Thursday, January 21, 2016

What Are the "Evangelical Counsels"?

The concept of the "evangelical counsels" is one that is virtually unknown to much of the Protestant world, since this is something that many Protestant groups did away with at the time of the Protestant Reformation.  This is a concept that I found quite surprising (and problematic) the first time I encountered it, and I had trouble figuring out how to assimilate it into my thinking as I was transitioning to Catholicism.  This is the aspect of Catholicism that gives us monks, nuns, monasteries, abbeys, hermits, etc.  Below I have tried to describe the concept in my own language.  Hopefully this will be helpful to others who are trying to get a clear and accurate view of the idea.

The biblical foundation for the idea of the evangelical counsels is found in such texts as 1 Corinthians 7 and Matthew 19:10-12.  In the latter text, Jesus has just taught his disciples that divorce is unlawful.  The disciples are quite surprised at this teaching:

His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.  But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.  For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul is giving commands and advice (counsel!) to the Corinthians regarding matters connected to marriage:

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.  Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.  Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.  The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.  Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.  But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.  For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.
I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.  But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. . . . 
But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches. . . . Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. 
Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.  I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.  Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.  But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.  But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.
But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord:  But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.  There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.  And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.
But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.  Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.  So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.
The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.  But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church deals with the evangelical counsels especially here (1973-1974 and here (914-933):

1973 Besides its precepts, the New Law also includes the evangelical counsels. The traditional distinction between God's commandments and the evangelical counsels is drawn in relation to charity, the perfection of Christian life. The precepts are intended to remove whatever is incompatible with charity. The aim of the counsels is to remove whatever might hinder the development of charity, even if it is not contrary to it.
1974 The evangelical counsels manifest the living fullness of charity, which is never satisfied with not giving more. They attest its vitality and call forth our spiritual readiness. The perfection of the New Law consists essentially in the precepts of love of God and neighbor. The counsels point out the more direct ways, the readier means, and are to be practiced in keeping with the vocation of each: 

The Catechism here (in 1974) adds a relevant quotation from St. Francis de Sales:

[God] does not want each person to keep all the counsels, but only those appropriate to the diversity of persons, times, opportunities, and strengths, as charity requires; for it is charity, as queen of all virtues, all commandments, all counsels, and, in short, of all laws and all Christian actions that gives to all of them their rank, order, time, and value.  (Footnotes removed here and above)

Here is my articulation, in my own words, of the basic idea:

The ultimate goal of our lives is the beatific vision, where we will enjoy God fully forever.  In this life, we are all called to live lives of charity--of supreme love to God, and love to our neighbors for God's sake.  The commandments of God lay out the specifics of how we are all called to live in the love of God.  Beyond the commandments of God's law are the evangelical counsels.  The counsels lay out a way to live a life especially and particularly devoted to God and to God's service.  There is the counsel of poverty, which calls individuals to abandon personal ownership of worldly possessions.  There is the counsel of chastity, which invites to the renunciation of married life.  And there is the counsel of obedience, in which we are invited to put ourselves in a special way under the authority and guidance of spiritual or ecclesiastical guides (such as by committing to a religious order).

Since the evangelical counsels portray a life which is lived in full, direct service to God and with a fuller focus on God than one would experience in other life callings, it can be said that, in a sense, the way of life proposed by the counsels is better than other forms of living.  The more we are able to live a life focused on God and in his direct service, the better, all other things being equal.  St. Paul alludes to this in his discussion of the counsel of chastity in 1 Corinthians 7:32-34:  "He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord:  But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.  There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband."  The life pointed to by the counsels can also be called better in that it has the potential to free us more from worldly cares and distractions.  However, it is important to note that the counsels are not mandatory upon all, and it is not a sin to live other forms of life.  In fact, God has not called everyone to the full embracing of all of these counsels.  As St. Paul puts it (1 Corinthians 7:7), "every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that."  God has given us all different gifts and callings, and the Church needs all of them.  An obvious example is marriage.  If everyone embraced celibacy, there would soon be no more Church on the earth at all!  And there are many works and activities that God calls men to that could not be fulfilled if everyone embraced the fullness of all the counsels.  The examples provided by those living other forms of life are important to the Church (marriage, for example, is a model of the relationship between Christ and the Church.)  Therefore, while in a general sense, all other things being equal, we can say that the life called for by the full profession of the counsels is in some ways better, this life is not necessarily better for every individual person, nor would it be better for the Church or for the world if everyone tried to live the fullness of all the counsels.  For some people, given their gifts, callings, talents, desires, personality, etc., it would not be best to choose to embrace all the counsels fully.  It could even be sinful, if it would involve abandoning the callings and gifts God has given for those he has not.  As the Catechism puts it (#1974), quoting St. Francis de Sales, "[God] does not want each person to keep all the counsels, but only those appropriate to the diversity of persons, times, opportunities, and strengths, as charity requires."  Other forms of life not involving a full living of all the counsels are also good and pleasing to God, and necessary to humanity and to the Church, and they should not be considered inferior as if they were something to be shunned or avoided.  Marriage, far from being denigrated, is even one of the seven sacraments!  While a life devoted fully to all of the evangelical counsels can be in a special way freed from worldly cares and distractions, yet it has its own cares and distractions, and other forms of life have their own special blessings and means of sanctification.

Nevertheless, even those who are not called to the full embracing of all the counsels might be called to some of them, or to some of them to some degree.  All of us are called to live out the spirit of them, as we live lives of full charity and devotion to God and his service in whatever way that makes sense to us in the peculiarities of God's individual call to each of us.  Maintaining closeness to God and devoting ourselves to his service is something all of us should strive towards more and more in the context of our individual vocations.

This is another helpful article on the counsels, from The British Province of Carmelite Friars.

Published, appropriately, on the feast of St. Agnes

ADDENDUM 6/17/16:  Pope Francis recently released an Apostolic Exhortation on marriage and family which devotes a short section to making the point that married life is not inferior to a life of celibacy.  Here is a brief selection from Amoris Laetitia (Chapter 4, pp. 117-119--I've moved footnotes to within the text itself in brackets):

159. Virginity is a form of love. As a sign, it speaks to us of the coming of the Kingdom and the need for complete devotion to the cause of the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor 7:32). It is also a reflection of the fullness of heaven, where “they neither marry not are given in marriage” (Mt 22:30). Saint Paul recommended virginity because he expected Jesus’ imminent return and he wanted everyone to concentrate only on spreading the Gospel: “the appointed time has grown very short” (1 Cor 7:29). Nonetheless, he made it clear that this was his personal opinion and preference (cf. 1 Cor 7:6-9), not something demanded by Christ: “I have no command in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:25). All the same, he recognized the value of the different callings: “Each has his or her own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” (1 Cor 7:7). Reflecting on this, Saint John Paul II noted that the biblical texts “give no reason to assert the ‘inferiority’ of marriage, nor the ‘superiority’ of virginity or celibacy” [Catechesis (14 April 1982), 1: Insegnamenti V/1 (1982), 1176.] based on sexual abstinence. Rather than speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it should be enough to point out that the different states of life complement one another, and consequently that some can be more perfect in one way and others in another. Alexander of Hales, for example, stated that in one sense marriage may be considered superior to the other sacraments, inasmuch as it symbolizes the great reality of “Christ’s union with the Church, or the union of his divine and human natures”. [Glossa in quatuor libros sententiarum Petri Lombardi, IV, XXVI, 2 (Quaracchi, 1957, 446).] 
160. Consequently, “it is not a matter of diminishing the value of matrimony in favour of continence”. [John Paul II, Catechesis (7 April 1982), 2: Insegnamenti V/1 (1982), 1127.] “There is no basis for playing one off against the other… If, following a certain theological tradition, one speaks of a ‘state of perfection’ (status perfectionis), this has to do not with continence in itself, but with the entirety of a life based on the evangelical counsels”. [Id., Catechesis (14 April 1982), 3: Insegnamenti V/1 (1982), 1177.] A married person can experience the highest degree of charity and thus “reach the perfection which flows from charity, through fidelity to the spirit of those counsels. Such perfection is possible and accessible to every man and woman”. [Ibid.]

Also, the Franciscan Media Saint of the Day blurb on St. Francis de Sales has a nice quotation from him making a similar point:

It is an error, or rather a heresy, to say devotion is incompatible with the life of a soldier, a tradesman, a prince, or a married woman.... It has happened that many have lost perfection in the desert who had preserved it in the world.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Some Concerns about Anglicanism

During our transition period (Summer of 2015) as we were deciding whether or not to become Catholic, I had some correspondence with some others who were considering Anglicanism, and those conversations helped me as I was trying to wade through the merits of the claims of the various Christian traditions--Presbyterianism, Anglicanism, Orthodoxy, Catholicism, etc.  In the context of that conversation, I wrote out some concerns I have regarding Anglicanism.  I've already posted these elsewhere on the blog, but I wanted to give them their own post as well.  There are two parts to what is laid out below, corresponding to two different emails I wrote.  The main problems with Anglicanism I deal with are how Anglicanism can justify itself as a "break-off" denomination--that is, as a new institution coming into being in the sixteenth century by means of breaking off from a previously-accepted Roman Catholic Church and tradition--and my observation that Anglicanism seems to take a "have your cake and eat it too" mentality when it comes to how to think about the authority of Scripture and tradition.  They like to see themselves, sometimes, as having a more sophisticated version of Sola Scriptura than other Protestants (like Presbyterians), but I question whether there is really anything there besides rhetorical fluff.

Since these were written as emails, they sometimes use the second person to address those to whom I was writing.

For more on similar issues and on criticisms of Anglicanism, see here and here.  Also, while I'm here, I should mention that another Protestant who has taken an approach to Sola Scriptura similar to Anglicanism is Keith Mathison.  He has written a number of things trying to show that one of the major Catholic objections to Sola Scriptura--that it makes us ultimately to rely on our own personal interpretations of Scripture over and against the rest of the Church--is a straw-man argument, and that Sola Scriptura doesn't in fact throw us back onto an ultimate reliance on personal interpretation.  Here is an example of his writing.  Here is an excellent response to it from the Catholic point of view, showing, I think very well, clearly, and conclusively, that Mathison's distinction between a more sophisticated "Sola Scriptura" and a sillier, more individualistic "Solo Scriptura" has no real substance to it, but that Mathison's position is really just a way of articulating Sola Scriptura that tries (not necessarily intentionally, of course) to mask the ultimate reliance on personal interpretation of the Bible that Sola Scriptura necessarily implies.

Part I

So here's my two main concerns with Anglicanism at this point:

1. The view of the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and what I take to be the pretty much unanimous view of the early church fathers, is that the church Christ founded was not just a loose, informal connection of Christians or individual churches, but was a unified visible body consisting of Christians in communion with their bishops and the bishops in communion with each other. One could be a part of this body, or one could break off from it (by, for example, rebelling against a legitimate ecumenical council). This view can be clearly seen throughout the fathers, such as in Cyprian's famous treatise and Augustine's treatise on the unity of the church. The fathers, and the Catholic and Orthodox churches, also held and hold that Christ gave the Holy Spirit to this church in such a way that it would never fall away such as to create a need for faithful men to break from it and form a new church, a new "denomination."

I think a good case for this position can be made from Scripture. Throughout the Old Testament, God's people often went astray, but there was never any time when the faithful were called to separate from the established denominational body of Israel and form a new body. God actually proposed this once to Moses as a test, and he rejected it. However, the coming of Christ did bring such a break. This is discussed clearly in Jesus's parable of the vinedressers (Matthew 21:33-46). The Jewish leaders failed to preserve, and so finally, after thousands of years, God authorized a break from the Jewish denomination. God would raise up a new nation, with new leaders, who would break from the old and do things right where the old nation had failed. (And even then, God promised that the cutting off of the Jews would be temporary, and they would be restored at the end.) This new nation--the Christian church--would not fail as Israel had failed, because they would have the Holy Spirit in a new way who would preserve them. They are the people of the New Covenant, which succeeds because it brings a power the Old Covenant did not possess. The gates of hell will never prevail against the church (as they did, at least temporarily, against Israel), for God has given the keys to Peter and to the apostles. Therefore, there will never need to be a denominational break with the original denomination of the church as there was a break with the Jewish denomination. All of this would be common fare for the church fathers.

My "default argument" in the original thing I sent to you all argued that because we are commanded to preserve the unity of the church and submit to the leaders of the church, we ought not to break that unity or rebel against those leaders unless we have good, conclusive reasons to do so. That is, we should not form a new denomination unless there is good, conclusive reason to do so. But the churches which have a plausible claim to be the original denomination (particularly the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches) hold the ideas I've just articulated above, so that to reject those ideas would require a break from these churches. (There are also the other earlier churches to consider, such as the Oriental Orthodox--but I need to do more research on these before saying too much about them.)

The Anglican church is clearly a new "denomination," started in the sixteenth century. I know they claim to be the recovery of the early church, but the fact remains that they are obviously not denominationally the same body as the early church. The Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches are organically descended denominationally from the early church--that is, if we stay with the early catholic church through ongoing history and don't break denominationally from it, we end up with the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches. We don't end up with the Anglican church, because, as a distinct denominational body, it came into existence in the sixteenth century by breaking off of the Roman Catholic Church. So, if it is the case that we ought not to break denominationally with the early church, we will have to be either Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox (though, again, we also need to think of the Oriental Orthodox, etc.). If Anglicanism can provide a conclusive reason justifying such a break, so be it. But if they can't, we shouldn't follow them out of Roman Catholicism. (It is helpful to avoid personal provincialism in thinking through these issues. Since Anglicanism came out of Roman Catholicism, if we are going to be Anglicans we should think of ourselves as breaking off from Roman Catholicism. We should ask ourselves if we would have followed the Anglicans out of the RC church or not at the time. If we wouldn't think it justified then, it cannot be more justified now, even though it might be easier to consider since we don't have to personally go through a break from a former church. I think it would alter the perceptions of a lot of Protestants if, instead of provincially taking their Protestantism as a given, they came to think of themselves as having broken off from a previous church and so had to justify to themselves their reasons for breaking off.) I don't think the Anglicans can provide a sufficient justification for breaking the unity of the church or renouncing obedience to the Roman Catholic Church. (Remember, the bishops of the Church of England became bishops partly by submitting to Rome--that was a part of their commitment. So when they broke off, they renounced something they had previous sworn to. Before the break, they acknowledged that their authority was conditional upon their remaining in communion with Rome--this was understood by all sides when they were ordained.  Thus, in continuing to claim authority after the break, they had to go back on what they had previously acknowledged and create an argument for themselves as to why they still had authority even though they had abandoned the previously acknowledged basis of their authority. In some ways, then, it is kind of like a manager of a local Walmart deciding to ignore headquarters, being stripped of his authority by headquarters, but instead of giving up the authority creating a new foundation for it in order to justify continuing to claim to be the manager. This doesn't in itself prove they were wrong--after all, if they were doing God's will, surely they were justified--but I think it helps to realize just how radical their break was and how much the default lay in staying with Rome and not breaking off. It does seem to me that Anglicans sometimes whitewash that too much--not necessarily intentionally, of course.)

So, in short, I don't think Anglicanism can adequately justify forming a new denomination in the sixteenth century.

2. I am concerned that Anglican epistemology is self-referentially inconsistent and self-refuting. I think it shares this problem with the Eastern Orthodox. Anglicanism seems to me to be a bit confused as to what its foundational system of authority is. Is Scripture alone infallible, or is the early catholic tradition infallible as well? If it is Scripture alone, that is the Sola Scriptura position, and my response to that then would be that I don't think they can justify their distinctive positions or existence adequately from Scripture alone (including justifying Sola Scriptura from Scripture alone). But sometimes Anglicans talk as if something like the "nearly unanimous consent of the early fathers" is also infallible, such that it could not be wrong and so cannot be disagreed with--you're definitely wrong if you go against it. When speaking in this vein, the Anglican claim seems (often) to be something like this: The tradition shared by the whole of the early church is infallible, but since the times of the early church the Catholic Church has broken into (at least) three main branches--the Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, and the Anglicans. All three of these together constitute the Catholic Church, and none of them alone constitute the Catholic Church. To illustrate this, the guy on the Anglican podcast I've been listening to talked about ordaining women as priests. He said that the Anglican church should not make that change because the Anglican church should not make decisions and changes like that unilaterally, but only with the agreement of the rest of the Catholic Church--the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox.

Now, here's the problem: The Anglican distinctives, including their "branch theory" of the church and their distinctive way of deciding theological truth, in short all the things that make them Anglicans and not Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox, were never a part of the unanimous consent of the early church and are not today agreed upon by the other two supposed branches of the Catholic Church. So, according to their own epistemology, these things should not be embraced and insisted upon. But Anglicans have obviously embraced and insisted upon them to such an extent as to form a new denomination in the sixteenth century and to have continued to exist in separation from the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches down to the present day. In short, the Anglicans say, "As Anglicans, we believe we should only hold to and insist on those things that the whole early church held to and which are unanimously agreed upon by all three branches of the Catholic Church today," while Anglicanism itself is something neither the whole early church agreed upon nor do the other two alleged branches of the Catholic Church today (or ever in their history). (In fact, it seems evident to me that the Anglican branch theory of the church and their epistemology were embraced by virtually no one in the early church. The early church unanimously repudiated anything like the branch theory, all holding to the impossibility of the dissolution of the visible unity of the Catholic Church, and they all seemed to hold that the church was guided by God infallibly such that there would never need to be a "reform" of the church requiring a break from all presently-existing churches in order to "recover" the lost tradition of the orthodox church.)

In short, if Anglicans should not embrace and insist upon distinctives that cannot be proved to be biblical, or were not held by the whole of the early church, and they should not go beyond what the three current branches of the Catholic Church agree to today, then they should not be Anglicans and there should be no Anglican Church. That is what I mean by saying their epistemology is self-refuting. The Eastern Orthodox do something similar. They say that the infallible tradition of the church (which they hold, along with Roman Catholics, to be something that God continues beyond the days of the early church) is to be found in the opinions/teachings of the whole Catholic Church, and they complain against Rome for doing things without them. But the problem is that the distinctives of Eastern Orthodoxy (such as over against Roman Catholicism) have never been agreed upon by the whole Catholic Church, and so their own epistemology undermines itself. They cannot provide any reason from within their own system as to why we should believe in their system. (They're actually generally up-front about that in my experience, often admitting that they really don't have a clear worked-out way of telling how true doctrine is determined. When you complain about it, they accuse you of being "too rationalistic"--a good way of deflecting attention away from the problem. :-) ) My impression thus far--though I need to do more research on this--is that the Oriental Orthodox and other early groups (like the Nestorians) are in basically the same epistemological position. The only church that isn't is the Roman Catholic Church. They have a clearly worked-out way in their system of determining who to follow when not everyone agrees on something (while the other groups seem just to want to ignore the problem and pretend it isn't there)--you stick with the Bishop of Rome. They can make a plausible biblical case for this, or at least show a plausible biblical foundation for it in the keys being given to Peter in the gospels, etc. (I don't mean to say it can be proven conclusively only from Scripture, but only that there is at least a plausible foundation for it.) Their position goes back as far as we have records in the early church. It has apparently always been advocated for by Rome, and is often, throughout early church history, advocated for by many others as well, including many eastern bishops who are the ancestors of the modern Eastern Orthodox or other eastern churches. (See here for some examples.) There really was no other system of deciding disputes between bishops that was systematically or clearly worked out in the early church besides the Roman one, which many explicitly subscribed to and which is arguably often played out in the practice of the early churches. (There were certainly some who opposed the Roman view, but not as many as you might think--Fermillian being probably the earliest and one of the most vigorous opponents.)

Anyway, those are probably my two biggest concerns with Anglicans, and some of my central reasons for favoring Roman Catholicism. My default argument leads me to want to remain denominationally connected with the original denomination unless there is a good reason not to, and I don't think there is. The churches that can claim to be that denomination affirm a view of the church in which there are never to be breaks from it to form new denominations because it is ever guided by the Holy Spirit to not fail. Among these churches, only Rome has a self-consistent epistemology and a worked-out biblical and theological foundation for its own position.

Part II

This is a useful article for explaining the Anglican point of view. [The article referred to is here.] As such, it provides a nice foundation for some questions to be asked and some critique.

Here is the definition of Sola Scriptura given in the Westminster Confession:

"The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture."

The key idea is that Scripture alone is infallible, and so it is the supreme standard. We should listen to the theologians of the church, we should listen to the church fathers, we should listen to the councils, etc., but we should not trust them implicitly because they are not infallible but should ultimately rest in the judgment of the Scriptures.

It seems to me that your article agrees with this, but also says things that contradict it or call it into question. So I wonder if it is coherent. (I've noticed this coherence issue in lots of other Anglican stuff I have seen). The article says this: "Anglicanism uniquely asserts the authority of all three sources of authority while maintaining that scripture holds the highest place, leaving open the possibility for error in the teaching of the Church or even errors in the interpretation of the Fathers, but not in the Bible." But then it also says things like this: "It would be wrong to say that Protestants universally do not turn to the Fathers, since many of them do, particularly those schooled in the Lutheran and Reformed traditions, but most Protestants do not see the Fathers as an authority, certainly not as one that trumps what the Holy Spirit might be saying to the individual believer or even what the Spirit might be saying to an individual church."

Let's think about this for a minute. If the Bible alone is infallible, then how much can I trust the church fathers? Can I take them very seriously? Yes. Should I be counseled by them? Yes. Should I be suspicious of my own Scriptural interpretations when they go against what many fathers have said? Yes. Should I trust the fathers implicitly when they say something I cannot see proved in Scripture? Wouldn't the answer here be no? If the fathers can be wrong, maybe they are wrong sometimes! Maybe they are wrong altogether sometimes. Fads can get established that can bring consensuses even when there is no good basis for them. For example, take the sign of the cross. All the fathers say we should do that. They all think it is a non-negotiable apostolic tradition (and they all think there are such things as non-negotiable apostolic traditions--see Basil's thoughts in Chapter 27 of his book here). But how do we know that this didn't originate in the second century or even as a custom in the first century but without any apostolic command, and so it should not be considered a divine requirement (contrary to the fathers' view)? It is not absurd to think that this might have happened. So what do we do? Do we command it (following the fathers) or not? It seems to me that, if the Bible alone is infallible, if we follow this custom and require it, we are adding to the commands of God on a flimsy basis (because we really don't have any good reason to think that the practice is apostolic, considering the other plausible possibilities--after all, Tertullian said that it was an apostolic tradition that people shouldn't take a bath for a week after being baptized and that everyone knew it, but nobody so far as I know believes that today). This is why I feel that Sola Scriptura leads much more naturally to something like Presbyterianism than to Anglicanism--to a minimalist approach to worship, etc. I didn't hold that view because I didn't care about tradition or the fathers, but because I didn't consider them infallible. The article says the authority of the fathers trumps the individual's interpretation of Scripture, but I don't see how that makes any sense on the assumption that the Bible is infallible but the fathers are not. I do see how it would make sense to defer to the fathers, in the sense of being suspicious of one's ideas when they are contrary to them; but if, in the end, after as much careful research, prayer, and thought as possible, it really seems that the Bible goes one way and the fathers another, wouldn't we go with the Bible if the Bible is infallible and the father's aren't? Wouldn't we have to go with our own interpretations, since the only alternative is to trust implicitly in those who are not to be implicitly trusted? To trust in the fathers implicitly is to treat them exactly the same as if they are infallible.

I really don't see how the Anglican position on the authority of Scripture in principle differs at all from that of the Westminster Confession. I think the idea of "Protestantism" the author describes is largely a myth invented by Anglicans who want to be distinct. Yes, sure, there are lots of uninformed Protestants who just go with "my Bible and me" in a superficial sense, but I am not aware of any Protestant tradition that would deny that great deference should be given to the fathers and church tradition. You've just read Jason Wallace's response to me. Did you notice that he told me I'd misunderstood Sola Scriptura because it doesn't mean to ignore church tradition, etc.? There's a Presbyterian telling me the same thing the Anglicans say. (And I already know it, despite everyone's insistence that I don't! That seems to be one of Sola Scriptura's main lines of defense--deny that anyone understands it so that it can escape all critique.) Everyone thinks we should defer to the fathers. Calvin was a great patristic scholar. You'll not find a more patristically-rooted book than Calvin's or Turretin's Institutes. Anglicans just aren't special here like they think they are. What seems to be special about Anglicans is that they want to have their cake and eat it too in this area. They want to affirm the Bible alone as infallible, but then to treat the fathers (or rather their own ideas of what "the fathers say" which disagrees with other people's ideas about what they say) as infallible anyway (when it suits them). The Reformed tradition is, I think, more consistent--they affirm that the Bible alone is infallible and then they actually act that way by not putting implicit trust in traditions that can't be proved from Scripture. Again, that's why they tend to be more minimalistic in worship. Or take another example: the role of bishop. It seems to me pretty indisputable that the Bible does not distinguish between bishops and elders. The terms are interchangeable (in terms of describing an office). That's why I held to presbyterian church government--episcopalian government separates bishops and elders (presbyters, priests) into two offices and puts one over the other without adequate biblical warrant. The episcopalians can claim a long tradition, going back to Ignatius of Antioch, but how do they know that their view has apostolic warrant? It may be that the apostles appointed only elders/bishops, but that soon afterwards it become customary to make a bishop above the elders. How do we know that was right? Just because the whole church quickly came to accept it in the second century doesn't prove they were right; people can go wrong in such ways easily enough.  The Catholic position, of course, is that God guided the church infallibly to develop its government, but I don't see how that option is open to Anglicans. It seems it is only an open option if we grant infallible guidance to the tradition of the church, but that would contradict the Anglican belief that only the Bible is infallible. Anglicans can't very well affirm an infallible guidance of the church and its tradition because that would obviously knock them out of having any right to exist, for they are a break-off that has to insist the whole church went astray to justify their existence. If God guided the Catholic Church infallibly, they would have to have remained Catholic. Again, it seems to me that wanting to have one's cake and eat it too is a good description of the Anglican ethos overall--they want to be Catholic and have the traditions, the sense of continuity, etc., but they don't want to submit to the Catholic Church and so are forced to adopt something like Sola Scriptura and be Protestant. So they end up trying to force the two together unnaturally and incoherently. (Of course, I'm talking as if there is any actual coherent thing called "Anglicanism." I'm skeptical that there actually is, since there seems to be no universal, official Anglican view of what Anglicanism actually is--the groups you guys like differ from other parts of the Anglican movement.)

ADDEMDUM 1/18/16:  I just wrote up another response to someone today asking my opinion of Keith Mathison's position on Sola Scriptura (which is basically the same as the Anglican desire to "have their cake and eat it too" in terms of the authority of Scripture and tradition).  I thought my main criticism came out pretty well, so I thought I'd paste it here:

What articulations like Keith Mathison's seem designed to avoid, however, is the recognition that when all is said and done, when we've done all our research, listened to the traditions, the Fathers, the councils, and the theologians, our ultimate reliance has to be on our own personal biblical interpretations.  Sola Scriptura must mean that if the whole church thinks the Bible says X, but, after extremely careful consideration I am convinced it says Y, I have to go with Y over X.  I have to go with my own interpretation over everyone else's.  The only alternative to this is to put implicit faith in the traditions of the church, to treat them as if they are infallible, which is to give up Scripture as the sole ultimate rule of faith.  People like Keith Mathison seem to want to have their cake and eat it too--affirm Sola Scriptura, while at the same time refusing to own up to the full implications of it.

In the end, I think that Sola Scriptura cannot end up doing anything different than its founder, Martin Luther, did, who was prepared to stake everything on his own personal interpretation of Scripture, no matter what popes or councils or Church Fathers or traditions or historic customs opposed him.

ADDENDUM 6/30/16:  See this dialogue concerning the claims of Anglicanism I have just written up.

St. Isidore of Seville on Predestination, Grace, and Free Will

Isidore of Seville was Archbishop of Seville in Spain in the seventh century and is an important saint and Doctor of the Church.  I recently came across a quotation from him on the topic of predestination, grace, and free will, which I found very helpful and succinct.  He sums up well and concisely the classic Augustinian doctrine on these matters.  The quotation is from his Libri Duo Differentiarum, chapter XXII.  I came across the quotation in a book by Guido Stucco entitled God's Eternal Gift: A History of the Catholic Doctrine of Predestination from Augustine to the Renaissance (Xlibris, 2009), pp. 317-319.  (The book is an immensely helpful resource, by the way, if you are interested in these subjects.)  Here is St. Isidore:

Between the infusion of divine grace and the faculty of the human will there is the following element: the decision stemming from a human choice, which is capable of spontaneously desiring good or bad things. Grace is the free gift of divine mercy, through which we evidence the beginning of a good will and its fruits. Divine grace anticipates man, so that he may do what is good; human free will does not anticipate God's grace, but grace itself anticipates an unwilling person, so that he may want what is good. Because of the burden of the 'flesh,' man finds it easy to sin, though he is slow to repent. Man has within himself the seeds of corruption but not of spiritual growth, unless the Creator, in order to raise him up, stretched his merciful hand to man, who is prostrated as a result of the Fall. Thus, through God's grace human free will is restored, which the first man had lost; in fact, Adam had free will to do what is good, even though he did it with God's help. We obtain our will to do what is good and embrace God perfecting us, thanks to divine grace. We receive the power to begin and to perfect what is good from God, who gave us the gift of grace; as a result of that, our free will is restored in us. Whatever good we do, it is God's, thanks to his prevenient and subsequent grace; but it is also ours, thanks to the [God-made] obedient power of our wills. But if it isn't God's, why do we give him thanks? And if it isn't ours, why do we look forward to the reward of good works? Insofar as we are anticipated by God's grace, it is God's; insofar as we follow prevenient grace to do what is good, it is ours. Nobody anticipates God's grace with his merits, thus making him almost indebted to us. The just Creator chose in advance some people by predestining them, but justly abandoned the others to their evil ways. Thus, the truest gift of grace does not proceed from human nature, nor is the outcome of our free will, but is bestowed only in virtue of the goodness of God's mercy. In fact, some people are saved by a gift of God's mercy which anticipates them, and thus are made "vessels of mercy;" but the reprobates are damned, having been predestined and made "vessels of wrath." The example of Jacob and Esau comes to mind, who, before been [sic] born, and again, after being born as twins, shared the bond of original sin. The prevenient goodness of divine mercy drew one of them to itself through sheer grace, but condemned the other through the severity of divine justice. The latter was abandoned in the mass of perdition, being 'hated' by God; this is what the Lord says through the prophet: "I loved Jacob but hated Esau" (Mal 1:3). From this we learn that grace is not conferred on account of any pre-existing merits, but only because of divine calling; and that no one is either saved or damned, chosen or reprobated other than by decision of God's predestination, who is just towards the reprobates and merciful towards the elect ("All the paths of the Lord are faithful love" Ps 25:10).

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Living Authority versus Dead Archaeology

Eastern Orthodox and Anglican Christians often justify their claims to be the Catholic Church (in the case of Anglicans, part of the Catholic Church) by appealing to the Church Fathers.  The Orthodox claim to have accurately preserved the historic faith of the Fathers, while the Anglicans claim to have accurately recovered it after Rome (and presumably Orthodoxy, since they are not Orthodox) messed it up.  Both accuse Rome of having altered the historic faith with their own innovations.

The test of orthodoxy these two communions put forward, then, is the faith of the Church Fathers.  We need to look to the early church up until around the time of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 (for Anglicans) or the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 (for the Orthodox) to get our doctrine right.  The Orthodox like to criticize the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura for failing to put trust in God's guidance of the Church.  They point out that making our only authority a set of books without any authoritative living Tradition by which to interpret them leads to a maze of confusion as everyone follows his own private judgment.  Anglicans seem sometimes to agree with this (though they seem to want to have their cake and eat it too in this area--sometimes they sound like they affirm Sola Scriptura, other times they sound like they reject it; see here or here for more on this).  The irony here is that both of these communions are doing essentially the same thing the Sola Scriptura Protestants are doing--trying to solve the theological disputes of the present by means of a reconstruction of what we think the Church in the past held to.  The only difference is that while Sola Scriptura Protestants go back only to the Bible, Orthodox and some Anglicans go back also to the Fathers up until some set time in history.  The problem with all of these positions is that they put the ultimate authority to interpret God's revelation with our fallible and complicated interpretations of the Church of the past instead of with the living authority of the Church in the present.

Fr. Adrian Fortesque, well-known twentieth-century Roman Catholic scholar, makes some pointed observations in this regard in his book The Early Papacy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008 [1st edition published in 1920]), pp. 21-28 (footnotes removed).  Here are some selections (a good portion of Chapter One of the book can be found here):

Such a position is riddled with impossibilities. First, we cannot admit that it is necessary for a Catholic today to examine the documents of the years 1 to 451 in order to know what is the nature of the primacy that Christ gave to his Church. We believe in a Church that exists and lives all days, even to the end of the world, guided by Christ, infallible in faith and morals as long as she exists. We have exactly the same confidence in the divine guidance of the Church in 1870 as in 451. To be obliged to hark back some fifteen hundred years, to judge for yourself, according to the measure of your scholarship, what the documents of that period imply, would be the end of any confidence in a living authority. It is a far worse criterion for religion than the old Protestant idea of the Bible only. We say that it is impossible for a plain man to make up his own religion out of sixty-six books (seventy-three if you count the deuterocanonical books), written at different times, and not specially for his difficulties now. It is even more obviously impossible if to these you add about a hundred volumes of Migne [well-known edition of the Church Fathers]. All these methods of taking some early documents, whether the Bible or the Fathers, and making them your standard, mean simply a riot of private judgment on each point of religion. People disagree and will continue to disagree about the interpretation of ancient documents, of early Fathers, even more than of the books in the Bible. When one Anglican has admitted that he finds a constitutional papacy in the Fathers and councils down to 451, another Anglican, possibly still more learned in patrology, will deny that these old texts mean any real primacy at all. We shall go on arguing about the meaning of the Fathers even more hopelessly than we have argued for centuries about the meaning of Matthew 16:18, when Jesus said to Peter, "Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Douay-Rheims). The only possible real standard is a living authority, an authority alive in the world at this moment, that can answer your difficulties, reject a false theory as it arises and say who is right in disputed interpretations of ancient documents. 
A further fallacy of this view is that, because Romanists, Orthodox and Anglicans (not really all Anglicans, by the way; the Evangelicals acknowledge the Bible only and have Article VI plainly in their favor) recognize the Church down to 451, this is therefore to be the standard. This is the usual High Church fallacy of supposing that these communions together make up the Church, and then taking as your standard the points on which they agree. The Armenian and Copt, both representing large national churches, both baptized and not having (in some sense) lost their baptismal life, object very strongly to including the Synod of Chalcedon. They want to stop at 431. But then the Assyrian could object to this equally strongly, quite as strongly as the Anglican objects to the First Vatican Council. The Arian, if such a thing is left, objects to Nicea in 325. So you will have to come back to the Bible only. Then we shall quarrel over the question concerning which books form the Bible; and the higher critic, the Broad Anglican, will by no means admit that all that is in even the protocanonical books is authentic. Where is your standard now? What is the good of a standard that already supposes what you are going to prove? . . . 
Nor can we admit the right of opponents to fix a period of history, challenging us to prove some particular dogma from texts taken from that period only. Suppose a man said that what inspires him with confidence is the Church between the years 250 and 300; would we kindly prove that matrimony is a sacrament, by documents from that period only? We must not forget that the Fathers did not write their letters or preach their sermons with a view to supplying evidences of the faith of their time for future controversialists. It is often a matter of chance (unless we say it is Providence) whether some particular early writer does, or does not, happen to mention a certain point of his faith. . . . The argument from silence is of little value in the case of such documents. When the Fathers of Chalcedon met, they were out to explain their faith about the natures of Christ, not about the rights of the Roman Patriarch. 
Yet it so happens that we have exceptionally clear documents about the papacy from the first four and a half centuries. Certainly we can prove all that is now of the faith concerning the Pope by texts chosen from that period. Only this had to be said first, because we cannot concede that such a test is the final one or that people have the right to fix dates and challenge us to prove our dogma from between those dates only. This would be the right course if Christ had said: "Go and teach all nations, until Photius is intruded at Constantinople; and I am with you all days, even to the year 451."

In a footnote on p. 23, Fr. Fortesque sums up his argument well:

Our objection is that antiquity as the final standard throws every article of faith to each man's private opinion, just as hopelessly as appeal to the Bible only. Good and learned men of different sects disagree as to what the early Fathers believed, what exactly their words mean, as much as they disagree about the teaching of the Bible. The Anglican appeals to antiquity against the Pope; the Presbyterian appeals to the same antiquity against any bishops; the Unitarian and nearly all Protestant leaders in Germany and Holland now appeal against the Trinity. The appeal to the faith of the early Church means really what you, by virtue of your studies, think the early Church believed. This is as essentially Protestant, as subjective, as to make each man's private judgment of the meaning of Bible texts his final standard; and it is fifty times as difficult in practice. The Catholic criterion is what the living Church, guided always by God, teaches today. This, and this alone, is a real, objective standard of belief, about which there neither is nor can be any doubt, once you know what the Church of Christ is.

So it turns out that many of the same concerns that can be legitimately raised with regard to the subjectivism of Sola Scriptura can be raised of this view as well.  This becomes even more of an issue when we recognize, as all Christians must (see even Charles Hodge the Presbyterian recognizing it here), that the Church has developed in its doctrine and practice over the years.  Just as individuals change greatly over the years, both in mind and body, while still remaining the same individuals, so the Church grows from age to age, becoming more mature, gaining a more complete and clear understanding and articulation of various aspects of what God has revealed.  This fact of development has been explicitly recognized and pointed out at least since the time of the great St. Vincent of Lerins, who discusses it in his famous Commonitory (Chapter 23--from the New Advent website, embedded links removed):

[55.] The growth of religion in the soul must be analogous to the growth of the body, which, though in process of years it is developed and attains its full size, yet remains still the same. There is a wide difference between the flower of youth and the maturity of age; yet they who were once young are still the same now that they have become old, insomuch that though the stature and outward form of the individual are changed, yet his nature is one and the same, his person is one and the same. An infant's limbs are small, a young man's large, yet the infant and the young man are the same. Men when full grown have the same number of joints that they had when children; and if there be any to which maturer age has given birth these were already present in embryo, so that nothing new is produced in them when old which was not already latent in them when children. This, then, is undoubtedly the true and legitimate rule of progress, this the established and most beautiful order of growth, that mature age ever develops in the man those parts and forms which the wisdom of the Creator had already framed beforehand in the infant. Whereas, if the human form were changed into some shape belonging to another kind, or at any rate, if the number of its limbs were increased or diminished, the result would be that the whole body would become either a wreck or a monster, or, at the least, would be impaired and enfeebled.  
[56.] In like manner, it behooves Christian doctrine to follow the same laws of progress, so as to be consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age, and yet, withal, to continue uncorrupt and unadulterate, complete and perfect in all the measurement of its parts, and, so to speak, in all its proper members and senses, admitting no change, no waste of its distinctive property, no variation in its limits.  
[57.] For example: Our forefathers in the old time sowed wheat in the Church's field. It would be most unmeet and iniquitous if we, their descendants, instead of the genuine truth of grain, should reap the counterfeit error of tares. This rather should be the result—there should be no discrepancy between the first and the last. From doctrine which was sown as wheat, we should reap, in the increase, doctrine of the same kind— wheat also; so that when in process of time any of the original seed is developed, and now flourishes under cultivation, no change may ensue in the character of the plant. There may supervene shape, form, variation in outward appearance, but the nature of each kind must remain the same. God forbid that those rose-beds of Catholic interpretation should be converted into thorns and thistles. God forbid that in that spiritual paradise from plants of cinnamon and balsam, darnel and wolfsbane should of a sudden shoot forth.

Eastern Orthodox author Vincent Gabriel, in an excellent article on development in the Church, recognizes this fact of development and describes some of its important implications:

We can trace our faith back to the apostles—these spiritual giants of old—but the faith and practice of today is not identical to that of first century Palestine. As a matter of fact, it has undergone a tremendous amount of development and refinement since that time. . . . 
Someone doing theology as archeology will look at a practice of the Church in the past and assume that this speaks to how we should be doing things in the present. But this is more traditional-ism than tradition. Artificially grafting something from a point in the past onto the Church of the present is an exercise in archaeology, as it discounts the organic, spiritual “development” of the Church in history. It can even convey that the Holy Spirit has somehow left the Church on her own for a number of centuries (a sort of Deism). . . . 
Have you ever heard someone ask, “How did the early Church worship?” Or, “What did the early Church believe and teach about baptism?” 
In these seemingly innocent questions is a substantially flawed theology—a theology that assumes the whole of Christian doctrine was perfected by the time of Christ’s ascension. . . . 
So no, we don’t look to the early Church for our specific forms of worship and piety (even as the same, basic elements were there in seed form). Instead, we look to the same Church of the first and second centuries that persists in the world today. . . . 
The Orthodox Church is related to the early Church not because we worship or pray exactly as they did, but rather because the apostolic charism resting on those fire-anointed apostles is the same that rests on our faithful bishops and priests in the twenty-first century. . . . 
If we’re searching for the faith of the apostles, we’re searching for the one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in the world today, not an artificial reconstruction of our own imagination.

It should not be our goal, then, to "recover" the early Church, or to "preserve" it in the sense of trying to make sure it is unchanged in every way since 451 or 787.  Both of these approaches have the air of something dead trying to look alive or to reproduce "alive-ness."  Could it be that so-called "Roman innovations" are not deviations from the faith of the Bible or of the Fathers, but rather further examples of the same kind of development that was going on in the time of the apostles and the early Fathers?  Change can be a sign of deviation and departure from an established norm, but it can also be a sign of something being alive.  A dead caterpillar trapped in amber doesn't change, but a living caterpillar turns into a butterfly.

The question is, How can we tell if a particular development or set of developments is legitimate?  The best way is probably not going to be to try to go back and reconstruct the faith of Christ from the Bible alone or from the hundreds of volumes of the Church Fathers alone.  Probably the best way is going to be to allow the present living Church to tell us which developments are valid based on her own continuing authority--the same authority she claimed to possess in apostolic times as well as during the times of the Fathers.  Sola Scriptura, or Sola Primitiva Ecclesia, aren't going to resolve disputes that were never formally settled during the time of the early Church, such as the dispute over the papacy or other issues of that sort that divide Orthodox from Anglican from Catholic.  The only church I know of existing today that is empirically the heir of the early church and that doesn't put forth either circular reasoning or some form of overly-subjective private archaeological judgment as the foundation for its claims is the Roman Catholic Church.  Instead of simply declaring itself correct or pointing us to its subjective interpretations of early documents, the Catholic Church puts forth the claim that the See of Peter in Rome was given by Christ to the Church to be the center of unity and the guarantor of orthodoxy.  As St. Jerome put it in the year 393 (Against Jovinianus [Book I], section 26--New Advent website),

[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 therefore appealed to Rome to resolve disputes that were causing schism in the Church, such as in this letter (#15) of Jerome to Pope Damasus written in the year 376 or 377 (New Advent--added biblical references removed):

Yet, though your greatness terrifies me, your kindness attracts me. From the priest I demand the safe-keeping of the victim, from the shepherd the protection due to the sheep. Away with all that is overweening; let the state of Roman majesty withdraw. My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built! This is the house where alone the paschal lamb can be rightly eaten. This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails.

Here we have a living, authoritative voice that can truly guide us.  In the papacy alone have we truly escaped from the subjectivism that has plagued much of Christendom for centuries.

For more on the early church and the papacy, I highly recommend the work of an Anglican scholar Edward Giles, in a book entitled Documents Illustrating Papal Authority AD 96-454, which can be found here.

For more on evaluating the claims of Eastern Orthodoxy in particular, see here and here.  For more on Anglicanism, see here and here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

St. Francis de Sales on Trying to Sail without an Authoritative Steersman

The following is from St. Francis de Sales's classic work, written in the sixteenth century and published in London in 1886 by Burns and Oates under the title of The Catholic Controversy (translated by Rev. Henry Benedict Mackey, O.S.B.).  The text (Chapter I from the section "The Authority of the Church") is from www.goodcatholicbooks.org and found here.

In this selection, de Sales points out the problem that arises when we attempt to make the Scripture our supreme authority without any infallible authoritative interpreter--we get unsolvable mass chaos.  The reason why is well summarized in this paragraph from an article by an Atheist libertarian:


The likelihood of conflicting interpretations of special revelation did not pose as much of a theoretical problem for Catholics as it did for Protestants. In the Catholic Church the pope was the ultimate arbiter of doctrinal controversies. His function was rather like that of the Supreme Court in American law; what the pope said was final, and that was the end of the matter (at least in theory). But Protestants, in rejecting papal authority and in maintaining that each person should use his or her own conscience to understand Scripture, generated a serious problem for themselves. Hundreds of Protestant sects arose, and their conflicting interpretations of the Bible frequently spilled over into politics. Thus Catholic critics of Luther, Calvin, and other Reformers were basically correct when they predicted that the Protestant approach to the Bible would result in a type of religious anarchy, as each individual viewed himself as the supreme authority in religious matters. Reverting to my previous analogy, the result was similar to what would happen if America had no Supreme Court, or judicial system of any kind, and each American was free to interpret and implement law according to his own judgment.

Theoretically, Sola Scriptura could work, if the Bible were so clear that no reasonable problems of interpretation over any important matters could arise.  But it isn't; and the more one really tries consistently and thoroughly to follow Sola Scriptura, the more this becomes apparent (or so suggests my own experience).  This is not to say that the Bible is not crystal clear beyond interpretative doubt on some things, but once we get beyond the very basic level of teaching (God exists, Christ is the Son of God, Christ died and rose again, etc.) and try to deal with things like infant baptism, the structure and government of the church, the nature of the Lord's day and how it should be observed, etc., the interpretative issue becomes much more of a problem.  The Bible simply doesn't settle a number of questions that need to be settled for the theoretical and practical life of the Church.  We find that we can only function by bringing in extra-biblical assumptions or rules of interpretation (whether we recognize we are doing so or not).  Many Protestants never feel the difficulties here, because they never really try very hard to practice Sola Scriptura.  They think they are practicing it, but they are really relying more than they realize on the traditions of whatever church they are a part of, their pastor's judgment, etc.  Take away those props, and the difficulty will be truly felt.

But here is de Sales:


Once when Absalom wished to form a faction against his good father, he sat in the way near the gate, and said to all who went by: ”There is no man appointed by the king to hear thee…O that they would make me judge over the land, that all that have business might come to me, and I might do them justice. (2 Kings xv.). Thus did he undermine the loyalty of the Israelites. But how many Absaloms have there been in our age, who, to seduce and distract the people from obedience to the Church, and to lead Christians into revolt, have cried up and down the ways of Germany and of France: There is no one appointed by the Lord to hear and resolve differences concerning faith and religion; the Church has no. power in this matter!" If you consider well, Christians, you will see that whoever holds this language wishes to be judge himself, though he does not openly say so, more cunning than Absalom. I have seen one of the most recent books of Theodore Beza, entitled: Of the true, essential and visible marks of the true Catholic Church; he seems to me to aim at making himself, with his colleagues, judge of all the differences which are between us; he says that the conclusion of all his argument is that "the true Christ is the only true and perpetual mark of the Catholic Church,"-understanding by true Christ, he says, Christ as he has most perfectly declared himself from the beginning, whether in the Prophetic or Apostolic writings, in what belongs to our salvation. Further on he says: "This was what I had to say on the true, sole, and essential mark of the true Church, which is the written Word, Prophetic and Apostolic, well and rightly ministered." Higher up he had admitted that there were great difficulties in the Holy Scriptures, but not in things which touch faith. In the margin he places this warning, which he has put almost everywhere in the text: "The interpretation of Scripture must not be drawn elsewhere than from the Scripture itself, by comparing passages one with another, and adapting them to the analogy of the faith." And in the Epistle to the King of France: " We ask that the appeal be made to the holy canonical Scriptures, and that, if there be any doubt as to the interpretation of them, the correspondence and relation which should exist among these passages of Scripture and the articles of faith, be the judge." He there receives the Fathers as of authority just as far as they should find their foundation in the Scriptures. He continues: "As to the point of doctrine we cannot appeal to any irreproachable judge save the Lord himself, who has declared all his counsel concerning our salvation by the Apostles and the Prophets." He says again that "his party are not such as would disavow a single Council worthy of the name, general or particular, ancient or later, (take note)-" provided," says he, "that the touchstone, which is the word of God, be used to try it." That, in one word, is what all these reformers want--to take Scripture as judge. And to this we answer Amen: but we say that our difference is not there; it is here, that in the disagreements which we shall have over the interpretation, and which will occur at every two words, we shall need a judge. They answer that we must decide the interpretation of Scripture by collating passage with passage and the whole with the Symbol of faith. Amen, Amen, we say: but we do not ask. how we ought to interpret the Scripture, but- who shall be the judge? For after having compared passages with passages, and the whole with the Symbol of the faith, we find by this passage:Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I shall build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, and I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. xvi), that S. Peter has been chief minister and supreme steward in the Church of God: you say, on your side that this passage: The kings of the nations lord it over them... but you not so (Luke xxii.), or this other (for they are all so weak that I know not what may be your main authority): No one can lay another foundation, etc. (1 Cor. iii. 11), compared with the other passages and the analogy of the faith makes you detest a chief minister. The two of us follow one same way in our inquiry concerning the truth in this question - namely, whether there is in the Church a Vicar General of Our Lord - and yet I have arrived at the affirmative and you have ended in the negative; who now shall judge of our difference? Here lies the essential point as between you and me.

I quite admit, be it said in passing, that he who shall inquire of Theodore Beza will say that you have reasoned better than I, but on what does he rely for this judgment except on what seems good to himself, according to the prejudgment he has formed of the matter long ago? -and he may say what he likes, for who has made him judge between you and me?

Recognize, Christians, the spirit of division: your people send you to the Scriptures; -we are there before you came into the world, and what we believe, we find there clear and plain. But, -it must be properly understood, adapting passage to passage, the whole to the Creed; -we are at this now fifteen hundred years and more. You are mistaken, answers Luther. Who told you so? Scripture. What Scripture? Such and such, collated so, and fitted to the Creed. On the contrary, say I, it is you, Luther, who are mistaken: the Scripture tells me so, in such and such a passage, nicely joined and adjusted to such and such a Scripture, and to the articles of the faith. I am not in doubt, as to whether we must give belief to the holy Word; -who knows not that it is in the supreme degree of certitude? What exercises me is the understanding of this Scripture -the consequences and conclusions drawn from it, which being different beyond and very often contradictory on the same point, so that each one chooses his own, one here the other there-who shall make me see truth through so many vanities? Who shall give me to see this Scripture in its native color? For the neck of this dove changes its appearance as often as those who look upon it change position and distance. The Scripture is a most holy and infallible touchstone; every proposition, which stands this test I accept as most faithful and sound. But what am I to do, when I have in my hands this proposition: the natural body of our Lord is really, substantially and actually in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar. I have it touched at every angle and on every side, by the express and purest word of God, and by the Apostles' Creed. There is no place when I do not rub it a hundred times, if you like. And the more I examine it the finer gold and purer metal do I recognize it to be made of. You say that having done the same you find base metal in it. What do you want me to do? All these masters have handled it already, and all have come to the same decision as I, and with such assurance, that in general assemblies of the craft, they have turned out all who said differently. Good heavens! who shall resolve our doubts? We must not speak again of the touchstone or it will be said: The wicked walk about (in circuitu)(Ps. xi. 9). We must have some one to take it up, and to test the piece himself; then he must give judgment, and we must submit, both of us, and argue no more. Otherwise each one will believe what he likes. Let us take care lest with regard to these words we be drawing the Scripture after our notions, instead of following it. If the salt hath lost its savor, with what shall it be salted? (Matt. v. 13). If the Scripture be the subject of our disagreement, who shall decide?

Ah! whoever says that Our Lord has placed us in the bark of his Church, at the mercy of the winds and of the tide, instead of giving us a skillful pilot perfectly at home, by nautical art, with chart and compass, such a one says that he wishes our destruction. Let him have placed therein the most excellent compass and the most correct chart in the world, what use are these if no one knows how to gain from them some infallible rule for directing the ship? Of what use is the best of rudders if there is no steersman to move it as the ship’s course requires? But if every one is allowed to turn it in the direction he thinks good, who sees not that we are lost?

It is not the Scripture which requires a foreign light or rule, as Beza thinks we believe; it is our glosses, our conclusions, understandings, interpretations, conjectures, additions, and other such workings of man's brain, which, being unable to be quiet, is ever busied about new inventions. Certainly we do not want a judge to decide between us and God, as he seems to infer in his Letter. It is between a man such as Calvin, Luther, Beza, and another such as Eckius, Fisher, More; for we do not ask whether God understands the Scripture better than we do, but whether Calvin understands it better than S. Augustine or S. Cyprian. S. Hilary says excellently (Lib. 2 de Trin. xviii.) "Heresy is in the understanding, not in the Scripture, and the fault is in the meaning, not in the words." and S. Augustine (In Joan. Tr. xviii, i.): "Heresies arise simply from this, that good Scriptures are ill-understood, and what is ill-understood in them is also rashly and presumptuously given forth." It is a true Michol's game; it is to cover a statue, made expressly with the clothes of David (1 Kings xix.) He who looks at it thinks he has seen David, but he is deceived, David is not there. Heresy covers up, in the bed of its brain, the statue of its own opinion in the clothes of Holy Scripture. He who sees this doctrine thinks he has seen the Holy Word of God, but he is mistaken; it is not there. The words are there, but not the meaning. "The Scriptures," says S. Jerome, ( Adv. Lucif. 28. ) "consist not in the reading but in the understanding:" that is, faith is not in the knowing the words but the sense. And it is here that I think I have thoroughly proved that we have need of another rule for our faith, besides the rule of Holy Scripture. "If the world last long “said Luther once by good hap (Contr. Zwin. et. Oecol)”, “it will be again necessary, on account of the different interpretations of Scripture which now exist, that to preserve the unity of the faith we should receive the Councils and decrees and fly to them for refuge." He acknowledges that formerly they were received, and that afterwards they will have to be.

I have dwelt on this at length, but when it is well understood, we have no small means of determining a most holy deliberation.

I say as much of Traditions; for if each one will bring forward Traditions, and we have no judge on earth to make in the last resort the difference between those which are to be received and those which are not, where, I pray you, shall we be? We have clear examples. Calvin finds that the Apocalypse is to be received, Luther denies it; the same with the Epistle of S. James. Who shall reform these opinions of the reformers? Either the one or the other is ill formed, who shall put it right? Here is a second necessity which we have of another rule besides the Word of God.

There is, however, a very great difference between the first rules and this one. For the first rule, which is the Word of God, is a rule infallible in itself, and most sufficient to regulate all the understandings in the world. The second is not properly a rule of itself, but only in so far as it applies the first and proposes to us the right doctrine contained in the Holy Word. In the same way the laws are said to be a rule in civil causes. The judge is not so of himself, since his judging is conditioned by the ruling of the law; yet he is, and may well be called, a rule, because the application of the laws being subject to variety, when he has once made it we must conform to it.

The Holy Word then is the first law of our faith; there remains the application of this rule, which being able to receive as many forms as there are brains in the world, in spite of all the analogies of the faith, there is need further of a second rule to regulate this application. There must be doctrine and there must be some one to propose it. The doctrine is in the Holy Word, but who shall propose it? The way in which one deduces an article of faith is this: the Word of God is infallible; the Word of God declares that Baptism is necessary for salvation; therefore Baptism is necessary for salvation. The 1st Proposition cannot be gainsayed, we are at variance with Calvin about the 2nd;- who shall reconcile us? Who shall resolve our doubt? If he who has authority to propose can err in his proposition all has to be done over again. There must therefore be some infallible authority in whose propounding we are obliged to acquiesce. The Word of God cannot err, He who proposes it cannot err; thus shall all be perfectly assured.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

A Fresh Look at Transubstantiation

Here is the Council of Trent on what happens to the bread and wine in the Eucharist (Session XIII, Chapters I, III, and IV--page number removed):

In the first place, the holy Synod teaches, and openly and simply professes, that, in the august sacrament of the holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species of those sensible things. For neither are these things mutually repugnant,-that our Saviour Himself always sitteth at the right hand of the Father in heaven, according to the natural mode of existing, and that, nevertheless, He be, in many other places, sacramentally present to us in his own substance, by a manner of existing, which, though we can scarcely express it in words, yet can we, by the understanding illuminated by faith, conceive, and we ought most firmly to believe, to be possible unto God: for thus all our forefathers, as many as were in the true Church of Christ, who have treated of this most holy Sacrament, have most openly professed, that our Redeemer instituted this so admirable a sacrament at the last supper, when, after the blessing of the bread and wine, He testified, in express and clear words, that He gave them His own very Body, and His own Blood; words which,-recorded by the holy Evangelists, and afterwards repeated by Saint Paul, whereas they carry with them that proper and most manifest meaning in which they were understood by the Fathers,-it is indeed a crime the most unworthy that they should be wrested, by certain contentions and wicked men, to fictitious and imaginary tropes, whereby the verity of the flesh and blood of Christ is denied, contrary to the universal sense of the Church, which, as the pillar and ground of truth, has detested, as satanical, these inventions devised by impious men; she recognising, with a mind ever grateful and unforgetting, this most excellent benefit of Christ. . . . 
The most holy Eucharist has indeed this in common with the rest of the sacraments, that it is a symbol of a sacred thing, and is a visible form of an invisible grace; but there is found in the Eucharist this excellent and peculiar thing, that the other sacraments have then first the power of sanctifying when one uses them, whereas in the Eucharist, before being used, there is the Author Himself of sanctity. For the apostles had not as yet received the Eucharist from the hand of the Lord, when nevertheless Himself affirmed with truth that to be His own body which He presented (to them). And this faith has ever been in the Church of God, that, immediately after the consecration, the veritable Body of our Lord, and His veritable Blood, together with His soul and divinity, are under the species of bread and wine; but the Body indeed under the species of bread, and the Blood under the species of wine, by the force of the words; but the body itself under the species of wine, and the blood under the species of bread, and the soul under both, by the force of that natural connexion and concomitancy whereby the parts of Christ our Lord, who hath now risen from the dead, to die no more, are united together; and the divinity, furthermore, on account of the admirable hypostatical union thereof with His body and soul. Wherefore it is most true, that as much is contained under either species as under both; for Christ whole and entire is under the species of bread, and under any part whatsoever of that species; likewise the whole (Christ) is under the species of wine, and under the parts thereof. . . , 
And because that Christ, our Redeemer, declared that which He offered under the species of bread to be truly His own body, therefore has it ever been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy Synod doth now declare it anew, that, by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood; which conversion is, by the holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation.

So the idea is that in a physical object we have two things: the substance and the species.  The species refers to the empirical characteristics or qualities of the object--extension, texture, color, smell, taste, elemental make-up, effects on and from other physical elements and objects, etc.  The substance refers to the "essence" or the "core identity" of the object--what it truly is at the level of fundamental identity.  The Catholic position is that in transubstantiation, the substance of the bread and the wine becomes the substance of Christ (body, blood, soul, and divinity--that is, the whole Christ), while the species remains the same.  So before we had the substance of bread under the species of bread, and now we have the substance of Christ under the species of bread.

Now, here's a little more on this seasoned with a little of my own philosophical point of view:  I would argue that what "bread" fundamentally is is an empirical object.  It is nothing less nor more than this.  This means that the empirical qualities of the bread (the species), including the permanence and consistency of these qualities in their context in the rest of the empirical universe, constitute the very substance of the bread.  That is, what the object fundamentally is is an object made up of the empirical qualities of bread and nothing more, and we call this object, in terms of its essence or substance, "bread".  To put it another way, because what we have before us in a piece of non-consecrated bread is an object made up of the empirical qualities of bread and nothing more, we should say that its substance, or what it fundamentally is in its core, essential identity, is "bread".  When transubstantiation occurs, Christ comes and places his substantial presence in the "place" of the bread.  That is, Christ manifests his presence in a special and substantial way where the bread is when the bread is consecrated.  The result of this is that we no longer have before us merely the empirical qualities (the species) of bread.  We do still have those qualities before us, but we now also have the substantial presence of Christ.  Because of this, we should say that the essential identity of the object (its substance) has changed.  Before, it was "bread".  Now, it is "Christ along with and under the species of bread".  It is fundamentally or essentially a different object now than it was before (transubstantiation).  But it is not entirely different, for the species of bread continue to be there.  (And all this goes the same for the wine as well, of course.)

Note, then, that there is nothing illusory going on here, no false appearances.  All we ever experience empirically of a physical object are, not surprisingly, its empirical characteristics.  We name and identify a physical object based on those characteristics.  We cannot tell merely by our observation of the empirical qualities that there is nothing in the object besides the empirical qualities, for, by definition, if there was something else there, that something else would not be empirically observable because it would not be empirical.  So non-consecrated bread and consecrated bread are going to be the same in terms of empirical observation, because all we observe are the empirical qualities, and those qualities are truly there in both kinds of bread.  It is not that they appear to be there but really aren't, but that they are really there.  This is why it was silly for a group of Atheists to do a DNA analysis on a consecrated host to determine if it really had been changed into the body of Christ.  They concluded that "[r]esults showed unequivocally that the rituals performed by the priests during the Eucharist sacrament have no detectable effect on the substance of altar bread at the DNA level."  The error here is that they are using the term substance differently from the way it is used in Catholic theology.  By the word "substance," these Atheists obviously mean "empirical qualities," because they are talking about what they observe through empirical observation.  They conclude that these qualities have not changed.  This is not surprising to Catholics, who have never asserted that the empirical qualities (the species) of the bread are changed in the consecration of the bread.  When they say that the substance has changed, they aren't talking about the empirical qualities but the core, fundamental identity of the bread, which has indeed changed because now Christ is substantially present in a way he wasn't before.  The bread has gone from being essentially "bread" to being "Christ along with and under the empirical qualities of bread".  But this change will not be empirically detectable, because it does not take place on the empirical level but underneath that level, so to speak.  It is not that there is an empirical change that we can't see (because we don't have the right equipment, etc.) but that there is no empirical change at all.  There is a change, but it is not empirical in nature.

There are Protestants who believe in the real, substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  The Lutherans, for example, believe that Christ is present in the Eucharist along with the bread, so that what we have is both bread and Christ.  This is usually seen as a view substantially different from the Catholic view, because Catholics say rather that the bread is changed into Christ and so is no longer there (except for its empirical characteristics).  But I wonder if, when both views are explained in such a way as to remove certain misconceptions, they need necessarily be seen as at odds.  If all the Lutherans are saying when they say that the "bread" is still there after the consecration is that the empirical qualities of the bread are still there--and these can be called "bread" since they constitute what we ordinarily call "bread" and are what originally draw forth that label from us--then Catholics can agree with that.  And if Catholics clarify that those qualities which ordinarily draw forth from us the label "bread" are still there after the consecration, then it can be said, in some sense, and perhaps in a sense satisfying to Lutherans, that the "bread" is still there after the consecration.  Maybe both sides could agree that while the fundamental essence of the object has changed because now Christ is there in addition to the empirical qualities of bread (so that we cannot anymore label the object simply and merely "bread"), yet the empirical qualities we ordinarily label "bread" are still there as well along with Christ.  I don't know if speaking this way would help to manifest greater agreement or not.  Perhaps this sort of thing has already been discussed in Lutheran-Catholic dialogue.  I'm curious now to read further in this field and find out.

To read more about the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist, see here.

Published on the feast of St. Raymond of Penyafort