Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Empiricism and sola scriptura redux


After my recent series of long posts on sola scriptura (here, here, and here), I fear that you, dear reader, may be starting to feel as burned out on the topic as I do.  But one final post is in order, both because there are a couple of further points I think worth making, and because Andrew Fulford at The Calvinist International has now posted a rejoinder to my response to him.  And as it happens, what I have to say about his latest article dovetails somewhat with what I was going to say anyway.  (Be warned that the post to follow is pretty long.  But it’s also the last post I hope to write on this topic for a long while.)

Following Feyerabend, I’ve been comparing sola scriptura to early modern empiricism.  Let’s pursue the analogy a little further and consider two specific parallels between the doctrines.  First, both face a fatal dilemma of being either self-defeating or vacuous.  Second, each is committed to a reductionism which crudely distorts the very epistemic criterion it claims zealously to uphold.  Let’s consider these issues in turn.

Either self-refuting or vacuous

Modern empiricism hoped sharply to delimit the boundaries of speculative reason in a way that would decisively undermine (what empiricists regarded as) the excesses of Scholastic and rationalist metaphysics.  Principles like Hume’s Fork -- the thesis that any meaningful proposition must concern either “relations of ideas” or “matters of fact” -- seemed at first glance formidable weapons in the empiricist arsenal.  The key theses of Scholastic and rationalist metaphysics appear to be neither true by virtue of the relations of the ideas they express, nor knowable the way ordinary empirical matters of fact are.  Thus we may as well “commit them to the flames,” as Hume recommended.  A crisp and clear refutation of traditional metaphysics, yes?

Well, no, actually, for there are several serious problems with Hume’s Fork.  First, why should anyone find the principle remotely plausible in the first place who isn’t already committed to the background empiricist picture of human knowledge that informs it -- as, of course, Scholastics and rationalists are not?  From the point of view of those against whom the principle was directed, then, it seems manifestly a question-begging non-starter.  Second, there are areas of knowledge affirmed by both empiricists and their enemies for which Hume’s Fork cannot plausibly account.  In particular, truths of logic and mathematics are notoriously difficult to make sense of in terms of either Hume’s “relations of ideas” or “matters of fact.”  Third, taken at face value the principle is obviously self-refuting.  For Hume’s Fork is not itself either true by virtue of the relations of the ideas it expresses, nor knowable the way ordinary empirical matters of fact are.  Hence, by its own standard, it would have to be rejected as meaningless.  Or if it is not meaningless, that can only be because it presupposes precisely the third, metaphysical sort of perspective that it purports to rule out. 

Later successors to Hume’s Fork -- such as the logical positivist’s principle of verifiability, or the contemporary naturalist’s thesis that respectable metaphysical propositions would have to be either claims of empirical science or matters of “conceptual analysis” -- face exactly the same sorts of problems.  (For discussion, see chapter 0 of Scholastic Metaphysics.  I’ve also discussed the problems facing contemporary naturalist riffs on Hume’s principle in earlier articles online, here, here, and here.) 

Now, in response to such objections, empiricists and naturalists often pull back from the face value reading of principles like Hume’s and propose that what they are offering instead is, or is better read as, something much more modest.  It isn’t that the empiricist is boldly claiming to be able decisively to refute the claims of traditional metaphysics, or dogmatically insisting that there can be no meaningful or justifiable propositions other than the two kinds that Hume or a positivist would recognize.  Rather (so it is suggested) the empiricist principles are best read merely as cautions against metaphysical overreach and counsels to epistemological modesty.  They provide something like a burden of proof which any respectable metaphysics ought to try to reach, insofar as theories which respect empiricist or naturalist scruples have shown greater “success” than their rationalist or Scholastic rivals.  Which all sounds innocuous and reasonable.

Except that it is in fact entirely arbitrary, dogmatic, and question-begging.  Again, any attempt to spell out the two sorts of domain that early modern empiricists and their contemporary successors are willing to recognize -- on the one hand, “relations of ideas,” or “analytic truths,” or “conceptual analysis” or some variation thereof; and on the other hand, “matters of fact,” or “synthetic propositions,” or claims of natural science, or something along those lines -- presupposes a third perspective, over and above these two, from which they can be surveyed.  And again, logic and mathematics remain as difficult to fit into either variation of the two as they were in Hume’s day.  So why on earth should anyone for a moment take seriously the proposal that we should try to confine ourselves as far as we can, even in a less dogmatic way than Hume does, to the two domains in question?  We already know that they do not exhaust the territory.  It’s like saying: “Sure, we now know that North and South America, and Australia too, exist.  But still, for reasons of parsimony, modesty, etc. let’s try as far as we can to confine our maps and globes to picturing Europe, Africa, and Asia.”

Nor does it help for a moment to appeal (as is commonly done these days) to the purportedly greater “success” or “fruitfulness” of the sorts of theories empiricists and naturalists are comfortable with.  For what are the criteria by which “success” or “fruitfulness” are to be determined?  Consider the Aristotelian theory of act and potency.  We Thomistic metaphysicians would argue that it is absolutely indispensible to making sense of the entire range of metaphysical issues -- change, multiplicity, causation, substance, essence, existence, you name it.  A book like this one can be read as one long argument for the “success” and “fruitfulness” of the theory of act and potency. 

Of course, the contemporary naturalist or empiricist will object that this is not the kind of “success” or “fruitfulness” that he has in mind.  What he has in mind is rather the kind of predictive power and technological application that a good scientific theory possesses.  But of course, whether these are the only criteria for accepting a theory -- including a metaphysical theory -- is precisely part of what is at issue between empiricists and naturalists on the one hand and their Scholastic and rationalist critics on the other.  Why on earth should those be the only criteria by which we judge the “success” or “fruitfulness” even of a metaphysical theory -- especially when, again, empiricism and naturalism themselves could not survive such a test, and when they make use of knowledge (of logic and mathematics) which is not plausibly analyzable in terms of the proposed criterion?  What non-question-begging reason could there possibly be for so confining ourselves?

The only motivation for the purportedly more modest and reasonable form of empiricism or naturalism appears to be to find a way to avoid having to commit oneself to the metaphysical theses empiricists and naturalists don’t like, without falling into the self-refutation problem that afflicts principles like Hume’s Fork or the principle of verifiability.  That is to say, it is entirely ad hoc and devoid of non-question-begging support.  Philosophically speaking, it simply floats in mid-air, unjustified and unjustifiable.  It is nothing more than an expression of prejudice against traditional metaphysics, rather than any principled grounds for rejecting traditional metaphysics.  And the only way to avoid these problems would be to provide robust metaphysical argumentation of exactly the kind the position is seeking to avoid -- which would make the whole position self-defeating and pointless. (We’ve seen this problem arise in some recent defenses of naturalism, e.g. here and here.) 

Now, I maintain that sola scriptura faces exactly the same sorts of problems.  Just as Hume’s Fork was intended to curb the purported excesses of traditional metaphysics, so too was sola scriptura intended to curb the purported excesses of Catholic theology.  And as with Hume’s Fork, sola scriptura appears at first glance to provide a crisp and clear criterion for testing the claims to which it was meant to be applied.  But on closer inspection, sola scriptura taken at face value is also subject to precisely the same sorts of objections that afflict Hume’s principle. 

First, why on earth should anyone take seriously the sola scriptura criterion in the first place?  Why should we affirm “scripture alone” as opposed to “Paul’s epistles alone” or “John 3:16 alone” or “the Gospels alone” or “scripture plus the Church Fathers alone” or “scripture plus the first seven ecumenical councils alone” or “scripture plus the councils plus the teachings of the first ten popes alone” or “scripture plus the letters of Ignatius alone” -- or any of a number of other possible ways of gerrymandering the various sources of authority that the Church had traditionally recognized prior to Luther?  And even if we did affirm “scripture alone,” why confine ourselves to the list of scriptural texts as Protestants would draw it up, rather than the canonical list as Catholics would draw it up?  Just as Humean empiricists have no non-question-begging way of explaining why we should confine ourselves to “relations of ideas” and “matters of fact,” sola scriptura advocates have no non-question begging way of explaining why we should confine ourselves to exactly the texts they say are “scriptural,” rather than to more texts or fewer texts or other texts entirely. 

Second, just as the Humean empiricist makes use of knowledge for which his principle cannot account (namely the truths of logic and metaphysics), so too does the sola scriptura advocate make use of knowledge for which his principle cannot account.  For example, scripture alone does not give you a list of exactly which books count as scripture.  (Occasionally there is a reference in some scriptural text to some other particular scriptural text, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  What we don’t have is anything remotely close to: “Here is a list of all and only the texts that count as scriptural” -- and even if we did, we’d have to ask how we know that that text is itself really scriptural.)  Then there all the various specific doctrinal matters which (a) advocates of sola scriptura typically regard as definitive of Christian orthodoxy even though (b) advocates of sola scriptura have also taken radically different and opposed positions on.  In my previous post, I gave as examples the centuries-old controversies concerning the Trinity, the Incarnation, justification, transubstantiation, contraception, divorce and remarriage, Sunday observance, infant baptism, slavery, pacifism, the consistency of scripture with scientific claims, and sola scriptura itself.  If the sola scriptura advocate says (for example) “You must be a Trinitarian on pain of heresy” even though advocates of sola scriptura disagree about whether Trinitarianism is really scriptural, then he is in a position analogous to that of the Humean who makes use of mathematics, even though it is extremely dubious at best whether mathematics can be analyzed in terms of either “relations of ideas” or “matters of fact.”

Third, just as Hume’s Fork is self-refuting insofar as it cannot be known in terms of either “relations of ideas” or “matters of fact,” so too is sola scriptura self-refuting, since it is not itself found in scripture.  It presupposes precisely the sort of extra-scriptural theological criterion it purports to rule out.

Now, just as the empiricist often pulls back from the face value reading of Hume’s Fork and claims to be committed only to a more modest and non-self-defeating position, so too does the sola scriptura advocate often claim to be committed only to a more modest position than the self-defeating one I’ve been describing.  Indeed, I’ve been seeing exactly this sort of move made in response to my series of posts on sola scriptura.  “Well sure, Ed, those criticisms might hold against some simplistic version of sola scriptura, but not against the much more nuanced position that its more serious advocates are committed to!” 

Hence, just the as the purportedly more subtle empiricist or naturalist doesn’t dogmatically rule out altogether claims that are neither matters of conceptual analysis nor empirical science, but merely proposes the latter as a sure guide by which to judge all other claims, so too does the purportedly more subtle sola scriptura advocate not dogmatically rule out theological claims and sources other than scripture, but merely proposes scripture as the one sure, infallible guide by which to judge all other theological claims.  And just as the purportedly more subtle empiricist or naturalist claims merely to be commending epistemological modesty and confining ourselves to “successful” and “fruitful” theories, so too does the purportedly more subtle sola scriptura advocate claim merely to be commending theological modesty and avoiding the doctrinal errors into which pre-Reformation theology had fallen.  Which also all sounds innocuous and reasonable.

Except that it too is in fact entirely arbitrary, dogmatic, and question-begging, and for reasons which exactly parallel the problems with the allegedly more modest empiricism.  For again, we need to take a vantage point from outside of scripture even to judge that scripture really is itself reliable and to determine which texts count as scripture -- just as the empiricist or naturalist has to take a point of view outside of either conceptual analysis or natural science in order to judge that they have a privileged status.  So why exactly should we count scripture (and especially scripture as Protestants draw up the list) as the one infallible guide -- any more than we should regard conceptual analysis or natural science as somehow privileged?  Why not instead count as the one infallible guide scripture as Catholics would draw up the list, or scripture-together-with-the-decrees-of-such-and-such-councils, or some part of scripture such as the Gospels, or any of an indefinite number of other possible lists of authoritative texts?  And why take there to be only one infallible guide in the first place?  Why not two or three or fourteen?  The purportedly more modest version of sola scriptura has no better answer to this than the more simplistic version does, any more than the purportedly more modest empiricism has a good answer to the parallel problem facing it. 

Nor does it for a moment help to appeal to theological modesty or the need to avoid the purported “errors” of pre-Reformation theology.  For all of this begs the question no less than the naturalist’s appeal to the “success” criterion does.  For one thing, the critic of sola scriptura maintains that what sola scriptura advocates regard as errors and theological overreach were not errors or overreach at all.  And the critic of sola scriptura also maintains both that sola scriptura advocates have fallen into errors of their own, and that they cannot justify on scriptural grounds alone certain key doctrines to which both sides are committed, such as Trinitarianism -- just as the critic of empiricism would claim that even the purportedly more modest empiricism cannot account for certain things both empiricists and their critics have in common (e.g. logic and mathematics).  

Naturally, the sola scriptura advocate will deny all this.  But the problem is that even the purportedly more modest, non-simplistic version of sola scriptura has no non-question-begging reason for denying it.  The position is entirely ad hoc, having no motivation at all other than as a way of trying to maintain rejection of the various Catholic doctrines the sola scriptura advocate doesn’t like, without falling into the self-refutation problem facing the more simplistic version of sola scriptura.  It is nothing more than an expression of one’s rejection of those Catholic doctrines, and in no way provides a rational justification for rejecting them (just as the empiricist or naturalist criteria are really just the expression of a rejection of traditional metaphysics disguised as a rational justification for rejecting it).  And so much extra-scriptural argumentation ends up having to do the key work -- the work of determining what counts as scripture, the work of drawing implications from scripture, the work of arguing in a non-question-begging way that positions other than sola scriptura have led to grave theological errors, etc. -- that it is completely unclear why there is any point in trying to maintain that “scripture alone” is our infallible guide. 

So, again, the purportedly more modest and sophisticated version of sola scriptura ends up being as arbitrary and dogmatic as the simplistic version, and as arbitrary and dogmatic as empiricism. 

Fulford’s failure

Now, Fulford’s latest response inadvertently does nothing but confirm this harsh judgment.  Recall point (c) of the Jesuit critique of sola scriptura cited by Feyerabend, according to which scripture alone cannot give us a procedure for deriving consequences from scripture, applying it to new circumstances, etc.  I had noted in a previous post that one way this problem manifests itself is in the difficulty sola scriptura advocates have had in coming to agreement on issues like the Trinity, the Incarnation, justification, transubstantiation, contraception, divorce and remarriage, Sunday observance, infant baptism, slavery, pacifism, the consistency of scripture with scientific claims, etc.  I noted that appeal to extra-scriptural considerations of a philosophical sort is necessary in order to settle such issues.  And I noted that if the sola scriptura advocate maintains that getting such issues right is a matter of basic orthodoxy, while also admitting that extra-scriptural philosophical considerations are needed in order to settle them, then he has made of sola scriptura a vacuous thesis.  In his latest article, Fulford responds:

[W]hen magisterial Protestants like Turretin affirmed the concept of sola scriptura, they never meant by it to exclude philosophical knowledge such as substance metaphysics, etc. as a source for theology

[H]istorically the point of the slogan is to delimit infallible communications to the text of scripture, and exclude the communications of councils and Popes from that category

In sum, it is that the scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith. Every word in that definition is important: it is the sole infallible rule, not the only source of relevant information.

Now, the trouble with this response is that Fulford simply ignores the various specific examples I gave of issues that couldn’t be settled by scripture alone -- again, issues concerning the Trinity, Incarnation, justification, etc.  When one keeps those examples in mind, the problem with Fulford’s response is obvious.  If Fulford says that these doctrinal issues can be settled by appeal to scripture alone, then he is saying something manifestly false, or at least question-begging, since whether they can be so settled is part of what is at issue between us.  If he admits that they cannot be settled by scripture alone but require appeal to extra-biblical philosophical considerations, then -- since he thinks those extra-biblical considerations are not infallible -- then he will have to say that the positions one might take on these various theological issues are not infallible either.  For example, he will have to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is not infallible, since it depends in part on (what he regards as) non-infallible extra-scriptural philosophical premises.  And if such doctrines are not infallible, then they cannot be regarded as binding matters of basic orthodoxy, any more than the specifically Catholic doctrines Fulford and other Protestants reject can be regarded by him as binding.

I doubt Fulford would want to bite that bullet.  But suppose he did.  Suppose he said: “OK, since what I regard as the orthodox positions on the Trinity, Incarnation, etc. cannot be settled by scripture alone but require appeal to fallible extra-scriptural premises, I conclude that those positions are not after all binding on all Christians on pain of heterodoxy.”  In that case, he will have made of sola scriptura a vacuous doctrine.  For if sola scriptura cannot settle fundamental doctrinal issues that have divided Christians for centuries -- again, the Trinity, the Incarnation, justification, transubstantiation, contraception, divorce and remarriage, Sunday observance, infant baptism, slavery, pacifism, the consistency of scripture with scientific claims, etc., or indeed even sola scriptura itself -- then what exactly is the value or point of the thesis?  Exactly what sure guidance does it give us, and why should we be so confident of it if we can’t be confident of these other things? 

Fulford says absolutely nothing to resolve this problem.  In particular, he says nothing to show why the position of a sola scriptura advocate who regards certain positions on the Trinity, Incarnation, justification, etc. as binding matters of orthodoxy is any less ad hoc, arbitrary, and dogmatic  than the position of the Humean empiricist.

Now let’s turn to Fulford’s latest remarks on point (b) of the Jesuit critique cited by Feyerabend, which was that scripture alone cannot tell us how to interpret scripture.  I illustrated the problem by citing the parallel example of the controversy over interpreting Aristotle’s position in De Anima concerning the immortality of the soul.  Fulford responds:

Dr. Feser is certainly correct that Aristotle’s views on those matters are continuing controversies. But, on the other hand, no competent historian to my knowledge disputes that, for example, Aristotle’s texts teach the distinction between act and potency…

Protestants will contend that everything we need to know from scripture to be saved is like my act/potency example, and not like the immortality of the soul example. That is, based on inspecting the actual texts of scripture, they argue that it is quite clear what God wants us to do to be saved.

End quote.  Here too the problem is that Fulford completely ignores the specific examples of doctrinal examples that I gave -- again, the Trinity, the Incarnation, justification, transubstantiation, contraception, divorce and remarriage, Sunday observance, infant baptism, slavery, pacifism, the consistency of scripture with scientific claims, sola scriptura itself, etc.  When we keep these examples in mind, we can see the grave dilemma Fulford has put himself in.  Is Fulford claiming that it is just as obvious what scripture teaches on these issues as it is obvious what Aristotle teaches about act and potency? 

If he is claiming this, then he is saying something manifestly false, and certainly question-begging.  For of course, whether such issues really can be settled by appeal to scripture alone is part of what is at issue between sola scriptura advocates and their critics.  On the other hand, if he admits that such issues cannot be settled by appeal to scripture alone, then he will have to admit that what Aristotle says about act and potency is not after all a good analogy for the sorts of positions which Protestants typically regard as matters of basic orthodoxy.  For as Fulford says, no one denies that Aristotle taught the theory of act and potency.  But lots of people disagree about whether scripture really teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Lutheran or Calvinist view of justification, etc.  Yet Protestants also hold that having the right position on those issues is a matter of basic orthodoxy. 

To be sure, Fulford seems to think that the doctrinal diversity among readers of scripture shouldn’t be regarded as a problem for sola scriptura.  Why not?  Well, he says that there are, for one thing, those “who agree with the material authority of scripture (e.g., Muslims, Mormons), but deny it formally, because they say it has been corrupted in the transmission.”  Their views, Fulford apparently thinks, don’t count and shouldn’t be taken into consideration when evaluating sola scriptura.  Then there are “some hold to the infallibility of the scriptures but do not interpret them according to grammatico-historical principles (i.e., they use allegorical methods of interpretation.”  Apparently Fulford thinks their views shouldn’t count either.  Also, there are “some [who] hold to the infallibility of the scriptures and interpret them according to the grammatico-historical method (e.g., Jehovah’s Witnesses, Arians)” -- but where Fulford, as a Calvinist, would naturally think of them as having erred doctrinally.  So, apparently their views don’t count either when evaluating sola scriptura.  Then there is the point that “there are many disagreements from a Protestant point of view that do not threaten the salvation of those involved.”  Hence, if there is disagreement over how to interpret what scripture says about these issues, we shouldn’t count that against sola scriptura.  Finally, there are those whose reading of scripture is distorted by “affection for traditional or community (whether secular or ecclesiastical) doctrines,” or by “willful distortion… for personal gain,” or by “ignorance of the full scope of scriptural teaching, whether due to immaturity or laziness.”

So, which religious groups should we look at when we want to determine whether sola scriptura really has led to radical doctrinal disagreement? Apparently, we should look only at those Protestant groups that Andrew Fulford regards as within the ballpark of respectable views.  And it turns out -- what are the odds? -- that the doctrinal diversity among those groups vis-à-vis the issues that really matter isn’t so great after all!  Lucky thing for sola scriptura, that.

Except that the problem with this, of course, is that it quite obviously and quite massively begs the question.  For why should we suppose that those who think that scripture has “been corrupted in the transmission” are wrong?  Why should we prefer “grammatico-historical principles” over “allegorical” ones, or over some combination of the two approaches?  How exactly are these views incompatible with sola scriptura?   How can scripture alone tell us whether the text has been corrupted or whether grammatico-historical principles should be preferred over allegorical principles?  (And if it can’t, why isn’t that a problem for sola scriptura, especially since it has such radical implications for doctrine?)  Why exactly should we think that it is the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Arians, rather than their critics, who have simply gotten scripture wrong?  Why should we suppose that those controversial doctrines which Fulford says are irrelevant to salvation really are irrelevant to salvation?  Why should we agree with him that certain interpretations are merely the product of willful distortion, ignorance, etc.?  What non-question-begging answer can Fulford possibly give to such questions?  Since he doesn’t even try to answer them, we don’t know.

Reductionism

Let me turn now to the reductionism to which I referred earlier, before responding to Fulford’s other remarks.  Recall that I noted in my initial post in this series that by “experience,” the Aristotelian philosopher means more or less what common sense means.  Hence, consider the case where I’m fully alert, in good health, looking at a green coffee cup right in front of me, in good light with no obstructions, etc.  In a circumstance like that, “There’s a green coffee cup on the table” is something which both common sense and Aristotelian philosophy alike would agree is directly known via experience.  But not so for the empiricist, who would say that all we really know directly in such a case is “There’s a greenish patch of color in the center of my field of vision,” or “I am being appeared to greenly,” or some such thing.  For the Aristotelian, greenish color patches and the like are not the objects of experience, but rather abstractions from experience, which has just the objects common sense supposes it to have.  What I perceive is the cup itself.  It is only by abstracting from my perception of the cup that I arrive at theoretical notions like the notion of a color patch, of being appeared to greenly, etc.  The empiricist takes these abstracted notions and redefines experience in terms of them, reducing experience to the awareness of these strange entities. 

The procedure is the epistemological analogue of metaphysical reductionism.  For the Aristotelian, a stone or a vine is a genuine substance, rather than a mere collection of substances or a modification of a substance.  By contrast, a pile of stones, or a paperweight made out of a stone chiseled into a square shape, is not a true substance.  In these cases, the true substances are the many stones (in the case of the pile) or the one stone (in the case of the paperweight).  The pile is nothing more than the collection of the several substances, and the square shape is nothing more than a modification of the one substance.  Similarly, whereas a vine is a substance, a hammock made out of vines is not, but is merely a modification of the true substances (the vines) that make it up.  Now, the metaphysical reductionist treats the stone and vine as if they too were really just collections or modifications of substances.  He treats the stone, say, as “nothing but” a collection of particles, which are regarded as the true substances; or he treats the vine as “nothing but” a collection of cells, which are regarded as the true substances.  For the Aristotelian, this is a deep mistake.  The particles that make up the stone are in a sense less fundamental than the stone, and the cells less fundamental than the vine.  The reductionist abstracts out parts that are properly understood only in light of the whole, and then reduces the whole to them.  (See chapter 3 of Scholastic Metaphysics for a defense of the Aristotelian view of substance and a critique of reductionism.) 

Now, let’s turn to the parallel with sola scriptura -- which will take some spelling out, so bear with me a little longer.  Just as perception involves a relationship between a perceiving person and a physical object, so too communication involves a relationship between a person and the other person with whom he is communicating.  One mind conveys its thoughts to another mind.  Of course, this is done through the medium of spoken or written words, just as perception is accomplished through the medium of sense impressions.  But just as, in perception, it isn’t the sense impression itself that you grasp, but rather the physical object that you grasp, by means of the sense impression, so too in communication it isn’t strictly the other person’s words you grasp, but rather his thoughts, by means of his words.  That’s why in the ordinary case we say things like “I listened carefully to Fred,” rather than “I listened carefully to the words that were coming out of Fred’s mouth,” or “I’m going to go talk to Bob” rather than “I’m going to go send some words in Bob’s direction.”  The empiricist errs in thinking that it is really sense impressions rather than physical objects that we perceive, and it would be similarly erroneous to think that it is really words rather than people that we are communicating with. 

Now, divine revelation is a kind of communication, and as I noted in a previous post, all sides in the debate over sola scriptura agree that this revelation takes place through human intermediaries.  One kind of intermediary would be a prophet.  When a prophet speaks to you, what you need to understand if you are going to understand his message is the thoughts he intends to convey to you.  Of course, he will convey those thoughts through words, but it is strictly speaking not the words in and of themselves that you are trying to understand, but rather the thoughts through the words, by means of the words.  And that is true whether or not the words are spoken or written. 

In saying that much, I am not saying anything that I think a sola scriptura advocate like Fulford would disagree with.  I think all sides would agree that when God speaks through St. Paul (say) we need to understand what St. Paul himself meant to convey by his words if we are going to understand what God willed to communicate.  We need to learn the mind of St. Paul through his words.  Scripture is important because it is through it that we get to the thoughts of the scriptural authors, and thus to the divine message that is sent by virtue of those thoughts having been inspired.

Now, if revelation takes place fundamentally through persons themselves, then there is a potential problem.  Persons die, or at least human persons do.  A prophet might speak or write, but when he’s gone, all we have left are his remembered or written words, and where those words are unclear, or incomplete, or indeterminate in their application to new circumstances, we cannot ask him for clarification.  Of course, God could miraculously keep some prophet from dying so that he will always be around in the community for us to consult.  But as everyone agrees, he has not done so.  That is to say, there is no prophet who has been alive and living visibly on earth for (say) the last two thousand years.  God could also send a series of prophets, each one succeeded by another who can be consulted when the previous one dies.  But he has not done that either.  There is no line of prophets that has continued from the time of Christ (say) down to the present day.

Is there any other option?  There is.  Scholastic philosophers commonly draw a distinction between a natural person (or “physical person”), and a moral person (or “juridical person”).  A natural person is a particular, individual human being -- you, me, Barack Obama, and so forth.  A moral person is a society of human beings organized in such a way that they have a common end and some of the rights and duties that human beings have.  For example, a state is a moral person, as is a corporation.  Hence states and corporations have certain rights that they can claim against individual human beings and against other moral persons, they have duties to other persons whether natural or moral, they can carry out policies which are said to express the will of the state or corporation, and so forth.  Now, individual human beings -- members, office holders, employees, etc. -- are always the ones who carry out the actions of moral persons.  Still, moral persons exist over and above the individual people who happen to be the members, office holders, employees, etc. at any one time.  A state or corporation can maintain the same basic character, policies, rights, responsibilities, etc. generation after generation, over many centuries.

Now, like natural persons, moral persons can communicate.  States can issue decrees, corporations can advertise, and so forth, and these communications can of course take written form, as well as being expressed vocally by the officials of the state or corporation.  A moral person can even bind itself to follow perpetually the policies expressed in certain documents.  The United States government, for example, is bound to carry out the directives of the U.S. Constitution, to follow the laws passed by Congress, and so on.  To do so, however, it has to interpret those documents so as to know what their intent was, determine how to apply them to new circumstances, and so forth.  And that is what one branch of the U.S. government -- the courts, and ultimately the Supreme Court -- is charged with doing.

Needless to say, it doesn’t always do it well.  But of course, there are also false prophets.  Now, God can of course ensure that a prophet is not a false prophet.  The existence of false prophets doesn’t entail that all alleged prophets are false, any more than the existence of counterfeit money entails that all money is counterfeit.  By the same token, that some moral persons have been corrupted doesn’t entail that all moral persons must in fact become corrupt. 

So, if individual human persons do not in fact function as ongoing channels of divine communication, there is still the option of a moral person serving as this channel.  And if divinely guided, it can be preserved from teaching theological error.  Of course, just as a prophet or apostle might have a bad day -- Moses lost his temper at times, Peter sometimes lost his nerve, and so forth -- so too might such a moral person make mistakes of a sort.  But as with a prophet or apostle, it will suffice if this moral person really is infallible when it claims to be teaching infallibly, even if it is not infallible when it doesn’t claim to be teaching infallibly in the first place.

This sort of divinely guided moral person is, of course, precisely what the Catholic Church claims to be.  And like a state or a corporation, it has issued documents of various levels of authority.  A constitution and the Supreme Court decisions that interpret it have the highest level of authority in a state like the United States.  Scripture, council decrees, and ex cathedra papal pronouncements are analogous to that.  Certain other papal documents are more like presidential executive orders.  And so forth.  These various documents are to be interpreted “according to the mind of the Church,” as Catholics say -- that is, according to the intentions and will of the moral person which authorizes them.

Now, a state will sometimes incorporate elements of the law of a preexisting state.  Think, for example, of the way that Louisiana law preserves elements of the Napoleonic code, or the way that entrance into the union did not wipe out the preexisting laws of Alaska, Hawaii, etc.  Similarly, the Church took over for itself and judged to be authoritative and infallible the scriptural texts of ancient Israel.  To those, it added the New Testament, which might be thought of as a written record of the teaching of certain members -- namely, the founding members -- of the moral person that is the Church.  That moral person also ultimately decided which books had what level of authority -- that such-and-such books would count as having the highest level of authority (i.e. scriptural authority), that certain other books (the writings of the Church Fathers) would have some lesser but still very high level of authority, and so forth.  In these various ways, what counts as scripture or as a document of some other kind of authority is the expression of the mind of the Church, of the decrees of a certain moral person -- just as the bylaws of a certain corporation, the memos issued to its staff, the warranties or instruction manuals it issues to its customers, etc. are the expression of the mind of that corporation. 

Of course, all of this raises many questions, but the point, here as in my earlier posts, is not to provide a complete exposition and defense of the Catholic position.  The point is rather to explain the origin of one of the many serious problems with sola scriptura -- in this case, the fact that it has no principled, non-ad hoc way to account for the shape of the canon of scripture that it recognizes.  Use of a blanket term like “scripture” or “the Bible” can obscure the fact that it is really a large collection of books that we are talking about, not merely one book.  And why is it made up of these exact books rather than some smaller collection, or larger one, or a collection with altogether different contents?  Fulford and other critics of my posts on sola scriptura have avoided addressing this problem head on, preferring to discuss instead the issue of why we might judge some particular scriptural book divinely inspired, which isn’t really relevant.  And that is not surprising, because there’s no way they can address it.

The reason is that the canon of scripture is the product of the moral person that is the Church.  Imagine taking a collection of documents -- bylaws, research reports, interoffice memos, etc. -- that were written by many different individuals but which arose within the IBM corporation over the course of many decades.  Imagine this included research reports, product designs, and other materials that IBM had taken over from some previous, now defunct corporation whose assets IBM had acquired -- documents IBM found valuable and relevant to its own aims and thus decided to preserve.  Imagine that IBM had many of these documents assembled into a collection, and gave that collection a label like “the Book.”  Imagine that its aim in doing so was to make it clear to employees what the history of the company was, what the company took to be definitive of its mission, what policies employees were expected to follow, etc.  Now imagine that someone came across “the Book” and asked why exactly these documents are in it -- why the non-IBM documents were included, why certain IBM-related documents were not included, and why it is a collection of IBM-related documents at all -- and also asked why it had any special authority over IBM employees. And imagine trying to answer these questions but without alluding to the IBM corporation itself or its purposes in assembling the collection in just the way it did.

Needless to say, it couldn’t be done.  There would be no coherent way to make sense of the collection -- either of its precise contents, or of the special authority of the collection qua that precise collection -- apart from the communicative intentions of the moral person that is the IBM Corporation.  Someone who stomped his feet and insisted that “the Book alone” was authoritative would be in thrall to a very strange delusion indeed.  For “the Book” as such, as a kind of canon with its specific contents, would have no authority at all unless the IBM Corporation had given it that authority.

That is the position the sola scriptura advocate is in.  He has abstracted the canon of scripture out of the context in which it arose and in which alone it makes sense -- namely, its status as the product of the moral person that is the Church.  And his position is in that way also analogous to that of the empiricist who abstracts the notion of sense data -- color patches, sounds of a certain pitch, etc. -- out of the ordinary perceptual experiences of which they are mere components.  Now, as noted in an earlier post, the empiricist notoriously finds it impossible once again to reconstruct an ordinary experience out of these elements.  The empiricist notion of “experience” ends up being an incoherent mess.  And the sola scriptura advocate has a similar problem.  Having abstracted the scriptural texts out of the context in which their unity as a canon is intelligible, he finds it impossible to explain why the canon comes together in just the specific way it does.

Fulford’s further failures

Some further remarks from Fulford offer another example of this particular parallel with empiricism.  In response to my point that the Catholic claim is not merely that we need to add further texts to those the sola scriptura advocate would recognize, but that we need to move beyond texts to the persons behind them, Fulford writes:

Though there is some metaphysical distinction between texts and persons, I don’t think they will ultimately help the critic of sola scriptura out of the dilemma I posed. This is because, while we can ask living persons to tell us what texts mean, the only way they can help is by communicating further words to us

Now, it is true that in theory, a living author has the potential to provide more clarity by means of rapidly answered questions than a bare text. However, the potential difference in clarity is only a matter of degree.

To see what is wrong with this, recall an aspect of the empiricist account of perception noted above.  Correctly noting that we perceive physical objects through sense impressions, the empiricist mistakenly concludes that what we really perceive directly just are the sense impressions themselves -- that it is, for example, not really the green cup you perceive directly, but rather a green color patch in the center of your visual field.  Notoriously, this opens up a skeptical “veil of perceptions” problem.  It seems that on a consistent empiricist view, we can never get beyond sense impressions to the physical objects that cause them.  We’re stuck with the sense impressions themselves.

Now Fulford seems committed to a strange theory of communication according to which it is only ever texts that we really encounter.  Even when it seems that we are communicating with persons rather than texts, we are really just encountering further texts -- the strings of words that come out of their mouths, say.  We never really get to the thoughts of the person himself, any more than, for the empiricist, we get to physical objects themselves but only to mere sense impressions of them.  We are stuck behind a “veil of texts,” just as for the empiricist we are stuck behind a veil of perceptions.  And the implications are similarly radically skeptical, even if Fulford no doubt doesn’t realize it.  For if we never really get to the thoughts of the persons behind the texts but only to further texts, then we can never really know what the texts mean, since their meaning is derivative from the thoughts and intentions of persons. 

Fulford’s error is similar to that of the empiricist.  Because we communicate with persons by means of texts, he concludes that all we ever really get to are texts rather than to the thoughts of persons -- just as the empiricist supposes that because we perceive objects by means of sense impressions, it is really only ever sense impressions that we perceive.  Just as the empiricist is so fixated upon one aspect of experience -- sense data or the like -- that he ends up completely distorting the nature of experience, so too are sola scriptura advocates so fixated upon one aspect of communication -- namely, texts -- that they can end up completely distorting the nature of communication.  They’ve got texts on the brain.  They’re text obsessed.  They’re text maniacs.  Well, texts are fine in their place, but ultimately they are merely vehicles through which we communicate with persons.  Hence any sound theory of communication -- including divine revelation via human instruments -- must put persons rather than texts at the center.

Finally, a bonus error from Fulford.  At the end of his post he makes some remarks in criticism of the Catholic position.  This is irrelevant, since, as I keep saying, I have not been putting forward a systematic defense of the Catholic position in the first place, but rather criticizing sola scriptura.  And those criticisms retain their force whether or not one thinks Catholicism has a better alternative.  So, all the anti-Catholic stuff some readers of my recent posts have been flinging is a red herring.  Anyway, noting that there was within the Judaism of Christ’s day a belief that certain texts were divinely inspired, Fulford says:

What this point of history about Second Temple Judaism implies is that it is possible to know what books are holy scripture even without a visible institution given the promise of divine guidance and infallibility. This alone suffices to show that the first Jesuit charge of incoherence must actually be mistaken.

To me the fallacy here is obvious, but since it apparently is not obvious to Fulford or some of his readers, let me explain it by reference to the counterfeit money example from an earlier post of mine.  Suppose someone reasoned as follows: “I know of some of the money in this bag that it is not counterfeit.  Therefore, I know of all of the money in the bag that it is not counterfeit, and I know that there is no real money in some other bag.”  The fallacy in this argument, I trust, is clear.  Even if you know of some of the money in some particular bag that it is not counterfeit, it obviously does not follow that there is not also some counterfeit money in that bag, or that there is no real money in other bags too.

Fulford is committing a similar fallacy.  For the “bag,” read “the canon of scripture as Fulford understands it.”  Fulford notes, correctly, that of some of the texts in that canon, we can know that they are divinely inspired even apart from decisions made by the institutional Church.  As evidence, he cites the fact that certain books were known to be scriptural in Christ’s day, before the Church existed.  But it simply doesn’t follow from that that we could know, apart from the decrees of the institutional Church, the scope of the entire canon of scripture.  In particular, it doesn’t follow that none of the books in the canon Fulford would recognize are bogus, and it doesn’t follow that there aren’t books that Fulford wouldn’t recognize as canonical (such as the deuterocanonicals) that are in fact part of the canon.

Now, what I was addressing, and what point (a) of the Jesuit critique cited by Feyerabend was addressing, is precisely this issue of the canon.  No one is claiming that you couldn’t have a clue about whether any book is divinely inspired apart from the decrees of the institutional Church.  The claim is rather that the precise shape of the canon cannot be accounted for apart from the decrees of the institutional Church.  Hence, though Fulford thinks he has “show[n] that the first Jesuit charge of incoherence must actually be mistaken,” in fact he hasn’t even addressed the charge.

328 comments:

1 – 200 of 328   Newer›   Newest»
Greg said...

Why not instead count as the one infallible guide scripture as Catholics would draw up the list, or scripture-together-with-the-decrees-of-such-and-such-councils, or some part of scripture such as the Gospels, or any of an indefinite number of other possible lists of authoritative texts? And why take there to be only one infallible guide in the first place?

Here's another place where the "pope-only-adds-more-speech-acts" objection undermines itself. If the pope is just adding more "texts" when he speaks, then is there really any problem with considering those texts he produces to be "scripture"?

Joseph Moore said...

Wonderful post. My mind kept going back to Calvin and Hegel - Calvin says the the truth of Scripture is not vouchsafed by reason, but by the Spirit. Hegel says that *real* philosophy needn't concern itself with trivialities such as the law of non-contradiction. The truths of speculative philosophy are known some other way - true consciousness, insight, enlightenment, something other than 'propositional reason'. In both cases, it seems to me these assertions amount to saying that Truth doesn't have to make any sense or be reasonable in any way. If this is true, what would be the point in talking about anything?

Johannes said...

"so too is sola scriptura self-refuting, since it is not itself found in scripture."

Moreover, sola scriptura is actually against Scripture, specifically against four Pauline passages:

"So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter." (2 Thess 2:15)

"Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." (2 Tim 1:13)

"and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." (2 Tim 2:2)

The objection to sola scriptura from the three above passages could be ingeniously countered by positing that everything which was not written by Paul and had to be transmitted was written by some other NT author, be it John, Peter, James, Jude, or Luke in Acts. I don't think any sola scriptura defender would actually resort to such convoluted argument, but even if they did, they'd still need to explain away this other passage from Paul:

"the Church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth." (1 Tim 3:15)

In this passage, "support", rendered alternatively as "foundation", "bulwark" or "buttress", translates "hedraióma", a word used only once in the NT and nowhere else. To note, the usual word for "foundation" is "themelios", used in several places by Paul to refer to:

- Jesus Christ (1 Cor 3:10-12),
- the apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20), "Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone (akrogóniaios)" in this case, and
- those who belong to God, i.e. the Church: "God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: "The Lord knows those who are his,"" (2 Tim 2:19).

The relationship between Jesus, the apostles and the whole of the Church in these passages with "foundation"/"themelios" mirrors the relationship between Jesus, Peter and the totality of the faithful in four passages with "rock" or "stone", namely those where:

- Paul and Peter call Jesus "the cornerstone", i.e. Eph 2:20 and 1 Pe 2:6-7 respectively, the latter using both "akrogóniaios" and "kephale gonias",
- Jesus tells Simon: "you are Rock (Kepha/Petros), and upon this rock (kepha/petra) I will build my church" (Mt 16:18), and
- Peter says that the faithful "as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house" (1 Pe 2:5).

The teaching from either set of passages is clear:

- Jesus is the ultimate foundation, the cornerstone, and it is so by Himself, by nature.
- Peter and the apostles are foundation by the grace of Christ, by participation in his firmness.
- The whole Church, "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Eph 2:20), is also foundation and support by participation.

The point is that it is the Church which is "the pillar and support of the truth", not Scripture. This statement, together with the quoted Pauline exhortations to hold to the traditions received orally from him, show clearly that sola scriptura is against Scripture.

Brandon said...

Joseph Moore,

My mind kept going back to Calvin and Hegel - Calvin says the the truth of Scripture is not vouchsafed by reason, but by the Spirit. Hegel says that *real* philosophy needn't concern itself with trivialities such as the law of non-contradiction.

There's a decent chance that the analogy is not accidental, although Hegel would probably have been thinking Lutheranism rather than Calvinism. One often finds that Hegel's more significant philosophical positions are philosophized Lutheranism, which is one reason why he caught fire so completely among Lutheran seminarians in Germany.

Anonymous said...

"Why exactly should we think that it is the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Arians, rather than their critics, who have simply gotten scripture wrong?"

That particular one is easy. Because Jesus said that:

"The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son just as they honor the Father." (Jn 5:22-23a)

Therefore the Father's will, if the Son were not consubstantial with the Father, would be that all commit idolatry.

To note, this design of the Father is realized perfectly in the heavenly liturgy:

I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" (Rev 5:13)

BB said...

I wasn't planning to this post, but I couldn't let this remark pass:


“Well sure, Ed, those criticisms might hold against some simplistic version of sola scriptura, but not against the much more nuanced position that its more serious advocates are committed to!”


How is this different in principle from


“Well sure, Professor Dawkins, those criticisms might hold against some simplistic version of the cosmological argument, but not against the much more nuanced position that its more serious advocates are committed to!”


?

You have rightly raised that second reponse (not phrased in precisely that way) in various places. So why complain when somebody raises the first response against you?

I am not aware of any serious defender of Sola Scriptura -- not Luther, not Calvin, not modern day writers -- who would advocate the straw man which you were attacking at the start of your post. You might find it in the pews of some baptist and free evangelical churches -- and maybe in a few pulpits as well -- but that is no different in saying that you might find the Humean version of the cosmological argument advocated for in certain pews and pupilts. I am sure that you will not find either among those well trained in theology.

Secondly, as others have noted, Sola Scriptura is not primarily intended as a statement about scripture. Protestants and Roman Catholics don't differ on that (apart from which books to be included). It is about the level of authority of the church. The central point of the claim is to say that any visible church is occasionally in error. If you want to attack Sola Scriptura, the way to do it is to defend the infallibility of the magesterium of the church without begging the question.

Thirdly, protestants can't argue for the inerrancy of scripture (I prefer not to use infallibility, since I don't believe that word applies to texts) from the authority of the Church. So instead we argue from the authority of Jesus (which is the fundamental axiom -- if there is question begging, then it comes down to the statement `Jesus is the word of God made flesh' -- which is something for us all to dispute with non-Christians without either appealing to scriptural or church authority). From the testimony of Jesus (I am obviously skipping over the details), we accept the Old Testament books. From the choice Jesus made of his apostles, we accept the apostolic writings, which form the New Testament -- which contains the only indisputably apostolic texts (at least `indisputably' until a couple of hundred years ago -- but that debate is again somewhere where we should be allies rather than enemies). The point is that this argument that the texts are inerrant also tells us which texts it applies to, and thus which texts should be viewed as most authoritive. So, yes, we do need to go beyond scripture to some fundamental axiom -- but that axiom is a central thesis of Christianity. If you don't accept it, then you are not a Christian, and debates over church infallibility aren't relevant to you anyway.

Anonymous said...

Some context--

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/five_solae

Anonymous said...

BB, you're right.

(1) In any classical Protestant theology, Solus Christus is logically prior to sola scriptura. Christ is the reason for the canon.

(2) In matters of salvation, sola scriptura subordinates church opinion to what God hasd revealed in scripture.

This is not that hard to understand...

Jeremy Taylor said...

BB,

It is hard, from your last paragraph, to understand just why, then, there should even be a doctrine of Sola Scriptura. What you basically seem to be saying is that we should give authority to the Scripture - presumably sole authority - because it is the best historical record of Christ's teaching.

Firstly, this seems a somewhat tentative foundation for the near Quran-like attitude of many Protestants, from the beginning of their movement. Secondly, why would this rule out other sources of knowledge for the teachings of Jesus? Especially as the historical reliability of the Scripture is indeed based on other sources.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Anon,

I can see why, if Church opinion flatly contradicted what the Scripture says, this might be a problem. But when it comes to what is ambiguous in Scripture or what is not in Scripture but not opposed to what it teaches, if we can trace a good chain of transmission, why should we reject other sources of authority besides the Scripture? Surely, it is at the heart of claims about Sola Scriptura to be suspicious of other authorities (otherwise what meaning could have).

But what is hard to understand is why, then, Sola Scriptura should be accepted at all. It is either seems to be without proper warrant (and self-defeating) or to be trivial (as most traditional Christians would accept that Scripture is a very good source for Christ's teaching).

E.Seigner said...

BB, Secondly, as others have noted, Sola Scriptura is not primarily intended as a statement about scripture. Protestants and Roman Catholics don't differ on that (apart from which books to be included).

Lutherans and Catholics don't even differ on which books to include in the Bible. I have a Lutheran Bible edition from 1914 that includes the usual Apocrypha, prefixed with the ordinary statement by which Catholic Bibles introduce Apocrypha.


Jeremy Taylor, It is hard, from your last paragraph, to understand just why, then, there should even be a doctrine of Sola Scriptura. What you basically seem to be saying is that we should give authority to the Scripture - presumably sole authority - because it is the best historical record of Christ's teaching.

Sola Scriptura was originally one (of several) of the Lutheran devices to do away with papal authority. To simplify, Lutheranism is Catholicism minus the Pope and some excesses of idolatry.

Jeremy Taylor, Firstly, this seems a somewhat tentative foundation for the near Quran-like attitude of many Protestants, from the beginning of their movement.

As soon as papal authority was denied, the question emerged what (socio-political) authority is to be followed. Obviously, to simply elect a Protestant Pope was not an option, so Protestant doctrines and attitudes are rather disparate and in mutual opposition. Calvin never was the same as Luther, and later Protestants differ from both of them. To be sure, ordinary lay Lutherans and Calvinists these days read the Bible as little as lay Catholics, so there's no Quran-like attitude. There's just vague anti-papal attitude.

Greg said...

@ BB

You have rightly raised that second reponse (not phrased in precisely that way) in various places. So why complain when somebody raises the first response against you?

Well, Feser doesn't take it to be sufficient to show that Protestants make that response; the response is, in itself, not scandalous. Its merit has to do with what the account looks like when you pull back. He claimed that even the sophisticated sola scriptura is ad hoc, doesn't answer the Jesuit objections, etc. If the sophisticated cosmological argument were ad hoc, open to the question "What caused God?", etc., then it would be bad too, and Feser would be wrong to make the complaint.

Anonymous said...

Seigner agrees with BB and is also substantially correct.

Put another way, Feser's argument is the argument of non-Reformed and Barthian Protestants against, quite specifically, the 'Princeton' theology of Charles Hodge and B.B. Warfield. It looks as though Feser followed his interest in antimetaphysical modernism down a dark hall and stumbled into a room of partying Lutherans, Anglicans, and Wesleyans. I think they're glad to have him, but he's going to have to admit that not every Protestant agrees with Hodge, and that the Reformers would not have understood him.

Brandon said...

hirdly, protestants can't argue for the inerrancy of scripture (I prefer not to use infallibility, since I don't believe that word applies to texts) from the authority of the Church. So instead we argue from the authority of Jesus (which is the fundamental axiom -- if there is question begging, then it comes down to the statement `Jesus is the word of God made flesh' -- which is something for us all to dispute with non-Christians without either appealing to scriptural or church authority). From the testimony of Jesus (I am obviously skipping over the details), we accept the Old Testament books.

Skipping over the details that are actually required for the argument. The authority of Jesus known how? The testimony of Jesus known how? Given the structure of the argument, it can't be from Scripture, because the order is: Authority of Jesus -- Testimony of Jesus -- Old Testament; Authority of Jesus -- Choice of Jesus as to Apostles -- New Testament. Thus by this reckoning one only accepts the authority of Scripture on the basis of the already known authority, testimony, and choice of Jesus. Not known from Scripture, this would have to be known from experience or from other testimony; what it is, it would end up being -- by the very structure of the argument -- the standard against which the authority of everything in Scripture is tested and measured.

Brandon said...

Sorry, that should be "whatever it is"

Anonymous said...

Jeremy, thanks for good comments over the past few days.

Feser does not appear to understand the difference between sola scriptura in the C16 documents I keep mentioning and sola scriptura in C19 Princeton. So most of these posts have only attracted support in the comments from those for whom all Protestants are graduates of Moody Bible Institute. Still, I'm looking forward to Feser's book on this. Why shouldn't a C21 Catholic in California, especially a scholastic metaphysician, criticize the most prominent theology of C19 America? We all do it ourselves, and he brings something new to the party.

As BB and Seigner imply above, the C16 documents simply acknowledge that words that are the Word trump other human words, and that where they conflict, believers fearing for their salvation have no choice but to follow the Word. Martin Luther never actually said-- "Here I stand. I can do no other. My soul is captive to the Word of God"-- but the myth catches the spirit of the thing. The Heidelberg Catechism opens with the question, " What is your only hope in life and in death?" This is not about explaining the universe.

But C19 Princeton theology is explicitly modeled on the 'empirical' sciences, treating the scriptures as data in just the way that Feyerabend's analogy would suggest. Because it is also explicitly foundationalist, it was not hard for it to become fundamentalist as well in such early C20 figures as J Gresham Machen. And because it is a systematic theology, not a response to indulgence peddlers financing a building, it really is explaining the universe.

What Feser regards as naive and sophisticated forms of the same doctrine are really different doctrines that account for ecclesial divisions now entering their fifth century. Again, there is no reason for him to hold his fire when the Calvinist International launches a torpedo his way, but his inner scholar must surely be intrigued that he is under attack from the same Calvinist International who far more fiercely attacked David Yeago for writing in First Things about The Catholic Luther and generally for reminding us that Lutherans use the regular fidei to interpret scripture.

Anonymous said...

My auto-correct hates Latin words like the *regula* in *regula fidei*.

Gottfried said...

Sola Scriptura was originally one (of several) of the Lutheran devices to do away with papal authority. To simplify, Lutheranism is Catholicism minus the Pope and some excesses of idolatry.

But isn't this just admitting that sola scriptura is vacuous rather than self-defeating?

Gottfried said...

Anon,

I've enjoyed your comments (at least the ones I've been able to follow) and I hope you'll continue to drop in from time to time. It's always a pleasure when critics show up here who aren't trolls or morons.

But I do wish you would attach a name to yourself. Even if you're a wanted criminal or a famous writer who would rather not reveal his identity, you could always choose a clever pseudonym. ;)

E.Seigner said...

Gottfried, But isn't this just admitting that sola scriptura is vacuous rather than self-defeating?

Pragmatic rather :) Compare it to the Catholic doctrine of Prima Scriptura, which in my opinion is specifically designed to be as subtle as it is in order to enable the coexistence of other doctrines such as Papal infallibility which is in obvious direct clash with the scriptures. Also pragmatic :)

For Protestants, the Catholic need to balance between papal authority and scriptural authority (which has been historically quite tricky at times, hasn't it?) looks vacuous, even self-defeating, so they did away with it...

Glenn said...

For Protestants, the Catholic need to balance between papal authority and scriptural authority (which has been historically quite tricky at times, hasn't it?) looks vacuous, even self-defeating, so they did away with it...

And they came up with -- or at least Luther did -- interesting claims such as,

a) A minister is not just a delegate of God (preaching the gospel), but someone who has been delegated by God to (preach the gospel). ("Every minister should make much of his calling and impress upon others the fact that he has been delegated by God to preach the Gospel."); And,

b) However becoming humility may be for the minister, "[T]he minister of Christ should exalt his office in order to gain authority among men."

(Quotations are from Luther's A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians.)

- - - - -

Excerpted from William Witt's Thomas Aquinas on the Formal Sufficiency of Scripture:

S[t.] Thomas states specifically in [II-II] q. 1. Art 9 why the Church needs a summary formulation of its faith:

The truth of faith is contained in Holy Writ, diffusely, under various modes of expression, and sometimes obscurely, so that, in order to gather the truth of faith from Holy Writ, one needs long study and practice, which are unattainable by all those who require to know the truth of faith, many of whom have no time for study, being busy with other affairs. And so it was necessary to gather together a clear summary from the sayings of Holy Writ, to be proposed to the belief of all. This indeed was no addition to Holy Writ, but something taken from it.

...Of course, as a Medieval Catholic, Aquinas certainly did believe that the "universal church cannot err"--Vincent of Lerins would agree; he affirms in the very next article that the pope can draw up a creedal symbol, and he bases his argument for papal authority on a classic Petrine passages (Lk 22:32). But, again, this argument in no way departs from his affirmation of the formal sufficiency of Scripture. Thomas states in 2.10. rep. obj. 1:

The truth of faith is sufficiently explicit in the teaching of Christ and the apostles. But since, according to 2 Pet. 3:16, some men are so evil-minded as to pervert the apostolic teaching and other doctrines and Scriptures to their own destruction, it was necessary as time went on to express the faith more explicitly against the errors which arose.

Aquinas does not regard the pope as providing to Scripture an intelligibility it does not already have, or that of bringing out a truth that was not already evident in Scripture. To the contrary, "the truth of faith is sufficiently explicit (my [Witt's] emphasis) in the teaching of Christ and the apostles," that is, Scripture. Rather, papal authority is needed not because Scripture is not clear on the essential matters of salvation, but because "evil-minded" people deliberately "pervert the apostolic teaching," and so it is necessary to "express the faith more explicitly" against error.

Glenn said...

There is, of course, an obvious objection to at least the title of Witt's article. But I figured it might be a good idea to leave it to the champions of Sola Scriptura here to raise it. ;)

Anonymous said...

Philosophers, can we acknowledge the paradigm- dependence of facts without treating paradigms as 'foundations' to which we can only assent by 'commitment'? That is the problem the Feyetabend argument poses.

The specific gravity of liquid argon is a fact only accessible as evidence to one with a prior commitment to atomic theory. For only that theory posits both a diversity of elements and a correlation between their masses and their measurable properties. Without the former, you do not know that there is argon. Without the latter, you do not think to weight it in its liquid state, even if you have the technology to isolate and cool it. Without both together, you do not predict its special properties, and so you do not test that prediction experimentally.

Feyerabend used the Jesuit questions to explain, to some who would have resisted this conclusion, that scientific facts like the specific gravity of liquid argon depend on prior intellectual commitment just as an interpretation of scripture depends on a prior intellectual commitment. To Feyerabend, the specific gravity of argon is like the doctrine of the Trinity. He means this in the strong sense that without some metaphysic there is nothing to enable commitment to the paradigm. That, I presume, is what intrigues a professional metaphysician like Feser.

Forget atomic theory and argon is inaccessible to cognition. But what, if a student of scripture forgets it, will make the doctrine of the Trinity similarly inaccessible to cognition? Feser argues as if the Roman magisterium is the paradigm that makes the doctrine accessible to cognition in the way that atomic theory makes the specific gravity of argon accessible to cognition. But there have been trinitarians far from any Roman illumination.

A harder problem is this: if biblical facts wholly depend on a given paradigm (eg Roman magisterium, Westminster Standards), then how are they useful as evidence in a choice between rival paradigms for reading scripture? With little difficulty, one can imagine an online thread in which partsans try to compare two paradigms, but find to their mutual annoyance that neither can 'see' the evidence the other offers. It seems that this could only happen if both paradigms required exclusive prior commitments, so that nobody could hold both of them and simultaneously see the whole of the evidence offered on both sides. That seems to be the case with proponents of the Roman magisterium and the Westminster Standards.

It would seem that biblical facts can only be evidence in a strong sense if we either deny the whole construct of paradigm-dependence, if we can, or else affirm that our commitment to paradigms is not, with respect to biblical facts, exclusive. That affirmation is sola scriptura in its original C16 form.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Glenn, Luther reinterpreted the priesthood 'in persona Christi' in terms of each particular person's need for personal assurance from God that Christ died for her and saves her through her trust in him. Luther retained penance as a gospel sacrament like baptism and Eucharist. This reflects 'universal objective justification'-- God really has justified all sinners from the Cross, but only through trust in a Word addressed to one can one receive the benefits of being justified. The Lutheran defense of all this in the face of Reformed critique is-- where have we heard this before? ;-) --that a text cannot always confirm saving faith but a person addressing an individual can.

Arthur said...

Thanks for a long and informative post, professor. I wonder if this Fulford guy is worth your time, though. His replies seem to be consistently irrelevant, and what else can you expect from someone who believes in self-defeating principles?

Anonymous said...

Yes again, Glenn, the doctrinal work of bishops is normally not speculative but pastoral. Even the Cappadocians were developing doctrine to fight a clear and present evil.

Arthur said...

'For the Aristotelian, greenish color patches and the like are not the objects of experience, but rather abstractions from experience, which has just the objects common sense supposes it to have. What I perceive is the cup itself. It is only by abstracting from my perception of the cup that I arrive at theoretical notions like the notion of a color patch, of being appeared to greenly.'

I'd love to have a discussion about this with someone. I'm very much aware that I was taught mostly about Humean Empiricism, and the idea that 'what I perceive is the cup itself' is rather alien to me. I find myself torn between the two views.

Is there something wrong with the 'reductionist' approach? How do we know that 'the notion of a color patch' is an abstraction from our experiences and not the other way around?

Anonymous said...

Fulford is, if memory serves, a PhD candidate in church history. Apart from the habitus of the blogosphere, it seems unlikely that Feser would have engaged him at the intersection of philosophy of science and religious epistemology. But I think his book will engage others of greater stature-- Robert Jenson, Kevin Van Hoozer, etc. Or so his publisher should really be dreaming.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

It would seem that biblical facts can only be evidence in a strong sense if we either deny the whole construct of paradigm-dependence, if we can, or else affirm that our commitment to paradigms is not, with respect to biblical facts, exclusive. That affirmation is sola scriptura in its original C16 form.

If the paradigms referred to are thought of as sub-paradigms, and one recognizes a larger subsuming paradim (the existence of which indeed would make the paradigms referred to "sub-paradigms"), then that affirmation appears to be in or drawable from, e.g., this from the C12 St. Thomas:

o The author of Holy Writ is God, in whose power it is to signify His meaning, not by words only (as man also can do), but also by things themselves. So, whereas in every other science things are signified by words, this science has the property, that the things signified by the words have themselves also a signification. Therefore that first signification whereby words signify things belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal. That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it. Now this spiritual sense has a threefold division. For as the Apostle says (Heb. 10:1) the Old Law is a figure of the New Law, and Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. i) "the New Law itself is a figure of future glory." Again, in the New Law, whatever our Head has done is a type of what we ought to do. Therefore, so far as the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law, there is the allegorical sense; so far as the things done in Christ, or so far as the things which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do, there is the moral sense. But so far as they signify what relates to eternal glory, there is the anagogical sense. Since the literal sense is that which the author intends, and since the author of Holy Writ is God, Who by one act comprehends all things by His intellect, it is not unfitting, as Augustine says (Confess. xii), if, even according to the literal sense, one word in Holy Writ should have several senses.

The multiplicity of these senses does not produce equivocation or any other kind of multiplicity, seeing that these senses are not multiplied because one word signifies several things, but because the things signified by the words can be themselves types of other things. Thus in Holy Writ no confusion results, for all the senses are founded on one---the literal---from which alone can any argument be drawn, and not from those intended in allegory, as Augustine says (Epis. 48). Nevertheless, nothing of Holy Scripture perishes on account of this, since nothing necessary to faith is contained under the spiritual sense which is not elsewhere put forward by the Scripture in its literal sense.

Glenn said...

At the risk of saying something harsh -- and at the greater risk of setting myself up to get clobbered -- I think resentment and myopia played no small part in the reformation.

An Preachan Dubh said...

That 1 Tim 3:15 quote is a great Catholic “counter-quote” to 2 Tim 3:16-17, which Protestants usually use to make the Sola Scriptura argument. But I wonder if it could be made into a deductive argument, something like:

First premise: 1 Tim 3:15 proves St. Paul capable of writing something like “the Holy Scripture of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” or “the Holy Scripture of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the Church”…

Second premise: But even though he was clearly capable of doing so, St. Paul did not in fact write any such comment anywhere in his voluminous writings…
Therefore (Conclusion) St. Paul clearly had no intention of making any such claim about Scripture.

Something like that.

Anonymous said...

Glenn, you might be clobbered by the historically ignorant, but not by someone who is well-acquainted with the period. Change in Northern Europe was unstoppable, but poorly understood. It is fair to say that, on all sides, events outpaced the capacity to understand them, and nearly everyone involved made some ghastly misstep. When I last looked into this, I found myself most sympathetic to those who wanted to convene a proper council to conciliate the two sides, but were constrained by the rivalry of the Most Christian King of France and the Holy Roman Emperor. By the time some gathering could begin in Trent, the polarization on the ground had already gone too far.

Anonymous said...

Glenn, Sarah Coakley has edited a collection of contemporary essays that is called, I believe, The Spiritual Sense. The passage you cite is a touchstone for those who believe it influenced the imaginative natural typology of Jonathan Edwards, back when young Congregationalists at Yale read St Thomas to understand Cocceius and Turretin.

Geoff said...

I think that the larger issue is that many Protestants and Catholics misunderstand early Sola Scriptura claims. The doctrine was A) polemical in nature and meant to call the whole church to repentance of alleged abuses and B) though polemical still fairly coherent in the Reformers claim that "If we are the church, then we accept the authority of the Scripture because it is from the apostles and prophets and therefore from God. Because certain of the churches practices and ideas appear in contrast to the documents it accepts as from God, the church should repent."

The argument is hypothetical, necessarily so. The "only" means, "only necessarily inspired." It doesn't mean "only way to know God." Though the reformers were very bright and indeed, though they would hate to hear this but the debates of the era caused them to miss it, this view is not dissimilar to the view of Aquinas:
Nevertheless, sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable. For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets, who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors. Hence Augustine says (Epist. ad Hieron. xix. 1): Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them. But other authors I so read as not to deem anything in their works to be true, merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever may have been their holiness and learning.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d.).


The doctrine assumes the early councils, the authority of the church, and the canon (which was in debate until Trent). Thus, to claim to want the practice of the church to match the church's deposit of revelation is not quite the same as claiming that the revelation dropped out of nowhere and it the only way to know God. At least, this is my understanding of the reformers of the era. The reformers or the Roman magisterium may be right (or the Orthodox communions), but sola scriptura was never about claiming that the Bible sans the church was sufficient. It was about which standard to use to critique and reform the practices of the church when the church authorities appeared to be in the wrong.

Anonymous said...

Geoff, if we distinguish, as conservative Lutherans do, between assenting to teachings because (quia) they agree with scripture and doing so insofar as (quatenus) they agree with scripture, we can see how the same problem arises in Protestant churches that do not acknowledge the difference between their received formulations and the Bible.

For a contemporary example, complete with heresy trials documented online, consider the conservative response to the New Perspective on Paul. The same Tom Wright who addressed Benedict's warmly friendly synod on scripture found himself just a short time later addressing a very suspicious Evangelical Theological Society under the title of 'Justification: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow'. (Google this for the paper and maybe a video.) Wright's research does not undermine Protestantism per se, but it does rule out the pauline exegesis on which it was at first based. If you really believe sola scriptura, you just update and move on. Some who are not ready to do that have been prosecuted those who are.

Anonymous said...

Now auto-correct is taking sides in heresy trials. *Some who are not ready to do that have prosecuted those who are.*

Vincent Torley said...

A few thoughts on Ed's brilliantly written article:

1. Although the early Christian Fathers appealed to tradition, they nevertheless viewed the Scriptures as the sufficient and authoritative font of divine revelation. See here:
http://www.justforcatholics.org/a186.htm

2. Although Andrew Fulford's posts don't really address the question of why Christians should believe that exactly these books (the Protestant Old Testament plus the 27 books of the New Testament) should be included in the canon of Scripture, he does refer to sources in his article. Here's a very thorough online article by Steve Hays, in defense of the Protestant view, which fleshes out Fulford's argument, with regard to both the OT and NT canons:
http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/godscanon.html (God's Canon)
Hays also addresses disputed NT books, such as Hebrews and Revelation.

Here's another good link which addresses the NT canon:
http://triablogue.blogspot.ca/2009/06/new-testament-canon.html

Re the OT canon, Fulford also cites Roger Beckwith's "The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church: and its Background in Early Judaism" and Andrew Steinmann's "The Oracles of God."

Ed argues that "the precise shape of the canon cannot be accounted for apart from the decrees of the institutional Church." But after having read the above articles, it seems that the inclusion of those specific books in the canon could be justified by appealing to objective criteria. I don't think Ed has scored a knock-out blow against Fulford here.

3. Having said that, Ed scores some very telling points when he accuses defenders of sola Scriptura of having text on the brain.

4. Ed asks why we should use the grammatical-historical method when interpreting the Bible. My answer: what method would he (and most of my readers) use to interpret the American Constitution? Probably originalism: look at what was meant by those who drafted and ratified it. Likewise, the historical-grammatical method strives to discover the Biblical author's original intended meaning in the text.

Recently, we had a Supreme Court interpret the 14th amendment to the Constitution in a manner which was flagrantly contrary to the intentions of its original authors. You and I could judge that for ourselves. Similarly, by examining Scriptural texts, we can also clearly see that the attempt by some Christians to interpret Scripture in a "gay-friendly" manner clearly violates the intent of the Biblical authors. Sometimes, at least, we can interpret Scripture all by ourselves. The question is whether we always can, simply by following this method. To be continued...

Gene Callahan said...

"Hegel says that *real* philosophy needn't concern itself with trivialities such as the law of non-contradiction."

That is a gross caricature of Hegel's position.

Vincent Torley said...

5. Ed's most telling point is that Scripture is far from perspicuous when it comes to issues such as "the Trinity, the Incarnation, justification, transubstantiation, contraception, divorce and remarriage, Sunday observance, infant baptism, slavery, pacifism, the consistency of scripture with scientific claims, sola scriptura itself, etc." I pressed Fulford on some of these points, in a comment on his blog, and he replied, but some of his answers were a little vague. Re the Trinity, one anonymous commenter above cited John 5:22-23: "The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son just as they honor the Father." I think that rules out the Arian interpretation advocated by the JWs. Even so, that still leaves a large number of doctrinal questions unanswered. It's worth noting, though, that the view of Athanasius and the early Fathers was that while Scripture is indeed sufficient for doctrine, many people read it according to their own preconceptions, which is why we need tradition. That's a nuanced view which leaves a role for tradition without rejecting the sufficiency of Scripture.

Overall, I think a fair-minded person would conclude that Ed has won this exchange, but having grown up in a household where I was exposed to Protestant books, I can see that there are some good arguments on the other side. I'd also like to say that I think Ed has penned about the best defense of the Catholic position on sola Scriptura that I've ever seen.

Gene Callahan said...

Ed, I am great sympathy with the bulk of this post, but I am curious about mathematics and logic: at first glance, they would seem to be just what Hume is thinking of in terms of "relations of ideas": and yet you say they are difficult to handle as such. Can you expand upon that, perhaps with a link?

Geoff said...

@Anonymous who posted at July 30, 2015 at 1:07 PM
I agree. But it is the case that Wright's doctrine of justification is fairly conformable to the earlier Protestant formulations. Wright's ideas as I understand them, simply frame justification and sanctification in relationship to ancient Judaism (so the doctrine is about ecclesiology and soteriology) rather than framing the ideas in relationship to medieval Christendom.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

Thank you for the Coakely mention/recommendation. It'll be here in time to accompany me on my vacation.

Glenn said...

Anonymous and Geoff,

Thank you for your respective 'events outpaced' and 'which standard to use' comments.

William Smith said...

@ Glenn,

My pleasure.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Anon,

But then whence comes the term Sola Scriptura? The Latin obviously means Scripture alone or only Scripture.

I do also think the absolute distinction, as sources of authority, that your comment implies was held by Sixteenth Century Protestants is certainly questionable. The Scripture obviously comes from God, and is a particularly good source of our knowledge of Christ's message, but I don't understand why it should be held to have such a pride of place that it is accorded all honour as our guide.

Cletus van Damme said...

Vincent,

"Although the early Christian Fathers appealed to tradition, they nevertheless viewed the Scriptures as the sufficient and authoritative font of divine revelation. See here: http://www.justforcatholics.org/a186.htm"

One needs to distinguish between material and formal sufficiency - SS asserts the latter, RCism can affirm the former. For another analysis of the patristic view, see http://cin.org/users/jgallegos/rule.htm where Reformed apologists referencing the citations from your link are also debated.

"But after having read the above articles, it seems that the inclusion of those specific books in the canon could be justified by appealing to objective criteria."

Regarding Protestant arguments for the canon, see http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/01/the-canon-question/ and Ridderbos' caution against creating a canon above the canon (which also informs Calvin's "argument" on the canon such as it is)

"Ed asks why we should use the grammatical-historical method when interpreting the Bible. My answer: what method would he (and most of my readers) use to interpret the American Constitution? Probably originalism: look at what was meant by those who drafted and ratified it. Likewise, the historical-grammatical method strives to discover the Biblical author's original intended meaning in the text."

The GHM is a useful tool, but it does not answer the question of whether it can yield divine truths, or whether it is to be used in conjunction with other methods, or even how to apply it properly (hence we have erudite sincere exegetes applying GHM to the Bible in different ways and reaching different conclusions). Further, you are dealing with a collection of books spanning different centuries, cultures, authors, and genres - I fail to see how GHM alone supports a "canonical" hermeneutic that SS proponents take for granted or supports an "originalism" that allows for viewing the authors of certain books as intending their works to be interpreted by other works from completely different authors and contexts.

"Recently, we had a Supreme Court interpret the 14th amendment to the Constitution in a manner which was flagrantly contrary to the intentions of its original authors."

Right, as Jews charge Christians with doing with the OT texts.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy, 'sola scriptura' began as one of a triad that also included 'sola fide' and 'solus Christus.' The ideas were never meant to have separate careers.

Again and again, I come back to the existential predicament that forced a revival of the patristic teaching-- other sources or authorities were failing to help ordinary people terrified of hell into a relationship with God. Conversely, not a few people in our time feel so awash in subjectivism that they hunger for institutional objectivity, the more impersonal the better. I do not judge. Rather, I agree with the Orthodox assessment that the tragedy of the West is that it keeps forcing people, century after century, to choose one or the other, seldom offering a healthy integration of both.

Anonymous said...

Beware: Jesus's own exegesis at, say, St Mark xiv 62 is purest Jewish midrash. Among scholarly evangelicals, the challenge to HGC that is taken most seriously is that, not only did Jesus and the apostles not use it themselves, but that the hermeneutics that they did use show us unsuspected aspects of the Old Testament. For example, the Berkeley talmudist Daniel Boyarin (in The Jewish Gospels) shows how the individual/collective ambiguity of both Daniel 7 and Isaiah 53 make them a natural midrashic pair showing-- before the birth of Jesus-- that the Messiah would suffer on behalf of his people. HGC would never get you there.

Anonymous said...

Geoff, you're right about Wright. But although a biblical scholar with a Reformed sola scriptura, his work has roasted several sacred cows of Reformed tradition-- he does not use C16-17 Reformed terminology to explain C1 scriptures; his 'participative' or 'incorporative' account of St Paul's ecclesiology sounds 'catholic'; his idea that justification is God's future verdict brought into the present (as Jesus's resurrection was the general resurrection brought forward) emphasizes good works. In some Presbyterian circles, this is all seen as straightforward Catholicism, and a trickle of sola scripturists from them have indeed been swimming the Tiber.

Anonymous said...

This is goodbye. Gottfried, I suppose I could take a name-- "We will be called Tiglathpileser IV" or something-- but it's not worth the trouble. Brilliant Feser, good company in the threads, but I cannot figure out how to get the OPs delivered to my email inbox with all the other theological blogs. Until there's fix for that, I'll land here when a friend mentions a post. 2 Corinthians xiii 14.

Timocrates said...

This post requires a long evening, blankie, couch, laptop actually on the lap and two or three bags of popcorn and possibly some fountain pop to consume. Then a morning of digesting.

So I have something to do this weekend :) Thank you Dr. Feser!

William Smith said...

@ Anon July 30, 2015 at 5:13 PM

You're right, although, Wright still has an aspect of imputation. It's just that for Wright, the imputation is not of righteousness as an alien substance, but of the status of Christ. In other words, the believer who has faith can be justified now because s/he is in Christ and thus died for sins and has been raise. So the future verdict is rendered all but certain (apostasy is possible). This makes sense of Paul on many levels. But a lot of reformed folks aren't too keen on it.

Anonymous said...

Why is this even a discussion, sola scripture just makes the whole religion of christianity BS, because if it were true, it would make christianity self contradictory because of the contradictions in the bible. This doesn't seem to be a really intellectual topic because anybody who can think for themselves and doesn't rely on a God to get through the pains of life would surely realize that sola scripture is a logical dead end for faith in a God

Scott W. said...

Catholic here willing to make common cause with Protestants regarding the alleged contradictions in the Bible. For your consideration: http://www.unamsanctamcatholicam.com/apologetics/84-contra-atheism/337-contradictions-in-the-bible.html

Anonymous said...

Speaking of common cause--

Http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/issues/july-24th-2015/the-popes-great-evangelical-gamble/

An Preachan Dubh said...

Another aspect of this Sola Scriptura question in relation to the empiricist philosophers would be that since neither work, both need to come up with some sort of explanation why they don't. In other words, would anyone here who's Protestant and/or read widely in Protestant theology have a moment to give an overview of the Protestant response to the fact (and I think it is obviously a fact) that Sola Scriptura doesn't work? In the historical sense. Endless argument, endless fragmentation. Specifically, I mean apparently there are up to 20,000 different Protestant denominations, or more. I think I read that the most conservative estimate is 8-9,000 worldwide. However you figure it, that's thousands of churches that have a big enough difference in their take on some issue, or issues, that they feel it necessary to be separate denominations.

So that clearly can't square with either Christ's prayer for unity nor the early Church's profound sense of "us" versus "them", those inside the Body of Christ, and everybody else. I know there's the idea of the "Invisible Church" but that's even less Biblical/Patristic than Sola Scriptura, and that's saying something.

Not that many average people read David Hume, for instance, but everyone everywhere knows there's an endless number of Christian denominations. It's a kind of "in your face" sort of thing. So how do the intellectuals deal with that?

Greg said...

@ An Preachan Dubh

From what I gather: Fulford seems to respond (as Feser describes, and as you can see in his response) by emphasizing that you can still pick out some collection of denominations that are close enough on the important issues. Then stress that where they disagree is not relevant for salvation. (Feser's correct that, on its own, that response is question begging and doesn't fully address the problem.)

The other response I've seen here, by the Anonymous who refers to the centuries by "CXX," is to say that it has not been historically established that the splits in Protestant denominations are caused by sola scriptura and not something else. For me, this response leaves something to be desired; for someone of a Catholic persuasion wants to say, Even if that were true, how do you choose? Regardless of why the splitting occurred, someone who is convinced of the sola-scriptura method is still going to have to figure out which denomination adhering to sola scriptura he will join.

He also emphasizes what sola scriptura was originally for: "Again and again, I come back to the existential predicament that forced a revival of the patristic teaching-- other sources or authorities were failing to help ordinary people terrified of hell into a relationship with God." You could couple that with Fulford's point about what is essential to salvation. But on its own that doesn't really answer the critiques. For sola scriptura might be attractive as an answer to an existential predicament, but whether it works is another question. Moreover, it makes sense, if you already have a canon, to say, Let's pay special attention to the canon. But if you are going to do away with your grounds for thinking that this is what scripture is, then it ceases to be clear how what you think is scripture answers the existential predicament.

Matteo said...

Vincent wrote:
"Ed argues that "the precise shape of the canon cannot be accounted for apart from the decrees of the institutional Church." But after having read the above articles, it seems that the inclusion of those specific books in the canon could be justified by appealing to objective criteria. I don't think Ed has scored a knock-out blow against Fulford here."

The problem is that these "objective criteria" are THEMSELVES non-scriptural.
So here we go again: sola scriptura fails. And Prof. Feser did score several knock-out blows, although the Protestant types here continue to ignore them...

Greg said...

I should add: If you have to look very closely at history to figure out a) what the correct canon is, b) how to interpret the correct canon, and c) which Protestant denomination(s) is (are) closest to being right, then sola scriptura doesn't really do the job it was supposed to do in answering the existential predicament.

I think the emphasizing the existential predicament is important for this discussion. For that's where Protestants and Catholics really do disagree. Catholics can't imagine that what is really crucial is "the assurance of being saved"; Catholic don't believe you can ever have that assurance on this earth. But I think that is also the theme of sola scriptura among Protestants today, at least the evangelicals I encounter in college. Sola scriptura is supposed to rule out reliance on needless sacraments, institutions, and philosophy. People who rely on the latter are putting a wedge between themselves and Christ.

The sophisticated sola scriptura does not so obviously have such implications. To get the Trinity, you need philosophy, as Fulford concedes. Sophisticates sola scriptura might also appeal to intellectual virtue to figure out which Protestant tradition is the correct one. It also concedes that, for many Protestant denominations, the disagreements are not immediately decidable by cracking open a Bible; those differences, though, are fortunately not too relevant. And to figure out why this book should be our Bible, we might need to appeal to history; since ordinary people can't learn everything about history relevant to determining the authenticity of this canon, the account will have to rely on putting faith in other human persons (your congregation or your parents).

So again: Simplistic sola scriptura (which, it's urged, is not authentic) is what is attractive, as far as answering an existential predicament is concerned. For it allows one to think that justification lies just in a singular focus on this book. Sophisticated sola scriptura concedes that more might be necessary.

I suspect that, in a culture where the fact that this is scripture can be taken for granted (say, 16th century Europe), it is easy to conflate the two: One formally adheres to the sophisticated version, the version of the Reformers, but takes it to have the benefits of the simplistic version, which has an answer to the existential predicament but has trouble answering a lot of questions.

Quidam said...

Mr. Feser.

I am a colombian psychologist with a great interest in realistic philosophy, especially thomistic philosophy. I understand that the very foundation for the realistic conception of the knowledge is the realistic understanding of the sensible perception, that is to say, the view that our sensible knowledge give us an objective contact with extramental reality, as it is.

However, the recents discoveries of neuroscience seems to propose that our sensible perception only give us a ficticious representation of reality, in the way the man in the video that i linked below explains.

which is the better way for answer that kind of threat to the realistic philosophy?
The man in the video seems pretty sure about his ideas, he speaks with confidence based on modern neuroscience.

I ask you to excuse me because perhaps this topic is not related with your post, and for my poor english too.

This is the link i mentioned above:

http://www.ted.com/talks/donald_hoffman_do_we_see_reality_as_it_is


Leonardo Rodríguez

An Preachan Dubh said...

Greg,
Thanks for the excellent reply. Every line is insightful, and this stands out: For sola scriptura might be attractive as an answer to an existential predicament, but whether it works is another question. Moreover, it makes sense, if you already have a canon, to say, Let's pay special attention to the canon. But if you are going to do away with your grounds for thinking that this is what scripture is, then it ceases to be clear how what you think is scripture answers the existential predicament.

That's the succinctly stated nub of Prof Feser's point (one major point, anyway). I've grown up with Protestants, had them in the family, always discussed "religion, politics, and line fences", all that, and I've never understood it. My impression is that they don't either.

Your line Regardless of why the splitting occurred, someone who is convinced of the sola-scriptura method is still going to have to figure out which denomination adhering to sola scriptura he will join. makes me think of the observation that of all the churches one knows of, the ones that are most clearly "dated", "contemporary", "eccentric" and products of a particular preacher (the ones most definitely not First Century churches, in other words) are the very American "Bible Only" and "Full Gospel" types. My experience is mostly rural, and I know there are many "progressive" urban churches that are utterly products of their time and place, etc., but of course they don't stress SS. So obviously the doctrine doesn't work from that angle, either.

Thanks again.

DNW said...

Quidam said...

Mr. Feser.

I am a colombian psychologist with a great interest in realistic philosophy, especially thomistic philosophy. I understand that the very foundation for the realistic conception of the knowledge is the realistic understanding of the sensible perception, that is to say, the view that our sensible knowledge give us an objective contact with extramental reality, as it is."



You asked Feser not me, so all I have to say of substance is :Thanks for the link, an enjoyable and provocative talk.

But, if I were to ruminate on the topic for my own pleasure, I would say that I am not sure that his thesis is so much a threat to moderate realism as it is to any and all understanding of reality. And I suppose we should even bracket "reality" with scare quotes.

As a basic criticism I would comment that, his descriptive language seems to present something of a problem.

He consistently refers to the "construction" and "creation" of reality, rather than to a more modest subjective "interpretation" or "impression" of it.

Though the substitution of those terms would not dissolve away all the purported sense of mystery, some of it would evaporate.

It is one thing to say that our mediated impression of some aspect of reality does not encompass all of it, or even just constitutes a relevant slice; it is another to say that we are not even seeing illusions or mirages which can be traced.

Then too, he seems to confront a number of logical problems when it comes to the inferences he proposes.

The first is almost trivial: his initial analogies regarding the shape of the earth do not parallel the depth of the disconnect he is proposing. Men have believed the world to be round for a very long time, and this belief was in part based upon realist perceptions as well as inductions and deductions; ostensibly on the curvature seen from very high places or the disappearing masts of ships at sea, as well as on the angles of constellations or noon sun seen from various places.

He acknowledges that walking blindly into traffic, into a reality he has not "constructed" may still be fatal. His contention is that "evolution" has so shaped us as to keep us safe from such foolhardy activities.

Safe from "what"? If "it" is not "real" in the sense of having an independent or as you correctly term it "extramental" effect, what constitutes the danger?

Apparently whatever it is that is unreal, has a sign which our failure to heed will kill us. Apparently these signs are signals not only to human consciousness, but to bees, and numerous other animals as well which have only rudimentary and easily misled consciousnesses, or active memories, if any at all.

This author has obviously taken his computer model of the dynamic of reproductive success, and deduced from the results he has obtained through his plug-ins, that something rather more radical than either Kantianism or quantum physics is behind our registration of experiences.

He seems to be some kind of closet idealist: one who has not yet quite worked out the exact program he wishes to endorse.


But, remember you still have to look out for the train all the same. Or it will kill you. Apparently for real.

DNW said...

Read,

"Apparently whatever it is that is unreal, has "

as, "Apparently whatever it is that is unreal, is ..."

or as,

"Apparently whatever it is that is real, has sign which our failure to heed will kill us ..."

Anonymous said...

Greg, is there any Roman Catholic site analogous to the Calvinist International? OPs that are, even if mistaken, well-informed by actual knowledge of the Catholic tradition?

Interestingly, the same Reformers who trusted the Bible more than councils and popes also shortened, slightly rearranged, and translated the canon. I see no reason to doubt the standard view that they found the Word to their existential crisis in St Paul's undisputed epistles to the Galatians and Romans. Theit infracanon seems to have been canon enough to do the job. Perhaps Descartes in his oven could have doubted that God speaks to believers in Galatians and Romans, but his problem was not their problem. It may have been the Jesuits' problem ;-)

Thanks again for fine comments and best wishes for the rest of your summer.

Others-- Christian Smith at Notre Dame calls America's religion 'Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.' Harold Bloom called it 'American gnosticism.' Robert Bellah et al in Habits of the Heart found very little in it that is shaped by the theological defenses of Augsburg and Trent. We all know random people who say they believe strange things. My sister-in-law or your high school chemistry teacher are not well-explained by philosophical analysis of what smart people said five centuries ago to the German nobility about trusting the Bible more than councils and popes. But the social sciences are well-adapted to answering questions about contemporary society.

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

Greg, is there any Roman Catholic site analogous to the Calvinist International? OPs that are, even if mistaken, well-informed by actual knowledge of the Catholic tradition?

Not that I know of or follow. But I also am not very familiar with Calvinist International.


Interestingly, the same Reformers who trusted the Bible more than councils and popes also shortened, slightly rearranged, and translated the canon.

Do you know why they shortened it?

I see no reason to doubt the standard view that they found the Word to their existential crisis in St Paul's undisputed epistles to the Galatians and Romans. Theit infracanon seems to have been canon enough to do the job. Perhaps Descartes in his oven could have doubted that God speaks to believers in Galatians and Romans, but his problem was not their problem. It may have been the Jesuits' problem ;-)

Suppose that by reading inspired scripture, it's possible for one to just see that it's inspired and understand what it means. It doesn't follow (and I imagine no Christian would have the presumption to claim) that a given person will have this experience with all scripture that is inspired. So how does one know that one is not taking the razor blade to God's scripture when one shortens the received canon? The fact that one does not read these books as inspired is no evidence, unless one fancies oneself a prophet.

Maybe you would bring in the assurance of being saved here. But someone else might feel assured with even fewer books than you do, and by the same logic they can cut out your favorite books.

The Descartes example is actually quite to the point, and I suspect is at the root of what tradition-based epistemologists (Anscombe especially) take issue with in Protestantism. They reject criteria for knowledge based on certainty or indubitability. When one has knowledge, it does not have to do with one's having the sense of feeling certain or confident in one's belief (though that might often follow).

But the same considerations would lead one to question the criterion of feeling assured of being saved. A feeling of assurance is parallel to a feeling of certainty. My fear is that as one tries to move the assurance account away from indubitability criteria, its content is going to become frighteningly less clear, to the extent that it's not clear that it would solve the ordinary person's crisis of faith.

Thanks again for fine comments and best wishes for the rest of your summer.

You as well. I wish I knew a bit more history; I imagine we would have a more interesting conversation in that case.

Quidam said...

DNW,,

Thank you for your valuable insights.

I too think, like you, that the real danger represented by the train cannot be an illusion only, a kind of outcome from evolution (without mention that he assumes evolutionary biology as a fact); what difference there is between saying that the train is real, objectively and "extra-mentally" real (i don't know if that word really exist), and say that evolution make our brains to think so?

I mean, in fact the result is the same in both cases: i must get out of there, if i want to continue alive.

Nevertheless, I must to confess that this kind of ideas coming from neuroscience always have put me in trouble, because notwithstanding my commitment with realism, maybe I lack sufficient knowledge in answering that kind of arguments.

The neurosciences have the capacity of impress with her complex terminology, and with her seemingly objectivity of her discoveries. Which at the end is paradoxical, because the neuroscientist pretends to assign to his own views about "reality", the objectivity that he refuses to assign to reality itself.

And again, sorry for my poor english.

DNW said...




" what difference there is between saying that the train is real, objectively and "extra-mentally" real (i don't know if that word really exist) "

It's a word that is used by philosophers and historians of philosophy whether it is real or not. Puts you in solid company.

Copleston come to mind.

Tony said...

The neurosciences have the capacity of impress with her complex terminology, and with her seemingly objectivity of her discoveries. Which at the end is paradoxical, because the neuroscientist pretends to assign to his own views about "reality", the objectivity that he refuses to assign to reality itself.

That is, indeed, one of the big stumbling blocks for the whole way of proceeding.

Quidam, my impression from the talk is that the scientist is making a couple of big leaps by making assumptions that he fails to notice. And it starts very early in his talk.

With the beetles: their senses lock on to shiny, bumpy, and brown. Their instincts tell them to try to mate with that. There is no reason to presume, based on that, that what the beetle is *conscious of* is mating with a female beetle. It's not like the beetle's consciousness is like ours, highly developed in recognizing "female of the species" and interpreting THAT interpretive result into the desired behavior "to mate". The data is equally explained by saying that the beetle's instincts draw it to a subset of the features of a female beetle and it has no further interpretive activity than that. J. Henri Fabre performed all sorts of experiments on insects in a similar vein in the 1800s, and his conclusions are nothing like this guy's. (A carpenter bee "cannot" break out of a paper bag, even though it can bore through wood, because it's instincts do not enable it to TRY.)

At another level: our visual perception of the Earth as flat is not "erroneous" as he puts it. That's not our eyes reporting reality badly. It is, rather, that our estimative capacity is not fine-tuned enough to measure a gradation of curvature of only 1/10,000. But again, this is not ERROR, it is INCOMPLETE.

There are better ways of explaining his proposed problems than his.

Alex Woollends said...

Anonymous,

Try 'Called to Communion.' It is a site from mostly former Calvinists who are now Catholics. They are not just random bloggers: these gentlemen are theologians and philosophers. You will get clear and generous responses from people who knew the Calvinist tradition well, and who ultimately found their way back to the Catholic Church.

Feel free to comment on their posts - they are very active in responding. They answer objections to the canon, sola scriptura, infallibility, etc. It is a treasure trove of great Catholics who will can answer your questions!

www.calledtocommunion.com

And fellow Catholic brothers: let us try to be ecumenical on here. The most important things are the things that we largely *already* agree with Protestants on. There is no real need to have fury or anger on here. I know personally know the sad consequences that can result from being too aggressive, angry, or dismissive of Protestants.

DNW said...

His reasoning seems to go that we perceive the train icon because that is all that is evolutionarily necessary for us to reproduce.

The icon perceived by, or constructed by, our mind signals the existence of some essentially other phenomenon with which we are interacting unknowingly.

Nonetheless when it comes to the net effect of stepping out blindfolded into onrushing traffic on a freeway, or in front of a train, the ultimate effect is the same: death.

What is odd about this is that he takes pains to assert that he is not referring to Heidegger's lectern, to appearances of solidity that are only relative, to phenomenologically incomplete aspects, nor to simple illusions, but to a radically other reality that is not revealed or improved upon through normal processes of inference or instrumental amplification.

Nonetheless, the jokster's smart-assed rejoinder to the solipsist or idealist that he test his insane beliefs by daring to walk backward into traffic, is acknowledged by Hoffman to be a challenge with life or death consequences.

I don't know what he has in mind myself, and cannot envision it. The trans-noumenal? The Matrix? The holographic universe?

What "tool" will he use to test these inferences he has drawn from the results of his computer modeling?

And what is the actual logic behind his reasoning?

He concludes that selection for reproductive success trumps selection for reality; and he infers that as far as adaptive success goes, reality perception is not only unnecessary but maladaptive.

There are a lot of syllogisms yet to be unpacked in those assertions.

As you think these things through, you can listen to this for inspiration.

Oh, your English is fine.


Phillip Glass a Gentleman's Honor

Anonymous said...

Greg, I seem to be 'completing' more times than an Orthodox divine liturgy.

On canon-shortening-- Luther: (a) followed St Jerome in substituting the Hebrew-only Masoretic Text (MT) of the rabbis at Jamnia for the Alexandrian Jewish Septuagint (LXX) translation of the OT into Greek that is still in Orthodox use today, and (b) disputed the apostolic authorship of the epistle of James because its doctrine was too 'works-righteous.' Shortening (a) was fuly adopted by most Reformers (shorter books, Apocrypha) and partially adopted by the RCC (Deuterocanonicals), but the rabbis' premise has been shown to be mistaken. They shortened the OT to rid it of books and passages in the Greek LXX, but not in any Hebrew text. Everyone but the Orthodox eventually accepted their reasoning. Recent study of the Dead Sea Scrolls has revealed that LXX-only passages of the OT were indeed translated from Hebrew originals. Shortening (b) was rejected by other Reformers as inconsistent with the patristic attestation of apostolic authorship that is criterial for the NT canon. In the end even Luther duly translated James into German, though he calls it "a fluffy epistle" in his preface.

An interruption. More Anon anon.

Neuro_diverse said...

Anon said (July 30, 2015 at 4:29 PM)

"Jeremy, 'sola scriptura' began as one of a triad that also included 'sola fide' and 'solus Christus.' The ideas were never meant to have separate careers."

Right on, particularly wrt Luther's "existential predicament", which was solved by 'sola fide' and 'solus Christus'. 'Sola scriptura', or better 'solo Paul', or even better 'solo some passages by Paul' was the precondition for holding 'sola fide' and 'solus Christus'.

Greg said (July 31, 2015 at 8:06 AM)

"Catholics can't imagine that what is really crucial is "the assurance of being saved";"

The root issue to understand what Luther needed and did is not one of "Catholics vs Luther" but one of "psychologically healthy vs OCD", and possibly, in addition to that, one of "neurotypical vs Asperger".

I wrote a speculative retrospective psychiatric profiling of ML in several comments under this article, using this nickname:

http://taylormarshall.com/2013/10/009-my-opinion-of-martin-luther-podcast.html

Anonymous said...

Neuro puts an entertaining spin-- "sola-some-passages-in-Paul"-- on my earlier reference to an infracanon that foregrounded justification through *Christ* by *faith* in his promise, which is in *scripture*. But he's right-- the Sola Sisters sing together or not at all.

Anonymous said...

Greg, from my account of Luther's 'shortenings', I think you can see that (1) even in the C16, the patristic criterion of attested apostolic authorship was robust enough to prevail over a reasonable (but mistaken) challenge based on content, (2) even the drastic changes that were made to the OT were tradition-based, not subjective cut and paste jobs, and (3) in this, as in some other disputed matters, the best-informed judgments of the time were partially mistaken.

Anonymous said...

Whatever one makes of it, Anscombe's suspicion probably does fall on 'assurance' in the sense of Calvin's self-attested certitude that God will not permit one to fall. But Luther's trust that God does not lie in his promise to save one in baptism, Communion, scripture, and penance seems to be a different epistemology. You might like Philip Cary's short essay 'Why Luther was not quite a Protestant' and David S Yeago's article The Catholic Luther.

Anonymous said...

Can anybody put these in logical order: 1. Metaphysics 2. Philosophy of nature 3. Philosophy of mind 4. Epistemology (plus, can somebody explain to me the difference between the philosophy of mind and epistemology) should the philosophy of mind precede the philosophy of nature and metaphysics because it deals with the relationship with the subject (knowers mind) and the object (external world). And this is also where I get confused about the difference between this and epistemology. Doesn't epistemology also deal with the subject - object relationship?

Mr. Green said...

Tiglathpileser IV: I cannot figure out how to get the OPs delivered to my email inbox with all the other theological blogs.

Having to chase after webpages is uncivilsed to be sure; but if your e-mail program can handle RSS (e.g. Thunderbird can), you can subscribe to the articles:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss

(There are also various services to deliver RSS feeds by e-mail, but I don't have experience with any of them.)

Patrick said...

“Now, divine revelation is a kind of communication, and as I noted in a previous post, all sides in the debate over sola scriptura agree that this revelation takes place through human intermediaries. One kind of intermediary would be a prophet. When a prophet speaks to you, what you need to understand if you are going to understand his message is the thoughts he intends to convey to you. Of course, he will convey those thoughts through words, but it is strictly speaking not the words in and of themselves that you are trying to understand, but rather the thoughts through the words, by means of the words. And that is true whether or not the words are spoken or written.

In saying that much, I am not saying anything that I think a sola scriptura advocate like Fulford would disagree with.”

I don’t think that it’s true that all sola scriptura advocates wouldn’t disagree with this view. There are such people who, pointing to passages like 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, hold the view that there is a divine person communicating directly with us, namely the Holy Spirit, and that one cannot understand Scripture without the aid of the Holy Spirit.

“This sort of divinely guided moral person is, of course, precisely what the Catholic Church claims to be.”

But it doesn’t have to be the Catholic Church. One can also argue that this divinely guided moral person is the Invisible Church. From Romans 8:9 one can argue that the Invisible Church consists of those persons who have the Holy Spirit and if, according to 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, having the Holy Spirit is a prerequisite of understanding God’s revelation, the Invisible Church is the most likely candidate of being this divinely guided moral person.

Now one could object that it is true that only people who have the Holy Spirit are in a position to understand God’s revelation, but that it is only in the Roman Catholic Church that one can find such persons. In other words, there are no true Christians outside the Roman Catholic Church. However, this is not the position of the Roman Catholic Church, at least not nowadays. Even Catholics concede that there are true Christians outside the Roman Catholic Church. Now, according to Catholicism it is not all Catholics who are endowed with the gift of being able to interpret Scripture infallibly, but only a small group within the Church consisting of its bishops. But is having the Holy Spirit a prerequisite of becoming a bishop within the Roman Catholic Church? But even if it is, can one with absolute certainty say that a person has the Holy Spirit? If the answer is negative then this means that one can be a bishop within the Roman Catholic Church without having the Holy Spirit. But, looking again at 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, is such a person apt to be part of a group of people that who are supposed to be in a position to interpret Scripture infallibly?

Anonymous said...

Try 1, 3, 4, 2, and see how it works for you.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Cletus van Damme and Matteo,

You both raise very good questions about the objective criteria for determining which books are in the canon. After reading the article by Tom Brown at http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/01/the-canon-question/ , I think it's fair to say that he demolishes internal self-attestation (or what Mormons call the burning in the bosom). A Protestant would have to go for external criteria. Matteo objects that these criteria would have to come from outside Scripture, but I don't see why they need to.

Summarizing Steve Hays' argument in "God's Canon" at http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/godscanon.html and fleshing it out a little, a Protestant might argue as follows.

1. The Mosaic Covenant is the paradigm instance of an inspired text in the Old Testament. It is authenticated by the miracles worked by God during the Exodus (which are still part of the collective memory of the Jewish people, as the "kuzari argument" shows) and by the prophesies made by Moses about God delivering Israel from Egypt and about Israel inheriting the land of Canaan.

2. As Fulford argues, inspiration cannot be meaningfully ascribed to snippets of text; it is a property which belongs to books as a whole. So we have Exodus and the Law as inspired documents, describing God's covenant with Israel. Hays argues that Genesis is also inspired, as it provides the essential backdrop to that covenant, which it anticipates.

3. The historical books of the Old Testament are inspired, because they are records kept by a long lineage of royal scribes, of how Israel and Judah kept (or failed to keep) the covenant God made with them at Sinai.

4. The post-exilic historical books are an inspired record of God's "justice and mercy, fidelity and providence" after Ezra led the Jewish people back from Babylon and enforced observance of the Torah.

5. The major and minor prophets are authenticated by their prophesies coming true.

6. The Psalms are authenticated as a result of being written either by David, who was both a king and a prophet, or (in the case of later psalms) by "official employees of the religious establishment" who had a connection with David.

7. The first book in the Wisdom literature, Proverbs, was written by Solomon, a king and a sage who spoke to God. The other books in the Wisdom literature were written by official insiders, whom Hays describes as "inspired royal scribes," who were "part of a dynasty." So it's the link back to Solomon that counts. Hays writes; "With that royal patronage, recognition would be immediate." Job is a bit more problematic: Hays is unsure of its provenance, although he thinks it may be connected with Solomon's court. To be continued...

Vincent Torley said...

In short: there's a kind of thread running through the books: taken together, they comprise the storyline of God's relationship with Israel. There's also a kind of chain linking the authors.

The foregoing criteria are objective, but not external to the Old Testament. Naturally, if a book is to be treated as inspired, then it has to come from a well-recognized, respected source. hence the importance of the chain of connections.

Additionally, some books were sanctioned by usage within the Jewish community. Thus the use of Esther at Purim made it possible for it to be included in the canon. The Song of Songs was a dicey case, but Gerald Larue has argued that by reclassifying it as an allegory, it was possible for the Jews to see in this book an expression of God's covenantal love for Israel.

A similar line of reasoning would also establish that the New Testament books are inspired. Even Hebrews, while not Pauline, dates from the time of the Apostles, and the early Church was generally pretty sure that Revelation had a strong link with the apostle John.

I've been arguing for the Protestant position here, simply to show that it's consistent. The real question is whether it works. Does it offer us a way of knowing what we need to know about God, in order to live a godly Christian life? On several vital issues, listed above by Ed in his post, it seems to come up short.

Anonymous said...

Patrick & Neuro, why does St John i 9 say that the true Light gives light to every man coming into the world? Have we reason to think that the Holy Spirit denies the testimonium internum to anyone seeking God in the scriptures?

Fulford's second reply quotes Bavinck and Hooker in a way that hints at this argument: the Feser-Fulford debate is confusing the perspicuity proper to the gospel with that required to settle everything else. As the Reformers said, the scriptures are perspicuous enough with respect to justification by Christ appropriated through faith to ground a person's relationship with God, but as Feyerabend's Jesuits said, they are less perspicuous with respect to other articles of faith that may be disputed. If you start from the Reformers' position, it is truly hard to see how anybody could fail to get the gospel out of St Paul, and if you have been delivered by that gospel from hell, then the rest of your problems just concern adiaphora, which Protestant systematicians work through much as St Thomas did. If you start from the Jesuit position that the scriptures are not perspicuous enough to show, oh, whether an epiclesis is required for a valid mass, then it sounds too good to be true that they would not only describe salvation but effectually enable it in illumined readers. Which position one cares about more will depend upon whether one is more afraid of going to hell or of going to a church that is confused about the epiclesis.

To Luther at least, this is a no-brainer. God is trying to save absolutely everyone, but cannot save anyone who does not trust him, so the Church's only urgent task is to again and again remind each individual that God is indeed, by all means available, trying to save his soul, in order to elicit and strengthen the fragile trust that saves. In the present aeon, everything in the church earns its keep by visibly confirming the particular sinner's trust that, though he be unworthy, God is saving him. If the Hail Mary somehow does this, Luther will keep it; in fact he did.

Luther's objection to diverse practices of his day was not so much that they were not adequately supported in scripture, but that they were visibly eliciting belief in the street that God cannot be trusted. Some of Luther's exasperated, sputtering style reflects an impatience with theorizers who will not look out the window at what is actually happening to the soul of someone who hears and believes a papal indulgence-peddler.
So much of his critique of Latin medieval religion is circumstantial-- monasticism seen as a desperate struggle to work off sin; invocation of saints able to placate a hostile God; liturgy that might speak to the learned of a merciful God, but that is barely intelligible to the great majority of those God is trying to save. Better scriptural warrant for practices that were sending countless souls to hell would not have been an improvement.

Anonymous said...

There is a sedimentary rock in my back yard.

It developed over millions of years.

Each layer reflects events on the earth's crust, some of them on what are now faraway continents.

One layer is extraterrestrial dust from an asteroid that hit Mexico, darkened the sky, and killed the dinosaurs.

But some say the rock's layers do not evidence those events. Why? Because no ahistorical theory predicts the exact deposition of the layers in the rock. Especially not the dinosaur-killing layer that has plainly extraterrestrial substances in it.

Those who say this are also saying that the books in the canon cannot tell us about God unless there is an ahistorical theory that postdicts the books in the canon.

They would live richer, more meaningful lives if they would either (a) learn lots of geology, or (b) read Thomas Nagel's View from Nowhere or Greg's favorite essay by Elizabeth Anscombe, or (c) study carefully any book by Brevard Childs.

Only those who live Nowhere need the view from Nowhere.


Timocrates said...

@ Anonymouse above,

Luther's objection to diverse practices of his day was not so much that they were not adequately supported in scripture, but that they were visibly eliciting belief in the street that God cannot be trusted.

Which was a false interpretation by Luther of what people were actually doing. The "practices" would have been pointless if the practitioner didn't believe that God desired their own salvation of people's salvation universally in the first place.

Some of Luther's exasperated, sputtering style reflects an impatience with theorizers who will not look out the window at what is actually happening to the soul of someone who hears and believes a papal indulgence-peddler.

Which is just a more specific case of the general error of interpretation of Luther's demonstrated above (i.e. that people wouldn't be engaging in those practices in the first place if they doubted or denied God's salvific will for themselves or others). It also rests on a conflation between those who abused or perverted the practice and those who conformed to it properly. The latter were cause of scandal and required internal moral reform and perhaps greater doctrinal precision; to abuse, however, the latter case of the non-abusers was to abuse the Church and at least implicitly deny authoritative Catholic doctrine.

Timocrates said...

Sorry, last part of my above response to Anonymous should read:

"The former [not the latter] were cause of scandal and required internal moral reform and perhaps greater doctrinal precision [to cure and correct the abuse]..."

Timocrates said...

@ Anonymous above,

Better scriptural warrant for practices that were sending countless souls to hell would not have been an improvement.

This belief is extremely alarming. Are you saying that even if a doctrine or practice is warranted because it is found in and can be evinced from the scripture that, notwithstanding, it could still in any way be "sending countless souls to hell"? Seriously? Such a belief only provides proof to the Catholic critique of Protestantism as making each individual a mini-pope who has a warrant to rely solely on his own lights and, indeed, even obstinate prejudices to the point even of rankly contradicting himself. If scripture warrants a doctrine or a practice, then how can that possibly fail to be sufficient justification for the adherent of sola scriptura for that belief or practice?

So much of his critique of Latin medieval religion is circumstantial-- monasticism seen as a desperate struggle to work off sin; invocation of saints able to placate a hostile God; liturgy that might speak to the learned of a merciful God, but that is barely intelligible to the great majority of those God is trying to save.

And all of this rests on an erroneous interpretation of Catholic belief and practices. To refuse correction here reduces the person to an irrational obstinacy, cleaving to his own prejudice.

Anonymous said...

Just so, Timocrates.

For on our streets, the old practices are disentangled from medieval malaise and again effective. There are Lutheran monks for whom justification by Christ through trust enables the practice of theosis. And there are rosary-saying Lutherans for whom the Blessed Virgin Mary calls to mind both Luther's deep theology of the incarnation (March 25) and an evangelical understanding of predestination (August 15).

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

As the Reformers said, the scriptures are perspicuous enough with respect to justification by Christ appropriated through faith to ground a person's relationship with God, but as Feyerabend's Jesuits said, they are less perspicuous with respect to other articles of faith that may be disputed. If you start from the Reformers' position, it is truly hard to see how anybody could fail to get the gospel out of St Paul, and if you have been delivered by that gospel from hell, then the rest of your problems just concern adiaphora, which Protestant systematicians work through much as St Thomas did.

But aren't you the one who directed me to Phillip Cary's article? If Cary is correct in the distinction between Luther and Calvin, then they had markedly different understandings of justification by Christ, with the implication that (if, say, Luther were right) Calvinists would be saying that some people who were saved were in fact not saved.

Timocrates said...

@ Anonymouse above,

For on our streets, the old practices are disentangled from medieval malaise and again effective. There are Lutheran monks for whom justification by Christ through trust enables the practice of theosis. And there are rosary-saying Lutherans for whom the Blessed Virgin Mary calls to mind both Luther's deep theology of the incarnation (March 25) and an evangelical understanding of predestination (August 15).

So your version of Lutheranism is a sort of rigoristic side-chapel of Catholicism? Notwithstanding, the justification for this is as you said reliant on Luther's own rash and erroneous interpretation of Medieval Catholic practices in the first place, making far too much adieu about trivial and superficial excretions, and using those (as you still do today and indeed just twice did) as some kind of license or warrant to destroy the sacred unity of the Church.

I'm sorry, but I still remain totally unconvinced that historical Protestantism was justified at all.

Timocrates said...

@ Anonymouse above,

For on our streets, the old practices are disentangled from medieval malaise and again effective. There are Lutheran monks for whom justification by Christ through trust enables the practice of theosis. And there are rosary-saying Lutherans for whom the Blessed Virgin Mary calls to mind both Luther's deep theology of the incarnation (March 25) and an evangelical understanding of predestination (August 15).

So your version of Lutheranism is a sort of rigoristic side-chapel of Catholicism? Notwithstanding, the justification for this is as you said reliant on Luther's own rash and erroneous interpretation of Medieval Catholic practices in the first place, making far too much adieu about trivial and superficial excretions, and using those (as you still do today and indeed just twice did) as some kind of license or warrant to destroy the sacred unity of the Church.

I'm sorry, but I still remain totally unconvinced that historical Protestantism was justified at all.

Timocrates said...

@ Anonymouse,

Actually, I let you off the hook for a brazenly gratuitous premise:

For on our streets, the old practices are disentangled from medieval malaise and again effective.

"And are again effective." This rests on the assumption that the original Catholic equivalent was not "effective," which you have not demonstrated and, indeed, give reason to believe necessarily had to be effective, for the Lutheran version of Catholicism, having merely disentangled from the original and warranted Catholic practices what was merely "medieval malaise" is only an valid argument on the assumption, again, that the original Catholic practices were also effective. If, therefore, modern Lutheran "practices are... effective" then, necessarily, so too were the prototype Catholic ones, "medieval malaise" notwithstanding.

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

If you start from the Jesuit position that the scriptures are not perspicuous enough to show, oh, whether an epiclesis is required for a valid mass, then it sounds too good to be true that they would not only describe salvation but effectually enable it in illumined readers. Which position one cares about more will depend upon whether one is more afraid of going to hell or of going to a church that is confused about the epiclesis.

I think you're right that a lot rides on this point. I don't find it at all obvious that scripture is perspicuous on every matter relevant to salvation. I am not a biblical expert; I am often greatly confused by scripture. It has nothing to do with lacking trust in God's promises but not being confident in my ability to read God's promises directly off of a text surrounding which there is so much disagreement.

Anonymous said...

Relax, Timocrates.

The Catholic Herald article linked above got it right. The Reformation has been over for years-- especially between Catholics and Lutherans, who have a Joint Declaration on Justification. I have not pressed a key here with anything but irenic intent. Today, on the planet I live on, nothing else would make much sense. The most classically Reformed blogger I know yesterday posted an introduction to Catholic religious orders, declared Benedict's Eschatology to be his favorite book, and commended Dominicana (the blog of the Dominican House of Studies) to his readers

But there are those in and beyond each communion who will not take 'yes' for an answer. The Reformed will have nothing officially to do with the Joint Declaration. And very ironically, I've met some old-fashioned haters among converts to Orthodoxy. Why are they refuseniks?

I'll leave it to you to explain any hating you see on your side. On my side, these are people who have so defined themselves as 'happy warriors' that they cannot see Catholic agreement when they walk straight into it. They remind me a little of those lone Japanese soldiers who kept firing on American tourists in the 1960s, because they could not believe the war was over. Yes, but why are people like that?

My three hypotheses-- (1) A community at war is a happy place for those whose minds are well-attuned to a bee hive but ill at ease in a herd of sheep. Some soldiers are reluctant to face the freedom and responsibility of civilian life. (2) The West's five polarized centuries were fruitful on both sides of the divide, and from those good fruits some incidentally learn bad polarization. (3) Understanding any deep tradition as it is in itself will be too hard for some adherents. A mindset of frozen opposition to the Other is shallow, but easy.

R Gillmann said...

If we are observing a large-scale abuse of authority and overflow of excess (as the Reformers were), we would naturally try to retrench around a defensible boundary. This is not unlike the patristic period in which the doctrine of unbroken succession was devised to exclude heretics. But in the 16th century the latter solution was not working so a new one was devised. This new solution built on the Renaissance textual revolution that produced reliable texts of the Old and New Testaments in the Hebrew and Greek. The result was a document, the Bible, that was made accessible so people everywhere had the same text as the rule of faith to which appeal could be made. It was and is a reasonable solution that honors the Holy Spirit's witness in believers worldwide.

Timocrates said...

@ Anonymouse above,

Relax, Timocrates.

I'm sorry but you opened for yourself this can of worms. You claimed, pretentiously, that Lutheran's had somehow "made... effective again" Catholic practices, as if they were not effective originally and with the implication that they are further only effective in/for Lutherans/Lutheranism.

So I have no need to "relax." If you're going to make sweeping assertions maybe you should relax and think before you make them; otherwise, don't object when people object when you make gratuitous claims.

Anonymous said...

Greg, yes, I mentioned Cary. Your point is...?

It might be clearer to say that Calvin tried to fit Luther's scripture-driven justification into St Augustine's scheme of double predestination. Those who meet Calvin's demanding requirement of 'reflective faith' (Cary) know justification as Luther knew it. Those who simply believe the faith and want to be saved are in the Reformed 'limbo' that surfaced in New England's 'Half-Way Covenant' controversy. This limbo cannot arise in Luther's own theology because-- (1) UOJ, universal objective justification, does not necessarily require that any soul be lost; (2) desire with trust is saving faith; (3) as in Roman theology, one could theoretically loose saving faith through a refusal to further trust God. Forfending (3) is the urgent imperative of the means of grace.

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

Your point is...?

My point is exactly what I said. The nature of justification is relevant to salvation. If scripture is obviously perspicuous with respect to everything relevant to salvation, then it's obviously perspicuous with respect to the nature of justification. But if the Calvinist position places some Lutherans into a limbo then scripture is not obviously perspicuous with respect to the nature of justification, unless we exclude the Calvinists from the broad-enough cross section of Protestants who agree on matters relevant to salvation.

Anonymous said...

Timocrates-- Charitable close readers, especially Catholic readers, will not find in my comment what you projected into it. Some such Reformed-ish readers might find it unacceptably revisionist, but others would know the truth of it.

Neuro_diverse said...

In order to understand Luther one has to get the picture of what was going on in the guy's brain, not just his mind. Failure to do that causes erroneous views on the subject on both sides, Protestant and Catholic, with the Protestant error being far worse because it affects the beliefs and practices of millions. By the Catholic error I refer to the usual unwarranted harsh views of Luther in the Catholic side, which is no problem whatsoever for him because he, just as everyone else, is judged only by God.

Though approaches to psychohistory on Luther are not new, as recounted here:

http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2006/06/using-psychohistory-to-interpret.html

for an approach to be sound it must be based on a correct understanding of both the CNS, the psyche, and the interplay between them. To start with, ignoring the issue of neurotransmitter imbalances and their effect on the psyche means having no idea on the subject, period. But in addition to that, the following facts point to one specific diagnosis, frequently comorbid with neurotransmitter imbalances:

1. The harsh character of his father, and possibly also of his mother.
(relevant because the condition has genetic origin)
2. The cruelty of the punishments he received at school.
3. His overburdening with work assignments by his superiors at the monastery.
(which reflects both his capacity and his inability to negotiate.)
4. His irregularity in the reciting of the daily Office.
5. His tendency to build his own “system” of ascetical exercises.
6. His extremely high capacity for concentration in work (e.g. of translation).
7. His extremely low capacity for nuanced diplomacy (e.g. with other Reformers).

On seeing this list of traits, anyone familiar with the diagnosis in question will immediately guess which one I am thinking of. And if someone argued: "people with that condition are not likely to start a religious movement", I'd answer by observing that the Reformation was started, in theory and in practice, by Andreas Karlstadt and not by Luther, who until 1522 was just following Karlstadt's trail. Facts:

- Karlstadt published his 151 theses in 1516.

- The 1519 Leipzig debate was originally supposed to be between Eck and Karlstadt. Luther joined the debate later.

- The 1520 papal bull Exurge Domini condemned the doctrines of both Karlstatd and Luther.

- Between May 1521 and March 1522, while Luther was hiding in the Wartburg castle translating the NT, Karlstadt put the Reformation into practice in Wittenberg:
* 1st reformed Eucharist: Christmas 1521,
* remotion of images from churches: January 1522,
* abolition of clerical celibacy with the example of his own marriage: 1522, 3 years before Luther.

In fact, Luther got out of his Wartburg seclusion precisely to moderate and guide events at Wittenberg, which with Karlstadt were getting out of control, even for Luther.

Anonymous said...

Now I see your point, Greg. The same scriptural texts lead Lutherans, Anglicans, Reformed, Anabaptists, and Wesleyans to trust Christ for salvation. So sola scriptura works in all of them.

However, second-order debates do arise, differently in different traditions, around whether and how certain Augustinian constraints might be honored as well-- some must be damned; others are saved by irresistible grace; God foreknows and predestines each person to his end, etc. In these systematic reflections, those in each tradition seem able to see daylight between the scriptures and the constraints.

Greg said...

@ Anonymous

All right. Thanks for being forthcoming. Best of luck in all of your endeavors.

Anonymous said...

Postscript: I think one could say-- some Orthodox theologians have in fact said-- that the Western churches can be classified by their way of adapting St Augustine's basic scheme-- Catholics (incorporation, St Thomas on the will), Lutherans (UOJ), Anglicans (incorporation, Irenaean recapitulation, hypothetical universalism), Reformed (covenant theology), Anabaptist (incorporation, free will, seclusion), Wesleyan (free will, perfect love). Six traditions is more than one, but it is less than thousands. Moreover, a more detailed chart of this would probably explain why traffic between some traditions is rare, but traffic between others is commonplace. For example, Nazarenes and Mennonites share no recent theological ancestors, but each has an unusual emphasis on holiness and free will.

Anonymous said...

Greg, Timocrates, have a blessed summer.

DNW said...

This is for Quidam.

I attempted to send this to his blog page, but the link was private.

Taken at a glance, the passage quoted below might reassure him that to this point that whatever it is that Hoffman is engaged in, it constitutes less an attack on moderate realist ontology insofar as such an ontology supports objective facts and morals, but in a complete revision of ontology - or metaphysics for that matter - along idealist lines.

He calls it "conscious realism".

If we suppose that conscious realism can be understood as a form of idealism, (and maybe it cannot) it would still the case that what he appears to be proposing is the equivalent of a form of objective, rather than subjective, idealism.

After all, the ex hypothesi, the train kills anyone, whether they look or not.

And it is conceivable I suppose, that if you grant that much, you might depending on how you developed the system, wind up a kind of hyper-realist or Platonist.

There are no doubt professional philosophers or historians of philosophy here who could guide him in sorting the schools of idealism out, if it comes to that.

I've gone too far out on slender limb already.

Here is the kind of quote I should have looked up before I earlier crawled out on it.



Abstract
Scientific investigation of the classic mind-body problem has failed to produce a
viable theory. As McGinn puts it, "We know that brains are the de facto causal basis
of consciousness, but we have, it seems, no understanding whatever of how this
can be." I propose that the obstruction is commitment to a physicalist ontology: It is not possible to obtain consciousness from unconscious ingredients. I propose
instead the ontology of conscious realism: Consciousness and its contents are all
that exists. Matter, brains, and space-time are among the contents of
consciousness, dependent on it for their existence ....


http://www.cogsci.uci.edu/~ddhoff/

"Physics from consciousness"

Brandon said...

This new solution built on the Renaissance textual revolution that produced reliable texts of the Old and New Testaments in the Hebrew and Greek. The result was a document, the Bible, that was made accessible so people everywhere had the same text as the rule of faith to which appeal could be made. It was and is a reasonable solution that honors the Holy Spirit's witness in believers worldwide.

The argument for retrenchment around a defensible territory is indeed reasonable, but this particular variety ends up giving us some pretty odd results. For instance, if we focus on the New Testament, the "same text" that was actually used for universal appeal was the Textus Receptus -- thus making everything depend on Erasmus's editorial choices and access to manuscripts (oddity one). The textual methods of the Renaissance are guaranteed to multiply readings, not reduce them, because manuscript variation is inevitable and determining what reading one should take depends on often intricate causal reasoning about each specific point, which itself can shift based on new discoveries. Thus it is inevitable that any such "same text" to which one might appeal will be a reconstruction built out of hypotheses in need of constant testing and revision (oddity two). Scripture was already appealed to authority, so the solution, which consists positively of nothing more than replacing the already-appealed-to Scripture with a reconstructed text, doesn't actually get any of the results that were taken by Reformers to follow from their new emphasis on Scripture -- there is, so far, no sola scriptura (oddity three). And, finally, this account has the result that sola scriptura only becomes a genuine possibility through textual criticism in the sixteenth century (oddity four).

Neuro_diverse said...

Anon wrote on August 1, 2015 at 8:06 AM

"In the present aeon, everything in the church earns its keep by visibly confirming the particular sinner's trust that, though he be unworthy, God is saving him."

Getting into informed psychohistorical speculation, let's start by recalling that Luther had severe scruples, which are just an instance of OCD, recurrent bouts of severe depression, and, to put it mildly, anger management issues. This combination points to a serious neurotransmitter imbalance, specifically low serotonin. Today a shrink would start Luther's treatment by prescribing an SSRI, but there were none at that time, either shrinks or SSRI's.

Now, a man with a neurotransmitter imbalance, and even worse if he is overburdened with responsibilities that force him to keep a feverish pace of activity, and even worse if he has also the condition hinted by 1..7 in my above comment, just cannot control his flow of thoughts, and also cannot know whether a thought he had was consented or not. If this man has not understood that, in his case, any thought he has while he is doing something is not a sin independently of its duration, in other words if he has not understood that he cannot at the same time do something and control his mental flow, he starts to torture himself either to examine his conscience in order to confess those thoughts, or to control those thoughts. These pathological self-examination and/or self-control lead the person to a high level of stress which, on the one hand, diminishes even more his capacity for self-control, and on the other hand, increases the strength of the impulses that his tortured psyche and CNS produce as a reaction in search of relief. On top of that, Luther also mistakingly thought that those impulses not governed by his deliberate will were contrary to God's will, that they were "sin". In brief, Luther was suffering the deadly combination of uncontrollable mental flow, incapacity to know whether a thought is consented or not, and two self-understanding errors:

- mistake concupiscence with sin. Understandable in the case of someone who cannot discern whether a thought was consented or not.

- mistake any involuntary impulse with concupiscence, as if all involuntary impulses were contrary to God's will. Understandable in the case of someone with OCD of the control type, as he perceives that everything that he cannot bring under his control is bad and projects that perception to God.

With this in mind, let's recall that Luther, as a monk and morevoer a priest, was supposed to take communion daily, which required him to heed this Pauline warning:

"Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in this manner he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup." (1 Cor 11:27-28)

Thus, that "examine himself" referred to sins, as it actually does according to Catholic doctrine, implied for Luther to live in a permanent state of self-inflicted torture humanly unbearable. Luther searched for a way out of that untenable situation and found this: if faith, in the sense of trust, was enough to be saved, he no longer had to torture himself examining his own thoughts. Now "examine himself" referred only to having faith, to trusting God that saved us in Christ!

The error of Luther was to find a solution based, at least objectively, on pride: "I am OK and am the standard, while the doctrine and praxis of the Church are wrong." What he should have found was a solution based on humility: "The doctrine and praxis of the Church are OK and are the standard, while I have a neurological condition which disables me from the frequent sacramental reception that belongs to a monk, even more if I am additionally supposed to carry out an intense activity. I ask for laicization and lead a tranquil life, practicing religion to the extent I can."

Timocrates said...

@ Anonymous,

Timocrates-- Charitable close readers, especially Catholic readers, will not find in my comment what you projected into it. Some... might find it unacceptably revisionist, but others would know the truth of it.

So you ignore what I said in my reply by appealing to charity, with the implicit consequence that I have been lacking it. But I am sure you will just accuse me of "projecting" that into your post too.

Moreover, I projected nothing into your comments. I demonstrated what was necessarily already contained in them, as you had written them. If you disagree, then amend your comments to remove the necessary implications they contain or show how my logic was unsound in making the inferences.

Regardless, you still accused medieval Catholic practices of being somehow ineffective but, for some most mysterious reason, your Lutheran imitations of those same practices are; and you claimed with without any foundation for making the claim whatsoever. I suppose we are just supposed to roll over and accept it as if it were self-evident or common sense.

You conflated use with abuse and condemned Medieval practices as being a product of contemporary "malaise" and smeared Medieval theologians, groundlessly accusing them of being blind and not even bothering to "look out their windows" at the Medieval "man on the street" to see what the results of the Church's doctrinal development had been. That, apparently, is supposed to be "charitable" and, apparently, people shouldn't take offense for either the doctrinal or historical revision your posts contain (as well as how self-serving those claims were). I half expect you to accuse Medieval Catholics and scholars of dogmatically teaching and believing that the earth was flat.

So before you raise the issue of charity, please consider in that light your own statements made against those who, being passed on from this world, cannot defend themselves from your accusations and caricatures of them. Please don't make broad sweeping statements reducing an age to a convenient caricature and especially please don't just except people to let that fly.

Daniel D. D. said...

Dr. Leonardo Rodríguez,

I wish to share what I find is good meditation on Thomistic realism, written by English writer (and Thomist) G. K. Chesterton:

Without pretending to span within such limits the essential
Thomist idea, I may be allowed to throw out a sort of rough
version of the fundamental question, which I think I have
known myself, consciously or unconsciously since my childhood.
When a child looks out of the nursery window and sees anything,
say the green lawn of the garden, what does he actually know;
or does he know anything? There are all sorts of nursery
games of negative philosophy played round this question.
A brilliant Victorian scientist delighted in declaring
that the child does not see any grass at all; but only a sort
of green mist reflected in a tiny mirror of the human eye.
This piece of rationalism has always struck me as almost
insanely irrational. If he is not sure of the existence
of the grass, which he sees through the glass of a window,
how on earth can he be sure of the existence of the retina,
which he sees through the glass of a microscope?
If sight deceives, why can it not go on deceiving?
Men of another school answer that grass is a mere green impression
on the mind; and that he can be sure of nothing except the mind.
They declare that he can only be conscious of his
own consciousness; which happens to be the one thing that we
know the child is not conscious of at all. In that sense,
it would be far truer to say that there is grass and no child,
than to say that there is a conscious child but no grass.
St. Thomas Aquinas, suddenly intervening in this nursery quarrel,
says emphatically that the child is aware of Ens. Long before he knows
that grass is grass, or self is self, he knows that something
is something. Perhaps it would be best to say very emphatically
(with a blow on the table), "There is an Is". That is as much
monkish credulity as St. Thomas asks of us at the start.
Very few unbelievers start by asking us to believe so little.
And yet, upon this sharp pin-point of reality, he rears by long
logical processes that have never really been successfully overthrown,
the whole cosmic system of Christendom.


Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

Also, Dr. Rodríguez, Thomist Etienne Gilson writes quite a bit on realism vs. idealism, so such reading may be fruitful.

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

Patrick,

I don’t think that it’s true that all sola scriptura advocates wouldn’t disagree with this view. There are such people who, pointing to passages like 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, hold the view that there is a divine person communicating directly with us, namely the Holy Spirit, and that one cannot understand Scripture without the aid of the Holy Spirit.

I agree. In fact, I think my only objection to Dr. Feser's argument is that he seems to forget that God is the primary author of Scripture, while Sts. Paul, Peter, Isaiah, etc. are secondary authors. As such, searching for the meaning of Scripture by looking for for the intentions of the secondary author are good as far as it goes, but the search for such things cannot exhaust the meaning, as it only takes into account the secondary author. To truly understand Scripture, we must try to understand the primary author, the Divine Mind, which can only be understood by Grace.

From Romans 8:9 one can argue that the Invisible Church consists of those persons who have the Holy Spirit and if, according to 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, having the Holy Spirit is a prerequisite of understanding God’s revelation, the Invisible Church is the most likely candidate of being this divinely guided moral person.

But Patrick, how do we determine who is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and who is not? Unless we say that the Truth denies the principle of noncontradiction, some who claim to be inspired by the Spirit are mistaken or even liars. How can an recent convert determine whether the Calvinists, or the Lutherans, the Catholics, etc., are correct? To put it another way, how do we know if the being we are seeing is an Angel or Satan taking the form of an angel of light?

Even Catholics concede that there are true Christians outside the Roman Catholic Church.

Catholics do not concede such a thing, at least in the sense I believe you are speaking in.

But is having the Holy Spirit a prerequisite of becoming a bishop within the Roman Catholic Church?

A man receives the Holy Spirit, and then becomes a Bishop, not the other way around. Recieving Holy Orders doesn't recognize the giving of the Spirit, but rather gives the Spirit. I think this misunderstanding stems from the Catholic/(some) Protestant understanding of the Sacrements (does Baptism actually give justification, or does it simply acknowledge justification).

At Mass, for example, we say "with your Spirit" to acknowledge the Holy Orders of the Bishop/Priest/Deacon (which is why an ordain must give the Homily).

As such, your objection that there might be Bishops without the Holy Spirit assumes a different Sacremantal theology than Catholics. All Bishops are given the Spirit, but some reject Him.

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

But Patrick, how do we determine who is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and who is not? Unless we say that the Truth denies the principle of noncontradiction, some who claim to be inspired by the Spirit are mistaken or even liars. How can an recent convert determine whether the Calvinists, or the Lutherans, the Catholics, etc., are correct? To put it another way, how do we know if the being we are seeing is an Angel or Satan taking the form of an angel of light?

Or to be more clear, how do I know the Spirit guiding me is not deceived? Satan used Scripture to deceive, as he attempted to do to Christ. But, unlike Christ, my mind is weakened by sin, and so is susceptible to deception. If interpretation by the Holy Spirit is purely "invisible" and subjective, how can I separate what is Truth, and what is Satan? Protestantism sounds like it implicitly assumes relativism to me.

On another note, Scientisim seems to work in a simular way: if the senses can be deceiving, how can we know what is deceiving and what isn't. The Scientismist answers that we can know the difference between deceptive and True experences through science. In a sense, Scientism is an answer to Descartes's whole meditations, which is probably its appeal (It's really hard to say that a theory that predicts soundly and correctly every time it is tested is wrong).

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

Vincent,

I think that your argument is the best that Protestants can do. I think that ultimately, the original theory that the reformers had was this 1) we know that the New Testemant was written by the Apostles; 2) the 16th century Church taught things that are rejected by Scripture, so, they concluded, the Church must be wrong.

Of course, this is blasphemy and leads to despair, as it basically lead to the idea that all religions are the work of mere humans. No wonder it took only two centuries of the descendants of the reformers to reject religion.

A Catholic would reject 2) outright, and I find that most Catholic approaches to Protestants histotically attempt to display this.

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

@Gillman

It was and is a reasonable solution that honors the Holy Spirit's witness in believers worldwide.

But it isn't anymore, as the Protestants can not use Scripture to determine who is correct. As such, the logical outcome is to reject Christianity, which many in Protestant countries have done. If Protestantism is true, then the Spirit of Truth is not with us.

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

Mr. Gillmann,

But in the 16th century the latter solution was not working so a new one was devised.

But, how was the latter solution not working? Did the reformers think that Bishops were corrupt? If that was merely the issue, than they should have done what St. Francis did, and reform behavior. If they thought that Christ's Church was false because Bishops were corrupt, than they have little faith in what Jesus said.

But they thought the Bishops got it wrong. How did they know this? Is it because Church doctrine conflicted with Scripture? This is where the Catholic/Protestant debates usually end up. But, did the Reformers ever humble themselves, and think that maybe their interpretation of Scripture was wrong?

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

And finally, Mr. Gillmann, your position spefically denies that the Protestant position is in conformity with the historical Church, including the early Church.

If the Patristic periods position on Apostolic Succession was outdated, how can we claim that the Trinity isn't? What if the Trinity "no longer works?"

Are you saying that the Reformers came up with a new doctrine to save Christianity from false excesses?

Christi pax.

E.Seigner said...

Daniel D. D., But they thought the Bishops got it wrong. How did they know this? Is it because Church doctrine conflicted with Scripture? This is where the Catholic/Protestant debates usually end up. [...] Are you saying that the Reformers came up with a new doctrine to save Christianity from false excesses?

Do we hear any modern Catholic defending the sales of indulgences? Wasn't it clearly an excess, to say the least? Had you been in Luther's position at the time, offended by the policy, what would you have done to denounce and end it that would not involve denouncing the Pope and the Church itself?

Among the Reformers, Luther really agrees with the doctrine the most. It's policies like the indulgences that made him demand reform. And, surprise, Catholics don't have indulgences these days. If indulgences are a Church doctrine, then where did they go?

Anonymous said...

Gillmann, thank you for a brief cogent thought.

In the British Isles and Scandinavia, the reformers were bishops no less supportive of bible translation and publication than the Continental reformers of churches abandoned by their bishops. It may be that the unifying sentiment of all reformers was a willingness to undertake the difficult social reforms required to open schools, raise public morals, introduce a vernacular liturgy, etc. But as you say, a mass readership for the Bible was the crowning civic achievement.

Brandon said...

And, surprise, Catholics don't have indulgences these days. If indulgences are a Church doctrine, then where did they go?

It should be pointed out that they never left; Catholics have never stopped having indulgences. The ones that are available are collected in the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum put out by the Apostolic Penitentiary. They change from time to time; and the granting of indulgences for donating (which is the practice that people actually mean when they talk about the 'sale of indulgences') has not been done since the Council of Trent ended it in order to eliminate the abuses.

Sobieski said...

@E.Seigner

And, surprise, Catholics don't have indulgences these days. If indulgences are a Church doctrine, then where did they go?

Right here.

The Church has always condemned simony. For St. Thomas's treatment on simony and indulgences, see ST 2-2.100 and ST Suppl. 90 respectively. The current Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses simony and indulgences at 2121 and 1471ff respectively. As others have noted abusus non tollit usum.

E.Seigner said...

Brandon, ...and the granting of indulgences for donating (which is the practice that people actually mean when they talk about the 'sale of indulgences') has not been done since the Council of Trent ended it in order to eliminate the abuses.

So, can we agree that there have been "abuses" and that (at least Luther's) Reformism was more about them, less about the doctrine?

E.Seigner said...

I also note that you declined to answer what you would have done about the abuses in Luther's place. Sure there can be legitimate uses and good intentions behind everything, but when the prevalent practice is undisputably corruptive, this point is kinda... not a point.

Whatever legitimate purposes can be imagined to indulgences, it's quite a stretch to support them doctrinally from the scriptures. Thus when Luther opposed indulgences, he was not changing the doctrine, but the policy or tradition. Attempts to make a doctrine out of indulgences would be abuse of authority, and a way to get rid of abuse of authority is to reform the authority.

In my view, Luther was okay with the Catholic doctrine, less okay with some traditions, and not at all okay with the politics. In the historical context, Sola scriptura basically says that scriptures are better than papal decrees, given the example of indulgences.

Brandon said...

I also note that you declined to answer what you would have done about the abuses in Luther's place.

I didn't decline to answer anything, since I wasn't involved in the discussion itself; I volunteered a correction of an error in your comment.

E.Seigner said...

Brandon, I didn't decline to answer anything, since I wasn't involved in the discussion itself; I volunteered a correction of an error in your comment.

And the error that you corrected was that indulgences were actually meant as something totally different than what they were during the time of Reformation? Look, indulgences were one of the major motives that got Reformation started, so if there's any error, indulgences themselves are somewhat to blame...

Brandon said...

And the error that you corrected was that indulgences were actually meant as something totally different than what they were during the time of Reformation?

I explicitly quoted the error and corrected, explicitly, that error, in the comment I originally made.

E.Seigner said...

Brandon, I explicitly quoted the error and corrected, explicitly, that error, in the comment I originally made.

Thanks. I know you meant it well, but unfortunately it does not answer the case I raised. According to you, indulgences were meant as a good thing - and this you show by pointing out that indulgences are still present in some form today -, but Luther erroneously perceived them as a bad thing based on the abuses that were prevalent during his time. Luther failed, according to you, to consider the good intentions behind indulgences, and he failed to see the abuses as a temporary historical excess that would vanish soon enough because Popes are really, on balance and all things considered, infallible...

E.Seigner said...

...whereas on my view, Popes are pragmatic political players. The Council of Trent ended the abuses not because of some inherent infallibility, but because of the need to respond to the points that Reformation explicitly raised.

Brandon said...

According to you, indulgences were meant as a good thing

According to me? I am not in any way committed to imaginary arguments you are making up in your head. I noted a specific error and corrected that specific error. I have then had to point this out three times now. I have literally contributed nothing else.

E.Seigner said...

Sorry. I was under the false impression that you were responding to what I brought up, whereas you were merely quibbling about a side-issue. My mistake.

Brandon said...

If you call correcting a false claim you explicitly stated "quibbling about a side-issue", sure.

Glenn said...

E.Seigner,

You asked of Daniel D. D. the following question:

Had you been in Luther's position at the time, offended by the policy, what would you have done to denounce and end it that would not involve denouncing the Pope and the Church itself?

While I'm not Daniel D. D., and therefore am not answering for him or in his place, if I had been in Luther's position, I might have said one thing and done another.

What I might have said is this: "If indulgences were preached according to the spirit and intention of the Pope, all the doubts about indulgences would be readily resolved."

Also, so there would be no mistake regarding my estimation of the spirit and intention of the Pope, I would have added, "Indeed, those doubts would not exist."

And what I might have done is present that as the 1st (and perhaps only) thesis, and not placed 90 other theses before it.

The reason why I would have presented it as the 1st (and perhaps only) thesis is because I would have wanted it to be clear what it was I was lodging a protest against.

This is to say that I would have wanted it to be clear that I was not protesting against the spirit or intention of the Pope on indulgences, only against the behavior of certain subordinate delegates who appeared to many to be acting in a manner inconsonant with that spirit or intention.

Of course, I don't have a crystal ball, so I don't know if what I think I might have said, or might have done, might have led to a different outcome, or, at least, to a smoother course of events.

That said, I'll also say:

a) Luther's 91st thesis indicates an awareness on his part that the way something is presented to others has an impact on how that something is perceived by others; and,

b) Luther might have profited from a prudent use of that awareness of his when considering how best to order his theses (if, that is, all he was after was the correction of some apparent misbehavior).

Monday quarterbacking is fun, is it not?

E.Seigner said...

@Glenn

Thanks. This is a proper answer. You would have been a good man, had you behaved this way in Luther's place.

Since you have evidently read the theses, you know that many of them consist of points like "1. When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance." or "14. Defective piety or love in a dying person is necessarily accompanied by great fear, which is greatest where the piety or love is least." or "16. There seems to be the same difference between hell, purgatory, and heaven as between despair, uncertainty, and assurance."

In other words, it's an impersonal rambling mixed with occasional more specific points against the lamentable state of Catholic clergy and the Pope (more concerning the behaviour rather than the doctrine). If you like to think that the theses are about doctrine, then indulgences are really as specific as it gets. And if numbers matter to you, it's already thesis #21 that says "Hence those who preach indulgences are in error..."

I am not defending Luther's vagueness and evidently infuriated state of mind while he was composing the theses. What I am saying is that clearly there was some sustained reason to his fury. His call for reform initiated wars where he had at least as strong alliances as Catholics had, so clearly he was not the only one who saw things this way. When many people of high esteem and military might see things the same way, there must be a reason for it.

There were doctrinal debates with reformists prior to the wars. The verbal arguments evidently failed to settle matters. As a minimum, it's a pragmatic political error to underestimate popular grievances.

Scott W. said...

Given the discussion, I have to wonder if even Luther knew what an indulgence was.

E.Seigner said...

Scott W. Given the discussion, I have to wonder if even Luther knew what an indulgence was.

Which is actually the minimal point I am making. Given that indulgences were widely perceived as some sort of corruptive tool of the devil, isn't it reasonable, to say the least, to recognise that the doctrine and policies concerning indulgences were not formulated so as to successfully present a favourable public image? In fact, they were pretty much fatal PR for the time, to put it in modern terms. They gave motive for war and a major split in the Church. This is not a joke.

If the doctrine of papal infallibility allows him to misjudge the political situation as poorly as any earthly leader does, then I am all cool with that. Meaning, such a doctrine would be baseless, and the opponents of the Pope had real reasons for their grievances, namely the Church had instituted a bunch of baseless and/or self-contradictory doctrines that harmed the public image of the clergy and the status of religion in society. This is the theme of Luther's theses.

In my view, Luther considered doctrinal changes only secondarily, as a matter of course of instituting a new church. Had his primary objection to indulgences been met properly, he would not have had a reason to follow through with the rest of his theological work.

Daniel D. D. said...

E. Seiger,

Do we hear any modern Catholic defending the sales of indulgences?

The sale of indulgences is accidental to indulgences per se.

Had you been in Luther's position at the time, offended by the policy, what would you have done to denounce and end it that would not involve denouncing the Pope and the Church itself?

Again, Luther said is was false, and the Pope, speaking with the ordinary Magisterium, said otherwise. Where did Luther get his authority to say that Church teaching was wrong?

Anyway, I always thought that Luther's position was that indulgences were false because they were "work salvation."

It's policies like the indulgences that made him demand reform. And, surprise, Catholics don't have indulgences these days. If indulgences are a Church doctrine, then where did they go?

They didn't go anywhere:

http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-francis-grants-indulgences-for-world-youth-da

http://www.catholic.org/prayers/indulgw.php

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

Thus when Luther opposed indulgences, he was not changing the doctrine, but the policy or tradition.

Indulgences are not traditions of men. Indulgences are "merit," which is a Latin Catholic way of saying that the practice increases our participation in Deity. Indulgences are also a way the Saints intervene for us. Interestingly enough, Protestants usually deny both, but such a view is not Apostolic. Luther, in particular, seems to at least deny that we can participate in Deity, which, in my opinion, is one of the two real disagreements between the reformers and the Church that all other disagreements stem from (the other is the "Invisible" Church). In other words, the reformers were Nominalists, and had a Nominalist view of Grace.

Sola scriptura basically says that scriptures are better than papal decrees, given the example of indulgences.

It better say more than that, because if I'm understanding you correctly, Catholics agree. As far as I'm aware, the Pope has only spoken ex Cathedra twice (canonizations notwithstanding). However, Papal degrees often participate in the ordinary Magisterium.

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

"Indulgences," as a practice are not infallible, as indulgences are not statements, but actions. Indulgences, as in the doctrine of indulgences, are doctrine., and they are at the very least Patristic, and probably Scriptural as well (I haven't looked for a Scriptural defence before).

Christi pax.

Anonymous said...

Seigner & Glenn

Luther and the pope both wanted a council to address the disputed points of eg the Augsburg Confession, but rivalry between the Most Christian King of France and the Holy Roman Emperors prevented this for a generation. By the time bishops began to drift into Trent, participation by the reformers themselves was unthinkable, at least on the papal side, and a certain hardness against even the Catholics in the north had set in. The Italians passed several documents before the Germans arrived, and refused to reconsider them when they did arrive.

But suppose that Luther and the pope had gotten their wish, so that a council with no strings attached met somewhere in Germany in say 1535, what should it have done?

Anonymous said...

Inquiring minds want to know-- Who blogs on Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange?

Daniel D. D. said...

What I am saying is that clearly there was some sustained reason to his fury.

No one denys abuses, but what we deny is that an abuse calls for throwing out a doctrine. In the Eastern Church, there were times were not indulgences were sold, but Confession. Should Confession be thrown out? Corrupt Bishops call for removing the Office itself, right? Heck, since Satan and his followers can use Scripture corruptly (see Jesus in the desert), we might just as well throw out Scripture too ;-)

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

Given that indulgences were widely perceived as some sort of corruptive tool of the devil

I don't think this statement is true. Take out "widely," and I will be more sympathetic.

They gave motive for war and a major split in the Church. This is not a joke.

I think this is a generalization. The so called religious wars in Europe are mostly about politics (do you really think the German princes tried to break from the Empire over indulgences?)

If the doctrine of papal infallibility allows him to misjudge the political situation as poorly as any earthly leader does, then I am all cool with that.

That is what Vatican I teaches. However, doctrine regarding faith and morals is protected, and then only in certain situations.

Meaning, such a doctrine would be baseless, and the opponents of the Pope had real reasons for their grievances, namely the Church had instituted a bunch of baseless and/or self-contradictory doctrines that harmed the public image of the clergy and the status of religion in society. This is the theme of Luther's theses.

Then Luther is saying the the Church, as the Pilar of Truth, taught falsity, which denys St. Paul's words, and that Christ founded it. Since the position that the Catholic Church is not founded by Christ is historically false, Protestantism is just a contradictory religion trying to save the West from Atheism. Which it failed horribly at.

In my view, Luther considered doctrinal changes only secondarily, as a matter of course of instituting a new church. Had his primary objection to indulgences been met properly, he would not have had a reason to follow through with the rest of his theological work.

And this is were we disagree. You think that Luther is primarily motivated by the denial of indulgences, and I think he is motivated by a Nominalist view of Grace, which in turn motivated his denial of indulgences.

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

Anon,

I always thought the reason a Synod or a Council wasn't convened was because Charles V was too busy running both the Spanish and German Empires, that it was too late by the time he requested Trent.

Christi pax.

E.Seigner said...

E. Seigner, Do we hear any modern Catholic defending the sales of indulgences?

Daniel D. D. The sale of indulgences is accidental to indulgences per se.

But this doesn't answer the question. The question was whether the sales were defensible. As has been kindly pointed out, the Council of Trent changed the policy - which raises the question whether the policy was defensible in the first place (scripturally, doctrinally, because these things are not supposed to change).

Anyway, the response by the Council of Trent was too late and too little to avert the split in the Church. It did not give a satisfactory answer.

Daniel D. D. [Indulgences] didn't go anywhere

I see. Now they are a "gift". So, the policies concerning indulgences were radically changed. Is the current policy good? Is it good that it was changed? If yes, isn't it good that Luther noticed the issue, started a war and split the Church, so that his voice was heard and this good change was brought about? Or perhaps you can acknowledge that Luther made effectively (particular in political terms) the broader point that one can easily cut away any mention of indulgences, papal infallibility and other scripturally irrelevant points, and still have a Church over a third of the continent.

And, as I mentioned from the beginning, Luther's grievances were actually the most moderate ones. He introduced the least number of differences concerning the faith, and absolute bare minimum differences concerning the doctrine (whatever we take the scope of doctrine to be). Later Protestants have been a progressive avalanche in comparison.

Where did Luther get his authority from? He raised the question where the Pope got his authority from and there was no scripturally satisfactory answer! And the Pope and the Church underestimated the sincerity of the question or the general religious climate in which the question was raised. Or both, really...

Daniel D. D. said...

Inquiring minds want to know-- Who blogs on Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange?

I don't particularly know what you mean: do you want links to Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange's writing? If so, here's some:

http://www.thesumma.info/reality/index.php

http://www.ewtn.com/library/Theology/gracegarrlagr.HTM

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

E.Seiger,

As has been kindly pointed out, the Council of Trent changed the policy

How so? There is a difference between the accidents of the doctrine and the doctrine itself. For example, Vatican II reformed the system so that the "numbers" that indulgences had were abolished, and replaced with partial or complete. These are just the particular way the Church brings the doctrine into more contemporary language.

Anyway, the response by the Council of Trent was too late and too little to avert the split in the Church. It did not give a satisfactory answer.

It doesn't have too. Councils don't give the why, but the what. The answer is satisfactory, because it came from a Council. Anyway, I don't believe that the Council give an unsatisfactory answer.

the broader point that one can easily cut away any mention of indulgences, papal infallibility and other scripturally irrelevant points

You haven't demonstrated howbthese things are Scripturally irrelevant. Are you saying that the Saints don't intercede, because Scripture says otherwise. Are you saying we don't "merit" Grace by works, because Scripture and the Fathers day otherwise.

and still have a Church over a third of the continent.

You call the bunch of denominations a Church?

He raised the question where the Pope got his authority from and there was no scripturally satisfactory answer!

First of all, Catholics deny the need for Scripture to justify all doctrines, and Dr. Feser's argument still stands on how one can hold the position that all must be justified by Scripture since Scripture itself, and sola Scriptura, aren't.

Second, the primacy of Rome is Patristic, and reflected in the Councils at least, so Luther must think that the Councils are wrong, right?

Christi pax.

Anonymous said...

Daniel, the first chapter of Owen Chadwick's history, The Reformation, is still the best short introduction to the malaise that had gripped the Church in the Northwest on the eve of the Reformation. There is a longer discussion in the Diarmaid McCullough's massive work with the same title. As has been customary, these books discuss both the Protestant and the Catholic Reformations in a single integrated account about Europe in that age. Bottom line-- Europeans in the West could see that the Church was a demoralizing mess from top to bottom, but they could not agree on what to keep and what to let go. Where two or three gathered in His name, there were four or five conflicting opinions about what to do about it. Some saw the papacy as one part of the problem, others as one part of the solution, and in the end both were right.

So while we may be right in seeing indulgences as the straw that finally broke the camel's back of Luther's own patience, it would be a mistake to think that he-- or St Teresa of Avila-- was in an environment well-ordered for serene expert problem-solving. We cherish the flowers of the Middle Ages, but they sprang up amid a mass of weeds that were only finally uprooted in modern states.

Neuro above recalls above a truly crazy situation in which Luther, hiding from assassins in Wartburg Castle as 'Squire George,' is trying to concentrate on translating the Bible into German, but keeps getting reports from Wittenberg that Andreas Bodenstein Carlstadt is attracting mobs with incendiary preaching is leading them into churches to smash images of the saints, etc. ABC has to be confronted, and there is nobody else who can do it, so 'Squire George' rode away from the castle, never to return. When he did, it was not at all obvious that he could restore order.


Anonymous said...

Ah, Daniel, thanksa for the links. I have them, but wondered whether someone online frequently posts on his original work in spirituality. I am not averse to reading yet again about his opposition to the Nouvelle Theologie, 'personalism', etc but do want to give his work the central attention it deserves. Advice?

Daniel D. D. said...

Anonymous,

Sounds like a rough time. No wonder there are strong feelings on both sides. Reminds me of another mess known as the Sack of Constantinople.

Anyway, thanks for the resources!

Christi pax.

E.Seigner said...

Daniel D. D. The so called religious wars in Europe are mostly about politics (do you really think the German princes tried to break from the Empire over indulgences?)

The princes of course saw primarily a political opportunity for themselves and didn't care so much about any doctrine. If the Pope didn't see this coming, he was making a major political miscalculation.

Daniel D. D. Since the position that the Catholic Church is not founded by Christ is historically false,...

Rather, the position that the Catholic Church is not founded by Christ is opposition to the doctrine of Catholic Church. Historically, this doctrine is just a matter of opinion, because Christ did not historically make Peter the Pope and did not give him a seat in Rome. Historically, i.e. in terms of what historians say, it's a series of historical accidents, political intrigues and the like, that the Catholic Church took shape and gained prominence.

So, Luther was not opposing any historical truth. He had doubts about the legitimacy of papacy as such, given some obviously false (or at least unsatisfactory) doctrines/policies affirmed by the Pope (on indulgences specifically). The opinion that this doctrine was false was not Luther's alone, so the opinion required an adequate response in political pragmatic terms.

Daniel D. D. And this is were we disagree. You think that Luther is primarily motivated by the denial of indulgences, and I think he is motivated by a Nominalist view of Grace, which in turn motivated his denial of indulgences.

This is where we disagree indeed. In my view, churches are pragmatic socio-political entities and the doctrines and policies either respond adequately to socio-political realities or they don't. If phrases like "sale of indulgences is accidental to indulgences per se" or "he is motivated by a Nominalist view of Grace" assuage the opponents appropriately, then they are good enough, but if not, they are not good enough. The response to Luther was historically not good enough.

Anonymous said...

Daniel, my comments on the history are lagging yours. Enjoy, if you can, but never mind.

On the convening of Trent, my recollection is that you are right, but that there were also other players-- including, poignantly, the pope-- and that the obstacles were straightforward state power politics. One would think that a pope could just say "People! I am the Successor of St Peter! Come to Rome to settle this mess in Germany. NOW!" But alas, no, that is our world, not theirs. "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."

Daniel D. D. said...

The princes of course saw primarily a political opportunity for themselves and didn't care so much about any doctrine. If the Pope didn't see this coming, he was making a major political miscalculation.

The Pope probably was ignorant, since the issue was more of a northern Germany thing, while the Pope was more interested in Southern French and Italian things :-)

Historically, this doctrine is just a matter of opinion, because Christ did not historically make Peter the Pope and did not give him a seat in Rome.

"On this Rock I will build my Church." St. Leo in the fourth century definitely makes these claims, and uses Matthew 16 to justify it. Very early Fathers, like St. Ignatius, also allude to the Primacy of Rome, and St. Ignatius himself is the earliest source in which we know that Peter and Paul died in Rome.

And I don't think Protestants would deny the primacy of Peter in Scripture. What they seem to disagree with is Apostolic Succession, that is, that the Primacy was passed on to Peter's Successors, a position that is not Patristic, and (I will argue) not Scriptural as well.

Anyway, whatever Christ founded, it historically became the Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, etc. communions, and to say that they all get it wrong (as all Protestants do) is to say the Church Christ founded failed. I would just argue, separately, that the Catholic Church is the Church that most substantially holds to the doctrines that the Christ and Apostles taught. But an Orthodox or Syrian could also use my arguements from History.

In my view, churches are pragmatic socio-political entities and the doctrines and policies either respond adequately to socio-political realities or they don't.

This sounds like the idea that all religions are man-made, which no Christian can truly hold. Gone are the days where Protestants can deny the visible Church for a likeness of it. To deny the visible Church is to deny history or Christianity.

Christi pax.

Scott said...

E.Seigner:

I don't understand either your questions/objections or your suggestion that Brandon's factual correction was "quibbling over a side-issue."

The sale of indulgences was never condoned by the Church and it has always been opposed to Church doctrine. Strictly speaking it was never possible to "sell" an indulgence. There were certainly people who claimed to be able to do so, or who claimed to offer indulgences that went far beyond the limits the Church imposed on them. The Church repeatedly condemned those practices.

On the other hand, the Church has also never done away with indulgences, and there has never been any reason for her to do so. You might as well argue that selling quack cures is an "abuse" of the science of medicine and that genuine medicine should therefore be abolished.

Most of what you've written on the topic seems to be based on misconceptions.

Daniel D. D. said...

E.Seigner,

Forgive me for some of my posts. I think they were written hastly and uncharitably.

Sorry.

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

Anonymous,

my comments on the history are lagging yours.

No need to flatter me ;-)

"People! I am the Successor of St Peter! Come to Rome to settle this mess in Germany. NOW!"

The first seven Councils were themselves convened by Roman Emperors, so this isn't new.

Also, the Reformation happened at the eve of the great Western Schism, which lead to confusion regarding the Papacy. In retrospect, it was pretty easy to tell who the real Pope was, but in late Medieval practical politics, it was not.

Christi pax.

E.Seigner said...

Daniel D. D. Anyway, whatever Christ founded, it historically became the Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, etc. communions, and to say that they all get it wrong...

But I don't say this. Neither did Luther say this. Luther raised a minimal number of points that he thought were wrong with the Church. And, since his question was not met satisfactorily, I suppose that he thought, "Well, there already are Orthodox, Coptic, etc. churches, one more church is not going to be such a big deal..."

Scott, The sale of indulgences was never condoned by the Church and it has always been opposed to Church doctrine. Strictly speaking it was never possible to "sell" an indulgence. There were certainly people who claimed to be able to do so, or who claimed to offer indulgences that went far beyond the limits the Church imposed on them. The Church repeatedly condemned those practices.

Basically, what you are saying here is that "Luther got it all wrong and raised a quarrel over nothing." But the fact remains that he raised a quarrel, mustered massive support, and established another church that stands today! To explain it all away as a mere misunderstanding, when the track record of the dispute is quite adequately documented, is, in my humble opinion, an attempt to talk past the issue.

So, to be charitable to Luther, can we agree that his objection was not to your "strictly speaking" version of indulgences, but to the *actual* version as practised in his time? His theses are about it and his theses found widespread popular support right up to effecting a major split in Christianity. Clearly the issue of indulgences and the questioning of papal authority had rather widespread resonance.

As to Sola Scriptura and the rest of Lutheran church doctrine, I view these as a matter of natural course when the split had become inevitable. The matter of indulgences so deeply offended Luther that he gave no place to such documents in his church. As he denied papal authority, the question became how should the doctrine be grounded, so as to protect the church from excesses of personal opinion or of tendency to political corruption (a la indulgences!), and the natural answer was - the scriptures.

It was really a pragmatic move out of necessity, not some "circular reasoning". In a pragmatic real-life situation, you simply respond to realities whatever the realities are - or you lose almost a half of your church like the Pope did.

Anonymous said...

Comments in this thread are so much more polarized than the actual ecumenical conversations that I have had for decades that I wonder whether some comments here are being pounded out on a magic typewriter in some back room of the 1950s.

The 'Catholic apologists,' as someone here called them, do not seem to disagree with the views that we used to hear from the brilliant Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to better things :-) but they are much less willing than he was to see and even assimilate the other side of the reality being discussed. Admittedly, the OPs frame 'sola scriptura' in a way that makes it hard to engage. But that does not explain the foaming at the mouth comments that try to support Catholic doctrine by denigrating anything Protestant that happens to be mentioned. How pitiable...

The future pope was indeed a polarizing figure-- that was his job. But he went about it, not by driving his bumper car as hard as could into someone else's like an angry preschooler, but more subtly by agreeing with everything reasonable that he honestly could, assimilating it to the position he defended, and leaving the other side to discover that what was left over did not cohere into a reasonable basis for opposition. And what he did worked-- it didn't protect a fragile ego; it did change lots of minds.

Step 1-- Sola scriptura? Several important truths there. Let's unpack them.

Step 2-- These truths we have unpacked are interdependent. Can we agree that they work together?

Step 3-- The Catholic Church also teaches these truths, not there in C16 sola scriptura, but here in C20 'apostolic deposit.'

Step 4-- As you can see, all the strengths of sola scriptura are apparent in the new Catholic formulation, and several others besides. (After all, even if you think the Reformers got this right, the more up to date formulation might be the better one, no?)

Step 5-- You could also update C16 sola scriptura to get the same advantages, of course. From our experience, I would say that you should. But how would that be different from adopting the Catholic teaching?

Alas, in about a week of discussion, one probably cannot find five comments by the apologists that emulate his success. One cannot find fewer than 50 that just stupidly bump cars.

This is disheartening, for there are an awful lot of fish for fishers of men to reach, and reaching souls is all that anybody's apologetics is for. Meanwhile, the verbal pugilism of the car bumpers shows so much ego insecurity that a reader naturally wonders-- are they insecure because of the cars they bump, or do they bump those cars because they are insecure? Either way, the result is not a winsome presentation of the Catholic faith.

Speaking simply of myself, I only happened into this discussion because a Pentecostal friend displeased by the Calvinist International response to Feser asked me to check it out. It was boring; I clicked to Feser. Feser's argument succeeds best at limiting sola scriptura to its original scope, but does not seem to me to engage it in that formulation. Still-- a smart OP, fun to read.

The comments? Mostly Catholic apologists. That's ok; as an Anglican, I defend many of the same doctrines all day and all night to Protestants who "just don't see where you get that from scripture." You know what I mean. And I have been pleased to interact with several here who do know some philosophy and deploy it well in arguments.

But if I were a Catholic, I'd be looking for a way to get the haters here to tone it down. They make Catholicism look bad. And if I were one of the haters who just can't stop, I'd stay offline for a few years and work through the Manual of Indulgences instead. They're good prayers.

Anonymous said...

Daniel, just trying to balance your true statement that Italian popes were more involved in the Southwest with some recognition that they were not wholly unconcerned about the fate of the Northwest.

This is one of those places where the facts on the C16 ground forced a healthy development in the papacy itself.

Blessings on the rest of your summer.

Scott said...

E.Eigner:

Basically, what you are saying here is that "Luther got it all wrong and raised a quarrel over nothing."

No, basically what I'm saying is exactly what I said, which I trust you can reread.

Scott said...

So, to be charitable to Luther, can we agree that his objection was not to your "strictly speaking" version of indulgences, but to the *actual* version as practised in his time?

No. We can, however, agree that his objection was really, whether he knew it or not (a question on which I have expressed no opinion), to the illicit scams of certain people who were acting in a manner forbidden and repeatedly condemned by genuine Catholic teaching and whose practice was not the "actual" version of anything taught or condoned by the Church.

Daniel D. D. said...

E.Seigner,

Luther raised a minimal number of points that he thought were wrong with the Church. And, since his question was not met satisfactorily, I suppose that he thought, "Well, there already are Orthodox, Coptic, etc. churches, one more church is not going to be such a big deal..."

Luther thought the visible Church failed, and so proposed a purely Invisible Church. According to him, Scripture was the source of Truth, as it is the witness of Christ. However, Scripture itself teaches that the Church is the foundation of Truth, so, logically speaking, if Protestants are going to deny the Church, they have to deny Scripture as well, which many have: even the Lutherans.

Anyway, the Latins DID give a satisfactory answer to Luther's objections regarding Indulgences: 1) we pray for the dead (I don't think Protestants deny this), 2) the Saints intercede for us (Letter to the Hebrews, Letter to the Thessalonians), and 3) Grace is "merited," that is, we receive Grace by doing Divine works by Grace (Parable of the Talents). Indulgences are that: works we can do to increase Grace (we can also say that the works open our hearts to more Grace). We can also offer these to the dead (or the living really), and the Saints themselves offered them for us in the past, present, and future.

We can also go into Natural theology and argue about the Justice aspect of Indulgences as well, but the Justice aspect is not dogmatically binding.

The Eastern Churches also practice and believe these things, in some ways even more so than the Latins, so Luther is not denying an "excess," but rather a Scriptural and Patristic founded practice.

Christi pax.

Brandon said...

Alas, in about a week of discussion, one probably cannot find five comments by the apologists that emulate his success. One cannot find fewer than 50 that just stupidly bump cars....But if I were a Catholic, I'd be looking for a way to get the haters here to tone it down. They make Catholicism look bad.

With all respect, since the comments here are always primarily devoted to exploring, refining, and building arguments, this has always been a rough-and-tumble forum, and since serious arguments are not trivial to construct or study, that there will be cases of "stupidly bumping cars" is inevitable because that's the trial-and-error of argument analysis. There is not a single non-newbie here who has not been grilled in argument on something or other; that you think of the commenters here as "Catholic apologists" is largely a sign that you haven't been reading long. This is also not an ecumenical gathering, although the regular commenters here are certainly much more diverse than you would typically get in an ecumenical meeting. It's always been a philosophical gathering devoted to reasoning without timidity, all temperaments, irenic or pugnacious, welcome as long as they address the arguments made and stand up for themselves with actual reasons.

Scott said...

But if I were a Catholic, I'd be looking for a way to get the haters here to tone it down. They make Catholicism look bad.

Frankly, I think the hate and bumper cars are primarily the products of your own imagination, and your speculations about "ego insecurity" are step beyond even that. Perhaps you're still smarting because Timocrates "uncharitably" called you on your not-so-hidden presumptions?

(Also, my apologies to E.Seigner for mistyping his screen name. I'm not sure how I managed to bang out "E.Eigner" without even noticing it.)

Scott said...

Oops: "are a step beyond even that."

Anonymous said...

Yes, Seigner, for better and for worse, much of the Northwest wanted the subsidiarity that the East already had, but without a break with Rome. Indeed, Luther, among others, approached Constantinople. For the Orthodox, the Protestants represented a true dilemma-- canonically correct about papal overreach and committed to an impressive piety, but also fluent speakers of Augustine, which ill-fits the trajectory of Byzantine thought, and sometimes heretical iconoclasts. The first patriarchs to hear of the Reformation did not see the difference between the Lutheran and Reformed positions.

Daniel D. D. said...

Anonymous,

much of the Northwest wanted the subsidiarity that the East already had, but without a break with Rome.

So, they wanted to be like the Maronite Church before they were rediscovered during the Crusades?

Lutheran and Reformed positions.

Can you explain to me the Lutheran position on the Eucharist? I've been told by Lutherans that it is not "consubstantiality," but that it is also not Transubstantiatiality.

Christi pax.

Scott said...

Daniel D.D. writes:

Can you explain to me the Lutheran position on the Eucharist? I've been told by Lutherans that it is not "consubstantiality," but that it is also not Transubstantiatiality.

And in particular I'd be grateful if you could confirm or correct the following. As I understand it, the Lutheran view is that Christ is sacramentally present in the Eucharist but that the nature of His Real Presence is not amenable to even rudimentary philosophical summary—which is essentially why Lutheranism rejects both consubstantiation and transubstantiation.

Daniel D. D. said...

Scott,

OK. So the Lutheran rejection stems from a rejection of natural theology/ the excesses of late Scholasticism? That seems to make sense, but let's let a professional Lutheran tells us :-)

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

Also, you mention the difference between the Lutheran and Calvinist view. First of all, what is the difference, regarding Grace. Don't both reject infused Grace for imputed Grace?

Christi pax.

Scott said...

@Daniel D.D.:

[L]et's let a professional Lutheran tells us :-)

That was my intention in asking the question. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Brandon, for your thoughtful reply and for past discussions.

I trust that all who can read our comments can read the thread. It is what it is.

These do seem to be calmer threads than such truly pugnacious forums as, say, evangelical discussions on homosexuality. Blow hards either there or here are easily ignored; they have nothing much to say. As your mother told you, "Sticks and stones..." And again, there are several here who know some philosophy and use it well.

But even as philosophy threads, they are unusual in this-- those who most insist that they are defending the Catholic magisterium are also the verbal pugilists here. Though you and I know it to be spurious, of course, others cannot ignore the coincidence of a mean spirit with Catholic faith. In the providence of God, this has consequences.

Anonymous said...

Daniel, I had not thought of the Maronite parallel until you brought it up, but it does seem to fit the facts I know.

On the Lutheran understanding of the eucharist, Scott's already made my favorite point-- so mean-spirited of him-- that Lutherans reject the metaphysical implications of 'consubstantiation.' Which leaves me the hard part of explaining how the Lutheran view of Chalcedon differs from the Reformed view. I'll answer that, but tomorrow. Have to go.

Scott said...

E.Seigner:

Basically, what you are saying here is that "Luther got it all wrong and raised a quarrel over nothing."

It occurs to me in glancing back over the thread that you might be confusing me with Scott W., who did say something about Luther's possibly not knowing what an indulgence was/is. For the record, then, in case that's what happened, we're two different people.

Scott said...

On the Lutheran understanding of the eucharist, Scott's already made my favorite point-- so mean-spirited of him-- that Lutherans reject the metaphysical implications of 'consubstantiation.'

Thanks (mean-spiritedly, of course ;-) ) for the confirmation.

E.Seigner said...

Scott, No. We can, however, agree that his objection was really, whether he knew it or not (a question on which I have expressed no opinion), to the illicit scams of certain people who were acting in a manner forbidden and repeatedly condemned by genuine Catholic teaching and whose practice was not the "actual" version of anything taught or condoned by the Church.

Can you name a specific person (one is enough) whose illicit scams in relation with sales of indulgences were condemned? To be clear, I would like (and I suppose that Luther would have liked) a proper condemnation, so that the person in question stopped the condemned action. I don't want the kind of condemnation that the Church issued on Malleus Maleficarum so that in the next century after the supposed condemnation it was reprinted about thirty times and was used in courts in Catholic countries. That kind of condemnation is ridiculous.

The salesman of indulgences who specifically upset Luther's sensibilities most was Johann Tetzel. Neither himself nor his notorious business slogan ("Sobald der Gülden im Becken klingt im huy die Seel im Himmel springt") were condemned. To the contrary, he was selected to represent the Church in debates with Luther on the topic. Let's see whom you will find who was condemned.

Until then, we don't agree. Historical facts are unfortunately not in Church's favour here. As a minimum, the issue was a catastrophic PR blunder for the Pope.

Daniel D. D. said...

E.Seiger,

Do you think that Luther rejected Indulgences purely due to abuses? I have always thought his rejection was also based on the denial of "works salvation."

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

Opps Seigner

E.Seigner said...

Daniel D. D. Do you think that Luther rejected Indulgences purely due to abuses? I have always thought his rejection was also based on the denial of "works salvation."

The theses are a brief enough work. Give it a read. It starts off with some speculations about the nature and purpose of repentance and salvation and hell and purgatory, and soon enough draws the conclusions that indulgences are evil, the clergy is corrupt, the Pope decrees false doctrines and has overstepped his authority, etc. So, he didn't reject indulgence *purely* due to abuses.

To be clear, I find Luther's theological thinking yawn-inducing and I never gave it a close read, even though I have read two books by him, and a few more about him. I don't care if he presents a watertight logical case for the removal of indulgences. Still, on my (limited) reading, I would say that Luther himself didn't care about a logical case either, so my impression is true to how he intended it. In my view, the main thrust of his case was straightforwardly pragmatic: Indulgences enable widespread corruption, therefore eradicate that thing. But true to his monkhood, he frames the issue in plenty of theological rhetoric - that could be important, if his readers are inclined to suppose so.

Brandon said...

o the contrary, he was selected to represent the Church in debates with Luther on the topic.

When did Tetzel debate Luther on indulgences? Tetzel died within two years of Luther writing the 95 Theses, during which time he was investigated for fraud by Militz (the apostolic nuncio), was forced to withdraw to a monastery, and became extremely sick.

E.Seigner said...

Brandon, When did Tetzel debate Luther on indulgences? Tetzel died within two years of Luther writing the 95 Theses, during which time he was investigated for fraud by Militz (the apostolic nuncio), was forced to withdraw to a monastery, and became extremely sick.

http://reformation500.csl.edu/bio/tetzel/

In writing, in 1518, in Frankfurt an der Oder. Tetzel spent the year penning treatises and theses against Luther, who spent the same time penning stuff against Tetzel. Tetzel earned his doctorate this way.

It's true that soon enough Tetzel was discredited, but that was about something entirely different.

Daniel D. D. said...

E.Seigner,

I've been contemplating this, and I'm not sure if "selling indulgences" would even be the correct way of putting the practice. I would say that the practice started out with the idea that donating money to the Church is a righteous act, but, due to corruption, ended with people stealing that money for personal gain, as well as using this indulgence as a way to avoid real religious acts like fasting and conversion of heart.

So even the "selling of indulgences" is not wrong per se, unless giving money to the Church is inherently wrong.

Christi pax.

Gottfried said...

foaming at the mouth...denigrating anything Protestant that happens to be mentioned. How pitiable...
driving his bumper car as hard as could into someone else's like an angry preschooler...
Meanwhile, the verbal pugilism of the car bumpers shows so much ego insecurity that a reader naturally wonders-- are they insecure because of the cars they bump, or do they bump those cars because they are insecure? Either way, the result is not a winsome presentation of the Catholic faith.


As someone who is not a Catholic, and certainly not a Catholic apologist, I have to say that this is by far the nastiest comment I've seen on this thread. I said that I've enjoyed your comments (assuming I'm addressing the same Anon), and I have, though enjoying them meant overlooking the slightly obnoxious tone of superiority you've adopted throughout. Most of the replies to you have been quite civil, so I'm really not sure where this outburst came from. Speaking of "ego insecurity"...

As I said, I'm not a Catholic, though I am heading in that direction, thanks in part to the intelligence, generosity and open-mindedness I've seen displayed by the "Catholic apologists" on this blog. My impression of them remains very positive. My opinion of one of the other commenters here may have to be revised.

Scott W. said...

It occurs to me in glancing back over the thread that you might be confusing me with Scott W., who did say something about Luther's possibly not knowing what an indulgence was/is. For the record, then, in case that's what happened, we're two different people.

Correct. Different Scott. I think it reasonable when people can't correctly articulate the Catholic teaching they disagree on, I have to wonder how far back the error goes.

Daniel D. D. said...

E.Seigner,

In my view, the main thrust of his case was straightforwardly pragmatic: Indulgences enable widespread corruption, therefore eradicate that thing.

We Catholics argue the same thing about sola Scriptura: pragmatically, it created 30,000 denominations, so we should toss it out ;-p

Imagine if God said "well, the Human species has become a wreak, might as well get rid of them before they cause more of a mess." :-(

Anyway, I understand the traditional Lutheran objections to be based on sola Fide: faith alone justifies us, not works, and since indulgences are works, they cannot do what they are suppose to do.

Christi pax.

Anonymous said...

Why are there no women on this thread?

Johannes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel D. D. said...

Johannes,

Your explanation sounds pretty much what consubstantialism is, but most Lutherans deny it when I ask. Is Sacremantal Union then basically consubstantialism?

Christi pax.

Brandon said...

E. Seigner,

I'm not sure I understand. You had said, "he was selected to represent the Church in debates with Luther on the topic", whereas the source you are citing has Tetzel doing what looks like an ordinary theological disputation on the topic, such as any doctor of theology would have been able to do on his initiative (it doesn't look like a debate with Luther, being in a completely different city), and writing works in his own defense.

Brandon said...

It's true that soon enough Tetzel was discredited, but that was about something entirely different.

Also, do you have a source on this? Everything I've ever read on it has implied that they were in fact connected.

Johannes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel D. D. said...

No no no, Johannes,

I didn't mean that your understanding on the Catholic position is consubstantiality, but rather your understanding of "Sacremental union" sounds like consubstantiality. I'm trying to find the difference.

Christi pax.

E.Seigner said...

Scott W, Correct. Different Scott. I think it reasonable when people can't correctly articulate the Catholic teaching they disagree on, I have to wonder how far back the error goes.

Let me explain something about my position in this discussion. I have zero opinion about Luther's doctrine (about indulgences, Sola scripture, are they true, false, well- or ill-formed, I don't care) AND about Catholic doctrine. I don't care about their content or formulation. I care about the policies and actions, the historical facts.

The facts are that Luther's opinion gained upper hand in a third of the continent, so, whatever the doctrine about indulgences was, it obviously was not clear enough to refute Luther's opinion. And if you suggest (as the other Scott has) that the practice of indulgences, which fundamentally offended Luther and the wider population in Germany, was only due to a few bad apples and was actually condemned by the Church, then I am seriously baffled about what it means to say "condemned by the Church" when the practice is so prevalent as to attract loud opposition, yet it is being defended by everyone to whom Luther turns to with the issue.

Remember that Luther was a monk, so he was not interacting with some doctrinally confused people! If you say everybody was confused and the Church (who is really left over in the situation to be called the "Church"?) condemned the practice, then such condemnation is condemnation in name only. Whatever the formulation of the alleged condemnation, it's worthless, irrelevant, ineffective, because actual practice was what it was, carried on by the Church representatives.

If Luther, as a monk, studying the doctrine, was able to form an allegedly misguided opinion on indulgences - a topic that was one of his prominent interests -, and wherever he turned to with his questions, he met the kind of defence of indulgences he met with, then, in my view, this is what indulgences are/were in the relevant sense, while all the "strictly speaking" and "correct doctrine" concerning indulgences is irrelevant. Being somewhat familiar with the history, I can say facts speak a different language - the Pope himself issued commands to exchange indulgences for money, i.e. in modern terms the Pope sent out travelling salesmen. If you say this was not in accord with the "correct doctrine" and only "accidental to indulgences per se", please...

Brandon, I'm not sure I understand. You had said, "he was selected to represent the Church in debates with Luther on the topic", whereas the source you are citing has Tetzel doing what looks like an ordinary theological disputation on the topic, such as any doctor of theology would have been able to do on his initiative...

I was careless when I said Tetzel was selected to represent the Church in the debate. Luther had formal debates with another person, but Luther's questioning and disputations went on for years and involved Tetzel. Also, I repeat that Luther himself was a preaching monk, so when he was turning to people with his issues, he was turning to bishops and such. You cannot dismiss them all as not representative of the Church. They are all representative of the Church.

As the historical context stands, I disagree with you on the "initiative" bit. The initiative came from Pope Leo X who made Tetzel the commissioner of indulgences in the first place. So there, he was the official representative of the Church on this topic, hand-picked by the Pope himself.

Patrick said...

Daniel D. D.: “But Patrick, how do we determine who is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and who is not?”

As I pointed out elsewhere I don’t think that we are in a position to determine with absolute certainty who is inspired by the Holy Spirit but that by looking at a person’s religious viewpoints and moral behaviour we can draw a reasonable conclusion about the probability of its being the case.

Daniel D. D.: “Unless we say that the Truth denies the principle of noncontradiction, some who claim to be inspired by the Spirit are mistaken or even liars.”

Yes, this can be the case.

Daniel D. D.: “How can an recent convert determine whether the Calvinists, or the Lutherans, the Catholics, etc., are correct?”

I think the average convert doesn’t have to know the answer to this question. What is of relevance to him is that he finds a congregation, whether it is Calvinistic, Lutheran, Catholic or something else, where the Bible is held in high esteem and regarded as the major guide in questions of Church life and one’s personal Christian life and where its members or at least the vast majority of them love Jesus and strive to live according to His will.

Daniel D. D.: “To put it another way, how do we know if the being we are seeing is an Angel or Satan taking the form of an angel of light?”

Passages such as Matthew 7:15-22, Galatians 5:22 or 1 John 1:4,1-3 can give us a clue in this respect.

Daniel D. D.: “Catholics do not concede such a thing, at least in the sense I believe you are speaking in.”

What I mean is that according to Catholicism one doesn’t have to be a member of the Roman Catholic Church in order to be saved and go to heaven.

Daniel D. D.: “A man receives the Holy Spirit, and then becomes a Bishop, not the other way around.”

But how do we know that he has received the Holy Spirit?

Daniel D. D.: “As such, your objection that there might be Bishops without the Holy Spirit assumes a different Sacremantal theology than Catholics.”

This is indeed the case. A fundamental difference between the Catholic view of sacraments and my view in this respect is that according to Catholicism there are rituals that have spiritual effects no matter what the person to whom the ritual is applied believes and how he lives, or, to use the traditional theological expression, these rituals work “ex opere operato”. To me this is an unbiblical view and one that to me almost borders on blasphemy. It’s because if this view was true this would mean that we are at least sometimes in a position to force God to do what we want. But this goes against God’s sovereignty. Moreover, such a view can have quite absurd consequences. As for baptism, according to this view even a fake baptism has an effect. So, let’s assume that in a scene in a movie an actor baptizes another actor. According to Catholicism this baptism is valid, even if the one being baptized doesn’t regard himself as a Christian. But it gets even worse. Let’s assume that Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China, had been baptized on his deathbed. According to Catholicism he would straight have gone to heaven, whereas the devout Catholic priest, who had suffered greatly for his Catholic faith in the religious persecutions ordered by Mao might first have had to spend some time in Purgatory. Of course such a view also raises questions as to man’s free will with respect to one’s spiritual life.

E.Seigner said...

Brandon, Also, do you have a source on this? Everything I've ever read on [Tetzel's fall from favour] has implied that they were in fact connected [to his sales of indulgences].

I was trying to find a source that you would find credible, namely a Catholic source. Probably this qualifies http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc7.ii.iii.ii.html

[Tetzel] is represented by Protestant writers as an ignorant, noisy, impudent, and immoral charlatan, who was not ashamed to boast that he saved more souls from purgatory by his letters of indulgence than St. Peter by his preaching.182 On the other hand, Roman Catholic historians defend him as a learned and zealous servant of the church. He has only an incidental notoriety, and our estimate of his character need not affect our views on the merits of the Reformation. We must judge him from his published sermons and anti-theses against Luther. They teach neither more nor less than the usual scholastic doctrine of indulgences based on an extravagant theory of papal authority. He does not ignore, as is often asserted, the necessity of repentance as a condition of absolution.183 But he probably did not emphasize it in practice, and gave rise by unguarded expressions to damaging stories. His private character was certainly tainted, if we are to credit such a witness as the papal nuncio, Carl von Miltitz, who had the best means of information, and charged him with avarice, dishonesty, and sexual immorality.

I emphasised the last sentence, because this should answer your question. The main thrust was against Tetzel's personal character, not against the sales of indulgences. On Protestant account, based on their interpretation of the historical facts, the motivation for the accusations came from Miltitz's misjudgement. Namely, upon first encounters with Luther, Miltitz likely determined that the feud between Luther and Tetzel was fundamentally personal, Luther's anger or envy or such. So, Miltitz calculated that if he smeared Tetzel in sufficiently nasty terms, Luther would be pacified. However, Luther eventually clarified that his main issue with the Church was indeed the sales of indulgences as such and he even turned to defend Tetzel.

So, in historical context, the worst culprit in this final episode was Miltitz. Miltitz judged the circumstances fatally wrong. Throughout the situation, nobody ever said to Luther that sales of indulgences were actually an illicit scam perpetrated by a few bad apples, that the Church really condemned such practices, that "strictly speaking" there never were any sales in the first place, everybody was seeing delusions, and the Church's "correct" teachings on the issue ran as follows.

Anyway, I am ready to hear now how even Miltitz did not represent the Church... (Even though I have been religiously unaffiliated throughout my life, I grew up in a traditionally Lutheran country where "Jesuit" has a very strong pejorative connotation. In the responses here, I can see how this connotation has come about. This be my last word on this topic here.)

Brandon said...

I was trying to find a source that you would find credible, namely a Catholic source.

I find it baffling that you think I sort sources according to whether they are Catholic or Protestant. What is the best source for it?

Brandon said...

The main thrust was against Tetzel's personal character, not against the sales of indulgences.

Against his character based on what? The obvious question here is: What was the ground other than sale of indulgences for accusing Tetzel of avarice and dishonesty -- both character traits that are easily associated with using indulgences for financial gain?

E.Seigner said...

Brandon, What is the best source for it?

Best is of course to do your own research in German libraries, read the original track record by Luther, Tetzel, Miltitz, etc. Historians are merely giving biased overviews anyway.

As to Tetzel's character, the accusations remained just accusations. His writings and activity specifically to do with indulgences was never condemned. Avarice and dishonesty? Let's say Tetzel put more money from the sales to his personal purse than was appropriate. Does this say anything about sales of indulgences as such?

Luther's issue was with sales of indulgences as such, but no Church representative ever spoke a word against it. From the historical context, I determine that Miltitz's mission (given to him personally by the Pope) was to hush Luther down, buy him off, something like that... Over and out.

Brandon said...

As the historical context stands, I disagree with you on the "initiative" bit. The initiative came from Pope Leo X who made Tetzel the commissioner of indulgences in the first place.

(1) The 'initiative' was very clearly and specifically about the debates, which is the only question other than the secondary question of Militz's investigation. You are again attributing to me arguments that are not even on the table. (2) It wouldn't be relevant anyway since obvious Tetzel was made commissioner of indulgences before he began doing the things we are talking about.

Anyway, I am ready to hear now how even Miltitz did not represent the Church.

When I make an argument or raise a question you can be quite sure that the topic at hand is that which the argument or question is explicitly about, not some other thing. I am, again, not committed to imaginary arguments in your head. You will notice, or you would if you actually bothered to do your interlocutors the courtesy of reading what they actually say, that I have said nothing about Church representation, beyond asking about the debates you mentioned (which we see that I was right to press) and the trouble Tetzel got into.

Brandon said...

Best is of course to do your own research in German libraries, read the original track record by Luther, Tetzel, Miltitz, etc. Historians are merely giving biased overviews anyway.

Have you done this? Have you published your research on the topic?

George LeSauvage said...

I've been following this with interest. I don't have much to add, and do have much to learn, from the comments. However, I do have 3 points to make:

1. E.Seigneur, 8/2 at 11:36pm says " I have zero opinion about Luther's doctrine (about indulgences, Sola scripture, are they true, false, well- or ill-formed, I don't care) AND about Catholic doctrine. I don't care about their content or formulation. I care about the policies and actions, the historical facts.

Given this perspective, I find it very odd that neither he, nor anyone else, has discussed the political elephant in the room. The Church's status, as it developed for about a millenium in the West, is to the best of my knowledge, unique*. Pagan states, from Rome to China, always had treated religion as religion as part of their polity, and effectively, as a department of state. What influence was exerted was, politically, of the same sort as any other interests. This was also true of Christian Rome, and continued to be true within Orthodoxy. (I don't mean to attack the Orthodox here; I regard it as one argument in their favor that they could so hold to their faith under Caesars and Czars.)

But in the West it was different. I am not here speaking of such entities as the Papal States, or of those independent or semi-independent cities ruled by bishops. Rather, I mean the fact that through out western Europe, the Church was a real power, independent of the state. This is especially clear in those countries like England (and later, France or the Iberian kingdoms) where the state was strongest.

Needless to say, the kings themselves were not enamored of this state of affairs; and the Middle Ages, politically, are full of constant battles between Emperors, Kings, and Lords against Popes, Bishops, and Abbots. This changed radically in the 16th C, and is a big reason that we call that the beginning of the modern era. From this point onward, the clear trend was for the Church to become as before, and as elsewhere, a department of the state. This happened most powerfully in England and the Lutheran countries, the very paradigms of Erastianism. Calvinism is a bit more complex; in Reformed movements theory, the Church is often put openly and wholly over the state. (E.g., Geneva or Boston.) But the reality, where they actually thrived, like Scotland and The Netherlands, was similar to the Protestant world's polity. But it even hit the Catholic countries. The Bourbon monarchs of France when as far as they could, and pushed as hard as they could, to gain control over their country's Church. And they were just the strongest; the Habsburgs and Avis/Braganca dynasties tried as well, as did such the Doges and even the Grand Masters of Malta. Of course, no Catholic state could gain the total control possible among Protestants, but they tried; it was a characteristic of the age. And in one sense, they all succeeded completely: it takes a real effort of mind, and a lot of reading, even to contemplate a nation in which the state is not supreme over all; in short, while we no longer vest this power in kings, we do live in a world in which government is seen as essentially absolute.

If one is concentrating on policies and actions, rather than theology and doctrine, it is odd to emphasize indulgences over this huge power shift, as a motivating force. I'd argue that doing so is like thinking that Fort Sumter, HMS Childers, or Sarajevo are the keys to the wars they triggered.

*The Jewish Prophets aren't a real exception, as they came and went, without a clear and independent continuing presence in relation to the Jewish state. The same can be said of others like, e.g., Buddha.

George LeSauvage said...

(continued)

2. (Same post): "Remember that Luther was a monk, so he was not interacting with some doctrinally confused people! If you say everybody was confused and the Church (who is really left over in the situation to be called the "Church"?) condemned the practice, then such condemnation is condemnation in name only."

This is odd. I understand that your attitude is common enough, but why in the world present it in a philosophy blog? It has, always, been the standard Thomist position that, well before 1517, the level of philosophy in Europe had declined, largely under the influence of Nominalism. Further, it has also been an absurdly common point among Catholics to grant the corruption of the Church of the day. Erasmus hardly ever shut up on the subject, and he was another who did debate Luther. (Not very effectively, IMO. Reading that exchange lowered my opinion of both men.)

What puzzles me is just what position is entailed here. I can understand the view that events & interests matter more than ideas; I cannot at all understand the view that ideas matter not at all. And that is what this seems - a dismissal not only of philosophy and theology, but even of the history of ideas. Therefore I don't get the somewhat angry jibe at Jesuits; surely no one fails to realize that the relative importance of ideas and politics is a settled matter for historians?

3. @Patrick, 8/3 at 2:29am. Your description of the Catholic view of sacraments is just wrong. In fact, the case of an actor is frequently used as an example of where the matter of a sacrament is present without the form. Now, you may think this isn't coherent, but if so, you must say why. You cannot use as an example of x, a case which your opponent explicitly says is a case of not-x.

Another point which is wrong is missing the difference between infant and adult baptism. In adult baptism, there is the possibility of a clear impediment in a wrong intention on the part of the recipient. Assuming Mao were simply sprinkled, while he remained as he was, without intention of embracing the faith, then his salvation would not be ensured. (If he had such an intention, then of course he could be saved. But that is just Christianity - so far as I know, Protestants think he could be, too.)

Daniel D. D. said...

Patrick,

As I pointed out elsewhere I don’t think that we are in a position to determine with absolute certainty who is inspired by the Holy Spirit but that by looking at a person’s religious viewpoints and moral behaviour we can draw a reasonable conclusion about the probability of its being the case.

I'm not looking for Absolute certainty in this case. I'm just looking for reasonable certainty, which your position doesn't even possess. Let's look at what your wrote: "looking at a person’s religious viewpoints and moral behaviour." Where did these standards come from? An LBGT Christian might, under the claim of being inspired by the Spirit, say that one must be accepting of homosexuality. Yet another might claim the same Spirit, and yet claim that Homosexuality is a sin. How do we determine who's correct?

I'm accusing you of smuggling in ideas regarding "religious viewpoints and moral behaviour" which your position cannot determine, as the Truth and Goodness of "religious viewpoints and moral behaviour" are known only subjectively by individuals. Anyone can claim, through inspiration by the Spirit, that they are right, and the others are wrong. Your position makes Christianity a shapeless blob that anyone can morph, which makes Christianity false, as the Spirit was promised to us, but cannot be found.

To put it simply, your position makes Truth subjective, yet you claim to possess some sort of objective standard. How do we determine this standard, which sounds like mere smuggling of bits and pieces of traditional Christian thought mixed which your own novel ideas through the back door. How do we determine the objectively of your standard of "religious viewpoints and moral behaviour?"

I think the average convert doesn’t have to know the answer to this question

Well, Catholics believe that the Sacrements are necessary for salvation, yet Calvinists don't. If Catholics are right, then Calvinists are in serious danger, and if Calvinists are correct, as you point out, Catholics drift very close to Blasphemy. So, in this instance, and many, many, others, the Truth of a denomination is very important to another's salvation (even the early Protestants realized this, which is why they hated Catholicism). A convent who chooses wrongly will be sinning, and in danger of hell (if his denomination of HIS OWN CHOOSING ("ye are gods") actaully believes in Hell). How do we determine who is right?

Must I remind you that Christ is not a relativist, but rather the Truth Himself?

Passages such as Matthew 7:15-22, Galatians 5:22 or 1 John 1:4,1-3 can give us a clue in this respect.

So, Protestantism, which has historically abandon Patristic positions (not even to mention Scriptural ones), and has created nothing but division in Christianity, has given forth evil fruit. And I'm not arguing that Protestantism possess bad people, therefore it's false, as that would reduce any religion to bits. Rather, I'm arguing that Protestantism, in its very affirmation of sola Scriptura, has cause this division (sola Scriptura is the per se cause of the fragmentation, rather than the per accidens of, say, historical circumstances).

What I mean is that according to Catholicism one doesn’t have to be a member of the Roman Catholic Church in order to be saved and go to heaven.

The Church never taught this.

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