometimes, as seems to have been the case with the Celtic churches, the inconsistency results from a desire to hold on to customs one has become used to and which one believes to be important.  To prove that any of these people or groups held to some Anglican-like theory involving rejection of the authority of Rome, it is therefore insufficient to simply point to examples of apparently inconsistent or incongruous behavior, especially when the persons or groups themselves strongly insist that they hold the very views they are alleged to reject.

Of course, one can find plenty of parallels of blatant inconsistency of practice in the modern Catholic world as well.  For an extreme example, take the SSPX (the Society of Saint Pius X).  Here is an organized society of substantial size whose entire raison d'ĂȘtre is an attempt to be faithful to the Catholic Church and Catholic tradition by refusing to follow the commands and teaching of that Church regarding the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which the Catholic Church (of course) holds to be authoritative but a substantial portion of which the SSPX rejects.  The popes (at least since Vatican II) and the Church just haven't been Catholic enough for them.  (Here is a recent article on the SSPX website that will give you a taste of their ways of reasoning.)  The case of the SSPX reminds me of the earlier case of the Jansenists, who basically spent over a century refusing to admit that the Catholic Church had really rejected their theology despite the Church formally telling them so numerous times.  The SSPX is in serious error from an orthodox Catholic point of view, and yet they fully claim to accept the teaching of Vatican I regarding the authority and infallibility of the pope.  They do not reject that teaching and hold to some kind of Anglican-like theory instead.

Or one can look to more common examples in more mainstream portions of the Church today, such as Catholics who, while claiming to be faithful Catholics and to accept the teaching of the Church, in practice refuse to accept that teaching when it comes to certain counter-cultural positions such as the rejection of women's ordination or artificial contraception.

It must also be pointed out that the Catholic Church has never claimed that the pope is perfect.  He is held to be unable to err when defining doctrine for the entire Church, and his official teaching is authoritative, but he is not given a gift of moral infallibility.  He is a sinner like everyone else, and some popes have earned that label more dramatically than others!  The pope is capable of failing to stand up for the truth (consider the case of Pope Honorius, for example), or of scandalizing the Church by immoral living.  In these cases, Catholics may justly remonstrate with him.  Sometimes in Church history, various political rulers believed the pope to be overstepping his political authority, and resisted him in that capacity, even while they fully accepted his ecclesiastical authority as the successor of St. Peter.  There are Catholics at the time of my writing this who believe the current pope, Francis, needs to be formally corrected for aiding false teaching in the Church by his recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.  (Here is an example.)  I am not among their number.  But whether or not one agrees with them, it would be absurd to argue that they don't hold to the Catholic theory of the authority of the Apostolic See but instead advocate some Anglican-like position.

3. The Anglican Church was right to split from the pope and the rest of the Catholic world in the sixteenth century, since the Catholic world had gone astray from the purity of the faith of the primitive Church.  Since the Anglican split was justified, it was not schismatic, but a continuation of the English church's fidelity to the true Catholic faith.

Even if it were granted that the Anglican split was justified, it would be, to a great extent at least, beside the point.  My argument in this article has not been so much to show that the English church did wrong to separate itself from Rome in the sixteenth century, but to show that its separation from Rome was a reversal of its historic position and a repudiation of the previously-acknowledged foundation of its own authority.  Even if the English Reformation was justified, it would still be a fundamental change from the English church's previous constitution and identity.  What we would say in that case is that the previous, historic English church's constitution had been corrupt in some ways, and that it was necessary in the sixteenth century to change it to conform to what is truly right.  If a local branch of Walmart becomes convinced that some of Walmart's policies are inherently unethical, and on that ground decides to break with Walmart and become an independent store, its actions may be justified, but the rightness of its actions do not make the new, independent store to be rightly considered to be a continuation of its previous identity as a branch of Walmart.

On the other hand, assuming its break with Rome to be justified, the Anglican Church could argue that, although it had to break with the previous constitution of the English church, it was really only restoring the true constitution of the Catholic Church as that had been founded by Christ and reforming it from the corruptions added later.  This could be a way of arguing that the Anglican Church is a continuation of the Church founded by Christ, if not an unbroken continuation of all the fundamentals of what the English church had previously been.

But, of course, I would go further here and argue that the Anglican Church's break with Rome was, in fact, not justified.  It was schismatic, because there was not an adequate basis for it.  The English Church had been under the authority of Rome since its foundation.  She acknowledged the legitimacy of that authority from the beginning.  If she chose to rebel against that authority, the burden of proof was upon her to justify that rebellion.  Without such a positive justification, her act was schismatic.  The Anglican Church came into existence by breaking off from the existing Catholic Church and forming a new body.  The historic Catholic Church, the Church that evolved organically from the Church founded by Christ and from the Church of the apostles and the early Fathers, acknowledged the authority of the pope.  What justification did the Anglican Church have to cease to hold to that position and to embrace an opposite position?  Without such justification, this act of reversal was schismatic, for it broke the unity and rebelled against the authority of the Church founded by Christ without adequate cause.  (This is what I call the "default argument".  The default in on the side of not breaking the unity and obedience of the Church, and so some adequate justification must be presented to legitimize doing so.)  In this article, I provide a brief analysis of the arguments in support of the Anglican Church's separate existence, and I find them wanting.  If the Anglican Church's separation from Rome cannot be justified, and it cannot be proved by the Anglican Church that she is doing what Christ intended the Church to do, then she cannot claim to be restoring an original constitution, but must be considered as having broken off from the original, historic constitution of the Catholic Church founded by Christ in order to establish a new, independent body.  And, as I said before, even if the Anglican Church's separate existence could be justified, it would still remain the case that the Anglican Church is not following in unbroken continuity from the earlier English Catholic church, for she had to fundamentally revise the constitution of that church and repudiate its earlier allegiances in order to maintain her new, separate existence.

Published on the feast of Pope St. Gregory the Great

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Two Versions of Secularism

I think it will be helpful to distinguish between two fundamentally different ideas associated with the word "secular" when applied to civil government.  These ideas are often left undistinguished in discussions on this topic, which tends to lead to confusion.

Two Versions of Secularism

Secularism #1:  Imagine a pluralistic society--that is, a society where there are lots of people with lots of different worldviews.  (Of course, this is not hard for those of us in the United States to imagine, for it is precisely the sort of society we live in.)  All the different people realize that in order for civil order to be maintained, they are going to have to work together.  Most of them agree that civil order is a good thing, because it is necessary to protect certain "rights" and "freedoms" for individuals living in the society.  They don't necessarily agree with each other about what a "right" is in the deepest, philosophical sense, but they agree that it is desirable that some kind of governing system exist which stops people from being randomly killed, robbed, etc.  So they get together and create a government which makes laws about such things and enforces them.

This government will do its job imperfectly.  It will be a result of compromise between people of conflicting worldviews and therefore probably conflicting (to some extent at least) ideas about ethics and social justice.  Hopefully, it will enact many laws deemed just by all parties; but it will also almost certainly enact laws that are considered unjust by some of the parties.  For example, a Catholic worldview opposes abortion and euthanasia as unethical, whereas many Atheists and Agnostics these days find these practices to be at least sometimes ethical.  (If you want to explore this further, see here.)  If the state legalizes euthanasia or abortion, it will be enacting an unjust law according to the Catholic worldview.  But if the state illegalizes either, it will be enacting an unjust law according to the viewpoint of many Atheists and Agnostics.  If the former happens, the Catholics will work to change minds and hearts in society and in other ways to influence things so that they can eventually get the law changed to be more just.  In the latter case, it will be the Atheists and Agnostics who will be trying to change the legal norm.

Despite its imperfections, however, both sides might agree that a "secular" governmental system--that is, one that is the result of working together and compromise between disagreeing groups as opposed to attempts by the groups to wipe out, subjugate, or dominate the other groups through, shall we say, less democratic methods--is the best plan, at least for the time being, because the alternative, less democratic approach is likely to lead to much greater injustice in society and possibly even the collapse of civil society altogether.

Secularism #2:  We have our pluralistic society, full of people with differing worldview beliefs.  But they all agree not to impose their own worldview beliefs on the others.  They decide to form together a governmental structure that is worldview-neutral--that is, one that does not assume anyone's point of view to the exclusion of anyone else's, or impose anyone's beliefs on others by making legal requirements based on those beliefs.  The government will base its laws only on ideas and values that are neutral between all the parties, thus avoiding favoring any party over any other.

Such a system, by its advocates, is seen as "perfect."  Of course, everyone recognizes that no human society can be perfect in every way, but such a "secular" system is seen as perfect in the sense that, if carried out ideally, it will never step on anyone's toes (at least fundamentally).  It will be compatible with everyone's worldview beliefs and so will be seen to be just in all its essentials by reasonable people of all worldviews.  By contrast, Secularism #1 is an inherently non-ideal system.  The very idea of it is that nobody is getting everything he wants; everyone's worldview is being trampled on at some time or other, because the underlying point is that it is a compromise-system between people who can't agree.

Problems with Secularism #2

It is important to keep these two versions of "secularism" distinct, because in fact they are very different, even contradictory, proposals for civil government.  I submit that Secularism #2 is practically impossible, because there will never be able to be true governmental neutrality in a pluralistic society.  Consider my examples of euthanasia and abortion.  What would the "neutral" law on these matters be?  What law could we pass that would please both the Catholic point of view and all the Agnostic and Atheistic points of view?  "Well," someone might suggest, "we could make euthanasia and abortion legal.  Catholics could be permitted to avoid participating in them, due to their religious beliefs, but, recognizing that religion is a private matter, they would avoid enforcing their Catholic values on others through the law."  The problem with this is that religion cannot be merely a private matter, because religious beliefs are beliefs about reality, and reality has implications not just for one's private ethics but for one's sense of social justice as well.  The Catholic worldview holds that both euthanasia and abortion are murder, and that not only does the private individual have a moral obligation to refrain from participating in murder, but the state also has an obligation to use laws and law enforcement (among other things) to oppose murder and protect life.  So the Catholic position is not simply that euthanasia and abortion are immoral for private Catholics, but that they are objectively unethical for everyone and that it is unethical for a society to grant a right to them in law.  So a law legalizing euthanasia or abortion could only be seen as neutral towards the Catholic worldview by a person who doesn't understand what the Catholic worldview teaches on these subjects.

The fact is that there is no way, on these and on many matters, for a state to maintain neutrality between the conflicting worldviews in a pluralistic society.  Promoters of Secularism #2 often (consciously or unconsciously) sell this version of secularism by misrepresenting the beliefs of some of the people in the society (as we just saw above), and also by conflating Secualrism #2 with Secularism #1.  "Don't you think we should all get along and work together?" they ask.  "Don't you think that we should put aside violence and live peacefully with each other in society?  If so, we must cooperate, and that is what secularism is all about."  But this way of thinking neglects the distinction between the two very different ways of envisioning a cooperating pluralistic society that I have laid out above.  There are other ways in which people of different worldviews might cooperate in society besides attempting to embrace an impossible ideal of governmental worldview neutrality.

It might be argued that Secularism #1 is an unjust and therefore less desirable system compared to Secularism #2 because it is unfair.  In Secularism #1, people of different worldviews, while working together and continuing to support society when they don't get what they want, yet are still working to impose their own views in the law and to make laws that violate the views of others.  So Catholics, while they may get along with Atheists and Agnostics and refrain from resorting to violent revolution when laws they consider unjust are passed, are still working to change the laws to reflect their own values and to impose those values on others by, for example, banning euthanasia and abortion, practices which some non-Catholics find wholly acceptable and even the right and best thing to do in certain circumstances.

The first, most immediately practical answer to this objection is that if such a system is unfair, we will have to live with it, for the alternative is impossible.  A state has no choice but to either legalize or not legalize euthanasia and abortion (and, of course, to decide the exact parameters of what is and is not legalized).  If it makes them illegal, it will impose views and values amenable to Catholics on some people in society who don't share those views and values.  But if it makes them legal, it will also be imposing views and values amenable to some on those who do not share them.  Catholics, in this latter situation, will be forced to live in a society in which what they consider to be great crimes against humanity are legally authorized.  They may not be forced personally to participate in these things, but the society will still be opposing their viewpoint and acting in a way that they cannot condone and which is against their will.  To say that they are not being imposed upon because they are not personally forced to participate is to neglect the fact that most people are not wholly selfish.  They are not only concerned about what they personally can and cannot do but also about what sort of society exists.  An unjust society causes pain to any person who cares about social justice, regardless of whether or not the injustice is directly aimed at him personally.  Because of the multiplicity of worldviews and ethical positions in a pluralistic society, it will be simply impossible for such a society to avoid having laws that counter deep-seated concerns and desires and beliefs of some of the population.  So if such countering is unfair, unfair we must be.

But it is not a foregone conclusion that everyone will regard such a situation as unfair.  In fact, I don't think that most proponents of abortion or euthanasia consider the legalization of these to be unfair to those who are opposed to them.  In their view, people have a right to abortion and euthanasia, and therefore a just complaint if these are made illegal, while people have no right to have a society that refuses to tolerate these practices, and therefore there is no just basis for complaints of unfairness if the state allows in these cases what they think should not be allowed.  Legalizing abortion and euthanasia is the just thing for society to do, they reason, and so reasonable people on all sides will recognize this as the best thing and will not consider it unfair.  On the other hand, those who are opposed to abortion and euthanasia do not believe that any unfairness is done to any by making illegal these unethical and harmful actions, any more than unfairness is committed against any when other harmful actions (drunk driving, theft, etc.) are prohibited.  In their view, no one has a right to abortion or euthanasia.  Charges of "unfairness" are never leveled by the people who manage to get their own positions and values enshrined in laws, but only by those whose values are excluded.  We don't typically see the state of things as "unfair" when the society favors our own views and opposes views we consider wrong, but only when the society rejects our views and favors the contradictory views of others.  Despite the calls for "neutrality," it is not really neutrality that is wanted.  To paraphrase the pigs in George Orwell's Animal Farm, we want a state that treats all views and values equally, but also one that recognizes that some views and values are more equal than others.  I would, in fact, argue that most calls for "governmental religious neutrality" today are actually thinly veiled calls for the government to embrace an Agnostic worldview and Agnostic values as the official viewpoint of the society, to the exclusion of contrary views.

Catholicism and Secularism

The question is sometimes raised as to whether or not Catholicism is compatible with secularism.  Distinguishing between the two versions of secularism helps us to answer that question more clearly.  The Catholic worldview is incompatible with Secularism #2, because Catholicism calls on all citizens to work for justice in the social sphere, and it recognizes that the ultimate standard of justice, whether personal or social, is God's moral law.  Quesion #463 in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts this clearly and succinctly:

Authority should always be exercised as a service, respecting fundamental human rights, a just hierarchy of values, laws, distributive justice, and the principle of subsidiarity. All those who exercise authority should seek the interests of the community before their own interest and allow their decisions to be inspired by the truth about God, about man and about the world.

If decisions are to be "inspired by the truth about God, about man and about the world," obviously they cannot be neutral towards these truths and their corresponding falsehoods.

Morality requires that we recognize and protect a place in our society for the formation of conscience, and out of this comes a moral obligation to protect liberty of conscience and religious freedom.  But such liberty is not absolute.  It must be balanced with other ethical concerns, and the framework according to which all ethical concerns are to be properly balanced is the moral law of God.  In deciding where to draw the line between what is to be tolerated and what is not to be tolerated, and when, the state does not look to some illusory "neutral" guideline, but to the standard of truth and justice found in God's law.  Thus, while toleration is often required with regard to the beliefs, values, and actions of others, not all views and values are or should be treated equally (even if that were possible).  The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2109--footnotes removed) puts it this way:

The right to religious liberty can of itself be neither unlimited nor limited only by a "public order" conceived in a positivist or naturalist manner. The "due limits" which are inherent in it must be determined for each social situation by political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by the civil authority in accordance with "legal principles which are in conformity with the objective moral order."

Secularism #1, however, is perfectly compatible with Catholic doctrine.  We live in a fallen, very non-ideal world.  In such a world, it is often the case that the attainment of certain goods must be foregone in order for other goods to be maintained or for greater evils to be avoided.  This is precisely the rationale for Secularism #1.  In order to achieve the best social order practically possible, it is usually necessary to some extent to tolerate certain evils.  This is especially the case in a pluralistic society, where lack of such toleration is very likely typically to bring with it a great degree of social injustice and in some cases even social chaos.  Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical Libertas, #33 (footnotes removed), put it this way:

Yet, with the discernment of a true mother, the Church weighs the great burden of human weakness, and well knows the course down which the minds and actions of men are in this our age being borne. For this reason, while not conceding any right to anything save what is true and honest, she does not forbid public authority to tolerate what is at variance with truth and justice, for the sake of avoiding some greater evil, or of obtaining or preserving some greater good. God Himself in His providence, though infinitely good and powerful, permits evil to exist in the world, partly that greater good may not be impeded, and partly that greater evil may not ensue. In the government of States it is not forbidden to imitate the Ruler of the world; and, as the authority of man is powerless to prevent every evil, it has (as St. Augustine says) to overlook and leave unpunished many things which are punished, and rightly, by Divine Providence. But if, in such circumstances, for the sake of the common good (and this is the only legitimate reason), human law may or even should tolerate evil, it may not and should not approve or desire evil for its own sake; for evil of itself, being a privation of good, is opposed to the common welfare which every legislator is bound to desire and defend to the best of his ability. In this, human law must endeavor to imitate God, who, as St. Thomas teaches, in allowing evil to exist in the world, "neither wills evil to be done, nor wills it not to be done, but wills only to permit it to be done; and this is good." This saying of the Angelic Doctor contains briefly the whole doctrine of the permission of evil.

For more on the impossibility of worldview neutrality in civil government, see here.  For more on the Catholic view of religion and civil law, see here.  For a brief consideration of how pluralism and secularism (particularly Secularism #2) relate to peace and stability in society, see here.

Published on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Another Argument for Berkeleyan-Style Idealism

This is from my book Why Christianity is True, Chapter 3, pp. 64-66.

First of all, let’s talk a little more about the issue of consciousness being irreducible to non-consciousness.  I made the argument that consciousness must be traced back to the First Cause, because you can’t get consciousness from non-conscious stuff.  This might have raised a question in your mind:  “If consciousness cannot be derived from non-consciousness, then wouldn't it work the other way as well?  Wouldn't non-consciousness be irreducible to consciousness?  And if this is the case, then wouldn't the First Cause have to have two parts which are irreducible to each other, making him divisible?”

This would indeed be a problem if we were to affirm that consciousness and non-consciousness are completely and ultimately distinct things.  But I don't think that is the case.  (And in fact it can't be the case, because God must be simple/indivisible!)

Since God is a mind (the Mind), and since God is simple, we must conceive of creation as being produced by the mind of God.  In this way, as in many others, God is like an author who writes a novel.  How does the novelist produce the novel?  She does so by imagining a world—full of events, characters, places, etc.—and thus bringing it into being by her thinking of it.  (She will probably then write it down, but it exists in her mind first.)  The world of the novel—particularly before the novelist writes it down—is completely dependent for its existence on the novelist and the novelist's sustaining that world in being by her thinking of it.  We cannot draw any absolute distinction between the existence of the imaginary world of the novel and the author's perceiving of or keeping in mind that world.  To use a phrase from 18th century British philosopher George Berkeley, as far as the world of the novel goes, “to be is to be perceived.”

This is a good analogy for how God creates the world, with a few adjustments:  1. Unlike a human novelist, God can keep the whole universe with all its details—past, present, and future—in his mind at once (and timelessly, since he is outside of time).  He has no need to write it down.  In fact, “writing it down” is a meaningless concept in this context, for it implies a physical being with space outside of himself and other materials—paper and pen—with which he records his thoughts.  God is not in time or space, so there is no place “outside of God” for God to write anything down.  Rather than being simply one being in a reality in which he is surrounded by other objects, he himself is the full context of all of reality.  2. A human world-creation is going to lack much reality and substance, because human imagination is very limited and weak.  When you create an imaginary character, that character is real to an extent—he really exists in your mind insofar as you imagine him.  But he is a mere spectre, a ghost, in comparison to yourself and the rest of the external world.  But God's mind is unlimited and full of power.  When he “imagines” or perceives a world, that world is full of substance and reality from its overall form down to the smallest details.

So what I'm suggesting is basically what the Apostle Paul said about our relationship with God in the Bible, in Acts 17:27-28:  “He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being.”  God created the universe and keeps it in being by his thinking or perceiving of us.  This means that material reality is not some thing that exists ultimately independently from mind/consciousness, but is ultimately a part or a mode of consciousness.  We should not think of a chair, for example, as a totally independent object made of some substance that is irreducibly distinct from consciousness, but as an object existing ultimately in God's perception and thus as an aspect of that perception.  There are not two fundamental substances—consciousness and non-consciousness—but one substance—consciousness—in which is contained the forms and relations of matter.

This makes sense, if you think about it.  If you consider the properties of a material object—like a chair—it becomes apparent that they are dependent for their existence on being perceived.  What are the properties of a chair?  It has texture, color, taste (not a good taste, I presume, but some kind of taste nonetheless), smell, form, dimensions, etc.  All of these properties are defined only in relation to perception.  Texture is relative to the sense of touch.  Color is relative to the sense of sight.  Taste is relative to the sense of taste.  Smell is relative to the sense of smell.  Form and dimension are relative to an observer who is in a particular location.  If you think about a chair, you will notice that the different parts of it, which allow it to be an extended object in space, only exist in relation to a grid, the center point of which just happens to be the center point of your own point of view.  The dimensionality of the chair is made possible only relatively, in reference to your viewpoint, as you look at the chair from your particular location.  This is the case with real chairs, as well as chairs you might imagine in your mind.  Look at any picture or piece of art, and likewise you will see that there is always a point of view implied.  Form and dimension are inseparable from perception and a perceiver.  The very concept of a “material object” makes no sense independent from the concept of the object's being perceived.  Matter, by its very nature, is a mode of perception/consciousness. 31

31  I mentioned the philosopher George Berkeley above.  While I don't agree with everything in Berkeley's metaphysics, I think he was onto something in his development of his theory of “idealism” (not to be confused with Hegelian or Kantian concepts of “idealism” which are a whole different matter).  In his works he tried to articulate and argue for the idea that matter is not fundamentally distinct from consciousness but is an aspect of it.   His Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge and his Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous are a good source for reading more about his ideas on this topic.  Jonathan Edwards, the famous Puritan theologian and philosopher, also developed similar ideas.

For more, see here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

195 AD: No Sola Scriptura in Sight

A few months ago, I read an article by Dr. R. Scott Clark who runs the Heidelblog, a well-known Reformed theology blog.  The article is promoting the Reformed "Regulative Principle of Worship" (which I talk about and respond to from a Catholic point of view in this article).  In the article, Dr. Clark talks about the famous debate in the early Church over the timing of the celebration of Easter.  You can read the short account of this controversy from the early Church historian Eusebius here (chapter 23-25).  Basically, there was a dispute that took place in the 190s AD (about one hundred years after the end of the age of the apostles) over two different dating systems for the celebration of Easter.  The whole affair came close to causing a schism in the Church, but the intervention of peacemakers (particularly St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons) helped it reach a peaceful end.  In the course of discussing this controversy in his article, Dr. Clark says this:

The date for Easter was controversial was because both sides were arguing over which date was more biblical. No one was arguing in the early 2nd century that the church has authority to impose practices and observances that are not imposed in Scripture.

I found this comment striking because it is precisely dead wrong, and its dead-wrong-ness helps to illustrate precisely the opposite point from the one Dr. Clark was attempting to make.  In actuality, no one in the Easter controversy was arguing that their date was more biblical.  They knew better than to try that, since it is obvious that the feast of Easter isn't even mentioned in the Bible.  Rather, each side was arguing their position from an alleged unwritten tradition coming from the apostles.  One side cited the practice of the Apostle John, and the other side cited a different tradition (perhaps one stemming from Peter and Paul in Rome).  Dr. Clark thinks that no one in the early 2nd century (actually, this controversy took place in the late 2nd century) believed that the Church had the authority to "impose practices and observances that are not imposed in Scripture."  But, actually, everyone believed that, and this controversy illustrates it.  No one in this controversy, so far as we have any record of, advocated a Sola Scriptura approach to the issue, or (as Dr. Clark and other Reformed theologians would have done had they been there) objected to the whole controversy as wrongheaded because of its lack of a biblical foundation.  This shows well just how absent the idea of Sola Scriptura was from the consciousness of the entire Church just one hundred years or so after the days of the apostles.  The early Church was Catholic in its view of Scripture, Tradition, and Church authority, not Protestant.

I'll close with a couple of quotations from two early Fathers--St. Basil of Caesaria and St. Vincent of Lerins--which articulate the Catholic view of the early Church, a view which continues to be articulated by the Catholic Church today.

Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us "in a mystery" by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will gainsay—no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more. For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is thence who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? What writing has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer? Which of the saints has left us in writing the words of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the Eucharist and the cup of blessing? For we are not, as is well known, content with what the apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but both in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry, and these we derive from unwritten teaching. Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this? Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition? Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught? And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice? And as to the other customs of baptism from what Scripture do we derive the renunciation of Satan and his angels? Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation?  (St. Basil of Caesaria, On the Holy Spirit, Chapter 27--from the New Advent website, embedded links removed) 
But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church's interpretation? For this reason—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.  (St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chapter 2--from the New Advent website, embedded links removed)

For more, see here and here.

Published on the feast of St. Benedict.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Why Does the Skeptical Argument Seem So Plausible?

In this article, I attacked an argument for total skepticism.  "Total skepticism" is the idea that no one can know anything.  The argument I attacked went like this:  Since we have been wrong in the past, and we didn't know we were wrong when we were, we cannot know if we are wrong or right about anything in the present, and so we can never know anything at all.

In the article, I showed that this argument is self-refuting and contradictory, relies on question-begging and selectively-applied reasoning, and ignores the evident reality that we can and do in practice evaluate claims and come to knowable conclusions.  But it should be acknowledged that the argument has a kind of apparent ring of plausibility to it.  It does seem like it ought to be true.  When we're wrong, we don't know we're wrong, for if we knew we were wrong, well, we wouldn't be wrong!  So if I think I'm right right now, how could I possibly know if I am wrong or not?  I may think I'm right, but I've thought I was right before and been wrong.  It does seem like this presents a logically watertight case for the impossibility of knowledge.  How could we possibly justify the idea that knowledge can truly be had?  We know from the absurdity and evident falseness of the argument (as pointed out in the previous article) that there must be something wrong with the reasoning here; but where, specifically, does it go wrong?

I think this case is parallel to the famous question of how we know we are awake and not dreaming.  When we're dreaming, we often don't know we're dreaming; we think we're awake (insofar as it crosses our minds to think about this one way or the other).  If, in my dreaming, I sometimes think I'm awake and don't seem to be able to know I'm not, how can I know this isn't happening right now while I think I'm awake?

The answer is that there are epistemological resources available to me when I am awake that aren't (typically) available to me when I'm asleep and dreaming.  When I'm awake, I have the ability to examine my own state of consciousness and its contents much more carefully and thoroughly.  I can compare my current state to my dream states that I remember, and I can see that they are very different.  My dream states lack the degree of detail, the ongoing, coherent narrative, the full range of conscious, critical reflection upon myself that I typically have in my waking state.  Because I am aware of what my dream state is like, and how it differs from my waking state, I can determine that I am not currently dreaming but awake.  But when I am dreaming, my consciousness is limited, and I am typically not capable of making these observations and comparisons, and so I don't typically find out that I am dreaming.  (Perhaps some people have sometimes found themselves more fully conscious while they were dreaming and have been able to perform these observations.  I have never had this experience, at least not to a great extent.  I think it would be fascinating to examine my dream-state with that level of criticalness, to observe its patchy character, its lack of detail, etc., while actually in such a state.)  In short, it seems at first glance to follow, but upon further examination really doesn't, that if I can't tell if I am awake or dreaming when I am dreaming I must not be able to tell if I am awake or dreaming when I am awake.

I think the same sort of realization applies to our current subject as well.  When I am wrong, I am lacking some perspective, some bit of knowledge, some piece of the puzzle, that I don't realize I am lacking.  But when I find out I'm wrong, what happens is that I suddenly attain that missing puzzle piece.  When that happens, I can see where I went wrong and (often) which way is the right way.  On the latter side of this divide, I have more information, a greater vantage point, then I did before, and so I am in a better position to see accurately what is going on.  Otherwise, I couldn't even know that I was wrong before!  The very idea of "I was wrong before, and I just realized that" implies that I consider my current perspective a better, more accurate perspective than my previous one.  Otherwise, I would have just as much reason to say, instead, "I was right before, and now I'm wrong."

Just as with the case of dreaming and being awake, it is often the case that when I am right, I have a basis to see that I am right that I am lacking when I am wrong.  I can't assess my condition accurately when I am wrong, but it doesn't follow from this--though it seems to at first glance, and from here arises the apparent plausibility of the skeptical argument--that I can't assess it accurately when I'm right either.  Once we've realized this, we have unconvered the fallaciousness of the skeptical argument and can see how what we know to be true--that the skeptical argument is absurd and flies in the face of what our clear, practical experience tells us--is in fact true.

And so we can reiterate the practical conclusion of the previous article.  Instead of allowing ourselves to be hoodwinked by the fallacious reasoning of skepticism, we should continue to come to conclusions on the same basis all of us (including skeptics) always have anyway--by examining the evidence and embracing the conclusions that it seems to support.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Cutting Off the Flowers: How Sola Scriptura Distorts the Reformed View of Worship

Reformed Christians often complain about the excessive ritualism of the Catholic Church.  All those holy days, cathedrals, images, Latin phrases, altars, priestly robes, the sign of the cross, etc.  They like to contrast all of this with the "simplicity" of Reformed worship, which avoids anything except the reading and preaching of the Bible, the simple administration of baptism and the Lord's Supper, prayer, and singing of songs.

This attitude ultimately stems from a couple of major points in the Reformed interpretation of Scripture.  Reformed Christians follow the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura, which teaches that the only infallible source of special revelation is the Bible.  Church tradition, and the teaching authority of the Church, are fallible and not to be implicitly trusted.  The practical effect of this view is that Reformed Christians feel justified, and at times required, to pit their own personal interpretations of the Bible over and against the interpretations and applications of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic view is that Scripture comes to us as part of a package deal, which includes also the tradition of the Catholic Church as this has been handed down in the teaching and practices of the Church, and the authority to authentically interpret and apply God's revelation granted by Christ to the bishops of the Church.  This is the historical position of the Catholic Church, which the Reformation had to rebel against in the sixteenth century in order to establish itself.  From the historical, Catholic point of view, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura makes no sense, as it involves ripping the Bible out of its historical context without justification and trying to use it in a way it was never intended to be used.  The result of this is the creation of numerous churches all establishing themselves on the basis of their own private interpretations of the Bible in opposition to the Bible's own natural context in the Catholic Church.  G. K. Chesterton described this situation very memorably in his book, The Thing (London: Sheed and Ward, 1929), in the essay, "Is Humanism a Religion?"

Every great heretic had always exhibit three remarkable characteristics in combination. First, he picked out some mystical idea from the Church's bundle or balance of mystical ideas. Second, he used that one mystical idea against all the other mystical ideas. Third (and most singular), he seems generally to have had no notion that his own favourite mystical idea was a mystical idea, at least in the sense of a mysterious or dubious or dogmatic idea. With a queer uncanny innocence, he seems always to have taken this one thing for granted. He assumed it to be unassailable, even when he was using it to assail all sorts of similar things. The most popular and obvious example is the Bible. To an impartial pagan or sceptical observer, it must always seem the strangest story in the world; that men rushing in to wreck a temple, overturning the altar and driving out the priest, found there certain sacred volumes inscribed "Psalms" or "Gospels"; and (instead of throwing them on the fire with the rest) began to use them as infallible oracles rebuking all the other arrangements. If the sacred high altar was all wrong, why were the secondary sacred documents necessarily all right? If the priest had faked his Sacraments, why could he not have faked his Scriptures? Yet it was long before it even occurred to those who brandished this one piece of Church furniture to break up all the other Church furniture that anybody could be so profane as to examine this one fragment of furniture itself. People were quite surprised, and in some parts of the world are still surprised, that anybody should dare to do so.

The Reformed View

One area in which Sola Scriptura has had problematic effects is in the area of the worship and aesthetics of the Church.  Reformed Christians, reading the Bible, find two ideas:

1. The Regulative Principle of Worship.  This is the idea that we should only worship God in ways that he has prescribed, as opposed to worshiping in unauthorized ways.  This is actually a good idea, but if it is combined with the idea that the Bible gives us everything we need to know about what is authorized by God, it is going to lead us into trouble.

2. Christ is the substance and the fulfillment of the Old Testament ceremonial system, which has been done away with since his coming.  This, too, is a good and right idea, but the application made of it by the Reformed is problematic.

These two ideas are the source of Reformed objections to "Catholic ritualism."  The basic theology goes like this:  In the Old Testament, God prescribed all sorts of rituals and ceremonies for his people.  These rituals and ceremonies pointed towards Christ, who was their fulfillment.  (For example, the whole Old Testament sacrificial system pointed towards Christ who would be the true sacrifice that would take away sins.)  When Christ came, these rituals and ceremonies were abolished (or most of them, at least).  Since Christ has come and we therefore now have the substance, we don't need rituals or ceremonies anymore, except for those very few rituals described clearly in the New Testament, such as baptism and the Lord's Supper (communion).  We have no authorization to add any additional rituals or anything else for the practice of the Church, because God, in the Bible, has not authorized anything else.  And to attempt to add additional rituals or ceremonies is to attempt to go back to Old Testament Judaism and involves a denial of the sufficiency of Christ, and so is to be condemned.

So take a major Catholic holy day like Christmas, for example.  The strictest of the Reformed have historically opposed celebrating Christmas, because it is not prescribed in the Bible.  The Reformed Directory for Public Worship of 1645 puts it this way:

There is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath.  Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.

In the Reformed view, if we were to take up the celebration of Christmas, we would be "Judaizing"--abandoning Christ for something akin to Old Testament ceremonies.

A pamphlet entitled What is the Reformed Faith?, put out by a conservative Presbyterian denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, describes the Reformed view clearly:

Some churches today are returning to ceremonial worship. They call it liturgical revival. If they were serious in their claim to be biblical, they would go all the way, adopting the whole Old Testament system. They would even advocate rebuilding the Jerusalem temple. And, if they did, we could at least respect them for consistency. But, of course, these "weak and miserable" (Gal. 4:9) elements of Old Testament worship have no legitimate place in the new covenant church. We need no purple robes, candles, incense, dancing, or dramatic performance. Why? Because these shadowy representations only get in the way of the reality: the privilege of going each Lord's Day—in faithful, commanded worship—right into the heavenly places (Heb. 12:18-29). 
Are we, then, to do as we please—fashioning our own style of worship (while the Old Testament saints had to be careful)? No, we above all should abhor and shun all human inventions. Is this not what underlies the following warning? "See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused ... how much less will we....? Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire' " (Heb. 12: 25, 28-29). 
Worship under the new covenant has been instituted by Jesus. Admittedly, there are few commands regarding, or examples of, corporate worship in the New Testament. The closest thing we have to a formal worship service is found in 1 Corinthians 14, and it focuses on speaking in tongues and prophecy, elements that were appropriate only in the apostolic age (cf. WCF, I:1). Nevertheless, we are able to identify prayer, the reading of the Scriptures, preaching, the singing of praise, the gathering of offerings, and the administration of the sacraments as "all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God" (WCF, XXI:5). . . . 
Reformed worship is beautiful, but it does not have the beauty of sensual things. Rather, it has the beauty mentioned in several of the psalms. "Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness" (Ps. 29:2).
It is for this reason that Reformed worship has always been marked by what some have called "a stark simplicity." The beauty is found in the faithful preaching of the Word of God, in the simple, unadorned, but faithful administration of the sacraments, and in the maintenance of faithful discipline. Reformed people find their delight in truth and in the spiritual things that Christ spoke of when he said that we must worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

The Catholic Response

Catholics would accept the fundamental idea of the "regulative principle of worship."  Of course we should only worship God in ways he has authorized.  But God's authorization is not only to be found in a private interpretation of Scripture outside its context within the authoritative tradition of the Church.  We don't get to simply read the Bible, find no mention of Christmas, find no justification that we can see to have Christmas, and then declare Christmas illegal because it is without God's authorization.  If the Church's authoritative tradition has interpreted God's revelation such that holy days like Christmas are to be received as a good thing, then this is God's will.  When the Church celebrates Christmas, or uses "purple robes, candles, incense," etc., it is not adding to God's worship without authorization.  It is doing precisely what God has prescribed.

But what about the idea that Old Testament ritualism, feast days, etc., have been done away with because Christ, the substance, has come?  If we are to have rituals in this New Testament age, why are they not prescribed in the New Testament?  After all, God gave very specific instructions about worship in the Old Testament age.

It is here that Sola Scriptura really trips the Reformed up.  According to Catholic teaching, the Holy Spirit has been given to the Church to guide her into all truth.  In Old Testament times, although the Holy Spirit was not entirely absent, yet the people of God were at an earlier stage of development.  A great deal more "spoonfeeding" was going on.  So in the Law of Moses, we see immensely detailed commands regarding worship, politics, and many other things.  The New Testament has no comparable exhaustive law code.  Rather, we see the Church being guided by the Spirit as she works out, over time, the application of what Christ has left to her.  We might say that whereas the worship and life of the Old Testament people were primarily imposed externally through explicit commands, the worship and life of the Church come much more through an internal development as the Holy Spirit guides the Church to apply discerningly the deposit of revelation.  It is in some ways like the difference between a younger child and an adolescent or young adult.  A young child must be given a great many, very specific instructions in every area of life.  As the child gets older, more and more this specific external instruction is replaced by habits of internal discernment.  Parents grant more and more freedom to their children to discern for themselves what is right and best, to apply the principles taught to them over the years, and to manage their own lives.  St. Paul uses this very analogy (Galatians 3:23-25; 4:1-6) in his discussion of the people of God under the Law of Moses vs. the people of God in the new age of Christ:

But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. . . . 
Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

The Church describes her own view in the Vatican II document Dei Verbum, Chapter 2, Section 8 (footnotes removed):

And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3). Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes. 
This tradition which comes from the Apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51), through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her. 
The words of the holy fathers witness to the presence of this living tradition, whose wealth is poured into the practice and life of the believing and praying Church. Through the same tradition the Church's full canon of the sacred books is known, and the sacred writings themselves are more profoundly understood and unceasingly made active in her; and thus God, who spoke of old, uninterruptedly converses with the bride of His beloved Son; and the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel resounds in the Church, and through her, in the world, leads unto all truth those who believe and makes the word of Christ dwell abundantly in them (see Col. 3:16).

A good example of this is the Church's position on the circumcision of Gentiles.  In the Old Testament pattern, we might have expected a law authorizing the non-circumcision of Gentiles to be given very explicitly to the people of God by means of prophets.  But in the New Testament, we find that Christ never even mentions this idea or gives the apostles any specific instructions on the matter.  What we find instead is the Church, over time, being confronted with this issue, calling a council, deciding in that council what is right and best, and announcing her decision with the preface (Acts 15:28), "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . ."  Here we see the development of the Church's rules and practices over time by means of the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The Reformed look in the Bible, and they don't see Christmas.  They conclude that God has not authorized Christmas, and that we should therefore not have it.  They conclude that the reason Christmas and other holy days and rituals are not spelled out in the New Testament is because God wants New Testament worship to be simpler than Old Testament worship, because Christ the substance has come.  But this whole scheme of interpretation is not actually spelled out in the Bible.  The Reformed infer it from the New Testament's lack of many specific instructions regarding worship combined with its abolition of Old Testament ceremonies.  This is a good example of how reading the Bible outside its proper context in the Church's tradition can lead to erroneous conclusions being drawn.

The Catholic faith, interpreting Scripture within its proper context, has a different reading.  The Catholic view is that Old Testament rituals and holy days were done away with not because the people of God should be without such things for the rest of the time of her pilgrimage upon earth, but so that she could develop a new set of rituals and ceremonies appropriate to New Testament times, when Christ, the substance, has come.  For although Christ has come, we are not yet in heaven.  We still await the second coming.  In the meantime, we are not without need of tangible reminders of the presence of God, just like the Old Testament people of God.  Whereas the ceremonies of the Old Testament pointed forward to Christ who would come, the ceremonies of New Testament times point to Christ who has come and Christ who will come again.

We see this development of the worship of the Church already underway within the New Testament itself.  We see that Christ's coming did away with sacrifices, since he was the substantial fulfillment of the sacrificial system, but it replaced them not with no ritual but with the Lord's Supper.  We see that circumcision is done away with, not so that it could be replaced with no ritual, so that we should only focus on the spiritual alone from here on out, but to make room for physical baptism as well.  We see the Church establishing the pattern of meeting on Sunday, which comes eventually, in the last book of the New Testament, to be called "the Lord's Day"--a new, Christian holy day to replace and fulfill the Old Testament Sabbath.  But the Church's development did not cease at the completion of the New Testament.  The Holy Spirit has continued to guide her into all truth and into the application of all truth.  Thus, we see through history new customs, new ceremonies, new rituals, new holy days, being established.  Sometimes we see old customs retired and new ones arise in their place.  There is an ongoing, organic development, like the growth and changing of a living organism, guided by the animating principle within--the Holy Spirit.

The Reformed attempt to restrict the development of the Church to what was already completed within the New Testament is like a person who is given a small, young plant, but instead of allowing the plant to grow and flower, he tries desperately to keep it young, cutting off flowers as soon as they appear, trying to prune it to keep it small, believing that he is protecting his plant from unnatural mutations, while what he is really doing is unnaturally hindering its divinely-designed process of development.  The Reformed attempt to protect the worship of God is well-intentioned, but it works within a context of ignorance and false inferences forced upon it by the unbiblical and unhistorical doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

For more on Sola Scriptura, see herehere, and here.

Published on the feast of St. Thomas More (my patron saint!) and of St. John Fisher