Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Dialogue Concerning the Claims of Anglicanism

Below is a dialogue in which I give some of my fundamental reasoning for going with the Catholic Church over Anglicanism.  Since some of the issues addressed in this dialogue come up in other dialogues as well, I have dealt with them a bit more briefly here and you can go here and here to see them dealt with in more detail in the other dialogues.  As I've said with regard to the other dialogues, this is, of course, a simplified conversation, not reflecting all the nuances or complexities a real conversation would no doubt have.  But I think that it does accurately bring out some of the key Anglican arguments and show why they are problematic.  I've used this article as my primary foundation for establishing the basic Anglican epistemology and key arguments.

"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. . . .  Still fewer would believe that the Church should have the last word in matters of controversy regarding the scripture."

"Roman Catholics see scripture as having a sort of parallel authority with tradition and with the teaching office of the Church, but not as being above those other sources of authority and certainly not as being over the Church herself. Eastern Orthodox, on the other hand, view scripture as a part of the tradition rather than above it or parallel to it, effectively making scripture subordinate to the Fathers and the Church. 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."

--From "The Anglican Way: Scripture First But Not Alone," by Father Jonathan


AN:  The Anglican Church is nothing other than the continuation of the historic Christian Church, the Church founded by Christ, the Church of the Fathers of the patristic era.  We find ourselves in the middle of two extremes.  Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy have added their own opinions to the faith, while Protestants have subtracted from the patristic faith.  We've kept it pure, without deviating to the right or to the left.  We also keep the middle way, the via media, in another way:  Rome and Orthodoxy have exalted Tradition above Scripture or at least made it equal to Scripture, while Protestants have ignored the Tradition of the Church and have subjected everything to their own individual, private interpretations of the Bible (Sola Scriptura).  We keep the middle way, insisting that Scripture is the highest and only infallible authority, while at the same time insisting that Scripture must not be read in isolation from but in the context of the patristic Tradition of the Church.  We're also, by the way, less arrogant, since we do not claim ourselves to be the entirety of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, as Rome and the Eastern Orthodox do; we merely claim to be one branch of that Church, and we recognize that Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy are two other branches of the one true Church.

RC:  So how do you know that you've got all this right, and that you've kept the faith pure while others have distorted it in some ways?

AN:  We know that because we can see from examining Scripture and the Fathers of the Church that the Anglican way is the way that conforms to what they taught, while Rome, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism have deviated from it.  For example, the Bible teaches that Scripture is the highest authority, and that only it is infallible.  We can see this from Acts 17:11, where the Bereans are praised because they checked out what Paul was teaching them from the Scriptures, not just trusting him as if he were infallible.  They only regarded the Scriptures as infallible.  We can also see this from Jesus's conversation with the Pharisees in Mark 7:1-13, where Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for putting their own traditions above the Scriptures instead of checking their traditions by the Scriptures.  So Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy have deviated from pure faith by putting Tradition on the same level as Scripture.  Another example with regard to Roman Catholicism is the Immaculate Conception.  Nowhere is that doctrine taught in Scripture, nor was it taught by the Fathers.  Rome added it, and therefore has deviated from the purity of the faith.  On the other hand, the Protestants have deviated from the purity of the faith by, among other things, subjecting everything to their own private interpretations of Scripture instead of listening and deferring to the Tradition of the Church, as 2 Thessalonians 2:15 teaches us to do, and as the Fathers taught us (see, for example, St. Vincent of Lerins's Commonitory, Chapter 2).  Only we Anglicans have kept from deviating to the right hand or to the left in these and other matters.

RC:  But your arguments here are question-begging, because you are assuming that your methods of interpreting Scripture and the Fathers is correct, and that your particular interpretations of them are correct.  But Scripture and the Fathers are not so clear as prove your positions on the points you mentioned or on other points without further critical interpretation.  Consider the example of the Bereans and Jesus's conversation with the Pharisees.  Is there anything in these passages of Scripture that clearly puts forth the idea that Scripture is the only infallible authority?  The Bereans checked what Paul was saying with Scripture (that is, the Old Testament), because they needed to see whether he was truly a preacher from God, whether the Christian religion was truly from God.  So, naturally, they checked it against what they already knew was God's revelation.  But they nowhere claimed that written Scripture alone is infallible.  Once they established that Paul was a true preacher and that Christianity was true, they would then go on to trust the Apostles' teachings, whether oral or written, as St. Paul instructed the churches to do in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, as you just pointed out:  "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle."  The same kind of thing can be said regarding Mark 7.  Jesus does tell the Pharisees not to add their own human traditions to God's Word, but where in the passage does he clearly teach that only written Scripture is the Word of God, or that Scripture is not meant to be interpreted in light of the infallible Tradition of the Church?  Those points simply aren't addressed in that conversation.  Or take the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.  You say that the early Church did not know this doctrine.  But the early Church knew of the sinlessness of Mary, and her purity from all stains is acknowledged today in both the Catholic and the Orthodox liturgies.  It is true that it wasn't until the later Middle Ages that the Catholic Church as a whole came to the definitive conclusion that Mary's sinlessness implies her Immaculate Conception, but how does that prove that the Catholic Church was wrong in eventually drawing explicitly that conclusion?  You neglect the fact that the early Church knew of the idea that the Church's understanding and application of doctrine is subject to development over time through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  St. Vincent of Lerins discusses this in his Commonitory, Chapter 23.  Catholics and Orthodox (and even Protestants) have always understood this and understand it to this day.  This is why you don't find a clearly articulated, formal definition of the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son in the early centuries before the First Council of Nicaea, though the ingredients that will produce that formal definition are there.  The same is true of the Immaculate Conception.

So here's the key issue:  None of your distinctive ideas, in which you disagree with Catholics, Orthodox, or Protestants, are so clearly taught in Scripture or the Fathers that you can appeal to them for proof of your positions without further interpretation.  But your method of interpretation--to trust your own private interpretations of Scripture and the Fathers over against the Catholic Church's or the Orthodox Church's interpretations--is in conflict with the method of interpretation of both the Catholic and the Orthodox churches, both of which teach that Scripture and the Fathers are to be interpreted, not by private individuals, but by the infallible, authoritative interpretations of the Catholic Church.  Therefore, by assuming your own methods and interpretations without argument, you are fundamentally begging the question.  You give us nothing but circular reasoning:  "Trust our interpretations of Scripture and the Fathers over your own.  Why?  Because Scripture and the Fathers, when interpreted by us, tell you to do so."  Well, of course they do--but this is hardly an objective argument.

AN:  OK, I see your point.  My argument does seem a little question-begging, doesn't it?  But there's one thing you've definitely got wrong:  You keep saying that we Anglicans use our own "private interpretations" of Scripture and the Fathers as our ultimate authority.  But you are confusing us with the Protestant point of view--the point of view advocated by Lutherans and Calvinists, etc.  We Anglicans disagree with this, and insist that Scripture, while the only infallible source of doctrine, must be interpreted in light of the Tradition of the Catholic Church through the ages, and particularly with reference to the Church Fathers.  We do not believe that private interpretation is the ultimate authority, but rather hold that it is the Church which should have the final say in interpretation.

RC:  You say that "the Church," rather than private individuals, has the final say in matters of Scriptural interpretation.  What "Church" would that be?

AN:  The Catholic Church of the ages, of which the Anglicans are a branch.

RC:  But Anglicanism came into existence by breaking from the established and previously-acknowledged Tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.  And when they broke from Rome, they didn't join the Eastern Orthodox.  Instead, they simply went off in their own distinctive direction.  So "trusting the Church's interpretations" really means "trusting the Anglican Church's interpretations."  Anglicans feel quite free to disagree with everyone else, including the other supposed "branches" of the true Catholic Church.  So, really, you just trust your own private interpretations, just like all other Protestants.

AN:  I see what you mean.  But even if we trust as final only Anglican Tradition, still we don't trust as final private, individual interpretations like the Protestants do.

RC:  As I mentioned, the Anglicans broke off from the Roman Catholics.  Before the unfortunate events involving Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon, there were no Anglicans.  The English Church was a loyal province of the Roman Catholic Church.  So, in order to form the Anglican Church, a number of English people had to stop trusting the established Tradition of the Roman Catholic Church and instead trust their own private interpretations of Scripture and the Fathers as their ultimate authority.  If they hadn't done that, they could not have justified their break with Rome.  Before Anglicanism could be a separate church, some people had to decide it was right to make it one by trusting their own theological judgment.  Did they claim themselves to be infallible, or did they simply claim that they were right based on their own personal examination of the evidence from Scripture and the Fathers?  It was the latter, of course.  On what basis could a group of Englishmen breaking from the Roman Catholic Church and forming a new church claim to be infallible?  And even after the Anglican Church came into existence, Anglicans never claimed to be the one true Church but only a branch of it, as you have acknowledged.  So does the Anglican Church consider itself, by itself, to be infallible?  No, she doesn't.  So why trust the Scriptural and patristic interpretations of the Anglican Church?  After all, if the whole Church previous to Anglicanism's arrival could go off the rails, creating the need to form a new separate church in the first place, surely it is not a stretch to think that the Anglican branch of the Church might go off the rails too.  So why trust her?  The only answer is that individuals have to decide that she's got the pure faith by making that judgment based on their own personal interpretation of the evidence arising from Scripture and the Fathers.  Private, individual judgment.  This is no different at all from, say, the Lutherans, who don't claim the Lutheran Church to be infallible but say that people should agree with Lutherans simply because their own private interpretations of the evidence from Scripture lead them to agree with Lutheranism.  Neither Lutherans nor Anglicans claim their respective churches to be infallible, or worthy of implicit, uncritical trust.  Neither Lutherans nor Anglicans believe the Church Fathers to be infallible.  (They couldn't hold the historic Church to be infallible even if they wanted to, because the historic Church turned into the modern Catholic--or possibly Orthodox--Church, and both of them have broken from this Church and have come to conclusions in disagreement with it.  If they acknowledged the historic Church to be infallible, they would have to acknowledge themselves as schismatics and heretics.)  Both Lutherans and Anglicans believe that much respect and deference should be paid to the traditions of the Church and the Church Fathers, and that Scripture should be considered in light of what they have to say, but not to the extent that they should be trusted implicitly and therefore put on the same level as Scripture which is to be trusted implicitly.  So I really don't see any difference between the Lutheran--that is, what you call the Protestant--and the Anglican position on this point.  You are both adherents of the same doctrine of Sola Scriptura--the idea that Scripture alone is infallible and that only it is to be implicitly trusted.

AN:  But Protestants don't respect the Fathers and traditions of the historic Church, while we do!

RC:  Do they not?  They say they do, just as much as you do.  John Calvin, for example, had great reverence for the Fathers, and quotes them extensively.  So have all the other mainstream Lutheran, Calvinist, and other Protestant theologians through the centuries.  They trust the Fathers very much; they just don't trust them implicitly and they say they have to be tested by Scripture--which really means they have to be tested by one's own personal interpretation of Scripture.  Let me ask you a question:  What if you're trying to interpret the Scriptures, and you've done all your research?  You've read the Fathers, the early councils, the traditions, etc., you've paid great attention to them and given them lots of consideration, but in the end, it seems to you that the Bible disagrees with them, or that what they teach cannot be found to be taught in the Bible.  What do you do?  What is the Anglican thing to do?

AN:  Well, we would have to go with the Bible, because it alone is infallible, which means that all others could err.

RC:  Yes, and that's just what the "Protestants" say as well.  In the end, after considering all the merits of all the interpretations of the Fathers, councils, etc., if those interpretations conflict with what you yourself have found in Scripture--that is, with your own personal interpretation of Scripture, informed by everyone else but ultimately your own interpretation, the interpretation you personally find to be right and best whether others agree with you or not--you go with your own interpretation of Scripture.  Private, personal interpretation of Scripture is supreme.  Sola Scriptura.  What else can you, or any other Protestant, do?  Should you trust the consensus of the Fathers implicitly?  Well, they aren't infallible, so they could be wrong, right?  So how do you know they aren't wrong?  You have to test them by the Scriptural evidence as you see it; otherwise you'd be believing blindly.  Large groups of people can be wrong.  (One example comes to mind, just off the top of my head:  Just about everyone in the seventeenth century thought that the Bible taught that the earth doesn't move through space, so that Robert Bellarmine could call that view the "common consensus of the Holy Fathers"--and yet it turned out they were all wrong.)  Anglicans clearly believe that the whole Church could go wrong, for that is what they claim actually happened in order to justify their own coming into existence as a new, separate tradition with distinctive doctrines in the sixteenth century.  Even if you decided that you would trust implicitly--without checking it independently against Scripture--the opinions agreed upon by all "true" Christians, this wouldn't take you as far as you need to go, for "true" Christians disagree about all sorts of important things, including the question of which professing Christians are "true" Christians and which aren't.  Do we include Nestorians and Oriental Orthodox, or just Chacedonians?  Do we include Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants?  How do we know, then, what doctrines we should hold when there is disagreement?  How do we know whether or not we should baptize infants?  How do we know whether we should ask the Saints to intercede for us?  How do we know if adoration of the host is idolatrous or not?  And so on.  Most importantly for this conversation, how will we know why we should go with Anglicanism over against Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Presbyterianism, etc.?  There will be no way to know, other than relying on our private, personal interpretations of Scripture.

AN:  I don't know how to respond at this point.  But I do have one more thing to say:  At least we Anglicans do not claim to be the whole Church.  We only claim to be a branch of it, and we respect equally the other branches--the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.  We do not act on our own authority alone, but do things only in agreement with them.

RC:  Really?  But your entire existence belies that, as do all your distinctive Anglican doctrines!  The other two "branches" of the Church (as you describe them) do not agree that the Anglican Church should even exist!  They do not agree that they are mere "branches."  This way of looking at things is uniquely Anglican, disagreed with by the other churches.  And all the distinctive Anglican doctrines by which Anglicans differ from Catholics, Orthodox, and other Protestants have been arrived at by Anglicans, obviously, not in agreement and in communion with other churches, but solely by their own judgment, on their own authority, and in opposition to the contrary positions of all other churches.  Nor do you agree with the patristic Church in your distinctives.  Your "branch theory" of the Church was taught by no Church Father.  The idea that the true Church is made up of a number of independent churches that disagree in important matters of faith and practice is an idea absolutely unheard of in the patristic Church.  It is a pure Protestant distinctive which the patristic Church would have unanimously and vigorously opposed as heretical and schismatic.

In short, the problem with your claim that Anglicanism is uniquely the pure faith, the via media that preserves orthodoxy intact, boils down to this:  Your entire basis for this claim is built on nothing but question-begging and circular reasoning.  You make your claim based on your interpretations of Scripture and the Fathers, using your methods of interpreting, without giving any proof that your methods and your interpretations, over against those of other churches', have any validity.  Also, your position is really identical to the Protestant Sola Scriptura position, which has been discussed elsewhere.  You make out that your position is different, but only by distorting what other Protestants teach (trying to make them look less sophisticated in their methods of biblical interpretation than they actually are) and by trying to have your cake and eat it too.  You say you rely on "the Church" as the final arbiter of Scriptural interpretation, but you equivocate on what "the Church" is, saying you consider yourself just a branch of the Church but relying on your own authority as if you were the whole of it.  You neglect the fact that you are a break-off denomination that did not exist before the sixteenth century but which came into existence by reversing the English Church's previously held position and declaring independence from the Roman Catholic Church.  You say you trust "the Church" as final arbiter, but you were quite willing to depart from the established Tradition of the Church as it existed at the beginning of the sixteenth century based on your own admittedly fallible attempts to interpret Scripture and the Fathers for yourselves, nor do you claim to be infallible today, therefore sending everyone back to their own personal interpretations of Scripture and the Fathers in an attempt to check to see whether what you say is really true.  In the end, then, I think we have no choice but to come to the conclusion that Anglicanism, by breaking from the historic Church with no substantial justification, is a schismatic movement that should be abandoned for the Church that Christ founded, the Catholic Church.

For more, see herehere, and here.

Published on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul

Friday, June 24, 2016

Some Email Responses Dealing with Scripture and Tradition, Sola Scriptura, Vatican II, the Salvation of Non-Catholics, and Changeable Vs. Unchangeable Rules

Below is a recent email correspondence in which a number of interesting issues are discussed.

__________ I wanted to throw a couple of questions your way that have been on my mind regarding arguments people tend to make against Catholicism.

1) Regarding Sola Scriptura. As I read more arguments against the Catholic view from an SS side, I feel like one thing I notice is that SS folks tend to paint the Catholic view in a way that doesn't seem accurate. They always seem to think that the Catholic view of Tradition as having equal authority means that the church can sort of come up with whatever doctrines it wants, and that these things can even clearly contradict Scripture (many will use the immaculate conception as something that they say clearly contradicts Romans 3:23, for example). The picture of Catholic teaching that this leaves (and that picture I had in my mind for a while) was that there was no sort of check on the church, and that it was anyone's guess as to what crazy new doctrine they may come up with down the road.

However, as I have gotten more familiar with Catholic teaching, the gist I am getting is that this picture really isn't accurate. I'm getting the impression that while Tradition does hold equal authority with Scripture, Scripture is truly at the center. Tradition seems to be there still in service of Scripture. It's primary function is teaching, interpreting, upholding and fleshing out the implications of Scripture, rather than something that just stands independently of it. Would you say this is an accurate representation of true Catholic teaching?

Yes, that is accurate.  The Catholic view (see here) is that the Word of God--that is, the revelation of God--has been handed down in two forms: Scripture and Tradition.  Scripture is the Word of God infallibly communicated in writing.  Tradition is the same Word of God infallibly handed down through the preaching, teaching, liturgy, etc., of the Church.  (See Irenaeus's Against HeresiesBook III, Chapter 4, for a good description of this.)  They have mostly the same content.  That is, Tradition contains everything that Scripture contains.  They're the same revelation.  Tradition does provide some context that sheds light on Scripture, however.  The quote I gave from Basil of Caesaria in my dialogue with the Protestant discusses this.  For example, Scripture talks about baptism, but doesn't discuss the question of whether infants should be baptized.  The Church's liturgical tradition reveals that they should be.  So we should observe the Scripture in the context of the Tradition of the Church.  The Tradition of the Church also contains what the Church has learned through the ages, not from new public revelation, but from the Holy Spirit guiding the Church in its continual, progressive unpacking, understanding, and application of the revelation already given (resulting in such things as the articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity at the Council of Nicaea, etc.).  So, other than some context filling in some gaps in terms of practical application, for the most part, the revelation is entirely contained in Scripture, and the Church's job is to teach the Scripture.  So the Church's doctrine is derived from Scripture.  (By the way, this is why Protestants can sometimes make it sound like some of the Fathers believed in SS.  The Fathers speak very highly of Scripture, describe it as sufficient, talk about the Church deriving its doctrine from it, etc.  All this can sound very SS to a Protestant, but then the Fathers go on to talk about how Scripture must be interpreted and applied in the context of the infallible Tradition of the Church passed down through apostolic succession, and the whole SS thing falls apart.)

So the Church's doctrine cannot contradict Scripture.  It can, however, contradict certain (false) interpretations of Scripture.  If a Protestant is applying SS, he might come to some interpretation that seems likely to him and then decide that Catholicism has deviated from Scripture because it has deviated from his interpretation of it (as with the Immaculate Conception issue, and many others).  So it has to be remembered that in the Catholic view, Scripture is not meant to be interpreted by private individuals coming to their own conclusions.  This does not mean that there is no theoretical possibility of trying to find some contradiction between Catholic teaching and Scripture.  If Scripture speaks so plainly about something that only one reading is possible, and if Catholic teaching contradicted that, then that would be a problem.  But, in fact, what I have found is that that never happens, but all the alleged contradictions are connected to less-than-certain Protestant interpretations.

2) A lot of Protestants like to talk about the Catholic church making big shifts at Vatican II, and they do this in a way that implies that the church was kind of acknowledging a lot of wrong and fault in pre-Vatican II times. I don't get the idea that Catholics would view it entirely that way though. What would a Catholic understanding of what happened at Vatican II be? For example, why the insistence on Latin prior to that time, and then suddenly shifting and saying that the vernacular is ok? 

Vatican II was like any other ecumenical council, in that it helped to advance the Church's development of its understanding and articulation of doctrine.  Ecumenical councils usually are responding to some prevailing error or issue, and their formulations are shaped by that.  In the case of Vatican II, the issue was the need of the Church to relate its teachings to new cultural situations and ideas current in the modern world (particularly modern western thought and culture as that has spread around the world).  There were issues that needed more direct or formal or definitive addressing.  The Church wanted to adopt, in many ways, a new tone to fit the changing situation.  (For example, no longer could the Church assume a fundamentally Christian west in somewhat conscious submission to or rebellion against the Catholic Church.  We now live in a very post-Christian culture, so the Church needed to adapt its presentation of its teaching to this new situation.)

The Church has not always done everything perfectly, and it has never claimed to have done so.  So many councils in history have made reforms to fix problems, Vatican II being no exception.  But the council did not alter defined Catholic teaching, but was in continuity with it.  Some have tried to interpret the council as breaking radically with the pre-council Church, but the Church has rejected that characterization.  Pope Benedict XVI talked about this explicitly in this message, where he attacks what he calls a "hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture" in understanding the council.

Two areas where some people allege a break with Vatican II are the areas of religious freedom and salvation outside the Catholic Church.  Studying both of these areas sheds light on how the Church has developed its teaching and the articulation of that teaching in modern times in continuity with and not rupture with the past.  This article addresses religious liberty and this article addresses salvation outside the Church.  Take the latter issue:  The Church has always taught that salvation comes through Christ and his Church, and so to be separate from these is to be separate from salvation.  The Church has frequently warned people of the dire consequences of rejecting Christ and his Church, that this amounts to a rejection of salvation.  In, say, the Middle Ages and the early modern period, it made sense to emphasize the warning side of things, because the general level of understanding was higher overall.  But today, much confusion reigns, and a lot of people have not willfully rejected the Catholic Church but are caught up to varying degrees in the mass of confusion that exists all around us.  As this situation developed, the Church saw more and more a need to emphasize that its warnings were not intended to suggest that people who are not Catholics through no fault of their own are necessarily going to be damned.  As an example, take Pope Pius IX's message "On the Promotion of False Doctrines" in 1863.  In that message, Pope Pius IX says this:

7. Here, too, our beloved sons and venerable brothers, it is again necessary to mention and censure a very grave error entrapping some Catholics who believe that it is possible to arrive at eternal salvation although living in error and alienated from the true faith and Catholic unity. Such belief is certainly opposed to Catholic teaching. There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace. Because God knows, searches and clearly understands the minds, hearts, thoughts, and nature of all, his supreme kindness and clemency do not permit anyone at all who is not guilty of deliberate sin to suffer eternal punishments.

8. Also well known is the Catholic teaching that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church. Eternal salvation cannot be obtained by those who oppose the authority and statements of the same Church and are stubbornly separated from the unity of the Church and also from the successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff, to whom "the custody of the vineyard has been committed by the Savior."[4] The words of Christ are clear enough: "If he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you a Gentile and a tax collector;"[5] "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you, rejects me, and he who rejects me, rejects him who sent me;"[6] "He who does not believe will be condemned;"[7] "He who does not believe is already condemned;"[8] "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters."[9] The Apostle Paul says that such persons are "perverted and self-condemned;"[10] the Prince of the Apostles calls them "false teachers . . . who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master. . . bringing upon themselves swift destruction."[11]

Notice that this message was delivered back in 1863, about 100 years before Vatican II.  At Vatican II, the Church gave even stronger dogmatic affirmation of these same ideas.  But people who are not familiar with the history here, who have the idea that the Church said all non-Catholics whatsoever in any circumstances must be damned before Vatican II, are easily persuaded that the Church reversed her official teaching on this matter at Vatican II.  There has indeed been a change of tone and emphasis, reflecting changing circumstances, but not a reversal of doctrine.  (Notice how the way the Catholic Church handles this differs from Protestants.  When Protestant churches confront changing circumstances in the culture, usually what happens is that some go along with those changes but overcompensate, becoming too liberal, while others try to maintain their conservative position by refusing to acknowledge any changes--the result being a church split where we end up with two churches [or more!], one church which is too liberal and submissive to whatever the modern fads are and one church that is too reactionary and unable to adapt to changing and complex circumstances. . . .)

To understand where the Church can change and where she cannot, it is helpful to recognize distinctions between matters of faith and matters of conditional practice.  The Trinity is a matter of faith.  So is the doctrine of the papacy.  But what languages are allowed in the Mass is not a matter of divine faith.  The Church never claimed that there is some divine precept that states that masses must be in Latin.  The Church never even required all masses to be in Latin.  There have always been Eastern churches who used Greek, Syriac, etc.  The Church did have a rule limiting much of the western-rite Mass to Latin, for various reasons.  Eventually, the Church decided that that no longer made sense in changing circumstances.  But this was always regarded as a prudential rule, and so a rule subject to change if change is warranted.  There are lots of rules like that, not just in the Catholic Church but in any church.  I just posted something on Facebook this morning about the Church's response to Henry VIII which gives another good example of this in terms of some marriage rules.

That's it for now! :)

Hope that helps!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Dialogue Concerning the Claims of Protestantism

Below is a dialogue providing a basic argument for why Catholicism over Protestantism.  The dialogue is intended to be simple and to the point, so it certainly does not address every issue or argument that could be raised.  But I think it provides a good, foundational case that addresses one of the core issues of the controversy--Sola Scriptura.  (And don't miss the many embedded links that lead to further reading and research in various areas).  "RP" stands for "Reformed Protestant," by the way.

RP:  It is the Protestant churches that have preserved the true faith in its fundamentals and so are true churches.  The Roman Catholic Church has fallen into grave error and apostatized, and so it is no longer an orthodox church.

RC:  On what basis do you make that claim?

RP:  On the basis of Scripture.  The Bible is God's Word.  It tells us what the true faith is.  Rome has deviated from the true faith as defined in Scripture.  For example, Roman Catholics teach that Mary was sinless, but the Bible teaches that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

RC:  The Catholic Church disagrees with your interpretation of Scripture in this area.  St. Paul does teach that all have sinned, but he is not discussing the question of the unique characteristics of the Virgin Mary in his letter, so he does not mention that she is an exception.  In the Catholic view, Mary  was just as doomed to be a sinner as everyone else since the Fall of Adam, but God, through the sacrifice and merits of Christ and by the power of his grace, preserved her from falling into sin.  So she is saved by Christ from sin just as much as any of us, but in a different way.

RP:  Your interpretation of Romans 3:23 is wrong, for the verse plainly says that "all have sinned," not just "most have sinned."

RC:  Including Jesus?

RP:  Of course not!  He is obviously the one exception!  The Bible elsewhere teaches that Christ was sinless (Hebrews 4:15, for example), but it nowhere teaches that Mary was sinless.  That's just an unbiblical tradition the Roman Catholic Church added onto the Scripture.  But we're not supposed to add to Scripture (Deuteronomy 4:2, etc.).

RC:  Your argument is fundamentally question-begging, for it is based on the assumption that you have the authority to interpret the Scriptures on your own against the Tradition of the Catholic Church.  But the Catholic view is that Scripture is not meant to be interpreted by private individuals, but in the context of the infallible and authoritative Tradition of the Catholic Church preserved and developed by the bishops of the Church over the centuries through the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit.  The Catholic view is that the Bible is the Word of God, but the Word of God has also been handed down by Tradition (orally, through the Church's liturgy, through the teaching of the pastors of the Church, etc.), and the supreme authority appointed by God to interpret and apply his Word is the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.  Your argument that the Catholic Church is unbiblical is based on the assumption (which you have not proven) that the right way to read and interpret the Bible is the Sola Scripture method of Protestantism rather than the Catholic way, and therefore your argument is question-begging.  If it turns out that the Sola Scriptura method of interpreting the Bible is incorrect, that it is not the way God intended the Scriptures to be interpreted, then that method is likely to lead you to incorrect conclusions.  So you can't reasonably rely on that method without first proving it to be the correct method.

RP:  But the Bible teaches Sola Scriptura, so we have proof of it!  For example, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says this:  "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."  Also, one of Jesus's main arguments against the Pharisees was that they added their man-made traditions to the Word of God (Mark 7:1-13).  He showed, therefore, that we should reject man-made traditions and adhere only to the Word of God.

RC:  But your arguments from these passages are question-begging, because you are assuming that your interpretation of them as teaching Sola Scriptura is correct, when the Catholic Church's interpretation of them disagrees with yours.  You are assuming without proof that you have the authority to interpret the Scriptures on your own in opposition to the Tradition of the Catholic Church.  In other words, you are assuming Sola Scriptura in order to prove Sola Scriptura, which is to fundamentally beg the question.

RP:  But these passages are so plain that it is obvious that they teach Sola Scriptura.  So the Catholic Church must be wrong if it interprets them differently.  That's another problem with the Roman Catholic view.  You hold that Scripture is too hard to understand, so you just rely on your Church to tell you what it means; while we Protestants believe that the Bible is plain enough for anyone to understand--at least in its major teachings.

RC:  I'll grant that there are some things in Scripture stated so plainly that it would be impossible to understand them in more than one way.  But the issues on which we and other Christians disagree are not usually so obvious.  Take the biblical arguments for Sola Scriptura you've just been making.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 doesn't plainly teach Sola Scriptura.  What does St. Paul actually say?  He says that Scripture is inspired by God.  He says that it is useful for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction, to help people do the good works God has called them to.  Catholics accept all of this.  Scripture is indeed profitable to teach us how to live righteously and to teach us true doctrine.  It is true that if we follow Scripture, it will lead us into all good works.  Scripture contains the seed of all true doctrine.  All Catholic doctrine is derived from Scripture, from its principles.  It is either taught explicitly in Scripture, or it is implied in what Scripture teaches--provided Scripture is interpreted correctly, in the context of the infallible Tradition of the Catholic Church.  So we Catholics accept everything that St. Paul teaches here.  It is true we interpret what he is saying in some ways differently from how you Protestants tend to interpret it, as you see in his words an affirmation of Sola Scriptura.  But although you may think that idea is somehow implied in what he says, we read the same passage and see no such implication.  So which one of us is right?  Are we going to go with the private, admittedly fallible interpretation of Protestants, or are we going to follow the infallible Tradition of the Catholic Church?  These verses of St. Paul, by themselves, without adding any agreed-upon rule of interpretation, do not solve this conflict between us.  You can only use St. Paul here against us if you bring in the unproven assumptions that Sola Scriptura rather than the Catholic method is the right way to interpret the Scriptures and that your interpretation of these verses over ours is the correct one.

Let's look also at your argument from Jesus's conversation with the Pharisees about the traditions of men.  Does Jesus teach Sola Scriptura there in any plain way?  No.  He does teach that the Pharisees had added man-made traditions to the Word of God, and that this was a bad thing to do.  So we can infer from this that we shouldn't do anything like that, and that this is a danger we should watch out for.  But Catholics don't believe that we are adding man-made traditions to the Word of God.  By teaching Catholic Tradition, we are not teaching man-made traditions but divine Tradition.  Does Jesus anywhere say there is no such thing as divine Tradition, or that Tradition in any sense should never be put together with the written form of the Word of God?  No.  You can try to infer that idea, but it is not plainly there.  The Catholic view is not ruled out; it is not even addressed.  In 2 Thessalonians 2:15, St. Paul says, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle."  There is an example of the idea of tradition used in a positive way.  St. Paul says, "Follow what you have been taught, both what is written and what has been handed down in other ways."  So clearly not all unwritten tradition is always bad.  Sometimes it is authoritative and reliable just like that which is written.  And if you want to say, "But you're misinterpreting St. Paul there!", my response is that I don't think I am, but I am not interested in getting into endless interpretation wars, because that is a distinctly Protestant thing to do.  The Catholic way is to defer to the authority of the Church in such matters.  You have given me no reason to assume your Protestant methodology here.

While we're at it, let's look at your biblical argument regarding the sinlessness of Mary as well.  Nowhere does St. Paul or anybody else in Scripture say that Mary committed sins.  Paul says that "all have sinned," but this is clearly not meant to be an exhaustive literal statement in the strictest sense because we both agree that Christ is exempted, even though St. Paul doesn't say so in the passage.  St. Paul is making a general comment about the fallenness of humanity and its need for salvation.  The issue of whether there might be any unique person out there who is saved from sin in a different way is simply beyond his purview in the passage.  Similarly, Paul makes the general comment elsewhere that "the wages of sin is death," but any reader of the Bible knows that some people--like Elijah--didn't die like everyone else.  They were exempted in a unique way.  There is nothing in what St. Paul says that would preclude the possibility that, if he was asked specifically, he would have agreed that Mary was sinless:  "What is that?  Did Mary, the mother of Christ, commit sins personally?  Oh, well, no, I guess she did not.  I didn't bring that up here because I was focused on a different issue."  Granted that there is nothing in St. Paul's text to indicate that Mary was a unique exception, but his statement does not plainly take the opposite view either.  (Similarly, Matthew 27:44 says that "The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth."  That is, they also persecuted Christ.  If this is all we had, we might assume that both robbers did this.  But we learn from Luke 23:39-43 that Matthew has condensed and simplified his account, for one of the two robbers didn't persecute Christ--quite the opposite.)  So how do we know what to say on this point?  Do we follow the typical Protestant inference that Mary is not a unique case here, or do we go the Catholic way and follow the infallible and authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church?  You simply assume that we should use Protestant methods to interpret and draw inferences from Scripture, but you do not show that this is the right way to go about using the Bible over against the alternative Catholic way, and so your arguments are fundamentally question-begging.

And how do you even know that the books of the Bible you make use of are supposed to be in the Bible at all and so are authoritative?  The Bible itself does not come with a table of contents.  You can only know which books belong in the Bible by some source outside of the books of the Bible themselves.  What source is that?  If you don't trust God's infallible guidance of the Tradition of the Church in this area, all you can do is go back to the historical records and do the best job you can with your fallible judgment trying to figure out which books are supposed to be in the canon.  Some of those books might have more evidence than others, but if you only trust the Bible as infallibly authoritative and not the Church's Tradition, then how can you know the Church didn't get mixed up and include some books that shouldn't be there and leave out some that should?  Take a book like Jude, for instance.  It's canonicity was disputed in the early centuries of the Church.  How do you know the Church eventually got it right when she decided that it truly belonged in the canon?  Martin Luther, after all, wasn't so sure.

RP:  OK, I understand your argument here.  But I don't see how you aren't in the same boat.  If I am begging the question by assuming a Protestant method of reading and applying the Bible, how are you Roman Catholics not begging the question just as much by assuming your Catholic ideas about how to do these things?

RC:  The answer to that is that the Catholic view is the historic view of the Christian Church founded by Christ, while to hold Sola Scriptura we would have to break from the historic Church.  We both agree that Christianity is the true religion.  We both agree that Christ founded a Church.  We both agree that Christ commanded us to maintain unity with the Church he established (1 Corinthians 1:10-13, etc.) and to obey the shepherds of that Church (Hebrews 13:17, etc.).  We both agree that the apostles and those sent by them appointed the earliest elders/shepherds over the early churches.  It follows from all of this that it would be schismatic and sinful if we were to disobey the shepherds of Christ's Church or disrupt the unity of that Church without good reason.

The early Church of the patristic era did not hold to Sola Scriptura, but to the Catholic idea that Scripture is to be interpreted in accordance with the infallible Tradition of the Church.  For example, listen to St. Basil of Caesaria:

66. 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?  (Chapter 27, On the Holy Spirit--from the New Advent website, embedded links removed)

Or listen to St. Vincent of Lerins:

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)

Protestants surely know what St. Vincent is talking about here!  Having abandoned the "standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation," they have ended up with a legacy of endless divisions arising from endless differences in biblical interpretation.

Anglican scholar J. N. D. Kelly sums up the early Church's view on these matters very well in in his book Early Christian Doctrines, particularly in the chapter on "Scripture and Tradition."  Here is his conclusion:

It should be unnecessary to accumulate further evidence. Throughout the whole period Scripture and tradition ranked as complementary authorities, media different in form but coincident in content. To inquire which counted as superior or more ultimate is to pose the question in misleading terms. If Scripture was abundantly sufficient in principle, tradition was recognized as the surest clue to its interpretation, for in tradition the Church retained, as a legacy from the apostles which was embedded in all the organs of her institutional life, an unerring grasp of the real purport and meaning of the revelation to which Scripture and tradition alike bore witness.  (J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines [San Francisco: Harper & Row, 5th ed., 1978], 47-48) 
Thus in the end the Christian must, like Timothy, ‘guard the deposit’, i.e., the revelation enshrined in its completeness in Holy Scripture and correctly interpreted in the Church’s unerring tradition. (Ibid., 50-51)

(For more evidence for the views of the Fathers on these points, see herehere, here, and here, for starters.)

RP:  But I have heard that the early Church believed in Sola Scriptura.

RC:  Then you've heard wrong.  Protestants have certainly made that argument, but it can't really be supported by the evidence.  But interpreting the Fathers can sometimes be complex--much like interpreting the Scriptures.  We also have to take into account the fact that, in the Catholic view (and even in the Protestant view), although the giving of public revelation has been completed, yet the Church progressively develops in her understanding, articulation, and application of revelation over time as she is guided by the Holy Spirit.  (See, for example, St. Vincent of Lerins's discussion of this principle in Chapter 23 of his Commonitory.)  The substance of the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, was certainly taught in the early Church from the beginning, but it was not explicitly defined in an official formula by the entire Church until the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.  For another example, it took time for the Church to officially and definitively delineate the limits of the biblical canon.  Similarly, the Fathers were not facing an opposing view that strongly asserted a developed concept of Sola Scriptura during the time of the early Church, so they did not formulate a formal response to it, even though what they taught clearly excludes it.

But let's say, for the sake of argument, that the early Church was unclear on this point, and that some Fathers taught Sola Scriptura.  It is still the case that, just as with other doctrines like the Trinity, the contents of the canon, the two natures of Christ, the necessity of grace for all good works, etc., the Church eventually came to the conclusion that Sola Scriptura is wrong and the Catholic idea of an infallible Tradition and an infallible Church to infallibly gather, preserve, unpack, interpret, and apply the infallible Scriptures over the ages is correct, for it is the Catholic Church and not the Protestant churches that have grown organically and empirically out of the patristic Church.  The patristic Church evolved into the Catholic Church, not into the Protestant churches.  Protestantism had to break from the established Tradition of the existing Church and its unity in order to establish their own churches and their own Sola Scriptura doctrine.  This means that it is the Protestant position that has the burden of proof, for the default lies with the Catholic Church and the Catholic viewpoint.  If Protestants can prove that their distinctive doctrines are correct and that the Catholic Church has erred, so be it--they win.  But if they cannot prove this, then they broke with the existing Catholic Church for no good reason, with no substantial justification, and so were and are schismatic.  Our default lies with the unity and continuity of the Church that Christ founded.  Since we are commanded by Christ to maintain obedience and unity within his Church, we must continue to do so unless we can prove that the Church has gone off the rails.  If we abandon the Church Christ himself founded to start our own new denominations and traditions without just cause, we are acting arbitrarily and so irrationally and schismatically.  In the absence of any good, conclusive reason to go our own way, our duty is clearly to trust the Church Christ founded and remain within her and follow her teachings.

And therein lies the fundamental problem with Protestantism.  Protestants claim to be a reform movement, bringing the Church back to its foundations in the name of Christ.  But Protestants cannot prove their distinctive positions over against the Catholic Tradition without question-begging, because all their positions rest on the unproven assumption of Sola Scriptura.  They cannot prove that doctrine from Scripture without already assuming it by interpreting Scripture according to it.  They cannot prove that the Church ever embraced as her official doctrine Sola Scriptura, for at best (already granting more than the records warrant) the evidence from the Fathers is inconclusive.  The historic Church never embraced Sola Scriptura or rejected the Catholic position, and over time it organically grew into today's Catholic Church rather than in a Protestant direction.  They certainly cannot prove from reason that Sola Scriptura is the way God must have done things.  So they are left with no basis for their affirmation of Sola Scriptura or all the theological positions they have come to on its foundation.  They are therefore in the position of having abandoned the Church organically and empirically descended from Christ and the apostles, disrupted its unity, and defied its authority, for no good reason--putting their own trust arbitrarily and without cause in their own theological opinions over against the established teachings of the historic Church--and have thereby merited justly the label of "schismatic."  The true Church is therefore not to be found with the Protestants, but with the Catholic Church that Christ founded.  (Though I should add that this does not mean that Protestants aren't true Christians or that they are completely separated from Christ's Church, as the Catholic Church has made clear.)

RP:  OK, I see the case that you have made.  But one more question:  Why the Catholic Church, and not the Orthodox Church?  Are not both of them organically and empirically descended from the historic Church, and yet they disagree with each other?

RC:  Good question.  Fortunately, I just had a conversation with an Eastern Orthodox individual the other day in which that question was thoroughly addressed, so I will refer you to that conversation.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Some Thoughts on the Saints as Role Models

We are often recommended to look to the Saints as role models.  But, if you're like me, this can be sometimes encouraging and sometimes discouraging.  The Saints live such radical lives and accomplish such amazing things, and I compare their lives to mine and find my own life to seem pretty mundane and ineffective by comparison.  The Saints always seem to respond to every situation with such perfect wisdom, charity, good humor, patience, etc.  It's hard to imagine them sometimes being too grumpy, complaining too much, getting impatient, being distracted, and having all the temptations and difficulties I face in my daily life.

Of course, this isn't really the case.  My viewpoint is skewed, because I am me, and I am not them.  I have to live with myself every second of every day and witness all my internal thoughts, feelings, temptations, and minute actions.  All I see of the Saints, for the most part, are the sorts of activities which made them to be recognized as Saints in the first place, and of course those activities are the ones that demonstrate observable and remarkable holiness.  In some ways, then, we must remember when we compare ourselves to the great biblical, historical, and canonized Saints of the past, we are comparing apples and oranges.

Of course, we do hear about the failures and weaknesses of Saints as well sometimes.  We can think of Elijah's depression, even after his victory over the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 19).  We can think of St. Nicholas losing patience and punching the heretic Arius.  Or we can think of how St. Teresa of Avila was plagued with distractions during prayer.  We can also remember those Saints who didn't do astonishing things in their lives but whose Christian life was more "ordinary," like St. Monica, who is famous for simply loving her son (St. Augustine) and praying ceaselessly for his conversion.  (Or even kind-of weird Saints who seem to be famous mostly for being weird, like St. Joseph of Cupertino.)

But it is true, nonetheless, that most of the Saints we hear about seem to have lived extraordinary lives.  Most of us, however, will not live extraordinary lives (at least not to that extent), for if everyone lived extraordinary lives, no lives would be extraordinary.  As I heard someone say on the radio once a number of years ago, "If everybody was somebody then nobody would be anybody."

The VeggieTales version of the story of St. Patrick put it well:

Narrator:  Maewyn Succat [Patrick] grew up as a normal little boy.  Maewyn went to school.  He played.  He went to church.  And he was kidnapped by pirates. 
Patrick:  Wait, that's not normal. 
Narrator:  If you were too normal, you would not have a holiday named after you. 
Patrick:  Good point.

So we have to keep in mind that while the Saints are indeed role models, they are also special in a way that not all of us can be or will be.  Otherwise, there would be no point to the whole process of canonization.  A helpful way to think of it is this, I think:  What the Saints often do in an extraordinary way, the rest of us saints should do in an ordinary way.  I may not convert an entire nation to Christianity and get a feast day named after me, but I can communicate the gospel to my friends and neighbors.  I may not found a religious order, but I can be a witness to my friends and my family and help them to live better Christian lives.  I may not get martyred for the faith, but I can live the faith faithfully day in and day out in my more ordinary callings.

This partly explains, by the way, I think, why so many of the Saints have been priests, monks, or nuns, whereas most of us aren't.  These kinds of people are called to live out the evangelical counsels of Christ in a special way, and in a way that can often be more visible and, in a sense, tangible.  (For those of you who don't know what the "evangelical counsels" refers to, see here.)  We are all called to live out the spirit of the evangelical counsels, but those who are called to the religious life are called to live out that spirit in more dramatic ways.  We are all called, for example, to use all that we have for God's service and to love God above all things; but many religious express this by actually taking a vow to refrain from owning property.  We are all called to put God before all human ties, but some in the religious life express this by making a vow of celibacy.  As St. Paul suggested in 1 Corinthians 7, those who give up some of the good things of this world, like marriage, to focus more directly and in a full-time way on God's service have less "divided interests" and so may, in some ways, accomplish more.  And those who accomplish more in this sense (such as by founding a religious order or becoming a missionary to a bunch of cannibals) are living in such a way as to have their holiness and commitment to God more on display (though that is not, of course, their intention), and so are more likely to be noticed for Sainthood.  Whereas, say, the housewife who spends her days taking care of her children, cooking meals, cleaning the house, and other such more "mundane" sorts of activities, is far less likely to be put on the path to canonization.  But, as St. Francis de Sales reminds us, it doesn't mean that such people are any less holy:

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. 

Also, such "mundane" callings are, of course, just as necessary as the more "extraordinary" callings, in some ways even more so.  However useful it may be, the world can usually survive without the founding of a new religious order.  But the world would not survive very long without mothers willing to take care of their children!

So, in short, we should not be discouraged if we do not seem to live such extraordinary lives as the Saints whose statues we honor in our churches.  In a sense, this is not surprising, since these are the all-stars, so to speak, of the faith.  We can't all be first chair in the violin section or valedictorian of our class, and that is perfectly fine.  Some people have callings, interests, and talents that lead them to such positions, while others have other callings, interests, and talents leading them elsewhere.  They may not be noticed as much, but they are no less important.  If we all devoted our lives to filling roles that tend to get most noticed for canonization, many of us would be neglecting other valid and crucial callings and would leave our families, the Church, and the world impoverished.  And we only see what history has remembered of these Saints, whereas we see our own lives in all their details, good and bad.  But, in another way, these Saints are our role models, because, although they often do it in more dramatic or less ordinary ways, they show us how to live a life devoted to love to God and to our neighbor that we all can and should, by God's grace, strive to emulate.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Dialogue on the Claims of Eastern Orthodoxy

Below is a dialogue outlining my most central reasoning as to why I go with Catholicism rather than Eastern Orthodoxy.  Of course, the dialogue is simplistic.  A real dialogue of this sort would be far more convoluted and complex.  My Eastern Orthodox interlocutor gives up more easily than would happen in a real conversation.  But, from what I have seen, I think the dialogue does capture for the most part (in simplified form) the substantial essence of how the conversation tends to go.

EO:  The Orthodox Church, unlike Protestant denominations, is the church actually founded by Jesus Christ in 33 AD.

RC:  The Orthodox churches certainly have a strong, historic pedigree.  Although they split from Rome eventually, their history traces right back to the historic patristic Church founded by Christ.  So the Catholics and the Orthodox have something in common here in contrast to the various Protestant traditions.

EO:  But the Roman Catholic Church is not the church founded by Christ.  It is schismatic, because the pope, in his arrogance, deviated from the Apostolic Tradition of the Undivided Church and therefore lost communion with the true Church, the Orthodox Church.

RC:  Well, you're right that there was a break, and that does mean that one of the two churches--the Orthodox Church or the Catholic Church--is in schism from the true Church.  We both agree, with the unanimous consent of the Undivided Church of the First Millennium, that schismatics--those who separate from the true Church or from their sister churches for bad reasons or for no good reason--have cut themselves off from the true Church (though the Catholic Church, and some Orthodox churches, recognize some nuances here and don't deny that groups and persons in schism can be in some ways, though imperfectly, still united to the true Church).  But why do you say it is Rome that is schismatic?  What is your basis for thinking that the Orthodox churches were justified in the split and the Catholic Church was not?

EO:  The Church is infallibly guided by the Holy Spirit, and Rome deviated from the Church.

RC:  Well, I agree with you that the Church is guided infallibly by the Holy Spirit.  But the question is, How do you know that it is the Orthodox Church and not the Catholic Church which is the true Church?

EO:  We know it is Orthodoxy which is true because the Church's Tradition has decided it.

RC:  Where has the Church made this decision?  We both share allegiance to the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the First Millennium.  We both agree that these councils give us the deliverances of the true Church and are thus infallible, but these councils do not tell us to go with Orthodoxy over Catholicism.

EO:  Well, things get kind of tricky here.  We're still working on figuring out how to tell when the true Church has spoken.  We're not even sure right now how to tell when a council is Ecumenical.  Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware makes this point:

     But councils of bishops can err and be deceived.  How then can one be certain that a particular gathering is truly an Ecumenical Council and therefore that its decrees are infallible?  Many councils have considered themselves ecumenical and have claimed to speak in the name of the whole Church, and yet the Church has rejected them as heretical: Ephesus in 449, for example, or the Iconoclast Council of Hieria in 754, or Florence in 1438-9.  Yet these councils seem in no way different in outward appearance from the Ecumenical Councils.  What, then, is the criterion for determining whether a council is ecumenical?
     This is a more difficult question to answer than might at first appear, and though it has been much discussed by Orthodox during the past hundred years, it cannot be said that the solutions suggested are entirely satisfactory.  All Orthodox know which are the seven councils that their Church accepts as ecumenical, but precisely what it is that makes a council ecumenical is not so clear.  There are, so it must be admitted, certain points in the Orthodox theology of councils which remain obscure and which call for further thinking on the part of theologians.  (The Orthodox Church [London: Penguin Books, 1997], pp. 251-252).

The "orthodoxwiki" website entry on "Ecumenical Councils" makes the same point:

At the current time, the episcopacy of the Church has not as yet put forward a universal definition as to what precisely lends a council its ecumenicity.

RC:  Wait a minute.  Are you telling me that the Orthodox Church doesn't even claim to have a method to tell when the Church has infallibly spoken?  If that is so, then how can you say that the Church's infallible Tradition has spoken in favor of Orthodoxy over Catholicism?  How can you make any infallible claims about doctrine at all?  It seems to me that if you can't tell when the Church is speaking infallibly, you're in basically the same boat as the Protestants in your epistemology--having to rely on the fallible judgments of individuals as they try to sort out the true doctrine from whatever sources of doctrine are available.  Protestants claim there is no infallible guidance to be had.  You say there is such guidance, but we can't know where it is or what it says infallibly, which in practice amounts to the same thing.

EO:  I guess you have a point there.  OK, so we can't know with the Church's infallible judgment that Orthodoxy is right and Catholicism is wrong.  But that doesn't mean there is no justification for the Orthodox position.  We may not be able to know with infallible judgment that the Orthodox position is correct, but we can know with a fallible judgment.  We can look back at the Scriptures, and at the Fathers and councils of the Church in the First Millennium, and see that Rome has deviated from the Tradition of the Undivided Church in various ways, and that Orthodoxy has not, and so we can know that Orthodoxy is right and Catholicism is wrong.

RC:  But I think your method is question-begging.  Catholics and Orthodox do not agree regarding how to interpret the evidence coming from Scripture and the Fathers.  Both sides think they are in accord with Scripture and the Fathers.  So how do you know your interpretations are correct?  You've already admitted that you have no (knowable) infallible guidance in this matter.  This is the same conversation Catholics have with Protestants.  Protestants--say, Baptists--bring forward what they think is indisputable evidence from Scripture that infants should not be baptized, and they try to use that as an argument against the Catholic Church, saying that the Church has deviated from Scripture and so is proven false.  But they are begging the question, because they are assuming that Sola Scriptura is the right way to interpret the Bible.  If, instead, God intends for the Bible to be interpreted in the light of infallible Church Tradition, it follows that interpretations derived from the Sola Scriptura method are not reliable or authoritative.  You are doing the same thing.  You are coming up with controversial interpretations of Scripture and the Fathers, and then assuming your interpretations are correct without considering whether Scripture and the Fathers are meant to be read in the way you are reading them or whether rather they are intended to be interpreted in light of a living, authoritative, infallible Church Tradition that we actually have access to--which is the Catholic point of view.  So, in short, your argument against Catholicism based on your personal interpretations of Scripture and the Fathers is question-begging because it is based on the unproven assumption that Scripture and the Fathers are meant to be interpreted using our fallible judgment rather than in light of a knowable, infallible Catholic tradition.

EO:  OK, you do have a point there.  But surely, even without infallible guidance, we can tell well enough what Scripture and the Fathers are saying to show clearly that Catholicism is a deviation from them.  For example, the Scriptures so clearly teach that Jesus is the Son of God that anyone who says he isn't would clearly be in conflict with Scripture.  We don't need infallible guidance to see that!  (I'm not, of course, saying that Catholics don't believe that Jesus is the Son of God.  I'm just making the point that there are some truths plainly enough taught in Scripture.)  We can also see that the Catholic Church has added all sorts of doctrines to the faith that weren't taught by the Fathers, such as the use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist and the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

RC:  I agree that in some cases, with very basic, extremely foundational truths, Scripture (and the Fathers) are so clear that the right interpretation is obvious and there couldn't possibly be any other reading.  But the points on which Catholics and Orthodox, and most other groups of Christians, disagree are not so plain and obvious as that, but often involve more complex and subtle interpretative questions.  This is so even with a claim like "Jesus is the Son of God."  Sure, anyone who says "Jesus isn't the Son of God in the sense Scripture intends" would be obviously and unavoidably out of accord with Scripture, but what Christian is going to say that?  What actually happens is that different groups interpret the meaning of this phrase is contrary ways, ways that are harder to sort out from a "plain" reading of the text.  That is why the historic Church has always recognized the essential requirement that the Scriptures (and the Fathers) be read in light of authoritative and infallible (and, obviously, knowable) Church Tradition.  St. Vincent of Lerins, whom we both respect as a saint, articulates this well:

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)

It is also important to remember that the Tradition of the Church develops over time, a point that both of us accept.  The revelation has all been given to us, and there is no more public revelation, but the Church grows in its understanding, articulation, and application of this revelation over time as the Holy Spirit guides her.  The decision of the Council of Jerusalem in the Book of Acts regarding the circumcision of Gentiles is a good example of this.  St. Vincent speaks about this as well:

[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. (Commonitory, Chapter 23--from the New Advent website, embedded links removed) 

Even Protestants admit the reality of the Church's doctrinal development.  If the Church's Tradition develops over time, this makes it especially difficult to sort out true development from false development (that is, mutation or distortion).  We cannot simply read the Fathers and make a one-to-one correspondence with what they said, how they said it, and what they were doing to our own times without critical interpretative thought.  Orthodox author Vincent Gabriel has put this well in an excellent article:

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). . . . 
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.

You mentioned two points of dispute between Catholics and (some, but not all) Orthodox--the use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist in western Catholic rites (but not the Eastern Catholic rites) and the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.  Your argument is that leavened bread was used in the early Church.  But the history here is disputed.  The Eastern churches seem historically to have used unleavened bread, but do we know that all the Western churches always used leavened bread?  For the sake of argument, let's say they did.  Does that prove that leavened bread must always be used?  There was no council in the First Millennium in which the whole Church agreed definitively that only leavened bread must ever be used in the Eucharist.  How do you know, then, that unleavened bread is ruled out definitively?  How are we going to come to a conclusion on this issue?  The Catholic Church's answer is that we must look to the infallible developing Tradition of the Catholic Church today to answer that question, and the answer is clear:  Both leavened bread and unleavened bread are inherently permissible.  Your answer is that we must dig through the Fathers of the First Millennium and try to infer from hints and clues in their writings what we should hold on this subject today.  But your method is inherently question-begging, because it assumes that the fallible interpretative conclusions of individuals, rather than the knowable infallible conclusions of the Catholic Church, are the proper basis upon which to draw a conclusion in this matter.  Again, this is just as question-begging as the Protestant who appeals to his own personal interpretation of the Bible to trump the infallible interpretation of the Catholic Church.  He is merely assuming rather than proving that he is using the Bible correctly when he uses it in a Sola Scriptura manner to reach doctrinal conclusions.  And you are merely assuming rather than proving that the proper way to draw doctrinal conclusions for today is not to listen to the knowable infallible authority of the Catholic Church but instead to sort through the thousands of pages of Scripture and the Fathers in an effort to reach the best inferred conclusions using your own fallible judgment.

The same could be said for your concern about the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.  You say that the early Church did not know this doctrine.  But the early Church knew of the sinlessness of Mary, and her purity from all stains is acknowledged today in both the Catholic and the Orthodox liturgies.  It is true that it wasn't until the later Middle Ages that the Catholic Church as a whole came to the definitive conclusion that Mary's sinlessness implies her Immaculate Conception, but how does that prove that the Catholic Church was wrong in eventually drawing explicitly that conclusion?  "But it's not in the Fathers!" doesn't cut it, unless you reject the whole principle of development of doctrine and simply assume without proof that your way of interpreting the Fathers and the proper methods of doctrinal development are correct and the Catholic views on these are wrong.

Your accusations against the Catholic Church here are also a bit hypocritical, for Orthodox doctrine depends no less on the principle of doctrinal development than Catholic doctrine does, as Vincent Gabriel noted above.  Take the question of the use of images in Christian worship.  Where in the Bible is the question of images in New Testament worship discussed?  Nowhere.  What did the early Fathers have to say about it?  Early on, they seem to be a mixed bag, with some favoring and some opposing.  It was not until the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 AD that the Church finally made a definitive affirmation that images are to be used in worship.  Was that council's ruling correct?  You could not determine this from Scripture alone or from the earlier Fathers alone without question-begging.  The only way to know conclusively that the council was correct is to have reason to trust the council's conclusions as the infallible deliverances of an Ecumenical Council (which the Orthodox accept, but admit they don't really know why they accept it).  Similarly, the way we know that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is the correct doctrine is not by using our fallible judgment to sort out clues in the thousands of pages of Fathers who don't definitively determine this, but to trust the judgment of the living, infallible, authoritative Catholic Church.  Or, at least, that is the Catholic claim, which you ignore in your unproven assumption that we don't have to listen to that claimed authority.

So it seems to me that when all is said and done, what it comes down to is that you Orthodox split from Rome without any reasonable or conclusive justification, and we would both agree, along with the unanimous consensus of the Undivided Church of the First Millennium, that to do this is to merit justly the label "schismatic."  So I conclude, reasonably, that the Orthodox churches are not the true Church, but are schismatic churches that have separated themselves from the true Catholic Church founded by Christ (though, again, there are nuances here we don't want to forget).

EO:  I don't know what to say.  But, if we are schismatic because we have no justification for our separation from Rome, how do you Catholics justify your separation from us?  How can you avoid being in the same boat?

RC:  The answer to that is simple.  Christ appointed Peter the head of his Church, and made him the means of avoiding schism in his Body.  As St. Jerome said,

[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.  (Against Jovinianus [Book I], section 26--New Advent website)

Peter's authority was passed on to the bishops of Rome, who continue it to the present day.  The bishop of Rome, as head of the Church, prevents schism, because when groups within the Church become divided in such a way that it is not empirically obvious who is right, we can know who is right by following the authority of the bishop of Rome.  As the great 7th century Eastern theologian St. Maximus the Confessor (recognized as a saint and a great theologian by both Catholics and Orthodox) put it,

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)

Or we could cite the words of that formula signed by the Eastern churches in the 6th century and again affirmed in the 9th century:

The first salvation is to keep the rule of right faith, and in no way to wander from the laws of the fathers. And that the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said: Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, etc., may not be ignored is proved by the result: because in the Apostolic See religion has always been kept immaculate. Desiring therefore by no means to be separated from this hope and faith, and following in all things the laws of the fathers, we anathematize all heretics . . .  
Wherefore we receive and approve all the letters of Pope Leo, whichever he wrote concerning the Christian religion. Hence, as we have said, following the Apostolic See in all things, and teaching its decrees, I hope that I may be worthy to be in the one communion with you [referring to the pope], which the Apostolic See teaches, in which is the full and true solidity of the Christian religion. Promising also that the names of those who are banished from the communion of the Catholic Church, that is, those who do not consent to the Apostolic See, are not to be recited in the holy mysteries.

EO:  But how do you know that this doctrine of the papacy is the correct doctrine, and the correct method of settling schism?

RC:  Because this doctrine was the only doctrine developed by the Undivided Church of the First Millennium which addresses this issue.  The Patristic Church was clear and unanimous on the need to trust the infallible, living Tradition of the Catholic Church.  But this cannot be done if we have no viable method for determining who is right when splits like the Orthodox-Catholic split occur.  As we have seen, and as they tend to admit, the Orthodox have no clear, authoritative, or viable answer here, and neither do any of the other churches which have separated from Rome over the centuries.  No one has ever put forward any answer other than the papacy, while the doctrine of the papacy has Scriptural roots and has been taught and respected in the Church, both East and West, since the beginning, so far as we can tell from the historical records, and as St. Maximus the Confessor testified.  So our choice of a viable way to recognize the Church's Tradition boils down to this: the papacy or nothing.  Obviously, given this choice, the papacy wins.  And so we know that the papacy is the right answer, and from this we know that it is the Catholic Church that is the true Church and that the Orthodox churches are schismatic.

For more detailed development of the arguments made here, see this article.  (And see this article for a similar-style dialogue between a Catholic and a Protestant.)